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INSIGHTS: A DISCUSSION ABOUT RETAIL DESIGN
Gaddis Architect specializes in all phases of retail design, design management and construction. If maximizing the success of your business by optimizing the performance of your store, or commercial space design is a goal, then attending the following “Insights” could provide some very real benefits. Many common, and some not so common, 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 business’s brand, are presented. We think that all design is, on some level at least, retail design. Please scroll on, start a dialogue, contact us anytime.
Open plenum ceilings are common design practice these days, seen more often than not in stores moving into newly built shopping environments. In short we take them for granted as an acceptable design solution. Recently, I have had a reason to take a critical look at this practice in terms of costs vs. benefits.
To begin with, it is necessary to understand this in terms of a comparison. Clearly a highly designed ceiling using several materials and with various heights will cost more and probably perform better than a typical open ceiling like the one in the photo. This is not the question. The real comparison and the one I am most often asked to make is, “how does it compare with a suspended ceiling?”
Let’s look at the cost issues first. in 2008 the Ceilings & Interior Systems Construction Association did a study on this very issue that, from what I can tell, has become the “gold standard” for determining whether or not to choose an open ceiling. The study concluded that although a suspended ceiling cost 4% – 14% more than an open concept ceiling, it creates a space that requires less power, not a little because 20% more light is reflected back into a space. The total energy savings for a retail space turned out to range between 12.7% and 17%. Maintenance costs also turn out to be lower for a suspended ceiling because periodic duct, pipe and raceway cleaning, as well as plenum repainting is necessary with an open ceiling. An additional side benefit, which I did not see specifically addressed in the publication about the study, is that the reduced heat load from the lighting allows for a down sized HVAC system, even to the extent that LEED credit can be earned. The referenced study also looked at the amount of time it would typically take for a company to recover the additional outlay for the lay in ceiling and found that the pay back was under 2 years, less than the length of most retail leases. From all this, I would conclude that, in a retail situation, a decision to choose a suspended ceiling over an open concept will most likely be a result of design considerations as the construction costs are about even.
There are many design Issues to recommend an open ceiling, not the least being that they increase the ceiling height, thereby the amount of usable space in a store. They are considered “on trend” and also impact how a space feels, an important consideration relating to the merchandise lines displayed in a store. Small products often do better in a space with a ceiling which tends to focus a shoppers view down to a more personal level. An open ceiling, on the other hand, conveys a feeling of space between large displays and vignettes. They also work well for groups of merchandise with varied sizes, even creating the illusion of space in otherwise crowded environments as they allow a lot to take place in a shoppers line of site. It is why these ceilings work well in restaurants by inserting variety into a dinners line of site. By dropping a ceiling – or the illusion of a ceiling – over selected areas, retailers are able to create a personal space within a larger environment, thereby accomplishing the best of both worlds.
Though currently fashionable, open ceiling are not without challenges. These environments require more design time and skill, especially in terms of lighting and color selection. Lighting layouts installed in suspended ceiling grids offer the obvious advantage of ease of installation and flexibility. It is why you sometimes see retailers install grids without the ceiling tiles, a practice that is rarely successful. Lighting installed without the benefit of a grid, on the other hand, must be individually fixed to some type of structure, often by the use of pendants and other drop in devices and generally relying heavily on track systems. The effort to avoid MEP systems and search for adequate attachment points can require more complex installations and limit flexibility.
Color is a subject in itself but worth some comments here. Simply stated, most lay in ceilings are white – yes they come in colors which have their uses. Open concept ceilings can be painted any color. This can be a great asset or and equally great opportunity for a mistake. Here are a few of my rules: first, design the lighting and the ceiling together, as color affects that amount of light required; second, black creates drama and if used with carefully placed light colored or white contrasting elements can create really successful merchandise focused displays; third, gray makes colors appear more vibrant so works really well to feature clothing and accent type merchandise; forth, white or light options turn the ceiling into a sculptural element that can actually draw attention away from eye level merchandise and is often best if ducts and other MEP devices are going to be left natural; fifth, only use neutral colors.
