Musical staff

How to use competitions to stimulate staff creativity

A vintage postcard shows the winners of an Atlantic City beauty pageant parade; the staff dressed like lobsters and won!

I have been charmed by this vintage postcard, which shows Lobster King Harry Hackney with his lobster waitresses in their award-winning costumes for the Atlantic City Beauty Parade, since I wrote about using pageants for window inspiration in 2008. As I said at the time, you can imagine the buzz in the kitchen when Harry’s staff heard they were going to compete dressed as lobsters. But they certainly look happy to have won!

Never underestimate the power of a contest to excite your staff. While we pride ourselves on always having creative showcases, we find that a contest works wonders to inspire our employees to think outside the box. It’s been a while since there has been one we can enter, but many communities such as Enid, Oklahoma use window display contests to get the holiday spirit going in their town. It’s not too early to start planning Halloween or Christmas competitions in your shopping district.

Display contests are sometimes also sponsored by vendors or commercial organizations. Occasionally, one of our suppliers has created a contest, and if we win, we always share the prize with those who did the creative work. Here’s a great example: You might not think potatoes would be a great inspiration for displays, but the Idaho Potato Commission has been running a contest for 30 years. I love the one with Idaho spelled in spuds!

Local arts groups can involve retail stores in promoting their programs through visual merchandising contests. One year Jazz at Five, a local outdoor music series, invited us to do a showcase for their “improvisation” themed contest. It was a perfect way to get high visibility for their concerts and get retailers involved in their efforts to attract visitors to our downtown area.

If you’re part of a neighborhood shopping district, why not create a little shopping excitement by hosting your own window display contest? You can either ask the merchants to do the windows themselves, or invite guest artists. Ask the public to vote for their favorite, in person or online. Your staff will undoubtedly rise to the occasion – and they’ll be grateful they don’t have to dress like lobsters.

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