Store Fixture Design: Adding Technology Improves on an Already Good Thing

A relationship with a quality fixture manufacturer is essential for any retail architect. Just ask Bryce Sills and Heather Hislop from Ennco Display Group, one of our favorites!

A Concrete Problem – There is a surprise offspring of the new “borderless” retail paradigm that seems almost liberating because, finally, something can be defined in terms of a concrete problem. One having to do with store fixtures.

Is the Store Closing? – Did you notice that the merchandise in the drug store is all pulled forward on the shelf, implying – more than usual I mean – that the space in the back is not empty? When it starts to become so obvious that we begin to think that the store might be closing, it’s time for a change. Many retailers, even those embracing technology, are still stuck in the old “big box” store planning mentality, I hesitate to bring up Toys R Us again, but as Steve Dennis, writing for Forbes, tells us, “boring, undifferentiated, irrelevant and unremarkable stores are most definitely… dying…”

Curating an Inventory – The point being that changing the physical retail environment from a warehouse to a museum involves completely revisiting how an inventory is displayed and impacts the size and layout of a store. Curating an inventory, i.e., “show rooming,” means presenting it in terms of a multi faceted value proposition. It means incorporating a physical product into a marketing message using multiple and sometimes interactive types of media.

Multi Function – Suppose, for example, I walk into a store looking for new sunglasses. I walk over to the sun glass display and see that there are lots of frames and brands as well as examples of available coatings, lens colors, and an educational video about what all of these do. There might be a nearby kiosk allowing me to use my phone to access my eye wear history, insurance, prescriptions, exam dates and finally a scanned image of my face with recommended frame style, size, and shape. Maybe I find that there is an indicator on the store fixture that flashes when I pass an appropriate option based on the information in my profile. Once I find a frame, I am able to see other colors and finishes, check availability, see how much it costs, and read customer reviews right there on the display. I might then sit down with the optician so that he or she is able to give full attention to positioning the lens and finalizing my order. Sound improbable? Take a look at Amazonbooks in NYC and then say that.

Competing with Amazon – I understand that many retailers will neither want, nor be able to directly compete with Amazon. However, once a retailer gets over the initial shock, incorporating technology into a retail display program may not be as difficult as one would imagine; especially if the designer has a good working relationship with a store fixture fabricator experienced with the product line, offering a wide selection of standard interchangeable parts, and capable and willing to making adjustments. One such company is Ennco Display Group, who we have been pleased to work with in the past and recently met at Vision Expo in NYC. It is important to keep in mind that adding technology to an existing fixture is done to improve on an already good thing. All of the the thought, planning and testing that goes into creating a captivating visual display is not wasted because technology must be added to how it functions. Consider this: not only did Amazon go into an old Border’s space, but it also looks somewhat like Hudson News, who has been doing face out merchandise displays forever.

Teamwork – If you are a retailer thinking about introducing technology into a store design, my first recommendation would be not to over complicate what must be done. Examine resources already available to you, i.e. POS system providers, inventory system providers, advertising and media consultants. You are already their customer so ask them for help. See what functionality is already on your website and make sure it coordinates with what you will provide in the store. Finally once you have put your plan into writing, connect with a hardware/specialty consultant and introduce him/her to your design team. Team being the operative word. I think you will find that it is realistically possible to stay relevant in the “evolving” but never “disappearing” world of “bricks n mortar” retail.

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.

Don’t overlook the construction details.

Customers notice the details. They can tell if a contractor has cut corners. The transition detail in B above was installed instead of the one shown in A below. As architects we can observe the construction and point out discrepancies, but it is the client that must insist that a contractor exactly follow the details shown on the construction drawings. It is to their advantage to do so.
This bargain-basement installation detail interferes with the nice contrast between the carpet and tile.

What makes a store look expensive? Way back in 2013 I wrote a post on this site asking if a higher price could be placed on merchandise because the store design looks expensive? The post was about the impact that a curved ceiling might be expected to have on what is generally considered inexpensive merchandise. I concluded that answering the question about pricing was related to how well the design feature performed, which in the particular case in questions was quite well. I bring this up again here because I want to consider the topic in a more subtle, yet possibly more important context, that being what makes a store design look expensive?

