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.

In Search of the Perfect Daytime Storefront: I. Defining the Challenge

It is probably obvious to anyone following my blog that I am after a formula for the perfect daytime storefront. The challenge is how to make the window display standout against all the visual noise in the environment. Whenever, in my travels, I see a candidate for analysis I snap a photo. There is a thing or two to learn from this drugstore in Vienna. First, as noted on previous occasions, bold white graphics applied on the glass work in daylight because they are, by contrast, lighter than everything else in the visual field. Here they both frame the window and define the main sign. Second, in order for an object in the window to compete with the dynamic visual motion created by the varying light levels, shadows and reflections on the storefront it must be the one thing that these are not; i.e., a really bright color as in the bright Christmas tree decorations shown. Third, there must be enough of this color and at a large enough scale for it to be visible from at least 10 ft and probably 20 ft away.

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.

Unbranding the Brand Part III

Main Street dress shop local brand

Above is a local “Old Town” shop, what would be called a “Mom & Pop” shop. The name of the shop is more about describing the product than creating a brand identity. The sign, though in a prominent location, is not graphically pronounced because there is little or no contrast between the letters and the background. In fact, the street address attracts more attention than the sign because it is outlined in black. Yet, there is no question that this is a dress shop. The product in the window is nicely displayed and says it all. A shopper, looking for something to wear to dinner or a night out, might choose this boutique thinking that she could find a one of a kind dress, something that would not show up on another guest. In this neighborhood, she might also expect, personal service, quick alterations and if she was a tourist delivery to her hotel.

Main Street Dress Shop, Well Known Brand
Main Street Dress Shop, Well Known Brand

The same shopper might see Chico’s, just down the street, and walk right by. After all, here she knows what to expect. They are in every mall. The clothes are nice, the price is ok, but maybe she is not sure about the service, alterations and delivery. She also knows she could end up in the same dress as her friend. She opts for a new experience in an unknown shop.

Unbranding

For the sake of this discussion, lets conclude that my observations are correct and the shopper prefers the unknown shop. Where does that leave Chico’s? If we look closely, we will see that there is a whole other level of information in these two storefronts that is being overlooked. The merchandise and window displays look very similar. Is Chico’s missing an opportunity to go one on one, product to product with the local merchant. Is the brand overpowering the merchandise? What would happen, if they lost the big black and white signs over the door and window and just let the small signs at the bottom of the window remain? Would that level the playing field?

I actually chose Chico’s for this discussion. They appear to be trying some new marketing strategies. They have a television advertising campaign that features the product over the the brand. I have been reading that they are doing well in these tough economic conditions. It would cost very little to try the same strategy on their storefront design where conditions warrant. As store planners and designers we are not often informed about the success of our designs. The measuring is done at the cash register and, we only know if our projects are successful when we are hired to do another location.

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.

Unbranding the Brand II

Unbranding, it appears from my research, is a term used to describe a fix, meaning one or more of the following:

The brand has been somehow damaged. The Value Jet plain crash is an example of this. Photo used under Fair Use
The market is saturated and cannot support the same shop over and over again. Starbuck’s has been opening new locations named after the street address in an effort to capture fresh markets. Photo used under Creative Commons
The decision makers in the organization decide that the brand is in need of revision or update. Photo used under Pulic Domain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My idea of unbranding, in the context of this discussion, goes more to the question raised by John Freeman in the previous post when he said that he “hated brands.” The comment was made in the context of a discussion about storefront design. My interpretation of this is that he hated the uniformity, the lack of surprise, even the visual dominance of the well known brands. This describes a store design problem that is related too, but not the same as “unbranding” as a fix.

As an additional note I should say that bigger business brains than mine are describing this “unbranding” trend that I have seen coming for a while.  This article  in Harvard Business Review is important enough to retailers for me to reference it here.  Continued in Part III.)

Known Brand
Known Brand
Known Brand
Known Brand
Known Brand
Known Brand

 

 

 

 

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.

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.