M&M’s Taste for Color

M&M’s signature brand characters are an integral part of the design.

Standing out amid the visual overload of New York City’s Times Square is no easy feat. But M&M’s World pulls it off with ease in a 24,000-sq.-ft., three-level glass box whose colorful, engaging interior reflects the essence of the famous candy brand.

“We used dynamic color to make the M&M’s candies larger than life,” said Denny Gerdeman, principal, Chute Gerdeman, Columbus, Ohio (the firm also designed M&M’s World in Orlando, Fla.).

High-profile flagship stores are often executed with little thought to budget. But Mars Retail Group made it clear from the start that M&M’s World had to be affordable. The initial concept was value-engineered.

“We were on a given budget,” Gerdeman said. “We evaluated the space from top to bottom to see how we could get the most bang for our buck. Our strategy was to utilize the budget so that customers could interact with the product on a human scale and the brand at a larger-than life scale.”

Color is used throughout the space to illustrate the brand’s tag line: “Chocolate is better in color.” On the exterior, two enormous video screens feature moving kaleidoscopes of M&M’s candies and the brand’s signature characters.

“Starting on the outside, we set to work bringing the brand to life with an eye to the budget,” Gerdeman said. “We used fluorescent lights, for example, rather than more costly LEDs to light the M&M’s signage.”

Also, rather than have each candy-shape on the sign (in which M&’s are stacked on top of one another) rotate, only two do. The other candies remain stationary.

“It’s something very few people notice,” Gerdeman added. “But it was a great way to trim both the sign’s production and maintenance costs.”

Project Resources

Design: Chute Gerdeman, Columbus, OhioDesign architect: CG Architectural, Columbus, OhioConsulting architect: Jerome Gillman, New York CityGeneral contractor: MacKenzie Keck, Hackettstown, N.J.Lighting design: Illuminating Concepts, Farmington Hills, N.Y.Interior signage: Superior Graphics & Signage, Jackson, N.J.; Broadway National, Ronkonkoma, N.Y.Fabrics and beads: Moss, Belfast, Maine; ShimmerScreen, Mount Vernon, N.Y.Fixtures: Seven Continents, Toronto; Group DKG, TorontoRetail hardware: Capitol Hardware, Niles, Mich.

Originally, plans called for the Red character to be fashioned as a 3-D character element attached to the exterior (à la King Kong). But that proved too expensive. Instead, he was created as flat art with pieces raised to varying degrees.

“We used dramatic lighting to help create a dimensional look, “Gerdeman added, “allowing him to cast shadows as if he were 3-D.”

The interior is a carefully orchestrated expression of the brand’s three core elements: color, shape and scale. Color-changing LED lighting on the perimeter walls turns the storefront into a glowing billboard for the brand, day and night.

The design leverages the storyline of the M&’s brand characters and gives it a New York twist. Green, for instance, is dressed as the Statue of Liberty, complete with torch. Other fun elements include what is billed as “the world’s biggest wall of chocolate,” 50-ft. wide by two stories high and made up of 72 continuous candy-filled tubes, where shoppers can create their own color mix. At the interactive “color mood analyzer,” shoppers can determine which M&’s color best suits their current mood. A video component projects their images onto two giant in-store video screens.

To help keep costs in line, the ceiling was left exposed (it was painted chocolate brown) and a clear sealer was added to the existing concrete floor.

“The store environment is very playful and colorful, and it captures the focus of customers,” Gerdeman explained. “Because the rest of the store is so engaging, the floor and ceiling recede and the overall space really pops.”

In a low-tech but effective strategy, huge graphics were applied to the flat walls, providing dynamic visual impact for a relatively small price. In one instance, a digitally printed graphic replicates the look of the Times Square subway station and subway signage.

“The finished effect is totally authentic,” Gerdeman said.

The shapes throughout the space are rounded or curved to replicate the iconic “lentil” shape of the M&’s candy. Fixtures are finished with high-gloss fiber-glass in the brand’s signature colors.

“The fixture hardware was condensed to include as few pieces as possible—one item may have three uses,” Gerdeman said. “This allowed for maximum efficiency in fabrication and minimum parts and pieces to inventory.”

The numerous structural columns in the building were incorporated into the design. Backlit, stretched fabric “funnels” encase the columns, which are used for merchandising and branding. “Using fluorescent rather than color-changing light allowed us to create a more cost-effective brand statement,” Gerdeman said.

It took Mars Retail Group two and-a-half years to find the right spot in Manhattan for M&’s World. As to future locations, the company has feelers out, but is not rushing into anything.

“For us, it’s about finding the right location in the right city, not just the right city,” said John Haugh, president, Mars Retail Group.

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