What price store design?

<p>When times are tough, is there any point investing in store design?</p>
<p>There is an argument that &#8232;bookshops in particular are &#8232;insulated from the dictates of retail design fashion and that as long as you have the right stock on the shelves and the right staff to sell it, all will be well.</p>
<p>Yet to judge by the actions of Waterstone's, which has spent considerable sums on store design over the past three years, having a shop that is easy on the eye as well as filled to the brim with volumes, is something worth spending money on. The UK's biggest bookseller came up with a new look for its branch in Manchester's Arndale Centre more than two years ago and, since that time, it has taken elements of the design to other outlets across its portfolio as it seeks payback on its investment.</p>
<p>In broad terms this has translated to lighter and brighter stores. Giles Brookes is creative director at London-based design company Twelve Studio, which works with Waterstone's. He says that the &#8232;makeover has been relatively cost-effective and that stores are gradually- being painted in white, rather than the solemn dark tones of old. Equally, lighting levels have been raised, as an attempt is made to attract shoppers who might not normally form part of Waterstone's core customer base. The signage has shifted from gold to white&mdash;again lifting the interior and making things more visible.</p>
<p>But even carrying out these &#8232;relatively cosmetic changes is not cheap. &quot;Borders and Waterstone's are big consistent brands and &#8232;consistency costs money,&quot; says Brookes. And there is always the possibility that it may not deliver the desired sales hike.</p>
<p>So does this mean that design is not worth paying for, or are there cheaper ways of getting the job done (allowing for the fact that store revamps may not be top of the list during the recession)?</p>
<p>Brookes highlights the inherent difficulty of reconciling the needs of infrequent book buyers with those of hardcore readers&mdash;generally defined as those who read more than 12 books a year. &quot;How do you retain a book-reading academic audience while attracting the occasional shopper who perhaps just gets round to reading something by Katie Price once a year, and do all this on a budget?&quot; he asks. The answer is, you probably don't and Brookes is critical of what he terms the &quot;very polite&quot; marketing&#8232; prevalent in many of the big book chains that still fails to appeal to the popular reader.</p>
<p>There is also the matter of the supermarkets, which are highly adept at shifting a narrow range of books in quantities that many booksellers can only dream about&mdash;all from fairly utilitarian retail outlets. Karl McKeever, brand director at visual merchandising consultancy Visual Thinking, says: &quot;The people who are making huge strides [in bookselling] are the grocers, simply by reining in the amount that a store carries and then promoting &#8232;strongly.&quot; <br />
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<b>Merchandising versus design</b><br />
At this point, it's worth noting the difference between visual merchandising and store design as the two are frequently confused. Store design is generally taken to mean environmental change and often involves structural changes to a building in which the internal shape of a space is altered. In consequence, it tends to be expensive. Visual &#8232;merchandising, by contrast, involves everything from the appearance of a store's windows to the way in which it is laid out and will normally also include graphics, when appropriate. This makes it cheaper and in these straitened times, a rather more appealing alternative.</p>
<p>Sainsbury's massive store in Sydenham, which has an instore bookshop, stands as an example of how a simple graphic treatment can be put to work in place of a wholesale instore environmental change. The books are displayed on standard store equipment, which has been adapted and has blown-up images of bestselling novels on it, while overhead there are square lanterns bearing the legend &quot;lifestyle&quot;. The design gives the department greater prominence, is absolutely in-your-face, and is strongly promotional. Dalziel + Pow, the design company that worked on the project, is best known for creating interiors for many of the UK's high street fashion chains&mdash;which is rather the point. Sainsbury's has opted to deal with bookselling and store design as a commodity in the same way that it might deal with, say, a range of jeans. Yet walk into the book department itself and you could actually be in a bookshop rather than a supermarket, except that it is probably easier to find what you want rather more quickly.</p>
<p>Unlike a traditional bookshop, the shelves have been laid out supermarket style, allowing long sightlines and making finding your way through the area straightforward. The majority of bookshops work by creating semi-discrete areas in which browsing can take place without the feeling of being overlooked. In Sainsbury's, the thinking has been that while books may be a separate shopping mission from the big food shop, the very fact that this is a bookshop within a supermarket means that time and pace of selection speed up&mdash;dictating the use of wide aisles and readily understood navigational signage.</p>
<p>Using graphics in this way also carries with it the capacity for &#8232;frequent change without overwhelming resources and elements of the tactic could certainly be exported to mainstream booksellers. <br />
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Indie imagination</b><br />
There is of course the opposite of the book chain: the independent. Here budget design can come to the fore&mdash;with a little imagination. Brookes makes the point that in a bookshop there is no reason why all tables and fixtures should have to look the same; given the ready availability of vintage furniture via the web, there is little excuse for leafing through the pages of a shopfitting catalogue when deciding how to refresh a store interior. McKeever goes one step further saying that in locations where there is an active trading association there is no reason for retailers not to swap fixtures and display elements on a regular basis in order to keep their stores looking fresh and without any expenditure being involved.</p>
