Designing for Various Retail Environments

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:

Past Trends

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.

 Present Trends

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.

Future Trends?

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.

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.

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.

Retail Architect takes on karma.

Marcela's Yoga BoutiqueMarcel’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: 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.

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, 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

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.

Retail Architect: billboards store design

Retail architect are always looking at 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.

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.

Retail Architect: pattern, color and scale that delivers a marketing message

BBW store
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. As a Retail Architect, 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.

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.

Unbrand Store Designs

Is this the face of the "Unbrand?"

If you are a sometimes visitor to this site you may have seen me ponder the impacts of “unbrand” in previous posts. With this recent article on “AdNews” I find myself again bestirred on the subject. The gist of the article is that “Unbrand” is a “Movement” initiated by Gen. C (connected) values, resulting in a shift in market focus from the designer to the designee. When considered in the context of the currently “logocentric” shopping place this shift could, in the design sense, prove to be profound. In short, how does/will/should an “unbrand” look? The temptation to present the obvious was too strong, leading me to alter the photo above to match the idea. Of course, no one has actually come to me and said, “I am opening a new store. I will be selling shoes. The store does not have a name. Please design the prototype.” That does not, though, stop me from trying to envision such a shopping experience.

toys dress

carOr maybe stores should rely on large format graphics and photos with generic labels to identify their products. It is, after all, how it is done on http://etsy.com. Either way, there are no answers here, just explorations. You will find the article here: AdNews: THE ADNEWS NGEN BLOG: The challenge of ‘Unbrand’.

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.

Store Design: Materials

I was researching another project when I ran across these book stores. I was looking for examples of how different building finish materials can change the perception of merchandise quality in a store design, 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
Store 1

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
Store 2

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
Store 3

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
Store 4

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
Store 5

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
Store 6

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.

Bridget Gaddis, of Gaddis Architect, 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.