That’s what happened at Sydney’s Moore Park SupaCenta on the first Saturday in November when the new Freedom store opened for business.
Word had spread of the opening earlier in the week and customers on that day were flooding in and pushing sales up to record highs.
This was no ordinary re-opening. For longtime eastern suburbs residents, the store had been a furniture and homewares icon and one of the cornerstone tenants of the centre. It had remained unrenovated for almost 20 years. Some catching up was needed.
But there’s no point in expending energy just to catch up. What you really need to do in retail is get ahead. And that’s exactly what Freedom planned to do. With a branding strategy and a store planning philosophy already in place, the company appointed McCartney Design to help them along the journey.
After holding a briefing workshop with Freedom’s management, marketing, buying and operations teams we learned that Freedom had already made a shift from a style-based layout, which was confusing to customers, to one that’s more function-based. So if you want a sofa for example, they’re all in one place.
Our task was to build on this by creating a retail space that is flexible, merchandise focused, and user friendly.
With new collections constantly coming in, the design had to be easily adapted. Previously, planning out new stores was a difficult process as no one could agree on where to place the walls to cater for changing needs in merchandising.
Our first design decision was to ensure that all partitions and dividers were moveable, and textures and colours could be quickly altered. This allows the merchandising team to quickly tailor the environment to different products and buying strategies.
We looked at simple framing and partitioning methods that eliminate the use of fixed walls, and arrived at two main shapes, an H and Z, both of which based on an open frame and interchangeable backing panels.
The corners were intentionally left open to allow views through to the rest of the store. Both are freestanding and moveable – there are no fixed partitions. We want customers to become immersed in the shopping experience, but not at the expense of getting lost.
To make wayfinding easy and intuitive we created a raised white ceiling element as a central feature. It’s designed as a trademark detail and is a different shape in each store.
At Freedom’s first prototype store at Castle Hill, it’s a T shape. At Moore Park it cranks around to follow the shape of the space. The effect is to create a major navigational pathway and eliminate the need for directional signs.
At Moore Park the store opens up into its neighbouring sister store, Snooze, which provides a complementary specialist bedding offer. Some of the same merchandising and fixturing themes continue in Snooze, with some cross merchandising of Freedom product.
Snooze also has its own signature ceiling based on indirectly lit panels so that customers aren’t dazzled when trying out mattresses.
The goal from the outset was to let the merchandise do the talking. We set out to make the store design as undistracting as possible. The floor is polished concrete – no contrasting pathway to lead customers around the store.
Tim Schaafsma, Freedom MD, was very clear on the fact that it is the customer who should decide where they want to go.
The brick wall finish is fashionable right now: when it falls out of favour it can be easily replaced, it’s just wallpaper.
Most of the ceiling, walls, and columns are blacked out to make the building envelope disappear and let the lighting do its work in showing off the merchandise.
With the creative freedom afforded by the flexibility of the store layout, Freedom’s merchandising team rose to the occasion and in the final result it’s the product and visual merchandising that makes the store unique in Australia, if not the world.
Customers are engaged. Dwell time has increased. Merchandise that went unnoticed in the old store format is now the star of the show, and is being not only noticed but purchased. And that’s how it should be.
Gary McCartney is the owner of McCartney Design, an integrated design studio. For more information, visit www. mccartneydesign.com.au.
This article first appeared in Inside Retail Magazine’s December/January edition. To subscribe, click here.