If you’re a store designer, you’ve got to believe in the future for bricks-and-mortar, and young ones with promising careers have big ideas for transforming the box.
Among them: Make store environments flexible for regularly changing presentations; more casual; less cluttered with merchandise; sustainable; “Instagram-able,” and formatted for telling the “brand story.”
Those were some of the concepts expressed by five retail design and visual experts, all under the age of 40, at last month’s gathering of the Retail Design Institute, New York Chapter, held at Architectural Systems Inc., 150 West 25th Street. RDI’s New York Chapter holds monthly networking events.
“From a digital perspective, Instagram has taken off, not only as a tool to find inspirational images for the projects that we are working on, but now it’s become a driving force within design itself,” observed Andrew Lee, a senior designer at MNA, which has created retail designs for Coach, Michael Kors and Patagonia, among other firms. “How do we design a project that is ‘Instagram-able?'”
At the Lauren Taylor, “As a team, we stop ourselves and say, ‘Is this Instagram worthy?’ We want to create something that people feel inspired about and want to share,” said Gerardo Mellado, visual manager.
Brands sharing the same retail space, innovating pop-ups to heighten the experience, and the growing influence of the hospitality industry upon retail stores were also called out by those on the panel, which also included Nikki Francisco, design director, Sargenti Architects; Germana Gioglio, project manager, FRCH, and Melisa Flickinger, senior visual manager of Vera Bradley.
All of the panelists made Design:Retail Magazine’s 2017 list of “40 under 40” spotlighting young, rising talent in the field.
“I see more brands and restaurants working together inside the same space — being more collaborative,” said Flickinger. “I see more of that almost old school Main Street feel in malls.”
“The mixed-use space is hotter than it’s ever been,” said Linda Lombardi, vice president of global store design for Godiva Chocolatier, who moderated the panel. “Not only do you have a Godiva retail store, but incorporated into that is a Godiva café. Not only do you see a bike store on Bleecker Street, but it’s also a juice bar. As malls and stores reinvent themselves, food, beverage and wellness are becoming extremely important. There’s this whole sense of mixed-use space that’s becoming more lifestyle-driven,” said Lombardi, who this year received the prestigious Markopoulos Award recognizing outstanding achievement in visual merchandising and store design.
“Retail is not dying. It’s just shifting,” said Francisco. She added that her firm has been aggressively researching pop-up concepts for new perspectives.
Lauren Taylor’s Mellado said associations with non-profits will take off, and Gioglio, of FRCH, cited the importance of re-purposing existing materials and also letting the consumer in on “the brand story…More and more with the store we’re going to create a way to tell the story of a brand. I think it’s becoming very important to the customer.”
According to Lee of MNA, his firm used reclaimed wood from the buildings along the High Line, a park created from an abandoned railroad line on Manhattan’s West Side, to create the Patagonia stores in the Meatpacking District neighborhood. MNA also used old wood from the Coney Island boardwalk to create a store on the Bowery in Manhattan.
According to Flickinger of Vera Bradley, the handbag and accessory brand that recently added bedding to the mix, luxury is becoming “more casual and more approachable” and drawing inspiration from restaurants, hotels and boutique hotels.
Supporting that premise, Godiva’s Lombardi said, “If I go to a really cool restaurant or I’m staying at a really fun hotel, it inspires me, whether it’s the materials, the flooring, ceilings. We’re seeing fabulous things happening on flooring. It’s really taking on a pulse of its own. Ceilings can’t be white anymore. They have to be really dramatic to make a statement.”
“Building stores with changeable environments will be part of the future. They can’t be stagnant. “You are going to see a space that changes constantly,” said Gioglio. “We are going to learn how to build things and change it up within a few months. We need to create a way to make everything really movable, interchangeable, to create all these different scenarios. People get bored.”
She also sees a day when shoppers can buy an item and leave the store without having to wait in line, and believes sales associates should be prepared to answer tough questions about products from shoppers who enter stores already having done extensive research on the merchandise.
“That old model of you walk into a door, you have a window, you have cash registers, all this is going away,” predicted Mellado. “From the minute you walk into the store, it’s full of possibilities. It’s about creating a space that becomes an experience.”