Here is hoping that all this helps to inform your choice. For more information the links above are worth checking out.
WE ARE VERY PROUD to announce that eye2eye Optometry Corner, a project that we completed in late 2015, and located in Hilltop Village Center here in Alexandria, has won Honorable Mention in the 2016 America’s Finest Optical Retailers competition put on by Invision Magazine, an important optical industry publication. We wish to extend our thanks to Dora Adamopoulos, OD for bringing such a great project. Likewise thanks to the following team members and all who participated in this project.
BC Engineers Inc.
Mesen Associates Structural Engineers
Hermin Ohanian “Artoholic”
Ennco Display Systems
Miller Creative Solutions
Find the full article here: Invision July/August 2016
Recently Carrie Rossenfeld wrote and article for Globest.com dealing with current changes in the retail environment that are affecting how architects and designers approach a project. The title, The Changing Art of Designing Urban Retail Projects, is especially appropriate, not a little because retail store design is acknowledged as an art, but mostly because it offers a thought provoking comment on the current retail context near and dear to all of us working in the DC area; namely the shift from auto dominant to pedestrian dominant shopping. Anyone who visits this site knows that this is not the first time I have engaged this topic, it is though, the first time I am inspired to organize the various environments in which I work into a single picture as follows:
Urban Retail – This requires little description. It is Main street USA, whether in a big city or small. It is pedestrian dependent and spans American History from Colonial Willamsburg to Old Town Alexandria. It is an all inclusive spectrum of retail types and has become a model for current development.
Suburban Shopping Centers – Historically these followed suburban expansion after WWII supplying life’s necessities to newly mobile shoppers. A typical shopping center consisted of a grocery store, a drug store, some specialty retail, and a couple of out-lots. In time a big box was added, eventually becoming the force behind development until today we have acres of big box shopping centers. The type has come to include a range of retail offerings from outlet malls to ethnic centers merging into a sprawl-scape along major roads and axes, all depending on the car for shoppers.
Suburban Malls – These days almost relics, most of us have seen their rise and fall. The ones that are doing well are, some say, surviving because the others have failed. They are often in high income suburbs, connected with public transportation, draw international shoppers, boast multiple department stores, have expanded the types of anchor tenants they attract, and perhaps most important to this discussion, although dependent on the car for shoppers, the stores are designed according to a specialized pedestrian model. Local examples: Tysons Corner, Pentagon City.
Mixed Use, also known as Emerging Urban, New Suburbanism, and the Mall Reborn (Don’t you love all the names?) – Of course, this is where the action is. From my standpoint – designing for individual retailers – it is where pedestrian vs. non pedestrian visibility collapses into complexity. David Kitchens, in the aforementioned article, drew attention to the challenges involved in designing for, and integrating multiple uses into a development project, telling us that “…residential, office or hospitality…needs to be intertwined with or added to existing retail..” The “repositioning” of Ballston Common and Landmark Mall were sited as local examples and in particular caught my attention because I have had inquiries from retail tenants being affected by the changes going on in these places. Architects and designers working in the mixed use environment must have confidence that they, together with stakeholders in the greater design environment, will produce a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. They must be willing to release some control, to admit a bit of “chaos.” Kitchens put it well when he said it is about creating neighborhoods. As an independent design firm working on retail projects in many different environments, I get this better than most.
Industrial/Commercial/Business Parks – Defined by the National Institute of Building Science, Light Industrial “… can include but is not limited to spaces for printing, commercial laundry, photographic film processing, vehicle repair garages, building maintenance shops, metal work, millwork,..cabinetry work…” Think specialized showrooms, i.e., kitchen, lumber, restaurant supplies, catering, swimming pools, motor cycle accessories (Really, I had one inquire). Think those moving from online sales toward brick n mortor. Think those responding to “showrooming.” Recent experience has lead me to believe that this is an overlooked retail environment and as such an opportunity. From a store design standpoint, diametrically opposite to the complexity of mixed use, their retail presence is straight forward, direct and dependent on the car for shoppers. It is a sector starting to see the value of investing in professionally designed retail showrooms.
