Everyone always talks about the hot zone – the area that sells the most in a gift and accessories store. Between 4′ and 6′ from the floor is eye level for most. Few people have to bend and only a few more have to stretch to comfortably shop within the hot zone. But, what happens above that zone? What if you have really high ceilings or, worse yet, low ones? How do you make your store work with less than ideal ceiling heights?
A high ceiling is anything over 10′. Years ago, I worked in visual merchandising at Macy’s in Connecticut. The ceilings ranged from 9′ to over 30′ high. The scale of all the visual elements changed depending on the ceiling height.
Lights: If you have high ceilings the ideal placement of spot or flood lights is 3″ up and out from the top and front of the wall fixture or shelf. If you have 12″ deep shelves that go up to 6′ high they will get the best lighting if the light fixture is 4″ out from the wall and 9′ up from the floor. If your ceilings are 10′ it will still work, but if they are higher you’ll need to lower the track or lights so they are more effective.
Displays: One common mistake many merchants make is to create a high display that “floats” on the wall above the merchandise below. This draws the customers’ eyes away from the hot zone and distracts them from the merchandise within hands reach. Ideally, a display should be no more than 6′ above the top of the fixture or top shelf.
Colors: There is a theory that if you paint a ceiling black it will disappear. While that’s true, black ceilings don’t reflect light so you’ll need to triple your existing amount of lights just to achieve the same light level you had with a white ceiling.
Low ceilings, 8′ or less, are not welcoming to tall people. An 8′ ceiling height will bring track lights (if they are mounted flush to the ceiling) down a foot.
Fixtures: If you are building wall fixtures, build them up to the ceiling. Small spaces between fixture tops and the ceiling reinforce how low the ceilings are.
Lights: If at all possible, have the lights inset and mounted into the ceiling rather than installing track lights or deep fluorescents.
Displays: Boutique your merchandise or create displays on the top shelf of your wall fixtures or shelves. Going higher than your top shelf will draw unwanted attention to the low ceiling.
Colors: Light blue or sky blue expands space. Ceilings feel higher and much less “heavy” than when they are painted any other color. Light blue also cools the space and a store with a low ceiling may often feel warmer as the warm air stays closer to the selling floor.
Low or high, they’re both a challenge. But now you may have a few ideas to work with to make your store’s walls and ceilings more comfortable and attractive.
About the Author
Linda Cahan is a retail visual design consultant based in West Linn, OR. This article first appeared In Gifts & Decorative Accessories June 2009 and is reprinted with permission.