Designer Paul Thompson oversees product development and design for key accounts and brand partners at Global Views and Studio A Home and is a longtime visual merchandising expert. He spoke with Home Accents Today about what it takes to bring […]
Designer Paul Thompson oversees product development and design for key accounts and brand partners at Global Views and Studio A Home and is a longtime visual merchandising expert. He spoke with Home Accents Today about what it takes to bring a showroom to life, the challenges of working virtually and his current focus on product development.
You have spent your visual merchandising career in the home furnishings industry. Was it always your intention to focus on that business?
No. I spent time in high school and college working in retail and learned early the power of presentation. Moving to New York City in the mid 80’s, working in the performing arts and theater management, I somehow found opportunity in wholesale visual merchandising for Christmas importers and retailers. Like so many opportunities in my life, visual merchandising was presented to me as an opportunity of the moment that took on a life of its own.
You have been credited with dramatically transforming showrooms and bringing them to life. What do you think are the key elements to a great showroom presentation?
Having a point of view that is unique and fresh; setting yourself apart from the competitors is so important. This directs the physical layout of the room and how the space will be utilized.
No matter the type of product categories you are working in, great visual presentations are made easier with a diverse group of exceptional products. These same products are an extension of your point of view and the messaging that your visual merchandising can have both in wholesale and retail settings.
It seems so basic, but the proper use of light brings the products to life. The true color and textures of product are the selling features and create inviting environments.
Visual merchandising helps sell product, but it also helps educate your interior design and retail customers. How do you balance the two?
The visual merchandising and display are the silent salesperson. The impact that the products have by the presentation alone should evoke a positive experience that draws the customer in to take a closer look. I create dynamic spaces for designers to work with their clients.
Additionally, the showrooms are settings for our retail customers to see what is new and also see how to display products at the retail level. Focusing on new introductions is critical, but showing how older or core items can look new and appealing with various setups is also essential.
The designer and retail store owners ultimately share the same responsibility to their customers — providing excellent products that are appealing and fulfill a need.
How have e-commerce and virtual showrooms changed merchandising strategies?
High resolution imagery has made for dynamic online experiences for wholesale and retail customers and final consumers beyond what was a standard ad in a trade publication. The virtual showroom formats provide effective use of many products sourced from around the world. Using digital photography puts the viewer into the experience, and the ability to walk through a showroom or show home online has helped drive web sales. In this time of quarantine and social distancing and less show travel, these digital imagery options make the showrooms a marketing and sales necessity.
What challenges do they present?
The showrooms must be setup and styled in advance of the photography as would normally happen for various markets. Missing products because of delayed shipping and other reasons means the filming may be delayed when doing the virtual showroom.
Your role at Global Views has shifted to product development. Can you tell us what kind of projects you are working on?
Private label product development is my direction for retailers both large and small. From furniture to wall décor and decorative accessories – nothing is off the table to satisfy our customers. My years in visual display are so helpful to understanding where the products will appear on the wholesale showroom floor or the retail store and how they support the overall product mix.
You have worked as an adjunct professor. What are the most important lessons the industry can pass on to the next generation?
Being creative and inspired is essential, and teaching students the home furnishings and gift industry has been a unique experience. Most students do not know what the wholesale industry encompasses and when they do see the many opportunities within the industry it can be so fulfilling. I believe most students [benefit] by finding a mentor and working in the industry to determine where their skill sets best fit into such a diverse industry.
At a Glance:
Where did you grow up?
I was born Lubbock, Texas, and grew up in small town 40 miles north in Plainview, Tex.
BA Texas Tech University / Design Communication Program at Parsons School of Design-NYC / Scholarship Student Alvin Ailey School of Dance
How did you earn your very first paycheck?
I mowed lawns for years from an early age, but I guess my first real consistent paycheck came from being a lifeguard at the local YMCA from the age of 16. I continued as a lifeguard through high school into college, working at the Air Force base in Lubbock.
What’s one thing—personal or professional—you wish you could do better?
Read minds. I have been working on this for years to avoid pain and heartache as well as to better predict the outcome of personal and business relationships. Sadly, still have not achieved this with any real success.
How do you like to spend your free time?
The performing arts have been a passion as participant and spectator during my life, but the results of the COVID 19 pandemic have taken away these pleasures. Streaming content like Netflix has become a space filler in that segment of my free time. As board member and treasurer for my homeowner’s association I am actively engaged with design and development of new landscaping and retaining walls for the property and have taken a lead role in the design for renovation of the property clubhouse.
What are you reading right now?
“Life with Picasso” (which recounts Picasso’s thinking on art and his relationships with other artists and dealers, as well as his 10-year relationship with younger artist Francoise Gilot, with whom he had two children). I have had the privilege of meeting Francoise Gilot on several occasions and the honor to own one of her many paintings because of a friendship with her U.S. art dealer. I have often been one degree or less in relationship to people of notoriety in their fields and Ms. Gilot has such an interesting life in her own right and to have a book documenting the true being of someone like Picasso is so fascinating!