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We are design advocates for our clients best interests, mentoring them through what can be a daunting process, happening in an area outside of their normal business practice
INSIGHTS: A DISCUSSION ABOUT RETAIL STORE DESIGN
Gaddis Architect specializes in all phases of retail store design, design management and construction. If maximizing the success of your business by optimizing the performance of your store design is a goal, then attending the following “Insights” could provide some very real benefits. Many common, and some not so common, retail design challenges are analyzed. Solutions aimed at increasing retail traffic, creating visual presence in various environments, and expressing not only a particular shopping experience but also the retailer’s brand, are presented. Please scroll on, start a dialogue, contact us anytime.
Marcel’s Yoga Boutique,
has turned out to be one of our most sophisticated designs. Recently completed, it was featured in the Old Town Crier, and we were also happy to answer some questions posed by Cindy Laidlaw, Principal of Laidlaw Group, the marketing communications firm who does the blog for the company who manufactures the shelving system. The content is especially informative for anyone thinking about a new retail project so I am posting some of it here along with links to the articles.
Question: Where and when did the idea for the studio start? Answer: Marcela came to me on the recommendation the local Small Business Development Center. As it turned out, my office is exactly across the street from her shop. Talk about Karma?
Question: What is your background? Answer: This is the bio that I use in many blog post. Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-Accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and has a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction.
Question: What was the vision of the project? Answer: Marcela had a vision that centered around the lotus flower. It is part of her logo and where we started to design. I liked the water element inherent in the lotus environment and aimed at suggesting this by the use of curved glass shelves as a feature in the shop. There is a mystique attached to the idea of yoga and one way of visually representing the calm is with open space – not so easy in a tiny shop. By merchandising mainly the walls we were able to define really nice site lines that terminate in beautiful merchandise displays while at the same time maintaining the “karma” of open space.
Question: What inspired the design? Answer: The lotus flower.
Question: What were the installation challenges of the space? Answer: The building is old and the exterior walls are plaster directly on furred out brick. They were totally out of plumb. We had to fur out a wall and use a back panel in order install the wall mounted standards.
Question: In addition to Rakks, what other materials were used? Answer: We used a rustic piece of wood, with the shape of the tree still in its profile, to anchor and complete the feature wall. The effect is very organic.
Question: How long did the project take? Answer: It took about 4 months.
y out of plumb, to the extent that, in order to use the wall mounted Rakks standards, we had to build a drywall stand out in front of the existing wall.
Question: What is the history of the building? Answer: The building is in the historic district of Old Town Alexandria, VA.
Question: Where can I find out more about the products on display? Answer: Marcela’s Yoga Boutique
Way back in 2012, John Freeman, a developer known for Bethesda Row, caught my attention when he said, in reference to main street retail, “I hate brands.” Since then, I have been considering the notion in relation to retail store design. I actually set up a google alert in order to be notified whenever “unbrand” came up in some online post, and was rewarded,
mostly with lots of spam. Nevertheless, I persisted until the topic finally turned up hot for 2015, when according to many retail gurus, the era of “conspicuous branding” was over, having been replaced by understated luxury, downplayed wealth, individual identities, personal taste, non-conformance, no labels, and resulting in the rise of, among other things, “fast fashion.” All of this was deemed to have not a little to do with a bad economy, underemployment, high debt, student loans, the rise of social media, and directly affecting the shopping habits of that ever to be courted target market of 18 – 34 year olds, the Millennials, projected to spend 1.2 trillion by 2020, and leading a retailer to ask, “now what?”
Non Logo Times
Certainly, adapting to the “…non logo times” has not been so easy. Few would argue that many malls are in trouble, department stores are closing
locations, and since 2013, at least, are moving towards smaller, more fragmented stores. Neither are efforts at “de-branding” always successful. In 2015, the Gap tried, with their “dress normal” campaign, to detach the name from the product and sales went down. As if to compensate, it seems that Macy’s at least, is now poised in 2015 to test out converting some locations to outlet type stores, competing with TJ Max, and others. So does all this tell us anything about what is to be expected in the 2016 retail environment?
