A store’s fit-out appearance has the power to make or break stock sales, foot traffic and brand reputation. Leigh Stockton talks to insiders from the industry.
Close your eyes, and remember the last you fell in love with a beautiful garment.
Chances are it caught your eye as you passed the window display. You walked in, admired it from all angles and carefully kept it from creasing as you headed to the fitting room. It was marvellous the way it draped in all the right places, and it didn’t matter the price. It made you feel a million dollars. You were sold.
Now imagine that garment as your retail fit-out. Does it catch customers’ eyes as they pass by? Are they drawn to your product as they walk in, and do the fittings add or subtract from the customer experience? A lot of hard work goes into creating that. Five key players in the process – a designer, manufacturer, retail design manager, and two architects – give us insight into what goes into putting together a successful retail fit-out.
Triumph through design
Justin Roderique is director at Pennant & Triumph, an Auckland-based architecture and interior studio. Clients include Rodd & Gunn, Bendon, and new Ponsonby shared retail space The Shelter.
How much of a role do retailers play in the design process?
The retailers vary hugely in how involved with the design process they become.
The more creative the person in charge of the retail design for any brand the more they generally get involved. We recently worked on a fantastic retail project, The Shelter (2015 winner at Red Awards and Interior Awards), and the owners were hugely involved with the creative vision as they’re very visual themselves. However, we do get other clients who want to step back and have the project presented on a plate… a sort of 'surprise me' attitude.
How important is a strong vision from the retailer?
A retailer needs to know their brand intimately and be able to communicate this to us. This is key. They don’t necessarily need a vision for the design – this is something we are skilled at bringing to fruition.
Can good retail design result in increased sales?
Absolutely it does and it should. We recently redesigned a brand’s store concept from scratch with the sole goal of making it less intimidating – it was dark, high end and beautiful but the brand wanted to draw more people in across a wider demographic. The new concept is lighter, brighter and more accessible, yet still in keeping with the beautiful and high end ethos. The results were immediately apparent in sales versus last year, seeing the weekly sales double.
Centre of everything
Adam Randall is New Zealand divisional retail design manager at AMP Capital Shopping Centres. The group manages 15 centres around Australia and four in New Zealand: Botany Town Centre (Auckland), Manukau Supa Centa (Auckland), Bayfair Shopping Centre (Mount Maunganui) and The Palms Shopping Centre (Christchurch). The shopping malls together generate more than $6 billion in annual sales and attract more than 170 million visits a year.
What is a retail design manager?
The role of a retail design manager (or RDM) is to interpret, communicate and deliver the building owner’s retail vision for a given shopping centre or precinct within a centre. The RDM assists retailers to create and implement their store designs and fit-outs in line with this vision.
How do you help retailers?
RDMs provide ideas, inspiration and on trend, practical solutions to design issues – a great resource for retailers during the process.
We assist retailers to source the best and most appropriate specialist retail, graphic/branding and lighting designers, visual merchandisers, fit-out contractors and other consultants that they will need, to help them deliver great store outcomes and successful businesses. We coordinate the various stakeholders through the store design and delivery process to ultimately ensure that great store fit-outs are completed and retailers trade on agreed dates.
Does AMP Capital provide other fit-out resources for retailers?
As part of a package of reference and inspiration material, we provide retail design “Guidelines” or “Style Guides” that cover the fundamentals of great store design, together with any specific centre or precinct design criteria.
Everything from initial brand recognition – getting the signage/branding presentation and customer messages right; creating impact with an innovative shopfront concept and visual merchandising statement; a layout that compels the customer to shop the entire store; creating focal points and fixtures that add value to the product; use of contemporary and appropriate materials and finishes; and great lighting design that provides both ambience and product focus.
We cover every fit-out element and customer “touchpoint” as part of the store design process and this is where the retailer’s passion and their designer’s vision come into play, in creating a point of difference and a successful store design.
What makes a great retail fit-out?
A retailer who is passionate about their product and business, an inspired retail designer, a quality driven, experienced fit-out contractor, good communication between all parties, a bit of time and great lighting design.
Lighting design is a real focus, as this element can make or break a store presentation. Lighting affects our perception of a space and how merchandise is presented dramatically and is therefore a major consideration in terms of the customer experience.
Mark Gascoigne is principal architect at Studio Gascoigne, which has worked with leading retailers on architecture, interior design, branding and identity projects during its 30-year history. These include Hallensteins, Rodd & Gunn, Westfield, Whitcoulls, and Number One Shoes.
What is the lifecycle of a fit-out?
Retail fit-outs’ lifespans are often dictated by the lease.
For example, Kiwi Properties, Scentre Group and other similar mall operators generally operate five-year retail leases with no guaranteed of renewal. Therefore, we often design fit-outs to last this length of time without overspending on products which will have to be removed anyway.
