We all know that apparel can be a challenging category to sell, even without COVID hanging in the shadows. With all of the extra precautions taken over the past months, it became even harder for this category to get the attention it deserves. With customers staying more focused during their shopping time and browsing less, how do you get this category to move out the door?

Well, there’s some good news that came along with COVID this year for retailers, specifically how it applies to the type of athletic, running and lifestyle apparel most stores are selling in our channel. There’s a tremendous amount of pent-up demand for feeling good, looking good and getting out in the world again that’s given retail a rebound in 2022 much quicker than expected.   

It seems as though many people have finally hit a breaking point on wearing the same thing every day for their Zoom calls and are ready to get some new comfy clothes both for those at- home meetings as well as to work out more as they continue to try and burn off their extra pounds that so many folks have gained. What better place to spiff up their closet than in your store?

So now we’re starting to see some excited consumers anxious to come back and support their local retailers, but the big question remains: Are you ready for them? And what kinds of small (or large) changes can you make in your space to entice them to focus more on the apparel you’ve got to offer?

There are many simple things that can act as silent salespeople for your clothing. Let’s take a look at a few.


There is no single better investment to sell athletic apparel than mannequins. 

Do you have them in your windows to catch customer’s eyes as they drive or walk up? Place them in the front entry way to greet them in the landing zone. Use torso forms on shelves throughout your store and don’t forget how well they can sell accessories, too. Every single full body or torso form should have shoes, socks, hats, hydration packs and hand-held water bottles in addition to proper clothing layers for the season.  Don’t forget about reflective vests and packs or waist belts as well.

Legs forms often get overlooked, but they show fitted tights and capris better than anything. A floppy pair of tights dangling loosely on a hanger doesn’t get the customer excited, but seeing them on a fit pair of legs with a coordinating pair of socks and shoes will catch their eye and bring that product to life.  

Whenever possible, displaying mannequins or leg and torso forms in multiples of two or three creates an even larger impact than one.


Although the bulk of your apparel should be well merchandised together in an impossible-to-miss location, don’t be afraid to cross merchandise and double merchandise product whenever possible.  

For example, you might have a great new trail running display featured in your front entryway on full body mannequins for a teaser of what is on full display in your apparel section. But then don’t forget to bring a hint of that same collection over in or near footwear where the trail shows are displayed.

If space allows, the more you can spread out your apparel throughout the space, the better. Make it impossible for your customers to miss the hot new clothing wherever they are in the store. Many of our store designs incorporate apparel displays integrated in to the footwear area for this very reason. 

Socks and other soft goods accessories should absolutely be displayed in two or three areas throughout your spaces.


Many store owners scoff at signage, saying things like, “My store is so small, it’s pretty hard to get lost in it!” But keep in mind, it’s not about getting lost, it’s just as much about planting silent seeds in your customer’s heads as they glance around the space or explore a little.  

Although the bigger categories such as footwear and socks may be more obvious, it’s very possible many customers have never even noticed all of the compression socks and tights you may have or the assortment of hydration packs because they’ve never bothered to check out the backside of a rack. 

By placing a few key signs throughout the retail floor space, it catches the attention of your shoppers and leads them around to impulse items they may not even be aware that you carried.   

I love the quick hit feature signs that can really call out key technical or comfort points on apparel, especially outwear or sports bras, that may otherwise go unnoticed. Take some time to have a professional graphic designer create a cohesive collection of product feature signs to place near more technical or higher end collections.   

Adding QR codes to tech signage is a great way to pull your customers over to your website for more technical information and also keeps COVID-sensitive customers feeling more comfortable if they want to step away from people to do some more research while shopping. 


Nobody ever complains of having too much time on their hands — it just doesn’t happen. So do your customers a favor and take the work out of building outfits with your apparel. 

Besides creating unexpected outfits on your mannequins to inspire your shoppers, you can also do this on nesting tables, magnetic wall displays or by creating feature displays in the front of your apparel section that are loaded with only pre-set outfits from head to toe.  

If you’re really maintaining your online presence well, take the time to feature a new outfit on the home page that correlates with the presentation your customers see as soon as they enter your store. They’ll start to make these connections and after browsing late night online, they may be ready to the pull the trigger on that outfit when they come in for shoes the following week and are greeted by the same cute outfit that caught their eye on your website.  

One more thing: Stock less apparel on the floor, as sifting through all that stock is no longer what shoppers are up for. Put less on display and refill more frequently.  

Customers want it quick, easy and spoon fed to them, so start offering what they’re after and watch your apparel start selling itself more than ever. 

Holly Wiese has more than 30 years experience in visual merchandising and retail design. She founded 3 Dots Design in 2009 and works primarily in the specialty run, bike and outdoor channels. She can be reached at [email protected]