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Visual Merchandising

[whitespace] Propaganda

Propaganda's products create a store's atmosphere

By Jenny Shears

That antique bookshelf you couldn't help admiring while shopping in Banana Republic, or even the scuba-diving equipment you spotted while visiting the Polo store in New York, most likely came from San Francisco. Yes, it's true. Every day, from its SoMa location, the visual merchandising company Propaganda sends out everything from desks, tennis rackets and globes to fishbowls, chests and tables--whatever the company decides is appropriate for their image--to retail locations all over the world.

Advertising or storefronts may lure customers in, but it's the job of a visual merchandiser to get them to stay. David Tyreman, Propaganda's co-owner, explains, "Sometimes you walk into a place and think, This sucks, I have to get out of here. Other times, you walk through the door and think, This is nice, I think I'll stay. Often, it's not even a conscious decision; you just stay because something worked. That's what we have to do; that's what our job is."

Propaganda's founding team, Tyreman and business partner Keith Walton, officially began doing business in June 1988. They started importing antiques from Britain but quickly expanded into the field of visual merchandising. They shifted their main products from antiques to new and "antiqued" manufactured items, which all contribute to a store's atmosphere and add an element of entertainment for retailers and shoppers alike. Now in its 10th year, Propaganda has garnered national attention with major clients like Polo Ralph Lauren, Dillard's, Nautica, Talbot's and Macy's. And surprisingly, their success sprang from humble aspirations; Tyreman and Walton moved from Britain to California hoping to find, as Walton puts it, "an adventure."

And so far, it's been an adventure at that. Their SoMa office space is bright, and the environment is friendly. There's even a corporate boardroom where execs can lounge on beanbags in a Bedouin tent decor. "Our corporate jobs were so dull, so uninspiring," Tyreman says. "In creating Propaganda, Keith and I wanted our business to be exciting, fun and make us feel good."

But it's not always grape-peeling and inspired buying at the Propaganda offices. Tyreman and Walton insist that it's their company's creativity and professionalism that are responsible for the success they have today. After all, getting scuba gear, starfish and chaise longues to 300 Polo locations worldwide in time for a summer campaign requires a lot more than just brainstorming while lounging on some cushy beanbags.

And installing the same lamp or photographic print in hundreds of retail locations entails not only logistics but also a fear of monotony. "I think people complain that stores are becoming too homogenized," Tyreman says, "[like] when Sears looks the same as Target and as Mervyn's."

Still, the job of a visual merchandiser is, by Propaganda's credo, differentiation; each store reflects the shopper's lifestyle and level of sophistication. It's an aspect of the retail industry that Tyreman predicts is only going to grow. "In the future, shopping on the Internet at any hour of the day may not totally replace going to the shops, but if people are doing 10 to 20 percent of their shopping online, then retailers are going to fight. And it's not going to be about money; it's about the experience. People want to go out and be entertained. Why would you bother to go out if you're not going to be entertained?"

For more information, call 415/522-1010.

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From the February 1, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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