Shops front up to the internet challenge
Retail are keeping up appearances in order to recoup billions spent by online shoppers
Blazing Salads: redesigned by Bobby Carter of CC Services using orange flooring from Kilcoole Flooring to chime with its appealing redbrick shop front
The recent makeover of Dunnes’ flagship stores by super-luxe “shop-fitter” Schweitzer is helping to transform the way affordable shop chains look and feel. The push to keep up appearances is to lure shoppers into physical stores and try and recoup some of the almost €6 billion spent online by Irish shoppers.
“The retail market remains challenged and customers that are not engaged will simply shop online,” says Andrew Johnston of Johnston Shopfitters, who has worked with Arboretum, Carphone Warehouse and Carrolls.
He describes his business as a retail consultancy rather than just a shop-fitter. “Retailers want to increase dwell time in their stores – this is why so many have installed a coffee shop.”
“A good fit-out also raises a shop’s profile,” says Kerry Meakin, programme chair of visual merchandising and display at the Dublin School of Creative Arts at DIT. “Dunnes reportedly spent millions with Schweitzer but, in essence, what it is creating is an experience, something smaller retailers like independent fashion and lifestyle shop Fabiani in Longford town have tapped into in a really smart, lean way.”
It is no longer just a home for shoes – you can meet a friend for coffee, get HD brows, come to a yoga class
By introducing a coffee station and brow bar in April and thrice-weekly yoga session to the fashion, footwear and lifestyle mix, Fabiani owner Louise Brennan offers her customers more than just a smartly merchandised space.
Adding to the experience
Fabiani originally opened in 2010 as a shoe shop. “Two years ago I moved to a main street location and have continued to add to the whole experience,” Brennan says. “It is no longer just a home for shoes – you can meet a friend for coffee, get HD brows, come to a yoga class, held after the shop closes on Tuesdays and Thursdays and before it opens on Sunday mornings. We’ve grown our customer base and now appeal to a younger shopper and to a lot more males. Sales are up 25 per cent in the six months since we added these new service layers.”
Augmented reality experiences will also attract custom, says Johnston. “If selling make-up, for instance, you need to be able to virtually experiment with looks while in the shop. By creating so-called omni shopping channels within the store, you merge the bricks and mortar and clicks and mortar experiences, so shoppers can virtually shop the whole range.
“So if the shop doesn’t have the space to stock the complete collection, you can at least order it in the store and have it delivered there or direct to your home. These add-ons all enhance the shopping experience.”
The point is well illustrated by the recent work of John Henry Boyle, principal architect at 21 Spaces, for Life Style Sports’ new flagship shop in Cork city, which garnered the chain a 2017 Retail Excellence Ireland award in its apparel category.
The Cork shop has a huge amount of interaction: from low-tech ideas such as a football cage where kids can try out their football boots, not just for size, but for kicking power against a screen that emulates Croke Park or Old Trafford, to browsing the full Nike range online from digital catalogues.
The 30,000sq ft space, set over two floors, offers a gait analysis area for the serious runner with LED tup lights designed to emulate the lanes of a running track. The shop has a full nightclub quality sound system and a level of selfie-flattering lighting. Lighting alone accounted for 25 per cent of the fit-out spend.
21 Spaces also designed a smaller unit for the sports chain in Blanchardstown shopping centre. Its smaller footprint (only 2,500sq ft) simply doesn’t allow it carry the full range, so you can click and collect or have them deliver straight to your door.
“The linear métrage of a store is also important,” Johnston says, “and what you do to maximise this is creating a store that can be managed by the least amount of staff. One option is mobile payment devices that cut down on the need for check-out counters.”
From an aesthetic point of view, according to Meakin, the value of spending on your shop fit-out pays dividends and is more important than the product itself.
“You can create a whole different feel conjured by the calibre of fit-out,” she says. “From the minute you cross the threshold of Brown Thomas you know that you’re getting quality and exclusivity. A year later the same product you were looking at may find its way to TK Maxx. But when you cross its threshold you believe you’re getting a bargain because the fit-out is far more functional.”
Penneys has totally changed the inexpensive clothing game. For a store that doesn’t sell online it has embraced digital
By employing Schweitzer to review its flagship shops and their product mix, she adds, Dunnes Stores has created a shopping experience that mirrors this sense of exclusivity. “It has done this on its fashion floor by creating zoned areas within the St Stephen’s Green shop floor for its brands – Savida, Paul Costelloe, Joanne Hynes, Carolyn Donnolly and Lennon Courtney – that mimics the franchise set-up in parts of Brown Thomas.”
Dunnes isn’t the only one to nail this, says Johnston. “Penneys has totally changed the inexpensive clothing game. For a store that doesn’t sell online it has embraced digital and by opening in all the major European cities – remember the queues on Oxford Street when it opened in London? – it has become a major international brand.”
The shop fit-out is also essential in attracting new business, even to alpha locations such as Grafton Street, where No 72 is currently for rent. The shop space stretches to 800sq m and is set over three floors. It has a mock Tudor-style facade and a sublime vaulted ceiling that was formerly home to fashion brand Karen Millen’s Irish flagship shop. It has been completely reimagined by property vehicle IPUT to a design by Henry J Lyons architects.
It doesn’t have to cost a fortune – if you hire the right people. Blazing Salads has been in business for decades and was one of the first of the new generation of independents to move to Dublin’s Drury Street more than a decade ago. The shop was redesigned last year by Bobby Carter of CC Services using orange flooring from Kilcoole Flooring to chime with its appealing redbrick shop front.
“The salad bar had been situated in the centre of the premises and at peak times the place was congested,” says owner Pam Fitzmaurice. “By moving fitted furniture to the walls, people can now come in and browse the store.”
Through the clever use of typography by Graham Thew Design (which also designed the eatery’s two cookbooks) “customers can now read our story and discover the fact that we’re second generation and independent”, she adds. This is a fact that the family-run business had previously hid under its (organic) bushel.
“On a very limited budget and by using the Knockout typeface, we could synopsise the family-run business story into super-readable, bite-size points,” designer Graham Thew explains. This clean approach won the designer an IDI award earlier this year.
Has it increased sales? “Sales are steady and we haven’t lost market share considering increased competition from the likes of Chopped and Sprout,” Fitzmaurice reports. “Footfall has increased but spend is slightly down.”