If first impressions count, then so too does your shop window

While you can't always judge a book by its cover, you can tell a lot about a store by its windows. Take a look at yours - are they clean, bright and clutter-free, or are you hard pushed to see through a wall of garish advertising, greasy fingerprints, the odd dead fly and who knows what else?
If you answer yes to any of the above, you need to take action, as you could be losing valuable sales from customers who choose to walk past your store and into the arms of gleaming-windowed competitors.
Dominic Perks, managing director of shopfitting company Uno Retail Solutions, explains: "A window is a store's primary visual marketing tool. If the window display is dirty, nobody is going to want to buy food from you. Keeping windows clean and ensuring that everything is tidy are vital to trading successfully."
Just taking the time once a week to clean your windows could have a noticeable impact on the number of shoppers who enter your store. Most towns and villages have a local window cleaner who, for a small fee (usually about £4) will wipe away all those unsightly fingerprints and dirt. If not, a quick swipe with a damp cloth will do the job.
Cleaning the inside, and removing the jumble of dead insect parts, is equally important.
Cracked and peeling paint on sills and frames is also a big turn-off for shoppers, says Cliff Messiter, vice-president of the British Display Society. "Poor paintwork gives shoppers the impression that you don't care, so why should they care to enter your store?" he says.
The second most important thing to do is de-clutter. You'd do it if you were selling your home, so the same needs to be done when trying to sell your business to the consumer.
"A cluttered window prevents people from being able to see into your store," adds Perks. "It gives the impression that you have something to hide."
It also prevents natural light from filtering into the store, making for a stale, gloomy interior - hardly conducive for enticing shoppers to spend money.
If you want to go one step further and really pull in the punters, there are a number of other tricks that you can conjure up in terms of display. You could employ the services of a local window dresser - local colleges and art schools are good places to look and their services shouldn't cost the earth, either.
However, if you have an artistic flair, there are simple things that you can do yourself. To start with, think about your store and what you offer your shoppers. What makes you stand out from the competition? Maybe you have an impressive food-to-go counter, or sell a wide range of local or organic foods, or perhaps you offer great bargains.
Try to make your unique selling point the focus of your window. If you offer fresh produce, a few glossy vinyl graphics of apples and bananas placed on the inside of windows could make a difference.
You could also try placing products in the window that shoppers might be unaware that you sell, such as stationery, beauty products or alcohol. Stacking products in a pyramid formation, or at varying heights, is a good way of displaying them as it catches shoppers' attention.
"Care should be taken over the stock used," warns Messiter. "Some things may get sun-bleached or heat-damaged and cannot be re-sold."
In addition, try to accentuate the products with good lighting.
Messiter also advises retailers to change their display about once a month, to keep the window fresh and interesting.
He also recommends choosing a theme, such as a particular season of the year, a good product promotion, or a local event such as a fair, school sports day or competition.
When a stage of last year's Tour de France flew through his village of Goudhurst in Kent, independent retailer John Maxwell Jones used the opportunity to theme his window. "In the months leading up to the race I collected a vast amount of French props, such as cheese boxes, flags and cycling gear. The centrepiece was a beautiful racing bike which I borrowed from the local sports shop. When it was finished the window looked absolutely fantastic and people were talking about it for weeks," he says.
Borrowing props from other traders is a novel way to come up with interesting displays. An attractive spring window could be achieved by borrowing some flower pots and props from a local garden centre, in exchange for putting up a small card saying where they came from.
If you are reluctant to open up your window display, for fear that it might expose unsightly pieces of machinery or shelving, another good tip is to use a backdrop. Something as simple as draping an attractive piece of material, or pinning some brightly coloured wrapping paper across a section of the window can help.
A backdrop is also a good way of increasing the standout of your display, although take care not to block out too much light.
Covering sections of the store window with some bold window graphics, often with large pictures of delicious product, is currently a popular trend, adds Uno's Perks. "This can look stunning and certainly seems to market stores effectively. This simple exercise increased sales by 15% overnight at a recent Uno development."
Well, it's not pronounced 'win dough' for nothing.