Thursday, 14 February 2013 08:00

America's Coolest Stores: Photos Really Are Worth at Least a Thousand Words

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Let me let you in on a little secret.

Yes, a store has to be well rounded to win or place in the America's Coolest Stores contest. Yes, it ought to have unique physical elements, out-of-the-ordinary marketing strategies and collateral, a firm grasp on technology, and a distinctively awesome approach to customer service.

But you know what really helps? Great pictures.

Most of our judges will never set foot in the stores whose entries they evaluate. (We'd love it if they could, but sending half a dozen people to visit 50 to 100 stores scattered all over North America just isn't economically feasible.) So the only way for them to get any sense of what it's like to physically wander into your shop is to provide them with top-notch, truly encompassing photographs of the space.

What does that mean? It means:

Large, high-resolution digital photos of your exterior and interior. The bigger the picture -- and I mean file size -- the better we can see the details contained within. There's a practical reason for this, too, which is that if you place in the contest, we need to be able to print the photos in the magazine. If your entry photos are too small or low-res, we'll have to ask you to retake them all anyway. So might as well start things out the right way from the get-go.

Images that give us a sense of the whole space. We need to see more than just one picture of the showroom, taken from just inside the front door. We want close-ups of great displays and windows. Shots from a wide variety of angles. Pictures of the ceiling, if you have a cool ceiling. If you have a great-looking, well-decorated restroom, we want that too. It's not silly -- it shows that you go the extra mile.

Pictures whose context is immediately obvious. For better or worse, the contest entry form doesn't allow you to upload captions with each photo. So we need a sense of what we're seeing. And shoot stuff that matters -- we don't want multiple pictures of the random art hanging on your wall, unless somewhere in the written portion of your entry, you've explicitly highlighted why it makes a difference to your business.

Pictures without a lot of people in them. Mainly, what we're looking for are images that let us see the store as a physical space. It's difficult to do that if there are crowds of people around (as is often the case with otherwise great pictures taken at an event), and there are legal considerations too that don't always allow us to use pics featuring people without their permission. As for your employees, they're important -- but we'll get a much better sense of why from the things you write about them than we will from random portraits.

Pictures of the cool stuff. This should be obvious, but nonetheless, all too often we get entries that boast about the beautiful fountain just inside the entrance, or the fabulous kids' playroom, or the coffee and wine bar with all the bells and whistles...but then there are no pictures of these things to accompany the bragging. Here's a good tip: If you write about it, include a picture of it.

Without question, the easiest way to accomplish all this is to hire a professional photographer to take your contest pictures. It will cost you a little money, but the truth is that it's no bad thing to have some quality, high-res images of your store on hand for other media opportunities. You can post them on your website and use them in ads and social media too.

More than anything, if you're going to invest the time in entering the contest, you might as well play to win and invest a little more in getting the photos that will take you there. As of this week, there's two months till the contest deadline. Call your local photographer today, ask them to read this, and set up an appointment for them to take some shots. If you or they have questions, leave them in the comments or email us anytime at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



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Last modified on Thursday, 14 February 2013 16:10
Josh Wimmer

Josh WImmer has been a contributor to INSTORE since 2006. He has coordinated the annual America's Coolest Stores contest for several years. The job mostly involves pestering jewelry store owners to start their contest entries, pestering jewelry store owners to finish their contest entries, and figuring out computer problems over the phone from hundreds of miles away.


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