Imagine walking into a shop and being confronted by a wall of blue: a cerulean sculpture, ultramarine tubes of paint, cyan fineliners and all shades of azure merchandise, arranged just so. You might begin to contemplate the last time you really paid attention to the color blue. A patch of sky emerging on a dreary day, a favorite coffee mug with China Blue glaze, the deep navy of unwashed denim. You might begin to wonder where blue comes from, and why it’s so darn beautiful! As you contemplate blue in your life, you begin to wonder about the items laid out so carefully for you. A staff member passing by pauses and nods knowingly. “These fineliners are like delicate little highlighters. What’s your favorite shade of blue?”
Welcome to University Art, where the True Colors program is connecting staff to their creative sides and engaging customers through attention-grabbing, monochromatic celebrations of color!
University Art’s marketing consultant, Tracy Moon, handles the store’s graphics design needs and communications; in addition to ads, newsletters and social media posts, she also created the True Colors program, a monthly promotion and celebration of color. Tracy creates posters and blog posts educating staff and customers on the history, properties and symbolism of a particular color. Staff meet to discuss the upcoming month, identifying what they want to pull together for the color-themed kiosk and the window display. 2019 colors included orange, blue, pink, turquoise, black, brown and metallic.
“Customers really enjoy the program,” CFO Cornelia Pedleton says. “They interact with it, they ask questions, they add their own opinions.” Cornelia has been in the family business since she was a kid, and has worked at University Art for 25 years. Cornelia has always seen the True Colors program as an experiment worth testing out. She and Tracy put together a list of colors with input from staff, matching a color with the month based on what makes sense for what’s going on at that time.
Sometimes initiatives don’t have a measurable sales target (see some of the in-store galleries we’ve visited). The benefits to business are long-term and produce qualitative results that are more difficult to measure. The True Colors program is an informative, fun monthly practice that customers and employees enjoy; the installations spark conversation and interest, drawing in new people and keeping regulars curious. The key result? A program like this engages with customers and invigorates employees, activating their craving for creative stimulation and growth.
A Creative, Skill-Building Outlet
Three staff members at the Redwood City location, Tina Ford, Steve Luke and Elvia Gonzalez, handle the window displays and merchandising for the True Colors themes.
Steve says the True Colors program has gotten him back into doing art. Staff are creative people who might not have the extra time or energy to do art projects outside of work on a regular basis. Integrating a creative monthly theme into displays re-energize the team with a creative outlet and creates a fun opportunity to connect with customers.
Elvia points out that connecting with her team through a regular artistic endeavor. “Every month I look forward to applying creative ideas and energy with my fellow creative co-workers,” she points out. “It gets us thinking outside of the box, combining the traditional art process together with installation art for everyday customers and employees to enjoy on a monthly basis.”
For Tina, the feedback from customers is key. “After all of the time and effort we’ve put into the projects, we’ve gotten such positive responses from customers and fellow employees,” she explains.
The process has been a learning experience for everyone involved: they’ve learned more about paint and pigment, minerals and marketing. This knowledge translates to interactions with customers, a stronger business and a more agile understanding of innovative sales tools.
The Gift of Creative Control
The takeaway? Pay attention when your staff members start to get excited about an idea, and let them run with it!
Creative people flourish with the time and space to brainstorm, collaborate, formulate processes, retool them and see a project grow over time. And when you make space for that process, your staff have the opportunity to shine. “I stay out of it now because it’s working on its own,” Cornelia explains. “You give it to them, they take it over and enjoy it. It’s something they own.”
And University Art isn’t an outlier. Successful experiments designed and implemented by staff that we covered just in the past year include Wet Paint’s Fashion Week, devised by Marketing Manager Kristina Fjellman, giant in-store sculptures at Creative Coldsnow created and installed by former staff member Abby Langley, the long-form live painting exhibition by Andrew Sandberg at Art Materials, or the Maybe Mondays Instagram story series by Manager Kayli Harig and Digital Content Administrator Carrie Mendle-Smith of Flax Art & Design.
This continuous year-long exploration of the True Colors program has also made space for systems, improvement and focus. The team has a collective understanding of the best practices and constraints around designing and executing engaging window displays. They especially have fun hunting for merchandise for the True Colors kiosks.
If you are considering a new initiative, allow the experiment to ripen over time. The freeing power of art-making is a great way for staff to flex their creative muscles and remember why they love their job.
The plan for 2020? While University Art has colors for January and February (white and red), they’ve got some new ideas brewing for monthly themes. “It’s taken off, everyone is having fun with it,” Cornelia says. “We’ll grow it from there.”
Interested in more resources for intriguing window displays? Discover how JWS Art Supplies draws people in with pop culture references and contests and brush up on best practices.