This week’s post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3Consulting, social media consultant and facilitator of the monthly Roundtable for the Alexandria SBDC.
“Big box retailers, at some point, define the competition,” said Retail Architect Bridget Gaddis, AIA, Leed AP, and Principal of Alexandria-based architecture studio, Gaddis Architect. With over 20 years of commercial retail design, Bridget knows what she’s talking about when it comes to taking your retail concept and bringing it into reality. She presented a seminar workshop entitled, “From Ideas to Bricks and Mortar Store” at the Alexandria Small Business Development Center recently to help educate retailers and forthcoming retailers for the Alexandria Small Business Retail Mondays, a series of educational programs for retail small businesses throughout the City of Alexandria, Virginia, throughout July and August.
So, if big box retailers are creating the standards for small business retailers to compete and prosper, what can you do to set yourself up for success? It turns out that proper lighting, showing your merchandise, saying what you sell, and creating a shopping experience, said Gaddis, are just a few ways you can champion your retail design success. Here are my non-architect’s takeaways of just some of the highlighted points Bridget illuminated (pun intended) during her presentation.
An example of a @gotogaddis retail store prototype passed around at the "Ideas to Bricks and Mortar" seminar. pic.twitter.com/YGK0fCpIvf
— Alexandria VA SBDC (@alexvasbdc) July 27, 2015
Get a retail store prototype made.
As Bridget demonstrated in her seminar, one of the primary goals of a retail project is to make sure that your retail marketing objectives are met upon opening your store. One of the best pieces of advice offered was the production of a retail store prototype with the help of a retail architect. This can eliminate many of the unknowns that can plague a project as well as illuminate some of the guesswork from what will happen and how it will look at completion.
High contrast lighting is better than brightness.
Something very interesting to me, that when you are planning your retail store you should really look to have high contrast lighting versus bright lighting. Bridget gave the example of several stores that had low ambient lighting but stronger direct lighting on the products themselves. This makes sense as what’s more important, the walls or selling your products?
“Warm, white lights extend the amount of time a customer spends in a retail store.” ~Bridget Gaddis
Mannequins as design strategy. You can even use it to sell hardware!
When designing your retail clothing and accessories stores, you may want to think about how mannequins and other props play into your overall marketing strategy. The more people see themselves wearing your clothes or the accessories that you sell, the more likely they are to buy.
Test for the “Tchotchke Effect” (flea market look): take photos of your display in black-and-white.
Clutter isn’t good for the home and certainly not good for the retail store environment. If I can’t see all of your products clearly, or if I’m nervous about turning around in your store but actually knocking some expensive product off the shelf, I’m not going to be in the most ready state for buying now. Make sure that aisles are clear and passable, that products are displayed together in an organized fashion and are complementary, and, even in small spaces, that there’s enough visual space between sections or categories of products. In this case, less is more often greater sales generated than inventory displayed.
How often should a retail store update their storefront to stay visually relevant?
The tip that Bridget Gaddis offered was practical: pay attention to design trends and think about updating your retail store and storefront accordingly. You can read interior design blogs, like Go To Gaddis’ blogs, As well as subscribing to Twitter profiles, facebook pages and Pinterest boards that are showing design and marketing trends that can inform your decision whether or not your storefront or retail store is looking current.
Show your merchandise.
This advice marries well with the cluttered retail environment issue. If you block purposefully or inadvertently customers’ views of your product, they won’t see them to buy them. It’s as simple as that. So, it’s best to showcase your actual merchandise and not hide it in seemingly clever displays that may not really tell me which or what your product is.
Say What You Sell.
Any store signage and other words that appear to the customer from the storefront or within the store needs to tell the customer what it is you sell. From personal experience, I have walked through Old Town and not been able to decipher what a store actually sells as I walk by. Since I couldn’t determine what it is that they sold, I have never stepped foot in the store. That’s hardly the non-invitation you want to present as you launch your retail store.
Create a shopping experience.
The final tip that I picked up from the seminar was the contextualizing of the age-old principle of creating a shopping experience. As with any restaurant or retail store, people are expecting to experience your brand as much as they are to buy your product. As you plan out how your bricks and mortar store is going to look, take into account how you are future customers will experience your brand from visual, layout, sales, and customer service perspectives.