Retail 101: Mannequins to the Max

For most fan apparel buyers, seeing isn’t just believing. Seeing is buying. Having jerseys, T-shirts and other fan apparel on racks and shelves will get you so far. Mannequins will get you further.

Retailers like Under Armor are using physically-fit-looking mannequins, not only because it makes sense with their brands. It's also how we'd like to see ourselves. 

Retailers like Under Armor are using physically-fit-looking mannequins, not only because it makes sense with their brands. It's also how we'd like to see ourselves. 

Go into any chain apparel store in any mall, and you’ll see mannequins positioned right at the entrance. There’s a reason for that.  Mannequins are excellent up-sellers.

Dressed-up mannequins show customers how great a sweatshirt and cap go together. Maybe they intended to get just the sweatshirt, but now they’re thinking they can’t get one without the other. Boom! You’ve just made an extra $20-$30 without having to do a thing.

That’s why it’s smart to always dress mannequins to the nines. Even when your main goal is to sell a T-shirt, adding everything from hats to sunglasses to shorts brings the whole look together and gets customers thinking about buying everything. (By the way, make sure to have all the product within grabbing distance of the mannequin.)

There are tricks to making mannequins more effective sellers. They should be as lifelike as possible. Remove all tags from clothing and caps and store in a pocket for safekeeping. Pin clothes from the back or from the inside of garments to create a perfect fit. Finally, do little things to garments that a person wearing them might do. Roll up the sleeves of a shirt, for instance. Bend the bills of caps -- Wait. Scratch that. The youth like them flat now.

Many retailers build entire scenes around mannequins, incorporating non-apparel goods, too. Do you sell logo coffee mugs? Consider sliding one on the hand of your mannequin, then taping it down. Beach towels? Yes! Throw one around his or her neck. Socks? Naturally! Turn your mannequin into a super fan, from head to toe!

A good rule of thumb for mannequins is to arrange them in action poses, as if they’re cheering a great play, walking to the concession stand or reaching for a foul ball or errant puck. Visual merchandisers have learned this creates the illusion of motion, which attracts the eye of more customers.

Mannequins are also effective tools for guiding customers toward specific sections of your store. Sometimes, it can be tough for shoppers to tell where the men’s section ends and the women’s section begins. Male and female mannequins can make it easier. The same goes for kids’ sections.

Is there space in your store that is always difficult to fill? One or two mannequins is an easy fix. They draw attention and create excitement in a space that used to suck they energy out of the room.

Given all the value you can get from a good mannequin, consider one a good long-term investment for your business. Look for mannequins that are easy to dress. Ease of manipulating and/or removing the arms, for instance, is crucial given how often you’ll be putting new shirts and jerseys and jackets on it.

Also, the lighter the better. A rule of thumb in retail is moving and redressing mannequins once a month to keep your customers interested. Lightweight, easy-to-carry mannequins help avoid any damage that can occur from dropping or banging them into things.

Customers can bang into them, too. Set up mannequins away from walkways and other high-traffic areas of your store to avoid it. But if your mannequins do get marked or chipped, fix them right away. Customers are turned off as much by worn mannequins as tired merchandise.

Finally, consider trends in mannequin design. Yes, there are trends. The latest is the athletic physique. It makes sense. Not all of us have six-pack abs, but we aspire to have them. Seeing clothes on a buff mannequin appeals to more customers and encourages them to buy what they see.

The clothes may not fit the same way on customers when they get home. But at that point your mannequin has done its job.