The beginning of the year is harvest time for those of us with an interest in projections about emerging trends in retail store design and planning. I leave the detailed explanations to the experts, preferring, for those inclined towards bullet points, to describe the trends in
terms of the numerous “buzzwords” inherent in the various texts, which process is a lot like what designers do, i.e., translate cryptic verbal prompts into visual images. If you care to dive more deeply into the subject, the articles are referenced in the links at the end. Otherwise, I offer the following description of the retail environment in 2016, which begs the question, “does ‘omni channel retail’ demand ‘omni channel’ design?”
- Omni Channel Retail
- Off & Online Shopping
- Expanded Value Chains = Mushrooming Brand
- Non Tech Technologers
- Less $ ≠ More Sales
- Online Black Monday = Offline Black Thursday
- Wearable Gadgets
- Cross Channel Personalization
- IT Integration
- Seamless Buying Experience
Recently I have looked at some design features that can make a store stand out, or differentiate, from its neighbors in the mall scape, leading to a design idea that I may, or may not, have mentioned previously; namely mall storefronts are being treated like billboards. Compare, for example, the type of merchandising that is going on in the Aldo store with that of the Buy Paris Collection below. On a practical level this may not be a very fair comparison as Aldo has rallied all of its substantial store planning resources around supporting and marketing their brand, while the shop in the Paris airport is marketing multiple brands, probably with considerably less resources. That said, this discussion is academic and I am using the contrast between the two shops to demonstrate a design technique.
Clearly, Aldo has used every inch of wall space to deliver a marketing message about their product. It is a message being delivered to virtually every potential shopper with a view of the store no matter where that shopper happens to be located. The desire to accomplish this is nothing new. The installation of billboard size images on every available inch of visible wall, on the other hand, is a fairly new trend. I expect it is only a matter of time before the message, actually creeps onto the ceiling, and I am sure examples of exactly this can easily be found.
By comparison, the Buy Paris Collection casts its marketing net into a much smaller visual pond simply by dint of scale. Certainly good design practice is employed. The high contrast between the white illuminated sign on the black background along with the brightly colored banner are attention grabbing features. The interior signage, illuminated graphics and nicely displayed merchandise all follow the store planning rules, leading me to ask; is one of these techniques more effective that the other?
The question is one of relevance. The retail environment, always competitive, is ever more so now. Pressured on one side by online competition and the other by indirect competitors for the attention of the same customer base, retailers are feeling compelled to enter the context of entertainment shopping. It is a fluid environment where relevance is everything.
I took this photo of a new Bath & Body Works store in a recently renovated local mall because the project is instructive on several levels. First there is no doubt about who the retailer is. The name is perfectly highlighted on the front of the main entry fixture, again above the wall display, and of course on the storefront sign, there but not shown. Some landlords try to limit the number of times a retailer can repeat their logos in the line of vision. I find that, recently, this practice has been giving way in favor of more flexible design guidelines, possibly in response to tighter retail markets. Either way, repetition is good for the brand.
This project is about more that the name though. It is about delivering a marketing message, which is done here by the clever incorporation of text into the very context of the store. Let’s consider the context first. The checked wall covering is extremely busy and could have, in a different application, gone totally wrong. It is working here because the high contrast both attracts attention and supports the message in terms of scale. In fact, it functions as a connection between the blocks of small merchandise and the actual text messages which are all offset in large solid color fields. These solid color blocks show up as more that just backdrops for signage. They are used in the back of displays, as plain color coded markers used to define categories of merchandise, and even as fat text turned into color blocked display fixtures. The result is interesting and completely readable.
Three design principles to focus attention into a store.
I took this photo in a newly renovated local mall because I thought that Pandora did a nice job of focusing attention into the store and onto the tiny merchandise. Any retailer faced with marketing very small products knows what a challenge this can be. Three principals come together to make the design effective. First, areas of high contrast jump out of an otherwise mid tone world. Think of the dark blue showcases on the left as the real shop entrance. Notice that if this is the visual entrance, then Disney is written on the door. Second, a progressively lighter version of the carefully placed pastel backdrops draw the shopper further into the space, until the brightest showcase is in the back. Third, the progression is further reinforced, this time in terms of scale. If the storefront is thought of as a single large display case then we see it divide into progressively smaller units as we move toward the perimeter of the store, effectively pointing until we find ourselves staring directly at the tiny products featured inside of the smallest showcase in the rear. Such a sophisticated approach is very difficult for even the most experienced designer to achieve, often happening more by good luck than planning. Planned or not, a retail architect will surely find several store design lessons to be learned here.
