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Reboot: Familiar Brands, New Looks

BY Marianne Wilson

It could be a smaller-store footprint. Or a design makeover. Or a totally new format. But there comes a time when even the largest and most successful retailers need to freshen up or rethink their store identities. Here’s a look at four brands that are trying on new looks.

Sport Chalet: Sporting goods retailer Sport Chalet has gone urban. The company has unveiled a sleek, streamlined format in downtown Los Angeles, at the renovated FIGat7th center. At 27,000 sq. ft., the new store is considerably smaller than Sport Chalet’s existing concept (42,000 sq. ft.) and carries a targeted selection of goods. But customers can access the chain’s full offering via iPad systems located throughout the space.

The interior design, by Gensler, puts the emphasis on education and training, with a learning and information hub, called the "Expert Center," at the heart of the space.

"The store design emphasizes both aesthetics and function," said Joshua Breeden, project architect, Gensler. "We wanted to create a space that highlights what Sport Chalet offers above any other specialty sporting goods retailer: expert positioning and knowledge."

The Expert Center was designed to facilitate customer interaction with store staffers, and with audio-visual capabilities, reconfigurable seating and display elements that allow for instructional and hands-on events.

RadioShack: RadioShack Corp. has opened the doors of a new concept store that showcases many of the features that will be part of the chain’s new generation of stores to be rolled out in locations over the next several months.

The store, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, aims to attract — and make the iconic brand more relevant to — tech-hungry shoppers by offering a new level of products, service and excitement that makes the buying experience fun. Touchscreens and apps designed to help shoppers understand the benefit of products are located throughout the space, while newly configured displays highlight in-demand brands.

Other features include stores fixtures that enable shoppers to find and compare products, such as a Speaker Wall allowing customers to compare speakers by playing music from their own Bluetooth-enabled mobile devices.

Pep Boys: It’s not your father’s Pep Boys … not by a long shot. The auto parts and service retailer is testing a new store concept, in Tampa, Fla., designed to extend its appeal beyond its core DIY-car enthusiasts audience to more service-oriented, or "do-it-for-me" drivers, which include many female customers.

Pep Boys worked with EWI Worldwide, Detroit, to execute an entirely new, more appealing environment, on both the exterior and interior. The design plays to the 92-year-old brand’s rich heritage. It has a handsome, modern look, with clean lines, clear signage and good sightlines.

From the new, intuitive navigation to the dealership-like atmosphere of the service lounge, the overall feel is warm and inviting — and adds up to a welcoming brand experience for traditional and new customers alike.

Stride Rite: The venerable children’s footwear brand is kicking up its heels with its "Milestones" store design, which was done in partnership with FRCH Design Worldwide. The new environment is designed to appeal to kids and adults like. The look is clean, modern and bright, with extensive use of white mixed with splashes of color. Rainbow carpeting mirrors the colors in Stride Rite’s logo.

The layout includes a more open store plan so kids and strollers can move around more freely. The shelves are placed at varying heights so the small fry can easily see all of the styles available.

There’s also a new fun fitting area for kids, with a dedicated Fit Station where children can get their feet measured and find out how tall they are by standing against the Fit Totem Pole.

To date, Stride Rite has rolled out the new design in Burlington Mall, Burlington, Mass., and in the new kid-centric section of Easton Town Center, Columbus, Ohio.

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Experience Counts

BY Marianne Wilson

In retail, as in life, experience is everything. Whether it’s online, on a smartphone or in the store, it really doesn’t make a difference. A bad experience will turn off customers, while a good one will build brand advocates. It’s always been like that, of course. But today’s technology-enabled shoppers have changed the rules of the game by upping the stakes considerably.

The important role experience plays in today’s retail environment is brought home in our annual State of the Industry Report. It’s the centerpiece of this issue, and it couldn’t be more relevant. Or interesting.

Prepared by Interbrand Design Forum, the report is entitled “Experience is Everything,” and it’s focused on the innovative experiences that are redefining retail. I’m happy to say that a good deal of the innovation is occurring on a brick-and-mortar level. It’s not that I have anything against digital retail — I appreciate the convenience and vast inventories of online as much as anyone. But for me, the physical store remains the heart and soul of a brand. It’s where the brand comes to life. And it’s satisfying to see that savvy retailers — both online and traditional — are once again embracing the promise of brick-and-mortar.

