"Understanding the customer is paramount today; who they are, what they want and how to deliver it to them."
Entertaining, and setting a beautiful table while doing so, is one of Deborah Shearer’s passions. “You can always find good food, friends, and family around my table,” she says. “That’s part of what I love most in life.”
She turned her passion into a career when she launched Table + Dine, a marketing and merchandising studio that creates digital product imagery for the tabletop, housewares and home textile industries. A tabletop expert and retail industry leader, Shearer counts as her clients some of the biggest names in the business, with product lines that include dinnerware, flatware, glassware, kitchen textiles, table linens, and home entertaining accessories. In addition to working and collaborating with well-known brands such as Lenox, Ritz Textiles, All-Clad, Juliska, Villeroy and Boch, WWRD and Staub, she’s worked with luxury boutique brands, including Sophistiplate single-use paper products, Hester & Cook paper tableware, UASHMAMA lifestyle products and Mode Living fine linens.
“The projects I do range from full tabletop stories to lifestyles and vignettes,” says Shearer. “They help create an emotional connection with the viewer.” Working with a collection, a theme, or a season, Shearer creates beautifully styled settings, which are photographed or videographed for manufacturers, retailers and other brands to use for catalogs, web pages, marketing and advertising campaigns, social media, email newsletters and more.
For retailers who want to up their game with their tabletop display work, Shearer offers this advice:
Be inspirational and aspirational
“Setting the table doesn’t come naturally to everyone,” says Shearer. “If you show the customer what to do with what you have in the store, most likely they’ll follow it like a recipe.” By showing ways of putting together different products, colors and patterns, sales will increase as customers are inspired by how great one thing looks with another. And knowing that they can get decorating help will spur customers to return to the store any time they need a source of inspiration. Says Shearer, “In-store displays, tablesettings, workshops, events, or even setting small vignettes can and will increase a sale,” she says. “Do the work for your customer and inspire them.”
Table displays should reflect your brand
Chances are, your store already has a sense of identity and its own aesthetic. “Be who you are,” says Shearer. “Understanding the customer is paramount today; who they are, what they want and how to deliver it to them,” she says. Your customers are likely gravitating toward your store because of aesthetic, so if your store’s style is bohemian, then your table displays should reflect that style, incorporating layering or mix-and-match looks. A clean, minimalist store should have a table display reflecting a simple, uncluttered vibe.
Find good sources for ideas
Shearer finds inspiration everywhere: the pattern of a fabric she saw, flowers of the season, what’s on the fashion runway, or on social media outlets like Instagram or Pinterest. “The weirdest things can inspire me. Sometimes it can be a pair of shoes!” she says. For display ideas, retailers can look to other retailers they admire for inspiration and fresh ideas, follow influencers who they like, or simply become more observant in their everyday life, keeping a photo file or notebook with ideas for color combinations, unusual centerpieces, innovative arrangements and so on.
Don't be deterred by limited space
While a full-sized table setting for eight can certainly make a statement, a store with space constraints can still have impactful displays. Shearer loves the look of napkins or plates stacked in baskets, or mini placesetting displays arranged on shelves or in a hutch. “Even one or two place settings can work, especially if you have the product situated nearby so it’s easy to find and buy,” says Shearer.
Be strategic about updating displays
Start out the calendar year with a new display to cleanse the palate after the winter holidays, then change out the display in time for Valentine’s Day. Update displays for the appropriate seasonal events in May or June, and over the slower summer months, freshen a display every few weeks to incorporate new product arrivals or simply give regular customers something new to see. Starting in the fall, there are plenty of holidays to warrant frequent resetting of your displays. “If there’s nothing happening that’s driving you to make that change [to your displays], try to freshen it up at least every couple of weeks,” advises Shearer.
Consider bringing in an outside expert
While larger retailers have the budget and staff for dedicated visual merchandising experts, smaller independent retailers might not have the time or even the creativity to dedicate to keeping up with their displays. “If you have a limited budget that you can allocate to merchandising, hire someone to come in and do it for you,” says Shearer. A freelance stylist will be able to work with your budget, and you might even end up saving money since you won’t be paying for insurance and other benefits for someone who’s on your payroll. What’s more, “A fresh set of eyes and talent can come in and work that magic,” says Shearer.
Incorporate elements from the rest of the store
Shop the rest of your store for other items that can be incorporated into your tabletop displays. “Merchandise and cross-merchandise. Include accessories and accents to your display that might otherwise be missed on their own in the store,” says Shearer. “Barware such as decanters, shakers, cocktail napkins, and wine-related items are always a good fit,” says Shearer. But even seemingly unrelated items can offer a fun, unexpected twist: Perhaps a chunky necklace as a place card holder or a bracelet as a napkin holder. Shearer is a big fan of fresh flowers, and placing them in different or unusual vessels or vases. Vases or handled mugs filled with flowers and grouped closely together can make for a great table runner or beautiful centerpiece. Interesting containers that can be used to hold sugar cubes or butter are also smart add-on options. Hand-lettered placecards are a favorite for Shearer. For her, it’s a personal touch that says “welcome to my table.”