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Monday
Dec172012

Better Your Brand by Turning Heads

The question that I hear retailers ask again and again these days is "How can I compete in an environment where consumers have the option of buying merchandise online from the comfort of their own homes?" That issue has been on the horizon since the advent of the Internet age in which we live in, and it’s up to designers like us to find an answer.

An oversaturated market and the convenience of shopping online is challenging retailers to create brick and mortar stores that give customers something more than just a place to touch and feel products. A good store is more like an oasis of “wow” moments that turns heads and forces consumers to reconsider the retailer’s overall brand. Even a poorly designed storefront can give customers access to merchandise; only a well designed store can truly enhance a company’s overall image.

Last winter I was walking down 5th Avenue when I caught a glimpse of the new Hollister Store whose barricade had just been removed after months of construction. I became so preoccupied that I nearly walked into oncoming traffic. The storefront was a revelation that demanded attention from the thousands of pedestrians that were gracing one of the world’s most prestigious shopping districts. The storefront consisted of about 150 LED screens on which a real time video of surfers near Huntington Pier in California. The design was eye catching from both a conceptual and physical standpoint. Conceptually speaking, it was a perfect way to draw the attention of cold New Yorkers battling winter weather. More importantly, it was in perfect sync with Hollister’s overall brand and tempted more than a few shoppers to trade in their scarves and pea coats for more relaxing attire.

From a physical standpoint, the execution of this idea was no less perfect than the idea itself. Due to zoning regulations that restrict usage, you do not see too many LED displays in the middle of Manhattan, but Hollister found a way to circumvent the problem. The storefront is set back approx. 12 feet so that they could erect the display without violating building code (I have heard it is still being reviewed by the authorities actually). Here is where Hollister really impressed me….. doing so required them to sacrifice a lot of incredibly valuable square footage where they could have displayed sellable merchandise. Many retailers would not be willing to sacrifice such space, especially in a shopping district where rent is so high, just to create an exceptional display.

Whether or not Hollister made the right decision to sacrifice a few feet of space in order to pull off such an inventive and aesthetically pleasing storefront is open to discussion. In a shopping district like 5th Avenue, where the rents are unfathomably high, it’s often difficult for many individual stores to make a profit from the merchandise they sell. That doesn’t mean I am suggesting that it’s a bad idea to open a store on 5th Avenue or Rodeo Drive or Michigan Ave; on the contrary, putting your company’s stamp on such iconic retail strips is a way of enhancing your brand’s overall image. By opening a store with such a memorable storefront in the middle of Manhattan, in my opinion Hollister has achieved something that most retailers would kill for:a powerful advertisement that creates brand recognition for hundreds of thousands of fashionable shoppers. I can guarantee that tons of people who have seen that storefront in person have told friends and acquaintances about it. Passersby have Tweeted and Facebooked pictures of it, or checked in there on FourSquare. I would also guess that many of the recipients of these virtual communications will, as a result, recognize and understand Hollister’s brand…mission accomplished!

That’s a very good example of the power of the physical storefront in an increasingly digital world. A well designed retail destination like Hollister’s Manhattan store can enhance a company’s brand in unquantifiable ways. Consumers will always expect the best retailers to present their merchandise in locations that are aesthetically pleasing and inventive., When a retailer does that, the image of that store will travel far and wide, across the same digital mediums that allow consumers to shop from their living rooms, and influence people who will never even set foot on 5th Avenue. Hollister made a concerted effort and a significant investment when they designed and built that store. Even though the margins in that particular location may not be as high as they would like (I don’t know that for sure!), I would guess that the company has enhanced and strengthened its brand enough to see a significant return on the investment.

Michael Gatti is a Senior Associate in Genlser’s New York Office and a Retail Practice Area Leader. A licensed architect in multiple states, his portfolio reads like a luxury shopping mall directory. During his 20 plus year career, he has designed and built spaces, not only for anchor department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, but tenant spaces for Cartier, Burberry, Diesel, Loro Piana, Chanel and Montblanc. He believes that a retail architect/designer must understand who the client IS or, better yet, who they WANT to be…. and help them achieve it in their stores. Contact him at michael_gatti@gensler.com.

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