Spotlight on: Performance

Athletic footwear and apparel maker New Balance has unveiled a new store design that underscores its performance-innovation technologies and product offerings while incorporating sustainable materials.

“One of the things we worked on with the design was lowering our environmental impact,” said Kirsten Marchand, store planner, New Balance, Boston, which operates 155 full-price stores (licensed) and seven factory-outlet units (corporate-owned).

The new format made its debut in August, in Mashpee, Mass. (with another location in Canton, Ohio). The 3,600-sq.-ft. store has a sleek, modern and high-energy look, with bold, red accents.

“New Balance is a performance brand and a lot of technical innovation goes into the product,” Marchand said. “We wanted that to be reflected in our stores.”

The design helps drive New Balance’s performance message home by merchandising product according to category or athletic activity. In another switch, footwear and complementary apparel for each category are merchandised together.

“The layout allows us to celebrate the category-specific technology that goes into our footwear and apparel,” Marchand explained.

The format brings greater clarity to the merchandise assortment, and gives New Balance a way to highlight the different technologies that enter into the various categories of product.

“Prior to this, New Balance wasn’t getting credit in its store design for all the thinking and energy that goes in to the creation of its product,” said Eric Daniel, prototype director, WD Partners, Dublin, Ohio. “But this new prototype allows the company to tell better stories, and to demonstrate how the technology in its shoes varies by category.”

An innovative communications/graphics system helps drive the point home. It focuses on New Balance’s wear-test program (the company sends new and current products to hundreds of individuals across the United States who subsequently report back to it at various intervals).

“We collected stories from several testers, putting the stories on 5-ft.-tall graphic panels interspersed with fitting benches in the center of the store,” Daniel explained. “Their stories and insights highlight the efforts New Balance puts into the development of new products as well as the maintenance of older styles.”

The panels feature photos of the tester in action, along with some of his or her vital statistics, including what they tested. The specific shoe is displayed along with it.

The panel displays also include a five-to eight-page summary of the testing regimen for the featured shoe.

“It introduces the tester to the shopper and describes how the shoe was tested,” Daniel added.

The graphics, on recycled chipboard panels, are printed by P&R Group, Chicago. It is, according to Daniel, one of the few ( if not the only) printers with the capability of printing laser or digital white ink, allowing for the printing of high-quality color photos on recycled materials.

“Also, the testers’ journals are made of recycled materials,” Daniel said.

Other graphics include subtle category headers that are located around the perimeter and large photocompositions that complement the largest categories, running and fitness.

A slatwall system is used sparingly as a continuous design element. It is constructed from Dakota Burl, a composite material made out of sunflower-seed husks.

The cashwrap countertops are made from Durat, which is made up of recycled plastics. The material is put together in a solid-surface fashion.

Other sustainable features include the use of low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints and finishes.

“We tried to use materials and finishes with a lower environmental impact whenever possible,” Daniel said. “And we are continuing to work on its earth-friendly aspects as we move forward.”

The lighting system is designed for efficiency. Low-voltage fluorescents provide ambient light, while punching is done with low-voltage spotlights.

“The lighting is so efficient it more than clears the California Energy Code,” Daniel said.

The fixturing system is highly flexible and modular. It was designed to fit a variety of different footprints.

“Everything can be moved around the store,” Daniel said.

The fixtures include maple-finished plywood shelving and nesting tables, with bunkers on wheels. The perimeter display system, from Robelan, has aluminum posts.

New Balance plans to roll out the prototype design, fine-tuning it as needed.

“We have quite a few stores planned for 2008, and they will feature the design,” Marchand said. “We also plan to incorporate elements of the design as we renovate some existing locations.”

Going forward, the company will continue to incorporate sustainability into its retail stores.

“In the rollout, we will be looking to enhance and add to it [sustainability],” Marchand said. “We are committed to lowering our environmental impact.”

Project Resources

Design: WD Partners, Dublin, OhioConcrete stain: L.M. Scofield Co., Los AngelesCarpet: Interface, AtlantaLighting: Western Extralite Co., Kansas City, Mo.Fixtures: Wisconsin Built, Deerfield, Wis.Display forms: Ronis Bros., Lynbrook, N.Y.Ceiling fixture: EPS Specialties, CincinnatiFurniture: Davis Furniture Ind., High Point, N.C.Paint finishes: Benjamin Moore, Montvale, N.J.

For more on the New Balance prototype, visit www.chainstoreage.com and click on “Picture This.”

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