West Marine has the wind at its back in Jacksonville, Fla., with a flagship that captures the spirit and adventure of boating and the nautical lifestyle. Innovative features, including a full-size yacht helm, and nautical elements create a feeling of authenticity and make for an engaging shopping experience. The environment and merchandise mix reflect the needs of West Marine’s core audience of serious sailors, fishermen and boat repairmen, while reaching out to more recreational customers as well.
“West Marine wanted to create a store that would express their brand in a more memorable way and also appeal to a broader audience. They wanted it to be much more experiential, with a lot more theater,” said Joanna Felder, director, creative strategy, Chute Gerdeman Retail, Columbus, Ohio.
Despite the recession, the store, which opened in February 2009, has proved to be a big hit with shoppers. (A second flagship, in Brick, N.J., opened in April.) In the company’s second-quarter financial release, company CEO Geoff Eisenberg described the performance of the two flagships as “very good.”
The 30,000-sq.-ft. Jacksonville location has a bold, modern design rich in traditional nautical cues and references. The longitude and latitude lines and degrees of the store were applied to the surface of the main drive aisle. And several of the specialty fixtures use maritime and boating cues, including a large unit that resembles an oversized ocean buoy (it is used to display hats). The front of the customer-service counter has the look of a boat rib with an exposed framework, while a slatted teakwood shroud around the POS maintains the boat-top feel. The same shroud is used at the nautically styled checkouts.
“In terms of the marine hardware and marine elements, we tried to use everything authentic to the actual product West Marine sells,” Felder added. “For example, we used real grommets and real rope.”
The drive aisle, dark-blue stained polished concrete, is flanked on both sides by wood dock piling timbers. It leads to the key focal and visual center of the store: an authentic, full-size yacht helm and flying bridge that customers can walk through.
“It’s made out of fiberglass, and done to scale, just like a real boat,” Felder added.
Stereo equipment is housed in the yacht’s salon, allowing customers to experience live audio and video systems as they would on their own boat. At the helm, they can try out GPS devices, fish finders and other electronic boating and fishing gadgetry.
The fishing department features a focal display that resembles a Florida-styled fisherman’s shack. Home to premium fishing rods and reels, the focal also has live feeds of ocean and fishing conditions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and a lounge area. Fishermen can post photos of their big catches on a “Bragging Rights” board.
“We wanted to create a sense of community,” noted Felder.
The store’s hardware section reaches out to West Marine’s core customers by incorporating efficient, easy-to-shop gondola runs of product. The back stock in this and other areas is housed behind 8-ft. perimeter scrims, which can be rolled up when shelves need to be restocked.
“We put the scrims, which are actually shades, around the perimeter of the store and applied lifestyle graphics to them,” Felder explained.
The expanded apparel department was moved to a more upfront location. For consistency and greater brand control, the chain moved from vendor-provided fixtures to proprietary ones that allow for merchandising flexibility and versatility. Tiered nesting tables and bench displays allow for merchandise stories and also promote cross-merchandising opportunities.
In keeping with West Marine’s goal of widening its audience by appealing to more recreational customers, the apparel department features more ready-to-wear and dockside apparel.
All the key departments are anchored with a column topped with a billowing sail. Brown rope is coiled around the column, under the sail.
“We wrapped slatwall around the bottom of the column, so it could also serve as a merchandise platform, and the sail billows out from the top of the column,” Felder explained. “It has an inner structure that keeps it rigid.”
As customers leave the store, the last thing they see are the words “Thank You Jacksonville” on the wall opposite the checkouts.
“There are a lot of touches like that, small details, such as the Florida construction style of the fisherman’s shack, that are very individual to this market,” Felder said. “So are the specific props used throughout the space. It’s these details that really make the store sing.”