Every time I see one of these pink T Mobile stores I wonder if the glowing pink walls, circa 2011, have translated into increased sales. The design, we are told, creates a positive customer experience by sporting an open plan, service desks, interactive centers, merchandising that puts device and accessory together, and mostly a wow factor. In 2013 & 14 the number of customers increased dramatically thanks, we are told, to T Mobile’s “Uncarrier” program. Whether the store design has had an impact is hard to say, excepting the wow factor part, which to my way of thinking has little to do with the customer’s experience and everything to do with presence in the mall scape. Maybe, in a retail market where products are sold across every media type, showing up is all that is required from the actual “bricks & mortar” store.
I question whether the same “just show up” type of design strategy works very well for product lines more dependent upon customer interaction to complete a sale. I would suggest that, in this situation, the wow factor can actually cancel the customer experience, which is exactly what is happening to the sun glass shop in the photo. Extreme light levels, positioned behind the merchandise, combine with the white “daylight” color temperature to obscure all product detail and and cast a ghoulish glow onto a shopper, even to the extent that the very white walls actually appear gray. If this is not enough, the edge lit shelves become a focal point, a gimmick, attracting more attention than the merchandise placed upon them. Theses are expensive displays with a lot of technology, and if creating a positive shopping experience is the goal, they fail miserably. It was actually painful to stand in the space. They do cause the store to jump out of the mall scape, though. Is it enough?
I started 2015 by attending and event about a subject near and dear to those of us intimately involved with the retail trade. Namely, “Marketing Trends for 2015,” a worthwhile presentation sponsored by the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, and given by Maurisa Potts, CEO and Founder of Spotted MP Marketing and PR. I left thinking that voluminous amounts of available market data make it possible to predict future buying habits of the American public and even help define a narrative about their expectations in terms of both on and offline shopping environments. Knowing how those shopping environments will end up looking is something else entirely.
Jeff Green writing in Chain Store Age summarizes events of 2014, saying that retailers are being squeezed by rising real estate costs, increases in the minimum wage, and online shopping. Furthermore, the last of these leads to value shopping and, at least partially, defines the challenge of 2015, which is for a retailer to successfully optimize sales over all distribution channels. A tall order, addressed to the extent possible by author and “Retail Prophet,” Doug Stephens when he tells us 2015 will find retailers thinking of their sales force as either highly skilled brand ambassadors or clerical type order processors. There will be no room for mediocrity as it applies to, not only product, but also staff and the physical environment. New “brick and mortar” stores will be seen as places of collaboration, customization, and experience. I have found some of this to be underway for awhile. Certainly creating an “experience” focused shopping environment aimed at a target market has been an emerging store planning goal for at least 2014 and probably beyond. Stephens says the trend is being further fueled by tech and media savvy shoppers with an insatiable appetite for something new and translating in a tendency toward shorter leases and popup shops, even to the extent that Stephens referred to future mall managers as curators. As a retail architect I see this manifesting in specialization and variety and suggest a degree of caution, as straddling the line between new and passe is timeless, always a goal, not often accomplished.
It is probably safe to say that many people know little, if anything, about what architects actually do. How, then, can one benefit from an architect’s, or other design professional’s, services when faced with planning a new store? We have found that the most successful projects happen when our clients have a clear understanding of the architectural and store planning process. To that end, we are introducing the following free publications:
This is a 50 minute power point presentation, so allow enough time, or start and stop as time permits. Also, a transcript is provided if you prefer. A comprehensive view of the architectural process required to build a new retail store is first outlined, and then related to the business plan. It has valuable information for anyone seriously considering opening or expanding a retail store.
This is a one page document that outlines major catch points that can cost new or expanding retailers time, money or both. It is a good quick reference for any startup or newly expanding retailer with a building project somewhere in their future.
- Please select the link to receive these “must read” free publications, especially directed towards expanding or startup retailers.