Are there other reasons for this lifespan?
By their very nature, retail stores tend to have a hard life, as they’re subject to a lot of customer traffic and can look tatty quite quickly. We often have to give them a facelift even before the five-year term to keep the shops looking their best.
It's also not uncommon to see fit-outs overseas to be completely replaced every two years for the simple reason that a five-year-old design can often look old-fashioned given the current pace of retail change.
The Gascoigne team has demolished and replaced whole shops in New Zealand that are even younger than this in order to create more eye-catching and better performing retail premises.
How are budgets decided?
We can sometimes arrive at a rough order of cost by working on a square metre rate for retail fit-outs but this is typically not particularly accurate. Ideally a quantity surveyor or contractor should allow for all the individual items required to complete a store and price on this accordingly.
For a general idea, fit-out costs can include:
- Hard fit-out costs: these consist of items such as building works, glazing, lighting, air conditioning and fixed racking.
- Soft fit-out costs: these may include computers, cash registers, security systems, coathangers, mannequins, coffee machines, cutlery or even the fridge in the lunchroom, for example. Often these items are provided by the retailer so don't figure into the shopfitter’s costings.
- Landlord costs: it is quite common for mall owners to provide items such as sprinklers and air conditioning, and then charge this work back to the tenant. Malls often charge for design approval fees and security guards if night work is required. These all need to be figured into any overall shop budget.
- Fees and other intangibles: it’s important not to underestimate items such as building consent fees, design and engineer’s fees, moving expenses, insurance, utilities connection fees, advertising, staff training, and so forth.
Is it manageable for retailers to recoup these costs?
Overseas models suggest that you should be able to pay your fit-out costs back from the increased turnover from around two years’ worth of trading.
We typically try to achieve this within a one-year period. This then gives three to four years of lease life and trading where that additional revenue is returned to the retailer.
Spark Sylvia Park and Westfield Albany
In line with Spark’s ongoing transition, the focus turned to giving their retail spaces a facelift. Spaceworks Design Group won the rigorous request for proposal in January; in July, the new-look pilot stores were opened in Auckland shopping malls Sylvia Park and Westfield Albany.
The brief called for the retail stores to bring alive both the tangible and intangible products (mobile phones, contract offers, etc.), and have both existing and new customers “connect, share and engage in-store” as soon as they walked through the door.
Innovative solutions were part of the new stores: hospitality zones where customers can pick up a free Spark-branded bottle of water; virtual queuing; lockable cabinets to charge smartphones; POS counters as part of display tables to keep staff on the main shopfloor; and a dedicated framed glass box in the window display, with rotating themed Spark content.
Clever design also went into the cabinetry and storage areas, fitted by Format shopfitters. These act as product, accessories and brochures storage for the store – but look like a home TV wall unit, which suits the rest of the store scheme.
Spark’s current branding was important to the design as well. A splash of lively orange in the Spark logo, and warm pendant lighting and thin stripes of LEDs on the ceiling (installed by Inlite) to lead the way shows off the design team’s clever use of colour and lighting to integrate the brand’s visual presence in the market.
So why the decision to invest in the fit-out of Spark’s bricks and mortar stores?
“The way that we turn up at retail is a big part of how we live out the brand in the eyes of our customers – it’s the physical face of the brand,” explains Greg Clark, head of consumer sales at Spark.
“Another reason is that most of our retail products can’t be experienced online like they can in store. For many customers, this tactile experience of a product is a big factor in deciding whether or not they’ll buy it.”
Spark is currently tracking the performance of the Sylvia Park and Albany Mall stores and the early signs are positive.
“The percentage of passers-by that enter the stores has gone up substantially,” says Clark.
“This means there are more customers for our team to talk to about what Spark has to offer, and with great staff that inevitably leads to more sales.”
Natalie Snowden is design director at Context Architects, which recently won the Fashion + Health division at the Red Awards for its Life Pharmacy Henderson (Auckland) retail fit-out. Context is a multi-disciplinary outfit, with offices in Auckland and Christchurch. Other clients include Westpac, Foodstuffs New World and Yoobee.
What’s happening in the world of fit-out design at the moment?
There’s been a big move towards experiential retailing and hospitality, convenience, curating offers, customising and personalising, as well as integrating the physical, online, mobile and social channels.
What future trends should we be expecting?
Look out for key changes in banking and how we pay for things – this is going to radically change the retail environment.
There are also amazing strides in technology happening, and not only the Internet of Things, but the Internet of You – imagine how you might design your store if you didn’t need to worry about shrinkage or theft; if you already knew what your customer had in his or her wardrobe or fridge; if you could create tailor-made unique items just as easily as standard ranges. Imagine it and it will happen.
How trendy should retailers be with store fit-outs?
