Erewhon Market shares retail store design tips, advice

| by Judy Mottl
Erewhon Market shares retail store design tips, advice

Rendering courtesy of Montalba Architects.

It's not often to hear "serendipitous" when a retailer talks about a collaborative partnership, but that's the perfect word for describing how one California grocer connected with a retail design team as it preps the opening of its fourth location in the state.

Erewhon Market, an all-natural grocer that sells ethically and sustainably produced products, was on the hunt to open a new store, its fourth in California, and was considering a property that formerly housed a Fresh & Easy. Erewhon aims to open its newest location, slated for Santa Monica, in early 2018. The market reached out to Retail Design Collaborative (RDC), an award-winning firm with over 37 years of experience, and Montalba Architects to learn about the previous tenant.


That initial phone interaction and subsequent meetings with company leaders developed into a design project partnership. In addition to RDC serving as executive architect, Montalba Architects served as the design architect on the project. Slated Projects, a real estate investment, design, construction and brokerage firm that represents Erewhon,worked directly with Erewhon from the site selection point to the full execution of the new store.


The Santa Monica location, as described on Erewhon's website, will feature a patio, terraced courtyard, large windows to "bring a sense of indoor and outdoor connectivity," as well as a street-level view of the market's open kitchen.


"They were so friendly and responsive and were interested in working together. And as they say, one thing led to another, and here we are today," Tony Antoci, Erewhon Market CEO, told Retail Customer Experience in an email interview.


Customers just don't want access to groceries


Since the start of the effort, Erewhon, RDC and Montalba have been focused on developing a retail design that will meet today's consumer expectations. That's no quick feat or easy undertaking as consumers, and their expectations when shopping for food, are changing rapidly.


Simply, as RDC Vice President of Client Engagement David Sheldon explained, retail store design is critical to success as the customer experience is now viewed by consumers as important as merchandise.


Customers want access to more information, on the fly, within the grocery experience, Sheldon told Retail Customer Experience in an email interview, and consumers aren't just looking for a high quality purchase experience.


"The store experience is evolving, and it's evolving for the better. Retailers are boosting the customer experience by merging their locations with a mix of food, entertainment and technology," Sheldon said. "We are seeing some stores begin to offer more connectivity and engage their customers in more data-driven decision making as technology is changing everything about how we live, work, play and shop."


For the grocery segment, that means having to adapt quickly and develop a more efficient experience.


"At the end of the day, humans are social animals. Even with technological advancements, there will always be a need for social engagement, and the grocery store has been and will always be one of those places," said Antoci.


In the design realm, crafting a myriad of offerings beyond food means designing outdoor specialty places and even unique parking areas.


"We see the physical design of stores focusing more intentionally on customer efficiency and experience and we believe that there can be a balance between commodity based ecommerce and in-store customer experiences," Antoci added.


Such design concepts will drive deeper customer loyalty and brand loyalty, he said.


The grocery evolution is one part of the overall retail experience revolution taking place, and some new trends are expected to hit next year, as illustrated at RDC's recent annual "future of retail" symposium at its Long Beach, California headquarters. The event, open to thought leaders, is a forum of discussion and engagement on commercial design, the evolution of the retail landscape and the importance of the human experience.


During the event, RDC identified several top retail design trends ahead: advanced automation including artificial intelligence; the inclusion of providing a "sense of arrival, destination and community" within the retail environment; creating a frictionless, user-friendly and customer convenient experience; and the re-imagining of the retail mall environment in which housing, public and civil facilities are integrated into what has long been purely a shopping environment.


What to do before starting a design effort


At the in-construction Erewhon store in Santa Monica, Montalba is leading the store's commissary design, which is in the pre-construction phase. The landscape design aspect includes tiered planters and vertical metal plant netting with a focus on bringing greenery onto and into the building.


Natural light is a big focus as well and being encouraged in the interior through carefully placed skylights, saidDavid Montalba, founding principal of Montalba Architects. The west facade is screened by a trellised garden, and carefully placed opaque glass film allows street visibility from inside the store as well as outdoor customer interaction without exposing back of house elements.   

One  feature of the Erewhon Santa Monica store is the ceiling trellis floating above the outdoor garden terrace areas, which is mirrored on the interior, making the storefront seem to disappear, and the experience is more like meandering through a covered outdoor market. Warm terrazzo countertops evoke a natural texture and tone similar to the decomposed granite garden at the garden, further reinforcing the ties to the land.  Alaskan Yellow Cedar beams frame sculptured perforated metal panels to help defuse sunlight and bring warmth and scale to the interior.

"We see the physical design of stores focusing more intentionally on customer efficiency and experience; and we believe that there can be a balance between commodity based ecommerce and in-store customer experiences," said Yuval Chiprut, of Slated Projects, who serves as head of business and development for Erewhon Markets and working directly with Antoci on the expansion.  


Unlike conventional grocery stores, Erewhon Santa Monica’s garden terrace allows patrons an opportunity to be more connected to the land in this urban setting, and to interact socially while shoppingCustomers can rest or dine under an Alaskan Yellow Cedar trellis amongst trees and plantings. The garden terrace softens the entry point to the store and opens the facade along Wilshire and Harvard.


"Both projects have kicked off perfectly as RDC responds and operates with great speed. We couldn't be happier… and all from that serendipitous meeting," said Antoci, who added RDC's attention to customer service, as a design partner, has been exceptional.


"They are always on the ball, have excellent communication, are thorough and responsive to our needs. You can tell they care about the project and our relationship."


Before Erewhon signed on with RDC there were more than a few steps and tasks to take, and Antoci offered up some tips for other retailers targeting store design projects and strategy.


In addition to establishing a clear budget plan, Antoci recommends working closely with a  design partner from the get-go and finding a "solid" general contractor before any building takes place.


"If you work closely with designers early on, you won't regret it, and you need to get a good support team in place," he said.


Just as crucial is in-depth strategy homework before embarking on the effort, he added.


"Make sure your internal business team understands what needs to be accomplished so that the interdepartmental needs of the organization are met. This important discovery phase should be done well before you work on design and development."

Topics: Assisted Selling, Customer Experience, Furniture and Fixtures, Marketing, Specialty Stores, Store Design & Layout

Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She’s written everything from breaking news to in-depth trends. She loves a great pitch so email here, follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

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