Big boxes going condo is a "material" change

| by Mark Murray
Big boxes going condo is a

The most noticeable change for mass-market retail in the year ahead will be the introduction of new architectural materials and flooring. As "stores" evolve from "come and get it" warehouses to smaller, experience based shopping, there's demand for more than gymnasium lighting schemes, cement floors and metal rafters dotted with way-finding danglers.

The outcome is a hybrid store type (specialty store meets mass market retail). Yes, the cost pressure will be high, but the sense of a designer's hand in terms of interior finishes will need to be present. In these cases, you can bet the designer's other hand will be searching out new sources for materials that create a true store environment - while also responding to the traffic and maintenance requirements of large mass-market installations.

Two years ago I gave this prophetic sermon to Nancy Jackson, President of Architectural Systems Inc. (ASI). She listened patiently as I stood on my soapbox. Then she very politely asked, "Mark, have you noticed we changed our masthead to include 'affordable.'"

Then, Ron Jackson, CEO, described the new product lines and distribution partnerships they had recently developed to give retailers a "Flagship-Mall-Outlet" selection which would offer brand consistency across a range of site types/price points.

Part of me felt they had stolen my book. Another part of me was thrilled to know ASI was on the same page.

Legends Suite Club, Yankee Stadium, II BY IV Design Associates
Legends Suite Club, Yankee Stadium, II BY IV Design Associates

Leading designers know ASI as a place to get permission to be bold. When sourcing materials of the right blue for the VIP suites at Yankee Stadium, the designer knew the wrong shade would launch a fleet of Bronx Bombers with him as their target. Yes, ASI is known for getting the "hard to get." Now, they're ready for the "hard to do" in large-scale retail. And, the timing couldn't be better.

  • Earlier this year the Financial Times told us, "Retailers can run big-box stores off a single blueprint for inventories, staffing and fixtures."
  • Soon after, Deloitte Research identifies, "The cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all doesn't seem to work that well anymore." They explain how it's about adapting stores to different shopper profiles and preferences.
  • Most recently, Nielsen isolates opportunities among consumers searching to fulfill their "unique shopper missions."

Well, we all know margins and brand preference will live in this "unique shopper mission." We also know its going to require a better look, reception and an inventive use of materials. It's the same challenge I brought ASI just about a year ago.

Here's what happened.

The designer, sales lead and myself arrived in New York to review the samples we had already selected. I figured a two-hour review and then we're off to walk some stores.

We're greeted at the showroom and told its all laid out in the conference room. As I scan the thousands of samples in the showroom, it became obvious we may have missed the obvious. I couldn't resist the vibe or the variety of materials in the room. So, I did it. I opened the can of worms labeled "New Options" AND WE'RE OFF!

Nancy Jackson gets you from 5,000 to 50 choices in seconds based on budget and what she knows about our retail customer. Then we're down to 12 based on the project, her unmatched knowledge of trends and understanding of installation requirements. The designer keeps nodding his head – he likes what he sees. We're cooking. At the same time, I can't keep my eyes off an embossed wall surfaced that will "make the store." We all agree but realize it means going back to every selection to find the dollars we need. So, WE'RE OFF AGAIN!

Not a problem. After she asks, "What time is your flight," Nancy starts walking through the showroom, pulling substitutes, new options and re-creating in minutes what we had spent weeks putting together. It was nothing short of watching a master at work. Finally, it dawned on me: While we were focused on making a decision, she was steering us to the opportunity.

I soon found out it's often the same drill:

  1. A project that's been on the drawing board for more than a year finally gets the green light.
  2. The Real Estate group is now counting every penny and minute of pre-opening rent.
  3. Store teams are shaking over the fact that their material selections may be worthless due to unrealistic turnarounds and budget cuts.

What I later found out is Nancy, Ron and the rest of ASI will host another of these meetings before our cab gets us back to LGA! Each ends with a project ASI supports through and even after the install. At the store opening, the team is celebrated for making such great material selections – yeah, right.

Knowing that store formats and environments are in store for dramatic change is a good starting point for true innovation. But knowing how to do it with a constantly changing set of material options and environmental standards for fixtures, walls, floors and ceilings need to be part of an active dialog with a company that lives it every day.

It's a challenge you can't satisfy at arm's length from what was available last year. It comes through a concentrated effort and a series of smart trade offs from a trusted person in the trade.


Topics: Customer Experience, Merchandising, Point-of-Purchase / POP, Store Design & Layout

Mark Murray
Mark Murray started The Store Channel to help brands tell new stories in new ways at retail. His approach of "scripting" customer experiences has cut the pattern for award-winning store types in Europe, Latin America and the U.S. Murray's ad agency pedigree included stints as both account and strategy team lead.

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