Retail Doom & Gloom: Crisis or Opportunity?

Mid Year State of the Market: Maurisa Potts, in a mid year “state of the market” presentation sponsored by the Alexandria SBDC featured a headline stating, “Soft economy hitting big retailers hard.” There are, I might add, some small ones not doing too well either. Potts went on to note that online shopping is not the only reason for this, siting over built retail real estate, escalating rents, and shifts in consumer spending from goods to services. Whatever the reasons, there are few retailers not feeling the current uncertainty. This, according to Potts, begs the questions what is it, crisis or opportunity?

Clearly Unclear: I like this mindset. It presuppose important changes in the business model by which most retailers operate. Savvy retailers need little schooling on this topic, and outside of a reference list here, my interest is about how a physical store might be impacted. According to Potts the action takes place in three areas. The first two, customer focused retail and the resultant deep market analytics are technology driven. The third is the technology. Clearly the lines between the physical and digital store are becoming unclear. A retailer must decide which options to embrace:

mobile apps/enhanced mobile apps/personal concierge
smart navigation
mobile checkout
on demand customer service.
virtual fitting rooms
flexible fulfillment options
enhanced product information
community connections
target walk by shoppers
holographic product displays
delivery service
drones

Augmented Retail: Each of these items taken individually involves some type of electronic technology which must be both accommodated and invisible, a subject covered in previous posts so not detailed again here. Together, though, they define what is referred to as augmented retail, a situation with substance and influence on how a physical store will look. Rachel Shechtman, the founder of Story, a cutting edge store in Manhattan, described the design concept as a physical magazine. This is so telling. Store planners and designers have probably not seen such a revolutionary design idea since the emergence of big box retail. In the marketing world I would compare the trend to the early days of Martha Stewart Omnimedia which eventually consolidated her various publishing and media outlets into a single brand. It seems to have come full circle as omnimedia has finally found expression in bricks n mortar.

Design by Collaboration: Pick up a copy of your favorite magazine and flip it open to the index page. What do you see? I see an implied program for a store design, an outline of ways to engage the customer, often a recipe for co-creation where the customer participates in the outcome of his/her shopping trip. What combination of media, mobile apps, interactive displays, technology, and hard store design options a retailer chooses to bring into his/her store is a collaborative decision best made between the store designer, the retailer, the marketing team, and the all important technology consultants. When these things work together a really successful store can be the outcome.

The Positive Case for Bricks N Mortar: Barbara Thau, writing for Forbes, lists, “Five Signs That Stores (Not E-Commerce) Are the Future of Retail.” Worried retailers might do themselves a favor by considering the following:

“All But One Of The Top Ten U.S. Retailers Are Physical Chains

Stores Are More Profitable Than E-Commerce

Amazon Purchased Whole Foods

Millennials And Generation Z Prefer Real-Life Stores

Online Retailers Are Being Eaten By Legacy Retailers

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 with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

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What do you mean by “Feasibility Assessment?”

Now What?
Now What? How do I turn this in to a new store?

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.

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 with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Crossing Over the Line of Confusion

This is an instructive exercise on two levels. First lets consider the impact of merchandise placement in the black and white photo. It is quickly apparent that the main show, directly in the line of view as a customer enters or passes by the store, is an indecipherable patch work which says little about the products being sold. Also, there is actually some secondary “visual cognition”going on as our eye looks for clarity and finds it in the higher contrast which appears on the side walls where individual items or groups of items have been carefully framed by the surrounding architecture. This can be an effective technique when used in the right location; nevertheless assigning center stage to a confusion of merchandise is risky and could easily send customers searching for more understandable views in an adjacent store.

There is more to this particular story though as the second lesson is about what happens when highly saturated color is added to the mix. Suddenly what was a wall of confused merchandise becomes a high visibility focal point standing out in and being framed framed by the mid-tone world. Now the wall of merchandise has attracted attention sufficient to cross over the line of confusion and land squarely on the side of interest. Very interesting indeed.

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 with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

In Search of the Perfect Daytime Storefront: VI. Donating High Cost Display Space

Blossoming Backdrop

I am always surprised when companies with large store planning and marketing resources, not to mention budgets, create and then miss visual display opportunities. It is hardly necessary to comment on the problem here. Any student of this blog can see that the white cut work backdrop forms a high contrast and visually compelling pattern against the black storefront surround and dark interior. It had my attention from across the mall, leading me closer, to be captivated by the interesting pattern. I actually found my self trying to see, snow flakes, flowers, even lace.

