Please Don't Color Me Green

January 5, 2013
Probably as earth shattering as Time Magazine’s pronouncement of Person of the Year is Pantone’s proclamation of the Color of the Year. For 2013, that color is - - - wait for it - - - Emerald Green (Pantone color #17-5641).  I can just hear the sigh of relief coming from you or is that the chirping of grasshoppers as a sign of your boredom?

Now, don’t get me wrong, Emerald Green might be pretty but I don’t see how that is relevant to my store or our industry. So, I went to Google and found that for the past three years, Pantone’s Color of the Year were for:
    2012: Tangerine (17-1463), a very bright orange
    2011: Honeysuckle (18-2120), a lighter shade of hot pink, and
    2010: Turquoise (15-5519).

My first thought was, “If I had purchased clothes in those years based on Pantone’s dictates, I would be ashamed to wear them now because they’d be so out of date.” Worse, if I had purchased furniture in those colors I would be stuck with a lot of inventory.

That in turn got me to thinking how a company with such great credentials as Pantone could have gotten it so wrong. But, the more I thought about it, I realized I was approaching this from the wrong angle. I didn’t make a mistake by buying in neutral colors like Antique Beige, Dupione Bamboo, Canvas Spa, or Canvas Granite. Those are great base colors to build on. Instead, I made a mistake by not showing accessories like throw pillows, carpets, and table top accessories in a range of colors including Pantone’s Color of the Year.

All of these add-on items can make or break a good display. In addition, by changing the accessories from one color way to another, a Antique Beige sofa group can look entirely different. Mixing turquoise and oranges with a Antique Beige give it a chic mid-century modern look so popular in lofts. The same cushions accessorized with emerald green, hot pink, forest and lime green have a more contemporary look. Finally, change the throw pillows, napkins, and glasses to grey, charcoal, rose, and burgundy and you have sophisticated, formal look. One set of furniture, at least three different looks.

None of this should be new to any of us. Our industry has advanced from two colors, green to match the lawn and turquoise to match the pool water, to swatch books with hundreds of colors, patterns and textures. In fact, the sea of choices can be intimidating when trying to figure out what is going to sell and what isn’t. It gets easier though, if you follow the pattern of neutral base fabrics decorated with this year’s “hot color.” Remember, it is cheaper to replace a throw pillow than it is to replace a whole set of cushions.

Even with this buying strategy, the huge swatch books we have to look through at Casual Market can be very confusing. The Interweb to the rescue. I go to the Kuler web site. If I know I want to put Antique Beige on a set, I use Kuler to make a theme with that as a Base Color. Then I decide on additional colors for the theme by choosing from six rules the site offers for creating color families. If I want colors in the same family, I choose “Analogous.”  Or, I choose “Complementary” for colors that compliment but are are completely different from my base. Sometimes I get adventurous by creating a “custom” theme. For those times when I don’t trust my creative abilities, the site features hundreds of themes developed by users who are so proud of them, they post them to the site for everyone to see and use.

Regardless, of how you get there, you need to get there. Consumers are not inspired when they walk into a showroom that is a “sea of brown.” Their shopping experience increases ten fold when spots of color are used to enhance our displays. Color is what will make our stores different from big box, warehouse club, or home improvement center showrooms. Try it, you will like it.

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce