DALLAS — Operating under the premise that confusion and boredom are the chief causes of sales erosion at retail, design firm RYA is prescribing a more cohesive blend of store environment and fashion with an eye toward leveraging one of retailers’ most important assets: their own names.
“Differentiation is at the crux of any project we do — it’s the antithesis of the cookie-cutter approach,” said Kevin A. Roche, a partner in RYA’s San Francisco office. RYA, which stands for Robert Young Associates in honor of the company’s founder, who retired in the Nineties, has two offices and is headquartered here. The firm strives to bring stores and fashion closer together by revamping interior design and branding concepts.
“Basically, in today’s retail environment, the bottom line is differentiate or die,” said Roche. “People spend their money where they spend their time. One of the best ways to differentiate is to offer product in a way not found at any other retailer.”
With annual revenues of $5 million, RYA recently designed the new Bebe Sport prototype in Southfield, Mich., which is less formal and more loft-like than stores under the Bebe nameplate and features maple floors with chrome and acrylic furnishings. RYA is also working on Bloomingdale’s flagship on Union Square in San Francisco.
RYA counts Federated Department Stores, Hudson Bay, Neiman Marcus and Sephora among its clients. Overall, the company is pushing store design to be more fashion-friendly, with brighter fiber-optic lighting, monochromatic and softer color palettes that don’t clash with the clothes, as well as wider aisles and lower sight lines.
The firm’s philosophy dictates that a store’s name is among its greatest assets and, when used as a branding tool, is one of the most effective ways to stand apart from the competition. Target, for instance, has used its store name to great effect. A purveyor of everything from dresses to dish soap, the retailer has imbued its low-cost merchandise with a sense of coolness previously unheard of in the discount realm by effectively branding its store.
“Store design today goes well beyond the skillful combination of materials,” said Ignaz Gorischek, vice president of planning and presentation at Neiman Marcus. “Strong design will endure and, if maintained properly, will easily support the fast world of fashion merchandising.”
RYA’s first step to giving stores a stronger point of view is to design shopper-friendly and productive floor plans and interiors.
“We take everything out of the store, and then layer categories and departments back in only as they are needed and desired by the store and its target audiences,” said Thomas Herndon, RYA’s chief executive officer and partner. “Department stores have been incredibly guilty of a tremendous amount of assault on the senses. There’s so much sensory overload that it causes confusion among shoppers, from too much and too confusing signage to garish colors, cramped aisles and lack of differentiation among brands.”
At David Jones, a moderate department store chain in Australia, RYA made uncluttered interiors that did not distract from the brand statements, with a creamy ivory color palette on walls and ceilings and architectural lighting systems that guide shoppers through the store with sweeping light coves beckoning toward merchandise.
With this hipper environment, the retailer is reaching out to a new and highly lucrative customer: 35- to 55-year-old women who crave contemporary-styled apparel.
Federated has a long history working with RYA, said Rudy Javosky, senior vice president of design and construction. “They continue to challenge us with their creative thought processes that produce change,” she said.
“It’s so important to offer neutral breaks and quiet moments between branded shops, too,” Roche said. “It could be something as simple as a T-wall with a piece of art. Neiman Marcus is so effective with their art approach to store design and successfully using negative space. There’s no substitute for the art of display. It drives the business.”