Customers notice everything. Answering this questions means that a retailer needs to pay attention to what people notice, which is everything, whether consciously or not. The importance of “creating a shopping experience” has been a fact of retail life for quite a while now. Back in 2013 one of the retail marketers summed it up nicely when she said, “..retailers should use stores to create a brand experience that customers couldn’t possibly get online.” She went on to cite the “old adage” that “retail is detail,” saying, “stores can engage all five senses;” the online world cannot. Few would argue that the perception of quality involves more that just an online image; that tactile contact with a product is critical, including how it is displayed; that successful retailers aspire to demonstrate quality in every possible aspect of their store, because quality sells, often for more.

The refined transition detail in image A above sends a message of quality, It is what we typically specify in this situation. This contractor exactly followed the details on the construction drawings with positive results.
A refined transition strip is barely there, putting the attention on the contrasting finish materials.

The importance of quality. Clearly, since sales are seen as directly effected, most retailers are acutely aware of the quality of products they bring to the market, including a range of related price points. This is their main business and most get it right. Merchandise displays, because they are driven by practicality, are also less prone to failures in quality. Matching their actual store environment, on the other hand, is where things can begin to fall apart. Finishes, In particular, are vulnerable. Think:

  • sagging carpet,
  • old leaks exposed and never repainted,
  • light fixtures with burned out lamps,
  • cheap, broken or mismatched ceiling tiles & floor tiles,
  • stained and dirty hvac supply and return air diffusers,
  • dirty windows.

Is it really possible that customers do not notice these things, that they do not reflect on the perceived merchandise quality, that they do not contribute to a customers notion of the brand? Another marketing pundit put is this way, ” a business should always strive and prove to be the best that money can afford because that solid reputation will establish a top brand that’s reliable and worthy of respect.” I couldn’t agree more.

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.

Wire Management is a Design Issue

The cash wrap in the photo above is in a medium high end fashion boutique in a trendy “New Urban” style shopping center with other similar competitors up and down the center. I noted the problem during a site visit I made to meet with the shop owner who was, at the time, planning a second store. Two years later, motivated by recent discussions in these “Insights” about the importance of integrating technology into a store design, I returned and took this photo. Needless to say, the problem was never addressed, neither did I ever work with this retailer.

I see mismanaged wires a lot, often in places that should, and do, know better. I listen to marketers go on about the importance of creating a shopping experience; of integrating technology into the store design; of carefully selecting technologies based on actual individual data driven market research, all the time wondering by what trickery retailers like those in the photos are able to make out that these much touted market strategies are somehow not germane to their particular retail environments. Further, I can only guess at the impact on sales – at least the place in the photo is still open – and I actually worry about the tripping hazards just waiting to happen. There is really no accounting for this when a solution is easily accomplished and not expensive.

Lest I be accused of “dis without fix,” I offer a solution here. First we are not talking store remodel or even new equipment. All that is required is some planning. Consider this cash wrap, a version of which was originally designed for a project, and which has since morphed into one of my “go to” opportunities to offer design variations on a functional theme. It is 5′ wide by 2′ deep by 3′ high at the work surface and 3’6″ high at the top of the display case. Close examination of the equipment housed in the unit will show that virtually every device housed in the badly wired cash wrap in first photo is accommodated in a compact cabinet. No wires show. The only connections are, as in the subject image above, power and data supplied by a floor outlet below the cabinet. Also, if necessary this fixture can be supplied with “knock outs” for power/data access from either side and it is on casters for mobility.

Clearly this is not a cheap piece of furniture, probably costing upwards of $1000 to build from scratch, yet when considered in terms of value added to the retail environment, it is not a lot to spend. Certainly, in terms of public safety and reduced liability it is a downright bargain. Neither is it necessary to build one of these from scratch. The rustic bench being used for the cash wrap above could easily and cheaply be remodeled by addition of an equally rustic back panel. We do this type of thing all the time.

Something else a retailer might want to consider when planning a store is that wireless technologies and newer devices are drastically reducing the amount of space needed. These are part of more than just cash wraps too. It is really important for a retailer to examine their options and choose their system(s) early. I cannot over emphasize the advantage of selecting and working with a qualified technology consultant who can help with system selection and provide a designer with device specifications including related sizes to be used in store planning and fixture design.

One more point worth noting, I see this problem show up in many showroom and public environments, not just retail stores. Because these are places where the public meets a business or organization they can, and do, impact a brand and may affect sales. I often work in these types of environments and likewise advise a client to carefully manage the wires.

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.

Voted One of Americas Finest Optical Retailers

Storefront Store Fixture DesignWE 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
Independence Construction
Ambiance Lighting
Hermin Ohanian “Artoholic”
Ennco Display Systems
Miller Creative Solutions

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.

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.