Store Design and Construction
A New Beginning
What you see is what you get. Stores that follow this mandate serve their customers well. The store itself reinforces their advertising, from the storefront through the accessible door to a well planned, colorful and well lit space. It invites customers in. But how do you start to plan the perfect shop? What comes first?
Start with your customer. Whether you market to the parents and grandparents of newborns-to-four-year olds as the hot new giggles stores do, or are more focused on the child from babyhood-to-six years old, your customer impacts decisions about space planning, color and ambience. Your merchandise and the service you offer also influence what you do. Are you renovating, expanding or building a new store?
Once you've found a space you'd like to rent or buy, research your landlord, mall owner or neighborhood codes and bylaws. These restrictions establish certain building criteria, which your store design will have to meet. Malls may specify the width of a front window or door, for instance; codes may specify the dimensions of a handicapped washroom, the type of awning or even the construction material to be used in your storefront. Store designers ensure that everything they do meets code and is beautiful and energy efficient.
Before you meet with a designer, visit stores you like in your area; read trade journals and home furnishings magazines. Clip things you like and talk with your partners and staff. Draw up your budget by defining the scope of your project and prioritizing. How much display space and storage do you need? Do you need more than one cash and wrap? What about dressing rooms or a parking garage for strollers?
Use fellow retailers' or professional association referrals to choose an experienced retail designer. Ask them to send samples of their work or provide names of shops designed by them that you can visit. Experienced designers, like experienced retail contractors, will save you money by ensuring that you get what you need and what you can afford. Plan a site visit for them and book time off to answer questions about your store and its operations. The designer needs to know how many people work on the floor, how you display merchandise and whether you emphasize personal service or prefer shoppers browsing and bringing their own merchandise to cash-and-wrap. Do you sell strollers and furniture or focus on clothing and smaller accessories?
Your designer will put together a proposal based on your preferences and needs, plus a proposed fee schedule. As the paying client, yours is an exhilarating and demanding position on the design team. You'll be expected to make decisions throughout the process.
Planning is about operations and is based on the way you work as a retailer. A space plan details the layout of your storefront, selling areas including the placement of fixtures, storage room, staff room and administrative area. Your cash-and-wrap and traffic flow will also be elaborated upon. A separate fixture plan details the showcases, racks, displays and hanging rods plus display tables for visual merchandising, selling and storing product. For instance, tables may be designed to store merchandise underneath the display surface.
Before any construction begins, your designer will draw up a set of drawings and plans. All planning materials and details must be approved by you. These will be used to get bids or to have your chosen contractor provide an estimate on construction costs. To understand the drawings, stand in the centre of the space and eyeball where the walls, fixtures and doors appear on the plan, then walk yourself through it as things appear on the drawings. Most designers also present boards which show samples of the materials and colors chosen to develop your individual image.
The design process starts with planning and fleshes out your ideas with color and materials, lighting, flooring and storefront details. Your storefront is like your store's signature, presenting your image to the world. Determined by your location, zoning and building codes as well as your preferences, it includes proper signage to ensure your store is readily identified. A street address requires bolder display areas and signage than a lifestyle or enclosed mall store. Respect your designer's advice or speak up and work together toward an alternative solution. Ask plenty of questions and contribute your ideas.
You'll need a team to build your store. Unless you're experienced in construction, hire a contractor who knows retail to work with the designer and help pull together the team players. The contractor will also help you value engineer your project if necessary, without compromising the design, obtain the necessary permits and make sure all the trades work on site together efficiently to bring your project to completion, on time and on budget.
Energy-efficient heating, air conditioning and lighting produce clean air which maximizes staff and customers' wellbeing. Lighting must be bright enough to highlight the merchandise with a combination of spotlights for drama and focus and ambient light to enable staff and customers to see detail. The technology in lighting changes so fast, you'll want a designer experienced in lighting to ensure you have the right combination of fluorescent, tungsten halogen, metal halide and LED fixtures. Review your lighting plans with your designer in detail. Ask to have samples sent or get the name of a place where the lighting fixtures or type of light specified are already installed so you can see for yourself. Your store's bottom line is determined by costs like energy usage and air conditioning.
Finally, color and materials flesh out your plans. With plenty of foot traffic, including strollers, walkers and children, flooring must be durable and easy to clean like ceramic tile, carpet tile, natural wood or any of the plastic laminates. Green building materials like low-volatile- organic compound paints (VOCs) which emit little or no paint odour are recommended for stores frequented by children and young mothers. A broad palette of low VOC paints is available to create your own color combinations.
Where possible, supplement your light with day-lighting; natural light, like fresh air, contributes energy and joy. Have a little fun by commissioning or designing your own colourful mural, a popular trend in retail today. Small-sized furniture, some well chosen sturdy toys and a separate bright color scheme help develop an area for child play, which facilitates parental shopping choices.
To help you understand the process of store construction, develop a flow chart which shows the timing of the process including planning, framing, electrical and plumbing, drywall, finishing, painting and floor installation. Ask your contractor to contribute to the time lines. Construction demands a flexible timeline because so many people with different and essential expertise, plus assorted building materials from a variety of places, are involved. Anticipate an additional 10 to 15% beyond your budgeted costs and clear an extra week or two for construction to accommodate unexpected and unavoidable delays. If overruns and delays don't happen, it's a bonus.
Good planning and a realistic attitude toward the process of construction and renovation will make new store design and construction a time of revitalization and excitement for your business.