LAS VEGAS — Space-age Sixties modern, plasma TV screens and natural wood topped visual merchandising trends at GlobalShop 2004, wrapping up its three-day show at the Sands Expo & Convention Center here last month.
Overall, retailers seemed most interested in sweeping away cluttered, product-packed stores in favor of minimalist interiors.
In a way, executives said, store design is taking its cue not only from residential design but fashion. “It’s about subtle finishes and much more color,” said Doug Hope, show producer. “I would almost say go-go colors.”
Custom-made surfaces, known in the trade as “skins,” are gaining popularity, especially for retailers creating in-store shops for their own brands. Italian fixture company ALU showed stark, white curved display cases, thick stainless steel hangers and white opaque “cube systems” that can be stacked, hung from ceilings or topped with leather for ottomans or end tables. “[Skins] are [retailers’] own fingerprints,” said ALU president Robert Rosean. “It’s been critical as they get away from a cookie-cutter approach to stores.”
James C. Maharg, owner of New York-based Look, showed Sixties-style “Sputnik” metal fixtures with clips for brand signage on the end of each prong, shelves on ceiling tracks and waist-high, underlit T-shirt shelves — all of which can be easily moved or altered. “It’s still about brand flexibility and change,” he said.
Even more visually compelling were creations that stretch, twist and wind fabric around lighting fixtures, walls or aluminum frames for towering sculptural shapes, movable dressing rooms or column wraps (think Christo). Moss Inc., a former tent-maker out of Belfast, Maine, has already produced the look for Sephora and the Palm Cafe in Century City, Calif.
Toronto-based Eventscape, the name behind Miss Sixty’s fabric changing room “cocoons” and the light columns at Burberry in New York, offered yet another creative alternative to changing rooms — big flower “petals” that extend from the ceiling to envelop the customer.
“Instead of new technology, we’re getting back to great visuals that make the retail spaces feel warmer as opposed to glitz and high tech,” said Teresa Powell, visual director of Jones Apparel Group, who oversees 1,000 stores under Nine West, Jones New York and Anne Klein banners, among others. “We’re trying to mimic modern residential spaces — clean but not cold,” she said.
Among the lower-tech booths, mannequins, surprisingly, were out in force. In response to demand from stores, Mondo Mannequins from Hicksville, N.Y., unveiled its Showgirls line. It isn’t an ode to Sin City, but a line of fuller-size mannequins, in sizes 8-10 with 38D breasts. Mondo’s Sketch line — cartoonish, abstract mannequins with oversize heads swiveling on model-size bodies, is also gaining momentum among junior and young contemporary retailers, according to the company.
Even inexpensive technologies can kick environments up a notch. Bloomingdale’s in some swim departments pumps out a coconut aroma formulated by Scent Air Technologies of Santa Barbara, Calif. For about $600 plus monthly fees, a retailer can pick from 200 scents, including Jasmine, Corn Flakes, Bread and West Indian Sandalwood, to reach a 2,000-square-foot area. “Any pleasant aroma tends to make you linger and that translates into sales,” said Pamela Knock, director of sales.
Still, design alone is not the answer, said Paco Underhill, author of “The Call of the Mall” and one of the show’s keynote speakers. He pointed out that investment in a store environment must make sense within the context of the concept. “The fastest-growing retail chains are antidesign,” he reminded the audience.
Indeed, retailers and manufacturers hunted for simple, inexpensive solutions to their merchandising needs.
Michael Sullivan, visual coordinator for 55 Saks Fifth Avenue outlets, had an eye out for sunglass cases and ways to play up “silent sellers” — areas that communicate what a product is to the consumer without the need for a sales associate. “We don’t have the luxury of salespeople on the floor,” he said.
Elements not “over-designed and confrontational but familiar and comfortable,” topped the list of Beverly Lindberg, general manager at Santa Barbara, Calif.-based surfwear maker O’Neill, which has four retail locations. “Glitz is really not in the world of surfers carrying their waxy old surfboards into the store.” She perused odd-shaped shelving to accommodate everything from jeans and T-shirts to boogie boards.
“To stay head of the Joneses,” William Charuhas, director of store planning at 160 Macy’s West doors, said he spent most of his time scrutinizing lighting fixtures. He researched decorative, high-tech lighting to give the Thisit (pronounced “this is it”) junior department a clubby feel.
Dress Barn’s assistant vice president Jeff Ross said he was giddy upon discovering lightweight “slat walls” or devices on which posters hang. “The ease of installation is tough to find,” he said, noting employees of the chain’s 800 stores are responsible for installing banners and promotions. “We want things to be idiot-proof,” he said.
Moreover, the lightweight mechanism will cost less to ship, he added.
Sears, Roebuck’s design manager, Mike Wildman, sought inspiration for signage for the recently unveiled Sears Grand supercenter prototype, soon to be rolled out to four locations in the Western region by year-end. His goal: to communicate “lifestyle” in large-scale graphics that can be easily shipped and installed.
One of Calvin Klein’s vendors, Montreal-based Artitalia Group Inc., caught his eye, specifically the company’s rounded retro-style clear Lucite wall shelves. “We are trying to upgrade our image,” he said. “A lot of people still think of Sears for lawn mowers and tools.”
Michelle Stack, a visual merchandiser with Estée Lauder Inc., was also captivated by Lucite and acrylic, two materials she could envision with wood cosmetics cases in some 2,200 accounts. But most compelling to the company was “narrowcast” plasma TV screens that could one day replace product banners, she said. The new technology — “really taking off,” according to show producer Hope —beams images that move ever-so-slightly, not quite static and yet not as jarring to the eye as everyday broadcast television.