Lessons From a Tag Sale

By now, I’m sure you’re wondering when I’m going to get to the point of this personal saga. Here it is: In this selection process, I created groupings, classifications, color stories, and themes. I was stocking our new home, but it was very much like buying for a store.

When you buy for your store, it should be with an eye to how and where each piece will be displayed.


When you shop in a showroom, items are usually grouped together; the implication is that they should be bought as a group and displayed in the same way in your store. It is expected, of course, that your customer will buy the group as is. Needless to say, it rarely works that way. In reality, there are always some winners and some losers in these grouped selections. If you’ve been in business for a while, you know the difference — that’s why you’re still in business! So select the goodies, forget the baddies, and choose companion pieces for the goodies, keeping color, material, concept, and size in mind.


For example, if you find a great group of Delft blue accessories, but only five pieces are truly terrific, consider solids to fill out the selection. Look for matching blue pieces, or think about picking either gold, terra-cotta, or lemon yellow accessories to enhance the blue-and-white pieces.

Size counts. In order to create interesting displays, you should try to buy pieces in a variety of sizes. Ideally, there should be a gradation from short to tall and small to large in your table, shelf, or window display.

Lights and darks need to be balanced. If you have a group of all-black accessories, break it up with another solid in a light tone. As my recent experience taught me, black and gold work well together.

The need for balanced colors also applies to multicolored arrangements. If you have a rainbow of colors in one classification and they really work well as a group, check out your brights to make sure they are scattered evenly throughout the display. Yellow and white are the two colors that “pop” and can be used to lead the eye around the display. Don’t concentrate the cools in one place and the brights in another if you want the rainbow look. If the rainbow effect doesn’t work visually, group cools (blues, greens, and violets) together and warms (reds, oranges, yellows, and browns) together.


One-of-a-kind items are great if you have pedestals on which to show them, or windows that allow you to highlight individual pieces with mini halogen spots so that they glow. In some cases, you can find ancillary pieces that work with a one-of-a-kind object and create a grouping. The “find” becomes the focal point, and the extras are there to enhance in glory. The extras should be items that work both visually and practically with the fab piece. For example, if you find a one-of-a-kind teapot, put it on a buildup next to cups and saucers that work with it in terms of color, style, or feel. If you have a ceramic cat, place it next to a (rinsed out, empty) cream carton for a fun display. Unexpected elements add interest and personality to your displays … and your store.


In preparation for my tag sale from hell, I pulled together pieces that worked as a group. For example, I put together all the silverplated trays, all the Chinese items, all the wood, all the ceramics, all the glassware, all the paintings, and all the lamps. This strategy works well for a tag sale. Unfortunately, in a store it can look pretty boring. However, if you prefer this type of merchandising, there is a way to give it life. If all of your classifications are neatly displayed around the store — on tables near the walls, in the middle of your store, and in focal areas — create boutiqued tables. On one table, place a lamp, a tray, a ceramic piece, a glass, a painting (on a small easel), and other items that work together visually. Combine them through color, theme, style, or just good intuition. These boutiqued tables will teach your customers how to purchase multiple pieces that work together.


Of the more than 100 accessories I had at my disposal for my tag sale, at least 75 were gold or black, in some form or another. You’re lucky in that you have a vast array of colors to work with and can easily keep your displays from looking dull or uninteresting.

color test

There are several ways to pull together a great color story.

  1. The first method is the easiest: Work with only one group from one vendor. That’s simple.
  2. Second, you can opt to do a monochromatic color story showing shades and variations of one color, such as bright orange, peach, terra-cotta, or yellow-orange. Monochromatic color stories are head-turners! The items in this “story” can come from across the board. Use anything that works visually. With this method, practicality is secondary.
  3. Third, you can employ a combination of two neutrals with one bright (yellow, orange, hot pink, lime green, electric blue, or red). This will make for a strong display and will give people ideas for decorating in their own homes. Using contrasting colors can also be effective, provided it is done in small areas. Combine hot pink with lime green, yellow with purple/blue, or red with light blue. Being brave with color can produce some great results. Of course, it can also look awful. If you are unsure of your combinations, ask the opinion of a fellow worker or a customer whose taste you admire. They will usually tell you the truth, and will appreciate the fact that you respected them enough to ask.


CATCHY THEMEA themed display is much more than just a presentation according to classification. A theme is similar to a boutiqued technique. You want to pull pieces together that make sense, and then perhaps add a touch of whimsy. For example, when I was working with one great children’s gift store in Essex, Massachusetts, I suggested combining all the rockets, planets, stars, moons, and robots for a “space experience” window display.

At Chris’ house, I combined early childhood mementos such as a photo, a silver spoon, and baby shoes with some current memorabilia, including his MBA diploma, a vase, and a bowl. Somehow, all of the items fit together nicely, and told a story at the same time.

On one table, I did a themed display of vases — all sizes, shapes, and colors (although many were black or gold or bore Chinese patterns). To add interest, I threw in some matching bowls (round, but shorter than the vases). I then propped a Chinese print behind the grouping to serve as a backdrop.

After the four-hour tag sale, we walked away with a little over $700. I’m convinced that the displays had something to do with that. Of course, the fact that it was an indoor tag sale held in the midst of monsoon-scale rains may have contributed to our success. But I learned two things about tag sales and decorative accessories that day: One, instead of “early birds,” the people who come two hours early to a tag sale should be called “vultures”; and, two, no matter how bizarre and unattractive some pieces may be, the market for decorative accessories is alive and well.