What’s so interesting is that e-commerce deserves much of the credit for waking retailers up to the promise of the store experience. The report details both online retailers, including Warby Parker and BaubleBar, that have made the leap to physical retail, and several traditional retailers (Johnny Cupcakes is my fave) that are all, in their own way, challenging the conventional way of doing business. And delighting customers in the process.

And for retailers that are still catching up, the report offers some timely advice, starting with “Forget the Gondolas.” Thinking outside the gondola energizes the brand. Looking at the accompanying photo of a Camper store, it’s hard to disagree.

The State of the Industry Report is full of insights, photos and commentary. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in where retail is heading.

So is the CSA Top 100, our annual listing of the nation’s largest retailers, which is part of the report. The ranking is based on total annual net sales for each company’s most recently completed fiscal year.

The retailers that make up the Top 100 reflect the evolving nature of an industry in which the search for omnichannel integration has become the Holy Grail.

From Walmart with its Scan & Go pilot to Macy’s and its commitment to RFID, retailers are investing in an array of new solutions that allow for more fluid experiences across digital and physical channels. At the same time, they are exploring new formats, new markets and new concepts.

There’s a lot going on in the retail space. And don’t expect things to settle down anytime soon.

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Cool Technologies

BY Marianne Wilson

H-E-B is thinking green — and out of the box — when it comes to refrigeration. The company is the first U.S. retailer to deploy a propane refrigeration system in its refrigerated display cases.

The Hussmann-designed system is in place in H-E-B’s new 83,000-sq.-ft. store in Austin, Texas, which is part of the redevelopment of an old airport site in the city’s Mueller neighborhood. The entire project is focused on sustainability and energy efficiency. So is H-E-B.

“It’s just the way we operate our business. said Bill Triplett, senior VP strategic design, H-E-B. “Our vision is to move faster, save energy and be sustainable. HC refrigerants have my attention. I want to move H-E-B in a different direction away from CFCs.”

The San Antonio-based retailer had four requirements with regards to the refrigeration design: energy efficiency, simplicity in the design and install, sustainability and reliability. The goal with the project was a 70% energy reduction from all store systems, according to Charlie Wernette, director of engineering, H-E-B.

“We believe that a R290 hydrocarbon (propane) system will achieve approximately 50% energy reduction compared with our typical store refrigeration load,” he said. “In addition, we wanted to find another natural refrigerant alternative as we are not convinced that CO2 is the long-term solution for H-E-B.”

H-E-B worked with Hussmann in the development, design and installation of the alternate refrigerant source for the store. It identified the design criteria and specifications to use propane for the majority of the refrigerated display cases.

“We think this system achieves our energy and sustainability objectives,” Wernette said. “In addition, we believe that because of the design, we may realize other cost-saving benefits, such as collapsed construction cycle time resulting in our ability to get new stores on board more quickly than ever before.”

Using the propane system required that H-E-B’s cases have doors. Other than that, Triplett added, the case design is very much like the retailer’s typical case selection.

Hussmann worked closely with H-E-B and several U.S. government and safety agencies in developing the regulations and approval processes to enable the safe use of propane in a supermarket application.

Norm Street, Hussmann’s director of new technology development, believes the use of propane as a natural refrigerant alternative will gain traction with other U.S. food retailers.

“Propane is a natural refrigerant with a low GWP and is more efficient than current R404a systems,” he explained. “Most U.S. food retailers have sustainability and energy-efficiency objectives, and this system will help them achieve those goals.”

Based on the tests and analysis conducted to date, H-E-B believes that the actual sustainability and energy reductions of the propane system will far exceed any measurement used today by LEED and GreenChill. What is the chain hoping the biggest advantages of the system will be?

“A 90% reduction in the amount of refrigerant in the store,” Triplett said. “A significant reduction in long-term maintenance expense/ cost. Fewer, if any, losses due to refrigeration failures (leaks) — should a system go ‘off-line,’ only a very small amount of refrigerated product is ever affected.”

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