Joe Baer of Zen Genius Pens Book on Visual Merchandising in the Short North

Short North is one of the most vibrant areas of Columbus, full of unique boutiques with highly visual storefronts. Through the eyes of a visual merchandising expert, CEO and Co-Founder of Zen Genius Joe Baer explores the neighborhood in his new book, The Art of Visual Merchandising: Short North. 

“I think visual merchandising is important because it really takes into account the whole experience for the customer,” Baer says. It affects how each product is presented and perceived – and how a customer feels about how much they spend on a particular product.

“Some of the best retail experiences are in neighborhoods like the Short North,” he says. Baer explores visual merchandising in 10 of the most unique concepts in the area through the book.

Part of the book works to define boutique merchandising as an aspect of visual merchandising. Baer says that many of the Short North store owners come from corporate or retail backgrounds, but want to do what they love. The stores are special and more unique, often providing a personal connection to the owner. From a merchandising standpoint, owners have to be resourceful and creative with how they utilize their often limited space.

“It’s not just a book about visual merchandising,” Baer says. “It’s also a great book about the histories of the store owners.” Readers will find interviews with Tigertree, On Paper, Jeni’s, Three Dog Bakery, Flower Child, Rowe and Rose Bredl, among others. Baer also interviewed Native, who presents an interesting merchandising challenge as they only market one product.


The book also features an interactive component. Using the Aurasma app, Baer was able to incorporate augmented reality into the concept. The app triggers digital content that’s programmed into an image, so photos of store owners have been programmed with their actual interviews.

Baer expects the book to be out at the start of September. It will be sold online via the Zen Genius website and at On Paper, the retailer featured on the cover. The book is a true local effort, with Columbus photographer Sommer Renaldo snapping photos and R Design handling the printing.

Zen Genius has been a Short North staple for 15 years. “We specialize in providing visual merchandising services and support,” Baer says. From Fortune 500 companies to small businesses, Zen Genius offers creative support on short- and long-term projects.

Education is another major component of the business.

“We also train and educate businesses on visual merchandising,” Baer says. The team travels to speak to businesses about the power of visual merchandising.

While visual merchandising has long been a part of business – think window dressings and visual displays – it’s not always something that garners a lot of attention, both as a career and an area of importance for a business to focus on. Zen Genius wants to educate and promote the importance of visual merchandising while building awareness.

Joe Baer
Joe Baer

Baer offers some tips for business owners when it comes to visual merchandising.

“I think visual merchandising is anything a customer can see while they are in the store,” he says. Corners, behind the cash register, etc., all of those details affect the customer experience. He recommends store owners look at their products and really be inspired by them, and understand the business aspect to make smart decisions about where they should be placed. What merchandise should go with it or next to it?

First impressions count, so, “Focus on windows [and the] exterior of store and how that does really need to draw the customer in,” Baer adds. Finally, Baer says to make sure one understands the basic rules of visual merchandising, but don’t be afraid to break them from time to time.

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