Recently, I was helping a friend and coworker design and develop a printed in-store merchandising guidebook that would show employees how to set up and display new product in a retail store, in this case, home furnishings. Not only would this one hundred plus page full-color catalog provide the retail stores with a great tool for store setup, but it would also help educate new employees on the large product line and elevate brand awareness by showcasing in-store displays, signage and other marketing and sales tools.
Hiring a professional photographer is often a problem for many businesses. It takes careful planning, constant assistance and direction, often at great expense. While the use of this printed guidebook was for in-store use only, customers are often exposed to this book as it can be used as a sale’s tool. So, the photography and design must look professional. Also, we wanted the book to inspire the sale's team.
We were not looking to reinvent the next Martha Stewart catalog, with gleaming pretty pictures at far away luxury destinations with beautifully lit sets and fancy styling. We just wanted photographs that looked professional, without the professional price tag to go with it. The photography for the previous in-store guides was shot with a cheap point and shoot camera, the pictures were blurry and drab.
My recommendation was fairly simple and would not require a huge investment in photography equipment. There were two main problems with the existing photography: poor lighting inside the store (for photography), and substandard camera equipment.
We decided to conduct a few tests. There was not a whole lot we could do with the store’s interior lighting. The lighting was designed to highlight the product for shoppers, but it didn’t work well for photography. The obvious solution would be to set up studio lights to highlight the colors and bring clarity to the photographs. But purchasing fancy studio equipment was cost prohibitive, and would create a steep learning curve for members of the retail design team who would be taking the pictures. Setting up professional studio lighting was also a slow tedious process. This catalog would contain several hundred shots and we had a short window of time to finish the photography.
We purchased a high quality digital SLR with high image resolution, a good lens, a small portable hand-held flash unit, and a tripod. Not only did this achieve higher quality images than the previous catalog, but it was not a big expense (around $2000 dollars for the camera gear, about the same price for two days work with a professional photographer). With a little training on camera basics, and some practice, we were able to achieve much better results than we did with the old camera. The pictures looked sharp and showed good color. The design staff could shoot at will, and set up shots whenever necessary, reducing the hassle of planning and scheduling a professional photographer.
For the design of the book, we purchased professional page layout software (Adobe InDesign) and set up simple easy to use layout templates (our in house graphic designer built these templates). We sent our store designer off to get some software training. This was an added expense, but well worth the investment. She was already familiar with graphics software and quickly learned how to assemble pages. It turns out that she had studied photography in high school and became very adept at handling the camera. She gained a lot from the experience, and the company saved money in the long run. The training guide is now published on time, within budget and it looks great.