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Looking Good: Updating Your Store

Thinking about updating the look of your store, or planning your first store? Before you rush off to the designer, shopfitter, or get out your can of paint, Marilyn Stephens recommends you think about why and how – Pre-planning and understanding the outcome you want saves time, money, and adds value to the result.

The rent you pay your landlord is based on a dollar per square metre calculation. Similarly, you must plan your store to achieve maximum sales dollars per square metre. The layout plan is the allocation of the space based on your sales budgets or business plan to achieve this result.

Think about what you want your store to be and what type of retail operation you have. Understand how your business interacts with your customer because form follows function in determining many of the physical elements of your store design. If there are elements of how your store works that you would like to change, good design goes a long way to helping with this.

In your current store, watch how customers enter and move through the space. Are there obstacles in their way making it difficult for them to get around the store? Where do they stop first and which direction do they take? You want to know this to enhance the natural customer traffic flow by placing your best-selling or more profitable products in the best position in the store.

What do your customers see as they stand at the front of the store: a wide, inviting entrance with an attractive product display to entice them in; a clean, brightly lit interior with colour and images? Be honest with yourself and remember the other senses. Does your store should smell good, and, if you are a food outlet, are there tempting samples to try?

Then look at the competition, where do you shop and what do you like about that store? Start to analyse what works in other stores. Train your eye to notice good product presentation.

Door Laws

It all starts at the front door. Unless you are starting from a new location not even built, something you won’t be able to change will be your storefront and entrance. So the work starts there with your store signage and store window.

The general trend nowadays is to have open store windows where customers can see past the window display into the store, often in homewares and food stores the window is part of the shopping environment and people can be seen browsing or buying. Fashion stores still tend to have a window display that tells a story about the style or range of fashion they sell. More upmarket fashion stores might have closed windows where you can’t see through into the store. Whatever you have, make sure your display area at the front has built-in flexibility so you can change from shelves to hang-sell, you can hang a poster from a display track and you can access it easily for cleaning and promotional changes.

Image Issues

The next thing to consider is the counter location, and this goes back to the type of store you wish to operate. The counter is often an obstacle or a barrier to customers circulating throughout the store. Counters or cash desks are becoming smaller and less obtrusive in store plans, unless there is a high degree of service required with closing the sale (newsagents and Lotto come to mind). The rationale is obvious, although a counter offers a great opportunity for impulse or add-on products, there are limits to what you can display and sell (jewellery being the obvious exception but that is really glass-fronted display cases). A big counter can also act as a convenient escape area for staff. Looking busy behind the counter instead of being out selling to the customer—how often do we see that when shopping?

Fixturing is the name for the furniture you use to display your product. Look at the bulk of the products you will be selling: will you need shelves, hooks, racks, or display cases for security. There are generic shop fixtures for nearly everything and you will save money by working with a standard size and configuration. You can still personalise the fixtures with colour and finishes, such as wood, glass, material and thousands of different decorative surfaces.

Flexibility is also important when planning the fixtures. Shelves or hang-sell should be interchangeable from one fixture to another; a display front hanging rack for clothes should fit on a wall fixture and easily transfer to a floor fixture.

Flooring will be one of the largest capital items in the fit-out budget. There is a great choice of floor coverings that are hardwearing, reasonably easy to maintain, and in a wide range of colours, textures and designs. What is the climate you live in? Polished concrete floors give an edgy modern urban look to a store but they are cold, can be slippery and also noisy (in a cafÈ environment). Although the largest area and one of the most expensive items, still think about the floor in terms of your customer and your product. The floor finish should not be so overwhelming in impact that customers look at the floor before the products.

Retail lighting design and the type of lighting applications available today for all aspects of retailing is probably the greatest evolution in store design in the last 15 years. Good lighting provides warm, effortless ‘natural’ light to give overall ambience to the store. It should be supported by accent lighting that highlights key display points within the store to draw people to the display. Lighting should be about 25 to 30 percent of your fit-out budget. When thinking about lighting, ask about the cost of the individual bulbs and their life span as replacement and maintenance of the lighting is an ongoing cost you need to allow for in operating costs.

Time & Money

Work from your sales per square metre budget and think about the life of the fit-out. Does it have to last you five, three or 10 years? Very few store fit-outs today will last 10 years. If you are in a major shopping centre, they are likely to ask for a minor refurbishment three years into your five-year lease and then again when you renew your lease.

It is difficult today to design and fit out your own store. Local councils and your landlord require detailed drawings, including elevations drawings and materials schedule, before you can commence work. The building code and OH&S requirements all have an impact on store fit-outs. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have constructive input into the way your store needs to function to make it work for you and your customer.

If you are undertaking the upgrade because of the terms of your retail lease or you’re planning to move into a shopping centre, there will be rules and regulations that you will have to follow.

If this all sounds a bit overwhelming—and it is a big job you are undertaking—think about getting professionals in. Take on board their advice but stay true to what you want for your store and the budget. If they recommend a surface finish that seems too expensive, ask if it is the only option to achieve that effect. Usually there will two to three brands offering similar products at varying prices. And remember, the most expensive is not always the best option.

You want to be a professional retailer not a shop designer. Know what your business is about, who your target market is, what feeling you want your store to have and articulate all this to your chosen designer and you have the start of a beautiful friendship.

* Marilyn Stephens is co-partner of The Facilitators consultancy, specialising in retail planning and presentation. www.thefacilitators.net.au

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