<p>Booksellers, then, would appear to have a choice. At one end, there is a move towards the consistent delivery of an instore experience typified by bigger chains, but this does carry the inevitable expense of development and deployment, and the on-going cost of keeping things up to scratch. It also runs the risk of alienating regular customers who rely on booksellers to provide a haven on the high street. The counterblast to this, however, is to allow bookshop managers &quot;free rein&quot;, as Brookes puts it, although this always carries a certain risk, depending on the -individal's taste.<br />
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<b>Up to date</b><br />
Currency is another important factor to be considered. &quot;However neutral bookshop design might appear, it does date,&quot; says Philip Downer, c.e.o. of &#8232;Borders UK. &quot;You might cut back on some of the things that designers do in good times, but you still need to keep updating your stores. What is needed is a robust kit of parts that you can take anywhere,&quot; he continues. He makes the point that in out-of-town retail sheds, the location of many Borders stores, if design does not form part of the initial blueprint there is a danger of ending up with, well, a shed.</p>
<p>Finally, perhaps it is worth bearing in mind that time really is money. Design companies have, in the not-so-distant past, had an uncanny knack of extending jobs. A cynic might remark that this extends &#8232;fee-earning opportunities and does not necessarily result in an &#8232;improved store.</p>
<p>Yet design company 20/20, based in Camden, has just completed work on a project for a book retailer which operates under different fascias in Germany and Switzerland. Mariann Wenckheim, a director at 20/20, relates how a design for an airside book-cum-magazine shop was completed within just six weeks, factoring in time for both the initial design and development.</p>
<p>She also points to the fact that although the finish was high-gloss, the materials used (principally MDF) were low-cost, contributing to a cost-effective, modular design that can be rolled out to other stores without further work. It is worth -noting that sections of the perimeter wall in this store have been &quot;sold&quot; to publishers, enabling them to inject their own point-of-sale material, and thereby reducing the overall cost of the project.</p>
<p>It would seem, therefore, that design is a tool that can be used to good effect and, handled correctly, it needn't carve a massive hole in a bookseller's budget. However, the form that its deployment takes will be &#8232;dependent on the type of bookselling business and the audience that is being addressed&mdash;and sold to.</p>
<p><b>The store design antidote: Alan Giles</b><br />
As the former c.e.o. of Waterstone's parent company the HMV Group, Alan Giles has well-developed opinions about the place of design in a bookshop, whatever the size of the available budget. &quot;My view is that of all the forms of retail that I've worked in, actual high-cost finishes and materials are less important in bookshops than any other sector,&quot; he says.</p>
<p>&quot;Some of the world's best bookshops can look as if they're falling apart and as someone I worked with remarked: 'A bit of Bohemian clutter does no harm',&quot; he adds.</p>
<p>Giles says that for booksellers, retail excitement is created more by the building than interior design with banking halls, churches and theatres all providing more suitable venues than purpose-built structures. However, he notes: &quot;There's no excuse for poor lighting. In so many bookshops half the lights are out at any one time.&quot;</p>
<p>Giles says that regular bookshop visitors will always be a little more forgiving than, say, fashion shoppers, and that good stock and knowledgeable staff are definitely more important than design. This tends to be the prevailing ethos for independent booksellers in particular, where improvisation has long since been the order of the day.</p>
<p><b>Store design in a recession:</b></p>
<p><b>Need to have:</b></p>
<p>1. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; A planned scheme of work&mdash;now is not the time for open-ended consultancy &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; arrangements.</p>
<p>2. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Ensure that both parties understand the scope of the development that is involved.</p>
<p>3. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Agree times/deadlines&mdash;this gives both parties a degree of security.</p>
<p>4. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Endeavour to bring the best out of the building that you occupy. Internal structural &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; changes are frequently unnecessary and are almost always costly.</p>
<p>5. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Cosmetic changes, visual merchandising and graphic treatments will allow regular &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; instore change of appearance and mood, and will help you to reach out to a broader &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp; audience&mdash;as well as saving money.</p>
<p>6. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Good lighting must be regarded as good housekeeping. People will read in your store &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; and this needs to be a pleasure, not a chore.</p>
<p>7. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Be prepared to shop around for fixtures and fittings&mdash;in many instances second-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; hand or vintage pieces may prove as affordable as buying new and never be blind to&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; the allure of eBay.<br />
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<b>Nice to have:</b><br />
1. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; A building with architectural merit. This will always be more appealing and may save &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; on the cost of internal reconfiguration. But in the current climate new stores are &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; unlikely to form part of the agenda.</p>
<p>2. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Top-end finishes and materials will always make you feel better about your store environment, but don&rsquo;t expect this to help the budget.</p>
<p>3. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; There is little point in sourcing shop-fittings from a catalogue. They may (or may not) <br />
&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; look good, but will always prove more expensive.<br />