So the real question is what did I not see. Of course the main event absolutely disappears. The fix here is too easy to be missed. Just imagine what a great display this would have been had the mannequin been dressed in bold color blocked garments. I almost went in the store to see if they had a suggestion box. Also, on a more serious business note, this is some very expensive real estate. To expensive to be donated as a public service gallery when it should be selling a product.

I see and additional flaw in this display, which may be personal preference and pales in comparison to the aforementioned larger issue, but is, nevertheless, worth a mention here. I have a problem with headless mannequins in storefront displays. I find them unnatural and too cheap for all but limited use.

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 with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

In Search of the Perfect Daytime Storefront: V. Opportunity Created, then Missed

These storefront designs fight the exterior “visual noise,” which would actually be a lot worse had these photos been take at noon instead of early evening, by framing their storefronts with bright not reflective graphics in patterns compatible with their particular brands. Judging by the photos it is an effective solution. The shops clearly stand out of the view as a result. Where they fall apart is about how they have merchandised, or in this case not merchandised, the window once they have the attention of the passerby. It looks like they have created an opportunity and then missed it. They send me searching through my stacks for a picture to Photoshopped into the window so that I can see the full effect had the job been completed.

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 with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

In Search of the Perfect Daytime Storefront: IV. Visual Cognition

Tiny Shopfront, Photo used under Creative Commons
Shopping Center Facade, Photo compliments of Lord Muttley McFester

 

Close inspection will reveal that these two storefront views have something in common. By amplifying the peripheral they draw attention to the particular. The textured glass used in the top panes and transom of the quilt shop have the effect of sending the viewer in search of visual clarity, which she quickly finds in the detail of the merchandise displayed in the main window below.

Something similar is happening to the shopping center facade, only on a larger scale. The reflective facade material creates an impressionistic image and implies that there is more detail which is only revealed when the shopper follows her natural inclination to identify and assign meaning. This she finds in the store signage and entries below. I call this visual cognition. It takes place in a second; just long enough to get the shopper to take note of the store and maybe even decide to go in.

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 with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

In Search of the Perfect Daytime Storefront: III. Bright is Basic

Speaking of the perfect daytime storefront, this photo, actually taken with a smart phone by one of my clients, could not be more instructive. Daytime storefronts almost always have a double image and often a triple or more. Here there is a perfect picture of the surrounding area reflected with varying degrees of clarity on the storefront glass, and amplified by the fact that retailers keep their windows clean. The row houses across the street and classical entry to the building on the corner are reflected perfectly on the glass. Add the images of a passing car and bus, with pedestrians and trees in the street scape, and the entire reflected scene, freeze framed in the photo, becomes animated in real life. How does a retailer make the passerby look past the action on the glass long enough to see what is in the shop window? One way is to somehow force the storefront into shadow, providing of course there is something that is decidedly not shadow in the window. Observe how the banners become a simple colorful graphic on the top half to the photo where the window is in shadow from the awning. Impractical as this is, it does point to the often written about here, bright colored high contrast graphic as an effective solution. Landscape artists know that distant images in their paintings appear less saturated in color and lower in contrast than those close up in the scene. It is an observation taken from real life visual perception. We see detail by dint of contrast and color on that which is close. Exaggerating this concept can be a useful way of attracting visual attention. To the passerby very high contrast, colorful and larger than life images jump out of the normal field of vision. They attract attention, a basic function of the successful storefront.

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 with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

In Search of the Perfect Daytime Storefront: II. Dodging Double Vision

I have probably posted these notes about daytime storefronts in the wrong order. This post really should have been first because the images provide a visual definition of the main problem a designer faces when dealing with storefront display options at a time of day when the sun is shinning brightly. That would clearly be the tendency of exterior expanses of glass to produce reflections to the extend that we almost always experience at least a double and often a triple, or more, image. Consideration of the shops in the images below proves to be instructive.

Is this a cafe, a bar, a coffee shop? The only thing we know for sure from the street is that it is open, that there is head in street parking in front, a multistory brick building and more street parking across the street. Maybe they do something with hunting because there is a poster or other image of a deer in the window. The things we actually know about the place are mostly defined by the architecture. Wainscoting and historic columns are often seen in restaurants so we naturally make the connection to food. Further, there is a strange cafe curtain in the window, think bakery, as well as what appears to be printed blackboards, both also, associated with food. Otherwise we are in the dark, or in this case reflected light.
I will save the description here. By now the idea should be clear. If the storefront display is not strong enough to dominate the visual field it will not be seen no matter how nicely designed and planned. It will disappear into the scene reflected on the glass.
The only element strong enough to be seen in this daytime window are the interior lights. Because the merchandise had been placed so close to the interior glass we do understand that they must be selling some type of magazines or printed material, but the actual images are distorted by the reflected scene and clarity is impossible.

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 with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.