Linda Cahan is the principal of Cahan & Company, a retail visual design company in Fairfield, Connecticut. She is a member of both the Society of Visual Merc

Love and lifestyles

Gift store operators can generate better-than-average revenue from the proper merchandise of their bridal registries. Some of the items that could be marketed effectively are picture frames for the bridal portrait, rings and jewel boxes, and an assortment of wedding invitations. Retailers can also offer items that will reflect the varied religious and other backgrounds of the couples.

Rings and jewel boxes

Rings and jewel boxes

Rings are an important part of weddings and are one of the oldest wedding traditions. The wedding ring is a mark of both spiritual bond and commercial contract. Usually, it’s a diamond engagement ring for the bride with both bride and groom receiving rings for the popular double ring ceremony. You don’t sell wedding rings? But do suggest that the bride list a ring holder or small jewelry box on her registry. Both are excellent shower gifts. If it is to be a “couple” shower, as so many are, listing a jewelry box for him would be a nice gift suggestion. How about ultrasonic jewelry cleaning machines as an excellent wedding or shower gift?

Invitations vary


One of the greatest changes in the rituals of weddings involves wedding invitations. The classic traditional engraved invitation, with black ink on fine-grade paper, is often by-passed for pastel borders, floral designs, theme-related or photo-featured invitations.

Today, invitations often include the names of both his and her parents, or all parents and step-parents if there has been divorce and remarriage, plus, in many cases, the couple’s names as well, “jointly” inviting you to share in the happy occasion. The joint effort is as old as invitations themselves, but “new” again in this decade.

While many brides will opt for the “new age” invitations, those selling invitations will need to know the “why’s and wherefore’s” of traditional invitations to advise the bride on what is the “preferred” way.

Then there is the matter of showers. Friends throw “him and her,” “his or hers” and “her” showers. A “him and her” gift registry shower list would include do-it-yourself tools or kits and gifts that could serve the couple jointly, such as clocks, cookware, small appliances, games, gourmet baskets, breakfast trays and travel diaries.

“His or her” shower gift suggestions include mugs, breakfast trays, bath and desk accessories and informal patterns of dinnerware, flatware and stemware. Traditional shower gifts for brides include lingerie and personal gifts such as a purse mirror, lipstick caddie and items for her dresser.

Gifts for varied backgrounds


Couples in 1996 will often celebrate their differences in religion by having a marriage ceremony that includes the blessings of dual officiates and the lighting of a Unity Candle, which brings disparate backgrounds in religion into harmony. Are you prepared to meet these needs by having Unity Candies and pedestals available, as well as a Bridal Mail Box for collecting gifts of money brought to the wedding, shower and guests registry books, pens, wedding planning books, cake tops and sixpence? Marriages today may be multi-racial, multi-religion and multi-family. If there are children from another marriage, do you suggest a family medallion for each child to help the child relate to the new marriage in a positive way.

Since many of today’s brides and grooms both work, couples are pitching in together to make an apartment, condominium or house a home. They blend decorating ideas from their years alone into one creative environment. Cooking, cleaning, children or children-to-be demand their combined energy. Many find that “take out” food is an alternative to cooking as they settle in for some quality time. Wine glasses, lap trays, napkins, mats, napkin rings, fun dinnerware, flatware and stemware are appreciated, so suggest them.

For the do-it-yourself couples, gifts such as coffee, espresso and cappuccino machines, bread-making machines, blenders, mixers, kitchen gadgets or any small appliances make the perfect gift.

Favourite Gifts

The all-time favorite hobby of Americans today is gardening. With many “gardens” planted within the confines of a window sill, patio or balcony, your bridal registry should capitalize on the trend by displaying an array of garden-related items. There are water fountains, bird baths, statuary, bird feeders, planters, cachepots, vases in all shapes and sizes, tools, sundials, wind chimes, watering cans and herb kits with seeds and pots. They should be a part of today’s bridal registry suggestions.

Fiscal reasons for registries

The bridal market encompasses $35 billion, as measured by 159 products and services. Since the bridal market represents only 2.6 percent of all U.S. households, amazingly it accounts for 11.5 percent of small kitchen appliances, 10.4 percent of linens and domestics sold, and up to 75 percent of all fine china dinnerware sales. The bridal couple clearly represents a disproportionately high share of all total retail sales.

There is a reason: high acquisition rates in a short period of time, particularly when compared to established households. The bridal couple must acquire a wide array of products and services within a brief period of time. They have a deadline no other customer has — the wedding date. It’s during this period of compression that marketers must have an impact on these prospects with their messages.

Today’s couples have grown up during a period of the greatest prosperity and affluence in our nation’s history. In entering their lives, their aspirations and expectations have never been higher. Nor has their ability to fulfill them been greater. They belong to a generation of young women and men who are the most sophisticated, highly educated, economically capable consumers in history. Career-oriented, acquisition-conscious, confident of themselves, today’s newlywed couples are determined to begin their new lives together with the best of everything. Is your store prepared to meet their needs and expectations with your bridal registry?

DORIS NIXON, a registered bridal consultant, is director of educational services for the National Bridal Service, Richmond, Va., which provides advertising, training and merchandising services to more than 400 member stores. Mrs. Nixon is co-author of the books “Your Wedding and How to Enjoy It” and “Make Room for the Groom.” A leading retailer for many years, she is considered an authority on creative table settings. She will be happy to answer your questions.