HEIGHTENING THE DRAMA
NEW YORK — Among the more entrepreneurial chains, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s and The Disney Store have built some of the most dramatic stores in the country — with distinct personalities. They know the key to any retail expansion is to find the right locations and maintain a sharp focus.
Here’s what top visual executives from these chains say about creating selling floors that stand out from the mall pack.
Long regarded as cluttered and difficult to shop in certain locations, Bloomingdale’s is currently building spacious stores with wider aisles, easier sight lines across selling floors and more dramatic merchandise displays.
It’s an attempt to help consumers navigate stores with ease, put together outfits and learn about product versatility, and maintain the high-energy, contemporary settings that set Bloomingdale’s apart.
The effort is most noticeable at Bloomingdale’s first four California stores, opened this month, where according to Jack Hruska, Bloomingdale’s senior vice president of store design and visual merchandising, “We’re massing the mannequins, using many more to advocate more ways for the customer to understand what we have to offer.”
“Because we are using so many mannequins, we only can afford those that are simple to change — nonrealistic sculptures rather than those that look like real people. They have simple poses, so we can use more, in bigger groups, instead of utilizing two realistic mannequins, we might put six or seven mannequins to show more ways to wear the merchandise. It’s a big change on the floor,” Hruska notes.
“With realistic mannequins, you have to comb their hair, get shoes from the shoe department, get a pair of nylons. They require more care. With sculpted mannequins, you don’t have to.”
The massing approach applies to Bloomingdale’s home area as well, where in one store, there are 28 beds for sheet presentation, each overstuffed with padding to give it a rounded, cushiony, richer appearance. For the effect, the company utilizes mattresses with special foam that saves hours of work.
In California, Bloomingdale’s renovated four former Broadway Stores by building frosted glass exteriors, marble floors with wooden insets with pucks to attach and remove fixturing and mannequins at will, and lighting that’s recessed out of view. Executives called it “a cleaner, California look” with high impact.
Bloomingdale’s is looking for alternatives to the typical video monitor, a higher version of technology that adds energy to the store. “Video monitors are too commonplace,” Hruska says. “We need to push on with big screen projections in a bright environment.”
Cosmetics is another area getting overhauled at Bloomingdale’s, through new open-sell formats, particularly for replenishment items that don’t require assistance. Overall, Bloomingdale’s latest cosmetics departments are a combination of assisted selling and merchandise-accessible areas, as well as case work and private glass-enclosed consultation areas, and 12-foot-long- by-5-foot-high open selling walls.
“We’re trying to do more and do it smarter,” Hruska concludes. “I believe we are showing customers much more [product] than in the past.”
Saks Fifth Avenue
Saks Fifth Avenue has been one busy company. It went public last spring, is rolling out new selling formats, such as outlets and Main Street stores that are pared-down versions of full-line stores, rapidly adding real estate in many parts of the country, particularly California, Texas and Florida. It’s also interested in taking over the bankrupt Barneys New York.
Amid all this, there’s a major opportunity for Saks to increase productivity at existing stores.
One way to accomplish this, according to Ken Smart, vice president of visual merchandising, is through wall treatments.
“We’re adding more accessories on the walls that would relate to the clothing below, in a clean, simple, symmetrical way. Our walls are becoming more visually stimulating and a bit heavier with product, along with the art that we typically commission.
“We develop special highlight fixtures that hold a handbag and a shoe, on a shelf, possibly utilizing metal risers.”
Saks is also developing new table programs for the open-sell approach, getting away from case lines, especially in accessories, where there’s new fixturing on the walls. “Generally, if you show more product, in an appropriate way, it stimulates buying,” he says. “That’s why we’re also trying to do more with mannequins, but again in a modern, simple clean way — uncomplicated.”
Saks, he says, is utilizing more stylized mannequins than previously. “We want a unique look,” which he says can be achieved by transforming a mannequin base into a design element, rather than something generic, such as a glass base.
