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Develop a Custom Visual Standards Manual to Look Better and Sell More

Such a manual details and explains how a store should look and how to keep it looking that way.

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ONE OF THE BEST ways to guarantee your employees maintain the look and feel of your store is a Custom Visual Standards Manual, or CVSM. Such a manual details and explains how a store should look and how to keep it looking that way. A good manual allows room for change and it teaches 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. It includes: lighting, signage, flooring, surface materials, fixtures, merchandising, displays, focal areas, aisles, desks, daily maintenance, safety standards, back room standards, washroom standards and back office standards. Standards must be maintained in order to maintain your image and support your brand.

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Each person has his or her own style. 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 individual creativity and expression.

If you are looking to establish, or recreate, your image and want to re-train your employees, a manual is one of the first steps in making this transition happen consistently and successfully.

How to develop a CVSM:

  • Assign this job to one or two people with a clear understanding of your merchandising, fixtures, signage, store design and overall brand and image. If you choose two, consider one in marketing and one in operations. Or, hire someone from the outside with CVSM experience.
  • Develop an outline for the manual with a chapter for each area of your business. Describe the fixtures in each area and how to merchandise each one. Add chapters on non-selling spaces, lighting, signage, safety and holiday decorations.
  • Take a ton of photos. Before and after shots of merchandise presentation and displays make great teaching tools.
  • Determine what final format works best for your employees: binder, bound printed manual, webinar in several parts, or training movie. Consider a quiz after each section to make sure employees looked at it. Flexibility for changes is important so plan that into your format.
  • Have comprehensive staff meetings to introduce the manual and 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 it.
  • Rather than just stating rules, explain why the rule exists and why it’s necessary. It will be remembered much longer. Pare down the information and present it as a mix of photos and copy. People today are used to reading bullet points and listening to sound bites. Less is most definitely more, and a picture is worth 1,000 words.
  • The purpose of a CVSM is to have a standard that all employees are required to live up to. If sales lag, an easily observable issue may be visual presentation. Getting everyone “on the same page” will keep the store looking great.
  • Consider a CVSM if you have more than two stores. It will keep your business attractive and welcoming. All of which will be reflected in your sales and service.

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Linda Cahan of Cahan & Company is an internationally known retail design expert specializing in visual merchandising and store design. Cahan consults, gives seminars worldwide, and has authored 10 custom visual standards manuals, three books on retail display and design, and hundreds of B2B articles. She taught visual merchandising at Parsons School of Design in NYC and now teaches part-time at The Art Institute of Portland in Oregon. Learn more at lindacahan.com.

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