Retailers are in a unique position to be able to update their stores often due to lease
agreements, but I’d advise against following the latest ‘trendy’ fashion – the fit-out needs to be the physical manifestation of their brand, their unique offering and the journey they want to take their customers on.
This means going beyond the surface of fashion and working out what is unique and special about their brand.
How does New Zealand rate in the world of retail design?
Although it’s easier to think that other, bigger markets are doing more because they have more stores, we certainly hold our own.
However, even though we as a nation see ourselves as innovators, we are still held back a bit by the cost of new technologies and quality, durable materials. Exciting trends tend to occur around the availability and affordability of new building materials, technologies, and new ways of thinking about customer behaviours which in turn lead to new and surprising layouts and designs.
There is still an ethos here to make do with cheaper, inferior products, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be punching above our weight with how we think and with creating extraordinary customer experiences.
Michael Eden is director of GDM Retail Systems, a global fixture design and manufacturing company based in Whanganui. Lately, they have worked with brands such as Heidi Klum Intimates, Tailored by Rodd & Gunn, Number One Shoes and Carpet Court.
GDM Retail has been in the business for more than 35 years. Is the quality and detail of shop fit-outs as good today as it was back then?
Back then, many retailers were owner operators and would take a DIY approach to store fit-outs. They were often completing much of the design and construction with help from their local builder. Now there are well-established retail design manufacturers and fit-out experts.
Looking at New Zealand retail as a whole, we now have more global players in our market and therefore influence from the world’s foremost designers and marketers. Like many other industries our retailers must compete on the global stage.
What about shopfitting itself?
Historically fixtures were produced of high specification and detail to last forever; now it is about constant reinvention to develop a framework that can easily be reconfigured and remerchandised. This allows the retailer to always present a fresh in-store experience.
Retailers strive to create a unique retail experience as their point of difference.
GDM was involved with the Tailored by Rodd & Gunn and Heidi Klum Intimates rollout throughout Australia this year. Can you tell us more about it?
Tailored by Rodd & Gunn required a rollout of 12 stores in Myer and David Jones, requiring the fit-outs to be completed within a single week.
The design and engineering of the fixtures was challenging – the brief was to create a slim, solid timber piece of furniture capable of being moved with 150kgs of product on it. The fixture has a concealed steel frame structure allowing it to hold more weight than meets the eye. It looks amazing and was an engineering success.
Heidi Klum Intimates was installed into premium spaces within Myer and David Jones, also. Every wall was site specific and all fixtures were kitset construction. This involved 37 sites installed over a two-week period throughout Australia – at night, with 16 containers of product delivered on time and to spec.
Heidi loved it and the interplay of different elements, shapes and forms makes for one dynamic space.
When should a retailer invest in high quality joinery, metalwork and other shop fitting features?
The main things a retailer should think about is which fixtures are appropriate for their store’s needs. What sort of retail experience are they looking to create? Is it a pop up store? High-end boutique or bulk discount retailer? Each segment requires different levels of finish and demand different product lifecycle.
The fixtures and built environment augment the brand story and perceived value. A high quality look and feel is essential for a high end fashion brand, and the opposite could be said for a discount outlet store.
More than ever retail is a form of recreation so the in-store shopping experience is vital. It is not always the product purchased, it is the act of shopping and the environment that provides the enjoyment.
Life Pharmacy Henderson
Context Architects were asked to overhaul the shopfront of Life Pharmacy’s Henderson retail branch, located in Auckland’s Westfield WestCity Mall.
The brief asked for the shopfront to be opened up to create strong sightlines within the mall; to deliver a creative rollout of the new Life Pharmacy brand in a particularly long shopfront, with two frontages and a corner; engage the different types of customers that visit the mall with distinct and strategic entry points; and to create a “clean, calm ambiance” by creating breathing room for key retail messages to be absorbed, as well as visual pauses throughout the white floor space.
The architects went beyond the brief with other careful design elements, such as opening up access to the front walls from the interior (behind the window display) to create a huge retail display area. Design also went into increasing the amount of revenue-generating window display areas (rented by prestige brands) without detracting from interior product display areas.
Cleverly, new entry points were also created, once again to appeal to the different customers’ needs. The entry close to the PostShop is signposted with the medical Green Cross motif, to draw in dispensary customers who are simply looking to fill a prescription or ask for health advice. The alternative entrance is meant to appeal to beauty customers, who are happy to linger and are shown to be more receptive to impulse purchases.
The results are impressive: 21 percent increase in foot traffic, 13 percent increase in sales, 50 percent saving on the power bill and a more comfortable shopping experience (lighter without being hotter), and compliments from customers, staff, suppliers and other retailers. There is also a fully booked window schedule with suppliers on a waiting list.
The completed shopfront was opened this year, and was the winner of the 2015 Red (Retail Design) Fashion + Health award.
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