Established in 1956 with 38 charter members, the organization began as the National Association of Store Fixture Manufacturers. Membership grew slowly in the early years, but exploded in the 1990s following the implementation of the association’s first strategic plan. Originally restricted to manufacturers of wood store fixtures, the association gradually came to encompass industry suppliers, other types of fixture providers, and retail designers. This evolution prompted a name change in 2007 to the Association for Retail Environments.
The association has moved its headquarters to various locations throughout its history, including Hollywood, FL, where its office was largely furnished and installed by members. During this time, its reach extended internationally, with members in more than 30 countries all over the world. Run by members for members, the association has seen 31 presidents, as the volunteer leadership is designed to rotate. Staffing has been headed by a succession of four executive directors over the years. The association merged with the National Association of Display Industries (NADI) in 2001 and assumed administration of the Planning and Visual Education Partnership (PAVE) in 2006.