Describing these retail environments has been a fun exercise but I didn’t do it just for fun? I did it to make a point about designing a retail store to increase sales. Few would argue that designing a retail store is involved with issues of shopper behavior, in particular how it can be influence by a store design. I have accumulated an ever multiplying list of “Strategies for Designing Your Space.” and do a presentation on the subject. The article that started this survey, on the other hand, is about the other side of the issue, specifically how shopper behavior is influenced by the environment in which a store finds itself. Of course, real estate people would sum this up as “location, location, location,” a subject that shows up in business plans and marketing activities all the time. If, though, we understand the ideas set out in the article, the issue is more complex, suggesting that the current trend is for there to be little or nothing spontaneous or random about the macro environments in which retailers find themselves. Also, I have often found that in the process of macro planning developers have let go of micro constraints typically found in places like leases and tenant handbooks. This can be deceiving, leading a retailer to overestimate their control of a project. In local terms this means that a space in a planned urban environment like the Mosaic Retail District is a lot different than a space in Georgetown or Old Town Alexandria or in a strip center or industrial complex as well. I would urge any retailer thinking about their store design to consider responding to both the macro and micro point of view. It is what has motivated me to summarize the several retail contexts listed in this post.
Contemplation – Imagine you are a retailer contemplating this tenant space. Clearly, you might be asking yourself; “now what?” Suppose a few of the questions below move from unconscious reflection to conscious contemplation without ensuing answers, then assessing a project to see what is actually required could facilitate the decision making process and provide many benefits.
Resources – Landlord provided documents, previous project cost summaries, consultations with building departments, contractors, engineers and sometimes professional construction estimators are all resources informing project feasibility. The intent is to simplify, consolidate and summarize the probable scope of work, professional fees, construction costs and time that might be anticipated for a project. It is the purpose of a feasibility assessment and a highly recommended means of beginning most retail projects.
- Do I need to build the walls?
- Do I need to build the bathroom(s)
- Why do I need 2 bathrooms?
- Why do I need 2 entries?
- Do I need to install the storefront system?
- Can I use my own storefront design?
- Do I need to have my own electric meter installed?
- Do I need to install my own Air Conditioning and heating system?
- What is the best mechanical system to use?
- Is there water in the space?
- What about hot water?
- What about gas?
- Where is the sewer?
- How do I connect to it?
- Will my store fit in this space?
- Must I supply my own storefront sign?
- Who will design it?
- Can I design the store myself?
- Can I turn a logo into a store design?
- Where do I get the store fixtures?
- What if I can’t find the exact fixtures that I need to display my products?
- Are custom store fixtures required, if so who will design them?
- What about lighting?
- Who sets up the Point of Sale (POS) system and how do I hide the wires?
- How do I accommodate the cabling and hard wiring for my computers?
- How much can I expect to spend for all this?
- A contractor told me he could build my store for $45/sq. ft. Should I believe him?
- Do I need a building permit?
- What does an architect charge?
- Can I get this done in time to open before I must begin paying rent?
- How do a pick a contractor?
- Is the construction allowance from the landlord enough to build the store?
- Does the location have enough parking?
- What is the visibility from walk and drive by traffic?
- Is this space a good choice for my project?
- If I don’t take this space do I need to start all over with a new feasibility for a different location?
Please feel free start a discussion here and maybe even see some answers.
As an architect I find myself sometimes reluctant, especially in social situations, to tell people what I do. Sounds crazy, considering it is an honorable profession requiring lots of education, training, testing, not to mention participation in many successful designs, and further considering that I am always looking for new projects. Actually, this is an unconscious reaction that, until recently, I neither recognized nor examined, which begs the question; “why now?”