“Typically, we don’t want to use vendors. We want to customize it.”
Saks is also using many more forms than in the past — modern in spirit, not realistic, and at its Main Street unit in Greenwich, Conn., utilizes abstract Ruben Toledo forms.
Moreover, the Greenwich unit reflects Saks’ efforts to blend in with communities. “It has the Greenwich twist on traditional elements, such as garden urns and topiary trees and art depicting stone architecture that’s very New England. But we tweaked the store with silver leaf details to make it more modern,” Smart says.
He also says the Ft. Meyer, Fla., store has modern art inspired by tropical birds for “a Captiva mood,” while the Sarasota store has floral themes.
“The big difference at Saks is that we’re using a lot of real art. We don’t want to jam the stores with goods. It’s important to create a very inspiring environment for our customers. If you want to sell designer merchandise, you’ve got to give the customer a very positive environment, esthetically, with customer service and strong visual presentation. It’s all part of stimulating the customer to buy.”
With its sharp focus on luxury merchandising, Neiman Marcus is all about “keeping it simple,” says Ignaz M. Gorischek, vice president of visual planning and presentation.
Neiman’s credo is “styling the product — always putting the product first,” Gorischek says. “Never selecting a fixture for the sake of a fixture, but rather for what it does for the product. You have to remember, it’s the vehicle to present the product.”
He says Neiman’s typically designs its fixtures, working with vendors, “just about 100 percent on our own. Nothing is taken off the shelf. Everything is thought for a particular store.” While some observers believe Neiman’s does have its formulas for building stores, Gorischek says, “We do not do cookie-cutter rollouts.”
Stores vary with fabric changes, or wood changes, or furniture changes, “We’re trying to veer away from typical furniture. When you look at our Paramus, N.J., store, at the front of departments are low benches with forms standing on custom carpets, and product is styled to send a clear message to customer.” The furniture is inspired by museums and exhibit halls, versus the whole residential mode.
Neiman’s is also reinventing its in-store signing. “In women’s designer sportswear, signs are framed and matted to resemble art, and they might be leaning casually on a shelf with a pair of shoes adjacent to it to send that subliminal message about the product,” Gorischek explains. “Or, they could be hanging on the walls delicately with ribbons, or cording. It’s a look that’s unique. We try to take a soft, personalized touch and continually try to reinvent ourselves.”
Gorischek also says that “one of our big differentiators is our corporate art program.” In Paramus, there are some major installations, including a large, stainless steel undulating piece by Hans Von de Vovenkamp. There is also a liquid crystal TV set with a continuous loop video that talks about the artist and shows his work.
“This adds a dimension of entertainment and clearly educates the customer. It takes the art on the wall to a new dimension.”
The Disney Store
Joelene Contrucci, vice president visual merchandising and store design development of The Disney Store Inc., echoes the sentiments of many retailers who plan to attend Visual New York Store Concepts ’96.
“A show can be considered successful, even if you find just one new resource. Even one new resource can make a world of difference for a retailer.”
She’s on a mission to find a manufacturer that’s “on the cutting edge of new materials, creativeness, inventiveness, or can offer me a new technical piece” that provides an innovative way to display product.
“I’m not looking for someone to guess what Disney needs in terms of a fixture or visual prop.”
“Because we have a design staff, and we’re pretty good at conceptualizing what we think we need, whether it’s a fixture or a visual tool or equipment, what I really look for are companies that have design staffs that take their concepts and run with it.”
That’s because Disney typically creates extensive product lines based on Disney film characters and storylines. For 101 Dalmatians, there were roughly 12 different types of apparel, plush toys and hard lines, including stationery and home products. Typically, a Disney collection themed around a film is displayed in a “feature bay” about 9 feet wide by 10 feet tall.
“Our goal is to be story tellers. When we develop product, we develop it with a story in mind,” Contrucci says. “We really tell stories in the design of the store or the visual merchandising of the product, as we theme the store.”