By Colleen Jurkiewicz Reporter Published May 17, 2013 at 9:02 AM

Shopping habits are changing, and as Milwaukee's retail landscape continues to evolve is pulling out the credit card for a full week of retail, shopping and commerce content. Stories about local stores, national retailers, online shopping and more. "Retail Week" will highlight shopping through a creative and diverse lens.

Lyn Falk’s knows that retail – or business of any kind – is all about storytelling. As the founder of Retailworks, Inc., she helps her clients assess their brands and incorporate them throughout the design of their stores, making the most of shop windows, signage and visual merchandising techniques.

Good design, says Falk, increases the perceived value of a product. The company’s designs are rooted in research on consumer behavior and environmental psychology. Falk and her team create an environment using all six senses.

"We know how to manipulate the multitude of variables that exist in a built environment to positively affect customer behavior, like color, light levels, focal points, music, texture and aromas," she told "We can create an environment that makes the occupant ‘feel’ a certain way and spend a certain amount of time in a space. Our designs will encourage ‘action,’ and the overall experience will ‘stick’ in a consumer's mind so he/she will make a return visit."

Falk and her designers have a portfolio of clients that include Kesslers Diamonds, Outpost Natural Foods, Stan’s Fit For Your Feet, Laacke & Joys and the Kohler Company. They frequently do a full interior makeover, but a popular subset of their services is "I LOVE That Display!" which focuses on effectively showcasing products through window displays, endcaps and more.

Too many retailers, she says, miss opportunities to connect with their client in this way. In retail, it’s all about making an impression.

"Fun windows and nice interior displays serve to be great focal points and tell a story," she said. "We’re still trying to get more clients to understand the value of the display and merchandising because it really does make a difference."

Another issue that Falk tackles in her business is lack of focus. These days, it’s all about the brand.

"The No. 1 opportunity clients sometimes miss is taking their brand and putting it throughout the store," Falk said.

"They might have a really great website and a great logo but they don’t necessarily take it to the next level of bringing in certain colors and textures and feel – the look, the ambiance throughout the whole space. Whether it’s fabric or furniture or fixtures or signage, it all should really coordinate to make a strong visual statement. So when someone walks into their store they really know they’re in that particular store, it’s not just Anystore, USA. You remember where you are."

Retailworks’ largest current client is Richard Kessler. They have been designing all Kessler stores since 2004 and helped the diamond dealer develop a "signature look" for his South 76th St. store, applying the new look to his store in Madison and designing the Kessler flagship location in Germantown.

"In addition to color, lighting and finish sections, we custom-designed most of his showcases and employee work stations, and all of his service counters," Falk said. "We incorporated wonderful curvilinear lines and many interesting materials, all of which add to the beautiful and romantic ambiance of his spaces.

"He (Kessler) is a strong believer in creating a ‘visual brand’ and an extraordinary ‘customer experience’ of which the design and layout of his stores play a large part."

Retailworks doesn’t just stop at retail, though – it’s just as important for other businesses to develop and maintain their brand, as well. They have also done work on other businesses, such as an insurance center in Oconomowoc (overhauling a plan lobby by adding artwork, tables and area rugs to make "a visual statement").

"There’s no rhyme or reason (to our clients)," Falk said. "A lot of people think we must just do a lot of women’s apparel, dressing mannequins – and it’s way more than that, and I love that.I love that business owners are starting to understand the value of it and say, ‘You know, we need to do something to draw attention.’ (What we do is) telling more of a story about who that client is and what they think about the customers."

Falk asserts than an attractive storefront is also beneficial to the community as a whole, creating a more dynamic streetscape.

"Some of the larger urban cities have used dramatic window displays as conversation pieces for decades," she said. "I think in the 1980s it was very strong still in Milwaukee and then it sort of died down...we’re really trying to bring it back to say there’s value there, it is important to use your windows. And even if it’s a service windows they still have the opportunity to put interesting graphics or photos or just fun props to just get people to say, ‘Wow, that’s cool. To get people talking if nothing else.’

