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The layer cake


Rebel sport
Rebel Sport

Let’s face it, you retailers have no idea what you are going to be selling in five years.

Okay, we know we’ll still be in the clothing business or the food business or whatever, but trends move so quickly you really don’t know what it’s going to look like or what’s going to be required to sell it.

Five years ago, for instance, no one had heard of froyo. Books were still pretty much made out of paper. Compression gear might have been something you bought to improve the performance of your car.

In terms of store design, flexibility used to be the Holy Grail. Now it’s adaptability.

McCartney Design recently converted some of the old Borders spaces into Rebel stores. One of the things we had to cope with was an alarming complexity in the ceiling design. There were odd angles, many ceiling levels, and a seemingly random arrangement of lighting.

The brief was to re-use it all, which we did, with some degree of difficulty. While we were hard pushed to adapt it to a new tenancy, you’d wonder how even Borders would have gone about replanning these large stores with such a complex and inflexible ceiling design.

The leasing model may well change in the near future, but most retail leases are for five years, after which landlords will call for some kind of minor refurbishment. I’d argue that most stores will need a refurb after three or less years, simply to cope with changing merchandise and shopper behavior.

For larger format stores (1500 sqm and above) this can be an expensive exercise. Half a million dollars really doesn’t go very far.

It’s best to future proof the design first time round. That way you can make the dollars count the second time instead of simply correcting or rebuilding obsolete design elements.

For example, many retailers are now ditching the idea of a ‘racetrack’ as a means of getting customers around the store.

As a concept the racetrack is pretty simple: a corridor of contrasting floor finish to define the journey through the store. In practice it can become complicated, twisting its way around irregularly shaped stores and resulting in awkward angles and spaces. When you need to re-lay the store it’s inevitably in the wrong place.

Our latest concepts for large footprint stores have a uniform floor finish, sometimes with just one large contrasting feature area in the centre, which allows for easy store re-lays.

It does require discipline in fixture layout to provide clear circulation, but it avoids re-flooring in the future. Circulation areas can be indicated by use of lighting, suspended elements, or even mannequins, which are somewhat easier to move.

In the Rebel stores we were careful to provide both flexibility and adaptability. Working to a strict budget, we were careful to design a very small suite of fixtures and make these adaptable.

Hard goods and soft goods share the same fixture type, with adaptations for each category.

The simpler you can make it, the more adaptable it becomes. For example, the Rebel show wall is on exactly the same wall merchandising system as the rest of the store.

Think in layers.

First of all you need the basics – the floor, the ceiling, the lighting, sprinklers and air conditioning, a great sound system. Whatever you do in the future, these shouldn’t have to change.

Simplicity is the key, particularly in lighting. A simple lighting grid works best, with as much flexibility as you can build in. Use of fixed walls should be minimised. The floor should be one uniform finish.

Ikea do this type of basic box really well. One thing that can be flexible is wall finishes – many retailers are using digital wallpapers to dramatically alter look and feel. We designed Attik clothing, a small fast fashion store, using a graphic wallpaper that can be replaced at a modest cost to change the entire character of the store.

The next layer is your fixturing. Again, simplicity and adaptability is the key. But here you will need to make a few very specific fixtures to suit current needs.

For Rebel we had to evolve specialised fixtures for the growing market in sports technology – GPS, GoPro cameras, etc. It’s inevitable that some of these fixtures will become obsolete in the future, but the goal is to adapt standard fixtures as much as possible to minimise future redundancy.

If you think of elements like dressing rooms and counters as fixtures and avoid full height partitions, it’s easy to move things around without triggering sprinkler and air conditioning works.

The third layer is your instore communications. These can be either printed or digital. This layer will change constantly during the life of the store and for this reason digital and screen based communication works well, provided you have the right content.

Designing graphic systems that are easy and inexpensive to maintain and change is a key to keeping stores fresh and current.

A well layered store will always remain fresh, as it’s easy and inexpensive to adapt to changing needs. For your mandatory store refurbishment you’ll be able to concentrate on elements that are of benefit to you and your customers and provide a return on investment.

 This story originally appeared in Inside Retail Magazine. The August/September issue, featuring exclusive coverage of the 2013 Westfield World Retail Study Tour is available now. For more information, click here.

Gary McCartney is the owner of McCartney Design and a regular contributor to Inside Retail Magazine. You can reach him at

Rebel Sport
Rebel Sport

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