The importance of Store Design – Part 2

Today more than ever it is important to create retail spaces that are designed in a way that is not only safe, but promotes a hassle-free and enjoyable experience. In this mini-series, John Abbate FBDS, Lead VM & Windows at Northbanks will touch upon how store design can be conceived, factors that might influence it and, how and where this might come from. 

One of the basics of store design and visual merchandising is understanding who the customer is and what kind of experience the retailer wants them to have. Inspiration begins with empathy for customers’ tastes, likes and expectations. Rather than a ‘Trend-led’ design, as discussed in our last article, a ‘Customer-centric’ approach looks at other aspects of the target market’s life and aligns the design with their perceptions and expectations of retail and the services that reflect their lifestyles.

This approach is ideal for an ‘Authentic’ retail experience rather than an ‘Aspirational’ retail experience, and at the moment brand followers are more aware than ever before and as a result buying into companies that are authentic and not selling them a dream or aspiration.

Soho Bikes came to Northbanks to design, manufacture and fit-out their bike shop on Berwick Street in London’s West End, the target market being mountain bikers; living and working in, or commuting into central London, and the wider London cycling population. Being Central London, customers would likely socialise and shop locally, i.e. go to coffee shops, bars and eat – meaning there was opportunity that the interior style could be consistent with these other environments.

We had found typical mountain bike stores are often cramped, cluttered environments that feel more like hardware stores, they fail to display products clearly, and generally fail to a create a destination for customers. We wanted something more than this, something better, and our client was on board with that vision.

Our research had shown that by contrast, London’s road bike store scene offers a far more open and clean, modern retail space, and creates a social scene, similar to a contemporary cafe or bar. This style is welcoming to new and non-cyclists and far better-suited to selling mid to high end bikes for more experienced cyclists.

We created a space that flowed and told a story– it showcased the bikes and their accessories (excitement), an extensive workshop (knowledge), and we included a social area for the burgeoning coffee scene, and the ability to host in-store events which created a social hub and buzz (experience).

We also catered for short and long dwell time shoppers – those that were short of time and needed to quickly drop something off for repair or buy something during their lunch break, and those that wanted the Soho Bikes experience – to soak up the ambience, talk and share stories with passionate mountain bikers, or get some advice, maybe bike-scene celebrity spot, or make it worth their while if they travelled some time.

The service aspect of the shop flows from the more general, coffee and products to services, to bike selling and repair. Again, our research showed that by virtue of it being one of the only mountain bike stores in Central London it would become a destination store, however we also wanted to attract passing trade and even those uninterested in mountain bikes… We placed the coffee shop at the entrance so there was an added curiosity factor, passing trade would think ‘what’s going on there? Why’s it busy, that looks new / exciting / interesting’ which sparks an initial interest – then the customer experienced the friendly, welcoming aspect – which converted this and drew them in.

Behind the coffee shop, they were met with a hive of product, accessories and apparel to browse and explore, curated by knowledgeable staff, leading to a large comprehensive and skilled workshop. We further added to the experience by creating a ‘Wonder room’ in the basement which led to curiosity and exploration being rewarded by high end bike candy.

We mixed new with old in the aesthetic, for example the flooring was reclaimed from a mill. Style elements of a stripped back classic London townhouse include traditional panelled service counter along with metal fixtures, modern clean display and lighting.

The design also reflects not only the personality of the customers but that of the business – Soho Bikes : part of the local bike shop scene and known as being friendly, knowledgeable and approachable. Authenticity is expressed by having an extensive workshop on premises, as it was found that on social media, followers judge a bike shop positively if there is a real workshop on site.

Whilst mountain bikes are seen as an expensive hobby, customers want value for money, so customer empathy is key with the use of cost-effective materials to help the store feel honest, creating an environment that does not make the shop seem too exclusive or expensive. Fashion led sportswear and footwear also fit in comfortably in this ‘honest’ environment.

Once all this is established, as part of the brief we start to pull together mood boards.  In this case, a mix of retail a F&B that exemplify the customers perceptions and expectations. You can see how the look and feel for the shop starts to manifest and can help the client (and landlord) visualise what their shop will be like and help fine tune what the client likes and does not like.

Key to any good store design is mood boards with specific and relevant images that can visually communicate the functions, interior design aesthetic, the mood, fixtures, furniture, materials, displays and visual merchandising styles that will become part of the unique solution for the client.

Customers are also social media followers so we take into consideration what else might be of interest.  What we design should be a seamless part of their world, meeting and exceeding their expectations.

Our 5 golden rules:

  1. Stay relevant to your brand followers
  2. Connect with your brand followers
  3. Being good enough isn’t good enough
  4. Your physical space should be an extension of your online presence (or vice versa)
  5. It’s not more, more, more – it’s better

The end result was a casual, authentic bike shop where customers can stop to have a cup of coffee during their busy day, while they wait for the bike to be fixed, or just to catch up and socialise with other like-minded mountain bikers.  They can shop confidently for a new set of wheels, accessories or sports apparel and footwear in an authentic and honest atmosphere that expresses both the brands and their personality and lifestyle.

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