"Even vacant buildings and vacant windows should have something in them so that people feel like there’s some vibrancy and vitality on the streets. If nothing else it would draw attention to the building and help the building owner lease it," she said, adding that Retailworks is actively pursuing the downtown market. "Maybe we can create some beauty in some of these big facades right now."

Local retailers weigh in

The marriage of brand incorporation and interior design is nothing new to Daniel Goldin, who owns Boswell Book Company, 2559 N. Downer Ave.

"Needless to say, I had a really great starting point," he said. "The building is beautiful – an old car dealership that has housed many bookstores over the years. I’m still using a lot of the section signage, furniture, cases and checkout and info desks."

These accents helped to promote Boswell’s image as the successor of beloved local booksellers who have closed their doors, including Webster's and Harry W. Schwartz, which preceded Boswell’s tenancy.

" I tried to keep to a palate that seemed to already exist at the store that seems autumnal, but perhaps a bright autumn – no glaringly bright colors except in the kids sections, which had been painted at Schwartz and we held onto," he said.

"We painted (a cream with a hint of green, it's actually a very light version of the existing piping) to make it lighter and switched out bookcases to improve sightlines. By doing this, we started mixing wood tones, which is something we didn't do at Schwartz."

Joe Lisberg (who worked at the shop when it was a Schwartz store) at Deep Sea Design designed the company’s logo.

"I had told him I wanted it retro modern, sort of the way I think about books – an old technology with nonetheless up-to-date info," Goldin said. "We tried to carry that over into several things we've bought. I wanted more display tables, and found some from the guys doing our repairs, plus a few from the antique stores in Walker’s Point."

Goldin paid attention to layout and flow when designing the store, consulting the book "Why We Buy" by Paco Underhill. "That's why we have quirky cases filled with things that have nothing to do with the bookstore at the ends of our aisles, and that's why I removed the very tall cases in the center of the store for shorter cases on casters."

Valerie Balistreri, manager of ReThreads, 2943 N. Humboldt Blvd., implements the store’s business model of recycled fashion in her decoration scheme. There’s no better decor at ReThreads than the beautiful inventory itself.

"We’re really into the recycling of fashion and people being able to bring in their stuff and get new stuff. We have a couple window displays and a lot of mannequins and displays in the store to show off the merchandise," she said. "We do this thing with mannequins where each of my employees has their own set mannequin and they dress them, and whoever sells the most often at the end of the month, they get some kind of reward."

Since ReThreads specializes in secondhand or vintage pieces in good condition, Balistreri wants the feel of the store to be more boutique than a thrift shop. "We really think about each item that we take in ... that really even have a nice silhouette on the hanger, even.

"We mix in all of our designer stuff, because we get some really high-end designer stuff here. We used to separate it out but we mix it in so all you need to do is search in your size and then all of the options will be available there," she said. "We color-organize so it makes the store look really crisp and clean."

Andie Zacher says the design and color scheme for her children's clothing and accessories store Little Monsters, 2445 N. Farwell Ave., was an intentional branding initiative.

"I wanted the store's name and look (branding) to be modern, yet classic at the same time," she said.

"Right down to the shopping bags that feature polka dots, which are classic, but done in a modern, cleaned-up way. I wanted the accent color, which is green, to be unisex, but again, feel modern and classic. I actually love orange, but many people I find don't really like I chose the fresh shade of 'kelly' green, which I think is appealing to a cool mom in Bay View or a prepster in Whitefish Bay."

She also feels that the way she employs visual merchandising techniques highlight aspects of a product or piece of clothing that a customer might not have even recognized.

"I may put an outfit together in a way that they may not have thought of before.  Sometimes I'll add a boys clothing item to a girls outfit, or play with the sizes and shapes of the garment in a way they hadn't considered," she says.

"If a toy or accessory color coordinates with a display, a gift buyer will sometimes buy the other items they hadn't planned on, because the overall look is so visually appealing.  I cannot stress how important I think cross-merchandising is in a store."

Colleen Jurkiewicz Reporter

Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.