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Back to Basics: Working with Color

Color is a complex subject and one that takes serious study. We don't have the room or the necessity to study it in depth in this column but, because color is the first thing that attracts customers to a rack or display, we need to be reminded how to effectively merchandise with it. An understanding of color will drive sales.


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Color is a complex subject and one that takes serious study. We don’t have the room or the necessity to study it in depth in this column but, because color is the first thing that attracts customers to a rack or display, we need to be reminded how to effectively merchandise with it. An understanding of color will drive sales.

Color Families

There are three primary color groups or “families.” They are brights, pastels and neutrals. Brights are “hard” colors with lots of saturation (color). They include red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. Pastels are “soft” color (brights with white mixed in). Pink, peach, soft yellow, sea foam, baby blue and lavender are a few pastel colors. This season, in particular, apparel is available in shades of pink, rose, sage, light blue and soft yellows.

Neutrals are basic colors that combine with both color families. You’ll recognize them as the classic outdoor colors of khaki, brown, olive, gray and black. White and cream are also considered neutrals.

Mixing Colors

Brights and pastels don’t mix well on a rack. Products in bright colors like red, blue and yellow, if hanging next to softer colors, will make the soft colors look drab and somewhat dirty. When merchandising colors together on a T-stand or 4-way fixture, use all brights with neutrals mixed in or all pastels combined with neutrals.

Use an odd number of colors on your fixtures. A minimum of three colors and a maximum of five different color families are recommended.

Hanging Colors

Color block the apparel hanging on round racks and wall rods for a cleaner and more attractive presentation. Color blocking simply means clustering all of one color together—all blue shirts, all green shirts, etc. Someone somewhere devised a system to help us remember how to group colors. Let me introduce you to ROY G BV! The initials stand for red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. When hanging apparel or hardgoods on a wall start on the left with red and work your way through to violet. This goes for pastels too. Neutrals should hang or be binned starting with the lightest color on the left, then move to the darker color on the right.

Patterns in any product add interest to a rack full of solid colors. Patterned pieces can hang with solids on racks and can be folded in bins. Pick out the dominant color in the pattern and combine it with a compatible solid color. Place solid colors between patterned pieces to separate them.

The fact that we’re having this discussion shows how far the outdoor industry has come in the last 20 years in adopting colors both bright and pastel. How much more interesting our racks and stores have become because of color!

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 www.outsidebusinessjournal.com/merchandising, 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 merchandising@snewsnet.com.

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.