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Mannequins: Powerful silent sellers

Their lips may be sealed, but mannequins whisper sales strategies. SNEWS Merchandising Editor Robin Enright takes a look at what message your mannequins are sending to consumers.

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Their lips may be sealed, but mannequins whisper sales strategies.

When it comes to mannequins, one size does not fit all. They make a quiet statement about the brand they are representing, and the details of their design tell a story. Wise retailers and manufacturers consider such dilemmas as: Head or headless? Removable arms and legs or three-fourth’s torso? Posed or not? Flesh-toned or monochrome? Shiny or matte? Abstract or realistic? Another important consideration is who will be dressing the mannequins. Will it be a trained visual merchandiser or a salesperson crunched for time?

When well utilized in display, mannequins help consumers imagine themselves in the scene and compel them to explore product. Mannequins never call in sick or require vacation time. They don’t complain about working 24/7 and never argue with their peers. They might be silent, but don’t forget for a moment how influential they are.

Mannequins are so powerful, in fact, that one JC Penny customer recently took issue with the slimness of the store mannequins’ legs and began a campaign protesting the unrealistic body image, as reported by the Huffington Post. But in many respects, that’s just the point: Mannequins are meant to provide drama and a measure of surrealism. Few would argue that today’s abstract egghead or brightly colored mannequins are more than a muse designed to hold product.

Just ask Joe Klinow, principal at Mondo Mannequins ( Mondo is seeing a shift in design to taller and thinner mannequins to accommodate the fashion style of higher heels in the United States. Fashion drives design and production, though manufacturers aim to remain two steps ahead. “We need to stay on top of trends to show we are alive, we are relevant, we have new ideas,” Klinow said.

According to Klinow, a trend in the United States is to feature more realistic mannequins in store windows for their “wow factor” and ability to lure consumers inside, with more functional and abstract forms relegated to individual departments. Mannequin inventory can change as often as the seasons unless a brand’s form is considered iconic. In those cases, changes might be as simple as a new pose, rather than a top-to-bottom redesign.

The runway might require slender shapes, but the current trend in mannequin design for the outdoor industry is toward the athletic, with generic figures featuring sculpted muscle tone to show off products from Under Armour, Lululemon and Athleta, to name a few. Mondo features two lines of mannequins in this genre: “fit” (muscular figures in generic poses) and “specialized sport” (reflective of specific sports like skateboarding, running, basketball, etc.).

For manufacturers and retailers committed to the environment, Bio-resin mannequins are an option. According to the website of GenesisDisplay (a division of Mondo Mannequins), the 100-percent-renewable material produced in cooperation with Dupont Tate and Lyle Bio Products produces mannequins with a 38 percent decrease in production energy and 42 percent less greenhouse gas emission.

Klinow noted that while the increased cost of bio-resin mannequins can be a hard sell in the United States, the lighter, stronger materials sell easily in Europe where government is often more proactive in issues of environmental protection.

There is another option for going green in display. Judi Henderson Townsend of California-based Mannequin Madness rescues mannequins from landfills and can save remodeling retailers dollars by sparing them the cost of disposal for forms by recycling them. Previously used mannequins provide cost savings for retailers, but questions of design and detail are just as important with second-hand products.

Don’t think that these mannequins are compromised in quality just because they have been previously owned. Mannequin Madness takes figures from many high-end department stores that might be turning them over purely because they are last year’s style. And with some stores turning over mannequins seasonally, Mannequin Madness might actually be considered by some to be mannequin heaven.

SNEWS Merchandising Editor Robin Enright
is the founder of Merchandising Matters,
which provides merchandising support to brands, retailers and their agencies.

Reach her via email at
with questions, ideas and suggestions.