Merchandising Know-How: Secrets of a trade show "dresser"

Ever wonder who makes trade show booth displays look good? Or, how the outfits on mannequins are posed, accessorized and spiffed up? It's really not a trade secret. Known as "dressers," these men and women work before the shows open to make sure the products look good enough to buy.

Ever wonder who makes trade show booth displays look good? Or, how the outfits on mannequins are posed, accessorized and spiffed up? It's really not a trade secret. Known as "dressers," these men and women work before the shows open to make sure the products look good enough to buy.

Dressers are experts at what they do. If you're lucky enough to watch them work, you'll find they are fast, efficient and know all the tricks. At the recent SIA.06 SnowSports Trade Show, I caught up with Jamie Gillie, a dresser and owner of Edge Productions in Las Vegas, who shared a few insider tips that I'm passing on to help retailers more easily create enticing displays.

For starters, Gillie uses tissue paper to stuff shoulders, arms, legs and chests of clothing whether on a mannequin or hanging on the wall. "Use several pieces of tissue and roll them into a log to fill out legs and arms," she said. "To keep outerwear hoods from flopping over, stuff the back of the hood with more tissue. Wad tissue up to stuff in knit hats, round out jacket shoulders and chests. Buy tissue paper by the ream because you'll use lots of it."

Gillie said she also likes using No. 17 steel bank pins available from dressmakers or display houses. They make attaching hats or gloves to jackets easy, as well as sleeves to jackets for a little "bend" in the arm. The pins are slender and won't damage clothing.

She also suggests that retailers fill the floor of their front windows with artificial snow to display winter products. "Use either shredded plastic or Styrofoam granules. Buy it in bulk to use throughout the winter and especially during the holidays," she said.

To cut down on the messy aspect of artificial snow, Gillie's secret is using white chiffon fabric available from a local fabric store or an online display product supplier to create snow in a window or around freestanding displays. Use lots of it and fluff it to make it look like small snow banks. Pepper it with white sparkles and you'll have fluffy snow that will stay in place and not be tracked all over the store.

Gillie and her assistants carry tool bags loaded with everything they need to set up displays, and you can do the same with an old boot bag or small duffel. Here's a list of what you'll need:


Box cutter

Small hammer

Roll of thin wire

Wire cutters

Box of No. 17 steel bank pins

Rolls of white and black Velcro

Lightweight "S" hooks for hanging signs

Two rolls of double sticky tape

A roll of carpet tape

A roll of duct tape

A box of push pins

A roll of medium-weight monofilament line

Having everything you need on hand will make creating displays a lot easier and faster. Plus, as you work on displays, you'll find other tools to add to your bag to make your job easier and faster. With tool bag in hand, you, too, can become a "dresser."

Sharon Leicham is the creator of The MerchandisingHUB, the author of "Merchandising Your Way to Success" and "How to Sell to Women" and is a regular columnist for SNEWS® writing on merchandising and marketing topics. You can access all of her columns by going to, where you will find tons of information targeted at the needs of the independent specialty retailer. You can email us with questions and comments at

For more retail training support and know-how, be sure to check out the SNEWS® Business 101 tools and stories, including our 10-part Retail Merchandising Training series produced by SNEWS®, including a useful online calculator for performing the most common retail merchandising calculations -- free to All Access Subscribers.


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