Back in college, I worked summers at a local grill and ice cream shop serving up patty melts and scooping out ice cream. It was a small, locally owned gem of a place that was only open from “sunrise to sunset.”

After a few months of getting to know the rest of the team there, my manager came to me with what I thought was a totally bizarre question. He wanted to know if I had seen any unique ways to display ice creams cones while I had been at school in Montreal. I had no idea how to answer at the time. Why would Canadian ice cream shops be any different than American ice cream shops?

But sure enough, when I was back at school, I happened upon an Italian restaurant that had displays of cute little crocheted pasta dishes — spaghetti with miniature knitted meatballs and tiny ravioli with felt parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. It worked great for fettucine … but it would also work for ice cream.

While it didn’t look realistic by any means, it was cute and a little bit kitschy, which fit in well with the demographic at the grill/ice cream shop. So, the next summer, when I returned to the ice cream shop, we found a local yarn store that would re-create the idea. And soon we had all kinds of flavors of knitted ice cream scoops to make our own display in Cleveland. Some were piled high, some were set in little paper cups with fake gel syrup and some even had little felt sprinkles. (The fake ice cream also came in handy when kids decided to make a grab at them.)

You never know where your next great idea is going to come from and in retail, inspiration is everywhere if you keep your eyes open. It’s a phenomenon known as the “red car syndrome,” or, more technically, the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon if you’re into psychology. The idea is that if you’re shopping for a red Camry, you’re going to start seeing them all over the road. If you’ve just learned a new word, you start hearing it everywhere. And if you’re looking for retail inspiration, well you know where I’m going with this.

But that all starts by being on the lookout and being open to new ideas. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so there’s nothing wrong with a little “rob and duplicate” if it’s a good fit for your store.

If you’re out shopping for the holidays, take a look around and see if there’s anything that speaks to you. You just might come home with a little more than Christmas cheer.

Kate Spirgen
kspirgen@gie.net