I was researching another project when I ran across these book stores. I was looking for examples of how different finish materials can change the perception of quality in a space, and as these views are void of brand signs, they allow for a fairly objective comparison on a store planning level as well. The examples were good enough to turn into an article as follows:
Store 1 – This first store reminds me of Strand Bookstore in New York City, locally famous for used books, which should not come as a surprise as the plastic on the windows, mismatched fixtures, cheap but effective fluorescent lighting and existing brick walls and wood floors all suggest, not only extreme economy, but also sustainability. The chairs and wide aisles suggest a comfortable and possibly entertaining shopping experience. In NYC this equals “shabby chic.” Anywhere else it risks being just shabby.
Store 2 – The actual fixtures used in this store, likely high quality painted wood, display the merchandise for maximum advantage and provide storage as well. Nevertheless, carpet and acoustic tile floors and ceilings are strictly utilitarian, as is the lighting, which is adequate but stylistically dated as it is used here. The monotone, high foot candle light level removes the possibility of any particular focus or feature areas, as does the “many evenly spaced rows” type of layout. This ambiance is all about volume and possibly crosses over to discount.
Store 3 – This appears to be a high profile, historic, urban environment that is possibly a destination unto itself. Efforts have been made to help the store fixtures disappear into the location. Wood shelving and display tables match existing architectural trim and carefully placed invisible light sources outline perimeter merchandise walls artfully tucked under the balcony. Like dancers in a grand ballroom, table top displays nicely present the merchandise to main floor shoppers. A polite, public mood prevails.
Store 4 – This is another example of how existing buildings can drive the retail ambiance of a space. Exposed structure, skylights, stone walls, and distressed concrete floors identify an industrial loft type environment made relevant by the addition of colorful art lights, and a bit of modern ceiling material. Tall store fixtures made of construction grade wood emphasize the soaring ceiling height and merge into the prevailing aesthetic. One might be surprised to find that this trendy store, like store 1, is also selling used books.
Store 5 – Perhaps the most unique of the stores, this is defined first by the the top to bottom wood finishes and then by the contemporary parkitecture, including the shelving units carefully incorporated therin. Visions of everything from Hoss Cartwright’s Ponderosa to Bilbo Baggin’s Hobbit Hole are conjured. The place practically invites the shopper to enter a mysterious world of fantasy.
Store 6 – Finally we have the shop of no finishes, except of course the books, representing the weighty world of gold bound illuminated manuscripts and classic volumes read and reread over time in days when they had more than just historic value. This is the revered library showing up in Patrick Rothfuss’, The Name of the Wind.
Finally, it is of interest that, in spite of differing book sizes, the shelf heights have been maintained to form continuous horizontally aligned rows of books in all of these stores.
All photos on this site belong to the author, are used under Creative Commons or with permission from the photographer. The source may normally be found by following the link attached to the photo.
Recently I have had the experience of interacting with several long time business owners with shops in high traffic, high profile, historic locations. These are highly desirable locations with low vacancy rates and instances of failure. Not only is there high pedestrian and auto traffic, there is considerable tourist traffic as well. Yet some of these retailers lament decreased sales and blame a slow or no recovery from the economic slow down of 2008. Certainly such a conclusion might be true in economically hard hit parts of the country, but the answer may not be so simple in more affluent shopping districts. It is quite possible that there may be something else at the root of slow sales.
Faced with such a problem I would expect an experienced retailer to turn first to their marketing plan. Longtime retail business owners who have a history of success in a particular location often have a strong customer base and connections to the local community, via social and other media as well as web based technologies. Assuming for the sake of this discussion that marketing goals are being met in this regard with still disappointing sales results, then it might be time for the business owner to take a careful look up and down the street. If their storefront looks tired like those in the collage, it may be time for a change. Complacency can undermine even the most successful business, and those with long histories in a location are particularly vulnerable. Not only is there a tendency to feel that what has worked in the past will continue to work going forward, but even to reason that changing the way a shop appears might destroy it visual appeal. This is a dangerous way of thinking that can lead to irrelevance and decreased sales.
Remodel the Store, Refresh the Brand:
A store remodel can be one of the most effective ways for a retail business to attract new customers. It is especially effective when carefully coordinated with the marketing plan and designed to support a retailers brand.