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Why You Need A Custom Visual Standards Manual

How and why to create a custom visual standards manual for your store.

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ONE OF THE BEST WAYS to guarantee that your employees maintain the look and feel of your stores is a custom visual standards manual, or CVSM. Such a manual explains how a store should look and how to keep it looking that way. A good manual allows room for change and it teaches the store employees how to access their creativity while staying within the boundaries of the store’s image and brand.

Visual standards include everything that can be seen as you drive or walk up to, into and through the store to the back door. The CVSM includes lighting, signage, flooring, all surface materials, fixtures, merchandising the fixtures, displays, focal areas, aisles, wrap desks, daily maintenance, safety standards, back room standards, washroom standards and office standards. Standards must be maintained in order to retain your image and feed your brand.

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Each person has his or her own style of creativity. Some of those creative endeavors may not exactly be in keeping with your image. A standards manual clarifies your image and gives clear direction and boundaries to the various styles and quality of individual creativity and expression.

If a chain of jewelry stores (of any size) has an image that requires presentation standards, or you are re-creating your image and want to retrain your employees, a manual is one of the first steps to making this transition happen consistently and successfully.

Here’s how you develop a CVSM.

1. Assign this job to one or two people who have a clear understanding of your merchandising, visual merchandising, fixtures, signage, store design direction and overall brand and image. If you choose two people, consider one in marketing and one in operations. Or, hire someone from the outside with CVSM and jewelry store experience.

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2. Develop an outline for the manual. Add a chapter for each area of your store. You’ll be describing the fixtures in each area and how to merchandise each one. Add chapters on non-selling spaces, lighting, signage and safety.

3. Take a ton of photos. Before and after shots of merchandise presentation and displays are especially valuable and great teaching tools.

4. Determine what final format will work best for your employees and stores: a loose-leaf book, a bound printed manual, a webinar in several parts, or a training movie. In each case, you may consider a quiz after each section to make sure your employees actually looked at the CVSM. Flexibility for changes is important, so plan for that in your format.

5. Have storewide or companywide meetings and introduce the manual either in a seminar or hand it out to each person. If it’s in digital format, give everyone the link and let them know when they will be quizzed on the book. That’s pretty much the only way they’ll look at it all the way through.

Rather than just stating rules, explain why the rule exists and why it’s necessary. It will be remembered much longer than if it’s just stated without any explanation. Pare down the information so it’s a good mix of photos and copy. People today are used to reading bullet points and listening to sound bites.

The ultimate purpose of producing a CVSM is to have a standard that all employees are required to live up to on a daily basis. If one store is falling down on sales, one of the most easily observable issues may be the visual presentation. Getting everyone “on the same page” will help keep the stores looking great.

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Linda Cahan, owner of Cahan & Company, is an internationally known retail design expert specializing in visual merchandising and store design. She also teaches at The Art Institute of Portland in Oregon. Contact her at linda@cahan.net

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