PetAge_Cover_Oct14
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Creating a Comfortable Space for Customers

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Quality products and competitive prices are always crucial to a pet retailer’s success, but many store owners may not realize that the design of the store can also have a serious impact on the store’s performance.

Colors, lighting, sight lines and overall organization can help get people from one profit center to the next, encourage them to stay longer and, of course, help entice them to spend more money.

Jim Jaeger, of the Cincinnati-based design group KDM P.O.P. Solutions Group, said retailers should design with the customer’s thinking in mind.

“If a person is in one department, you want to get them thinking about their next area as they move through the store, to be subliminally thinking about that,” Jaeger said. “It’s our job as designers to help to portray that. When you have a cluttered store, it’s difficult at times to achieve that because there’s so much going on. A proper, clean look, along with signage and architectural elements, can drive your customer to the next profit center.”

Jaeger also warned against letting individual departments erect too much of their own independent signage, as it tends to create a hodgepodge that prevents the overall design of the store from working as intended.

Much of the inspiration for this approach, Jaeger says, comes from Europe.

“The European feel of clean line and less clutter, the vintage colors, it continues to impact us and I think we are getting better at it,” Jaeger said. “We are following it. Hopefully some day we will be in the lead in that.”

Getting Them Comfortable

Once a customer is comfortable in the store, the design should encourage them to stay as long as possible. Pet, too.

“The more time someone spends in your store, the more you’re likely going to get from them, both from a loyalty perspective and from a market basket,” Tom Kowalski, vice president of design for Dayton-based Interbrand Design Forum, said. “Get some amenities for both pets and people that are engaging, that are comfortable, and that make you a fan and sort of endear you to the brand. That could be things like comfortable seating, the lighting, the finish, things that make it seem less like a warehouse full of stuff.”

The look and feel of a store, designers say, should reflect the look and feel of the store’s brand identity.

“Getting that look and feel allows their store to be differentiated and able to speak to their customers about that,” Jaeger said. “It just results in an emotional bond that they’re trying to reach with their customer, a comforting, warm feel that goes with the emotional attachment to the brand. Some get it, and some don’t.”

Designing Your Brand

But a store’s brand is not only about logos and colors. It also extends to what the store is known for.

“Say for example we talk about dog toys,” Kowalski said. “Say you know through consumer research that they drive traffic. So you want to be the destination for that, and the way we orchestrate our floor plan reflects that. There are a lot of different tools within the store design that you can use, but it’s about understanding what the consumer wants and what they expect from your brand, and running with it.”

A recent trend involves what some call a store-within-a-store concept.

“That could be a specialty location that receives its own individual space,” Jaeger said. “It keeps the aesthetics and lighting and a lot of things, but it creates a lot of that boutique feel within a shopping experience.”

Sometimes the concept is driven by a particular product manufacturer.

“Purina has reached out to pet retailers and supermarket retailers about creating their own store-within-a-store area,” Jaeger said. “It may not be as significant as a Starbucks, but it’s really driven by the CPG in collaboration with the agencies, retailers and designers for the look and feel. It’s somewhat like creating mini-malls within the space.”

A challenge with design is to keep a store’s look fresh, although there can be a tricky balance between fresh and familiar.

“We’ve had some clients now for 10 years and in that 10-year timeframe we’ve remodeled some of these stores twice,” Bob Wirsing, principal with Des Plaines, Ill.-based Chipman Design Architecture, said. “And in between we’ll have small areas of the store that we remodel. They’re constantly bringing in fresh new designs, fixtures and displays.”

The idea, Wirsing says, is to keep the look and feel fresh and avoid a sense that things have gotten stagnant. But, could retailers go too far by remodeling too often and robbing regular customers of the comfort level that comes from familiarity?

“There is always an element of the store that they keep consistent,” Wirsing said. “That keeps customers comfortable. They know where to go to find a certain item, and there are always areas of the store that really don’t change. But they may get freshened up a bit, or a portion of the store may get updated to reflect a new vendor or manufacturer they’ve taken on.”

- Dan Calabrese

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