Retail students redesign storefront displays for city merchants

By University Communications
May 14, 2015
UW-Stout student Maria Krebs and a classmate created an award-winning window display for Iris Boutique downtown.

Photo: UW-Stout student Maria Krebs at Iris Boutique

At the busy three-way intersection of Main Street, Crescent Street and Sixth Street, Iris Boutique has a prime window-shopping location in downtown Menomonie.

Thousands of vehicles, many stopped at the traffic light, and many other people on foot pass the clothing store's large display windows each day.

"Our windows really do play a big part of bringing people into the store," said Leah Ritchie, Iris Boutique owner.

This spring, Iris Boutique received a boost in visibility with a low-cost window display makeover thanks to a team of experts-in-training, the Visual Merchandising class at University of Wisconsin-Stout.

The class is part of the retail merchandising and management undergraduate major,

Students in the class were asked by Assistant Professor Meriem Chida to serve as expert consultants and redesign the window displays at seven downtown businesses that agreed to participate. In teams of two or three in March and April, students worked with the store owners and the owners' budgets.

Chida also turned the assignment into a competition. Visitors during UW-Stout's Family Weekend in mid-April took historic walking tours of downtown, in the process viewing the new window displays and casting votes for their favorites.

The tours were co-sponsored by the UW-Stout Involvement Center and two student volunteers, Maria Lewis, of Birchdale, Minn., and Bradey Graves, of Onalaska. Vouchers were redeemed at the Raw Deal, a co-sponsor, for free tea and coffee.

The Iris Boutique display, by students Alyssa Frey, of Eau Claire, and Maria Krebs, of Shakopee, Minn., was declared the winner. Frey and Krebs each received a gold medal and a certificate.

In Iris Boutique's three windows, they created neutral-colored backdrops that highlighted blue and yellow clothing from the store's spring collection for women.

Using wrapping paper, they also created colorful origami-style paper fans to accent the clothing, which included tops, dresses, purses and accessories.

"Blues and yellows are very popular colors this spring," Krebs said. "We really wanted a clean, simplistic look. Simplicity was the biggest thing we were going for. We were lucky to work on such big windows."

The boutique's budget for Frey and Krebs was $200.

Frey and Krebs each worked about 30 hours over the course of three to four weeks on the project, including coming up with the design, preparing the props and installing the displays. For the design, they used principles of visual merchandising they learned in class.

"We learned how to think on our feet and how to quickly find solutions to problems," Krebs said.

Ritchie understands how hard the students worked. She started the store with the help of her mother in 2010. At the time, Ritchie also was a student UW-Stout. She graduated in 2013 with a degree in apparel design and development.

"I gave them a basic outline of what I wanted and let them be creative. The students were able to time-manage the project. It was very hands-on. Doing new windows can be very time-consuming," she said.

Ritchie is pleased with how the displays turned out. "It's fun to see people stare at the windows at the traffic light. We're so grateful to have the students' help," she said.

Clothing in the Iris Boutique display already has been switched, and some displays by students at other stores also have been updated. The other storefront displays were at Fleet Feet, Triangle Art &Antiques, A Cute Bead, Raw Deal, Estate Emporium and The Store.