First a word about teaching: For the past couple of years I have been working to develop and refine a presentation designed to enlighten potential new clients and other interested parties on the details of architectural services performed, not only by my firm, but also design professionals in general. In the beginning the project was unashamedly self serving, done because I found that successful projects often resulted when the client had some previous experience with building. These clients were easy to please because their expectations were well defined. My practice involves working with small businesses, many of whom are startups. I thought that imparting some of this experience could prove immensely facilitating for both client and architect. This lead me look for a way to teach about what architects really do, finally resulting in a two part, two hour long power point presentation, posted on our website, Youtube and presented live in various venues. Although these efforts were naturally directed towards our specialized area of practice, there was a larger unanticipated outgrowth having to do with the pervasiveness of misconceptions about the practice of architecture in general.
The American Institute of Architects: Every year, during the first week in April, the AIA, of which I am a member, holds a celebration of architecture. AIA chapters all over the country offer events and activities geared towards architectural subjects of interests to the profession and public alike. In the burst of activity leading up to this event, I came across a request for local volunteer architects able to participate in an event entitled “Working with an Architect.” The event, centering on discussions about the processes and advantages of working with an architect, will consist of local architects making themselves available for free, open, informal discussions on just about any subject having to do with architecture, design, and building. At the time of this post there are ten local architects participating, and considering, my previous discussion, it is not difficult to see why I will be one of them.
What cannot be defined, cannot be valued: I have come to the conclusion that AIA, its members, and architects in general are facing an identity crisis. One manifesting in the assumption that what cannot be identified, cannot be valued, which speaks to my original question. I sometimes dodge talking about my profession because I fear that the term architect has become and empty word, susceptible to all of the follies, misconceptions and romantic notions of popular culture. Clearly most people understand that the Guggenheim in Bilboa, Spain was designed by an architect named Frank Gehry. On the other hand, how the architect relates to the dry cleaner on the corner or their neighbor’s home addition is often a mystery. AIA, to its credit, is taking steps (beyond the scope of this discussion), toward correction, but we as individual architects bear a lot of responsibly. The profession has become increasingly complicated. In addition to design and construction of the built environment, issues of technology and business must be part of the architect’s skill set. How well these many disciplines are managed and assimilated is an indication of a successful project. And if this is the measure, most architects that I know are successful indeed, because what they contribute, how they accomplish what they do, how they practice their craft, is so essential as to completely disappear into the fabric of a project. In short the craft of architecture is successful not a little by dint of how well it dissolves into the buildings it creates. This, of course, is a very “zen” idea, having great appeal to the artistically and academically inclined, while at the same time making life difficult for the more pragmatic among us. Value is easily assigned to the finished house, barn, school, or office building. Defining how that building was actually accomplished, not so much.
What it is like to work with an architect: Architects know in multifarious detail what goes in to one of their projects, what benefit is offered, what improvement is made, how life is made easier, better. Communicating these numerous, lists, plans, sketches, drawings, products, services, consultations, consultants, research…, into some understandable format is our challenge. “Working with an Architect” is an event designed to help us meet this challenge. I am happy to participate and invite anyone interested, moderately or otherwise, to chat with an architect about their projects, their thoughts, their love of the subject, even about their favorite “starchitect.” Please join us on Sunday April 10th. A link to the event and a list of participating architects is below. Samples of their work are in the slide show above.
Refreshments will be served. There is no charge to attend and no reservations are necessary. Additional information may be found here: “Working with an Architect.”
Christine Kelly AIA, Crafted Architecture LLC
Steve Kulinski AIA, Kulinski Group Architects, PC
John Nolan AIA, Maginniss + del Ninno Architects
Rebecca Bostick AIA, Rebecca LG Bostick Architects Inc.
Laura Campbell AIA, Laura Campbell Architecture
Paul Trombley AIA, Studio 66 LLC
Randall Mars AIA, Randall Mars Architects
Eunice A. Murray, AIA, Eunice Murray Architect
Lyndl T. Joseph, AIA, Great Seal LLC
Bridget Gaddis, AIA, Gaddis Architect
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.