Unbranding the Brand, Part I

Night View Down Bathesda Avenue, by G. Edward Johnson, 7/30/2008, Author: EnLorax, from Wikimedia, Creative Commons

At the AIA convention this past summer I attended an event entitled: Bathesda Row a Retrospective Look at a Retail Icon. For anyone not familiar with it, Bethesda Row it is a highly successful mixed use development project that took place over 17 or so years. It is a model of successful “main street” retail. The developer, John Freeman, made a side comment that may have been the most telling point in the event. He said, “I hate brands,” thereby moving an idea from a thought to a thing. He followed with a discussion of the tenant mix housed in the retail parts of the development, saying that 35% of the tenants were independent “mom and pop” retailers that were critical to the success of the project. I have thought for a while now that the newest trend in the built retail environment might well be “unbranding” the brand. If so, the implications for store design and planning are considerable.

It is probably important to say that the term “unbranding” as used here is inclusive, meaning: replacing an existing brand to escape bad press, re-branding in order to alter and existing identity, or putting forward an entirely new brand. However it is implemented, “unbranding” is expensive, and a great deal of marketing (as per this article  which may be more than you ever wanted to know, but nevertheless worth a read) has certainly gone into any such program long before it reaches the point of actual store planning.

That said, it might be a good idea for a retailer to take a look at it’s real main street competition on a location by location basis before designing the new store. (Continued in Part II)

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.

No question of differentiation here.

Macroom shop, between Killarney and Cork City, is typical of small grocery type shops, until recently, common in Ireland.
Macroom shop, between Killarney and Cork City, is typical of small grocery type shops, until recently, common in Ireland.  Photo used with permission from photographer.

For my first SBDC blog post, I thought a nice introduction might be to revisit some notes taken this past summer during “Northern Virgina Retail Week.” I attended several presentations by Marc Wilson, retail expert and consultant to the  Virginia Small Business Development Center.  A page entitled, “Differentiate the Business” was important enough to have appeared in all three of the events I attended.  This can be accomplished, he tells us, by showing how a retailer meets all or some of these criteria:

•Is it the only . . .
•Is it the first . . .
•Is it the best . . .
•Does it have the best selection . . .
•It is the coolest, hippest . . .
•Are its people the best . . .
•Is it the most convenient . . .
•It’s always got new offerings of . . .
•Does it offer the best value . . .

 

Answering sets the business owner on the path to the well known “30 second elevator pitch” eventually enabling him/her to come up with the all important tag  line, i.e., Don’t leave home without it.  This advice, totally relevant for the business end of a small retailer, also informs the physical elements.  Consider the speeding Nike logo.

As an architect working with retail clients, I have found that working out the all important tagline, whether  it is actually used or not, may be more difficult than figuring out what it should look like and that taking this one step further leads to a store design that supports the retailer’s image and promotes the most possible sales.  Consider this rustic little shop that found its muse in a can of red paint, thereby outlasting its competition in a shrinking market.  No question of differentiation here.

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 andInterior 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.

Can More Money Be Charged for the Merchandise Because the Ceiling Looks Expensive? Maybe!

Elevation/Section Through a Curved Ceiling

If you have the budget a curved ceiling can add sophistication, and polish to a rectangular retail department or room. When used in a small space, perhaps 1000 square feet, the ceiling can be held back from the wall allowing for a cove and creating all manner of design possibilities. The cove frames the room and adds focus to the walls, and the curve, if the ceiling is white or reflective, offers a more subtle option by placing indirect light on merchandise displayed in the center of the room.

Detail of Lighting Hidden in Cove

I worked on the boutique in the drawings above. Capturing the light while hiding the fixtures was a big priority. Not only is the cove perfect for this, but it also has a directional quality which points to the merchandise along the adjacent walls.

The Coolest T-Shirt Shop I Have Ever Seen .... Pefkos, Rhodes
The best way to know that this tea shirt shop got it right is to imagine what it would look like without the curved ceiling. One quickly realizes that by softening the environment with warm indirect light reflected off of the colored ceiling, the design is performing as noted above and more. Hard to believe the place is selling tea shirts. They can probably charge more just because the ceiling looks expensive.   Photo used with permission from Gareth Scanlon, photographer.

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 andInterior 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.