Design.

Retailers shift to edgier and hip displays and architecture to get shoppers' attention

July 16, 2006|By ANDREA K. WALKER | ANDREA K. WALKER,SUN REPORTER

The loud music and dark nightclub-like lighting at teen clothing store Hollister is enough to drive Patricia Rock insane, but it's what makes the store one of her daughter's favorites.

"How can you see anything?" she said while shopping with her daughter Niamh Rock at Annapolis Mall recently. "It doesn't make any sense."

But her 11-year-old daughter, dressed in a trendy purple tank top with sparkles around the neck and a white ruffled miniskirt, views it from a different perspective: "I think it's kind of cool."

Hollister and its sister store Abercrombie & Fitch were one of the first retailers to buck the trends of typical retail design in a bid to entice young customers who shop for the "hip" experience as much as they do the clothing. The stores are dark, have hardwood floors and include leather recliners for customers. Hollister has a beachhouse setting at its entranceway. At Abercrombie, buff male models baring their chests sometimes greet shoppers at the door.

It's a far cry from the blue smocks worn by workers and the happy face logos at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. But even stores like the world's largest retailer as well as Macy's and Target are trying to satisfy consumer expectations for an edgier shopping experience by adding distinctive exterior architecture and interior design. As competition has increased in the retail market and shoppers are demanding more than low prices, retailers are looking for new ways to distinguish themselves.

"There is so much retail saturation that everybody is looking for that edge," said Mike Klinzing, a principal at RTKL Associates Inc., a retail design and architectural firm in Baltimore. "Shoppers want more of an experience. That's what everybody is trying to do, create an experience."

Macy's department stores, for instance, are making subtle design changes such as brighter lights, modernized signage and bigger dressing rooms with an adjacent lounge area with televisions. Target Corp. has perfected its image as the retail chain known for style and edge without sacrificing the low prices that some consumers cherish. It has used funky advertisements and trendy merchandise created exclusively for the retailer by designers such as Mossimo Gianulli. Its stores have wide aisles and bright colors.

"Design in stores has become extremely important," said Grady Cooley, owner of Grady Cooley Interiors in New York. "Retailers are paying much more attention to how people feel in their stores.

They're making customers feel comfortable in their stores. They're finding a better way to display merchandise. They're making merchandise seem more special."

Retailers are appealing to shoppers' regional tastes as well. Wal-Mart has changed its architecture to fit different regions of the country, offering a fishing pier-themed store in Florida, among others. And Target has experimented with different designs in its urban stores, which often are more than one level and have large glass facades.

More risks

Stores aimed at a younger crowd are taking the bigger design risks.

A decade ago, Limited Too, which caters to girls ages 7 to 14, had a basic neutral design centered on blond wood. The idea was to appeal to the mom who was buying clothes for her daughter. As the company realized it should target the daughter who influences how her parents spend, the design of the store became busier and more colorful. Its latest reincarnation, called "It's a Girl's World," is being rolled out in stores now.

The store format features an iPod station where girls can sit on a kid-sized papazon chair with a neon-green faux fur pillow and listen to teen stars like Hillary Duff and Raven Symone. The colors of the store are bright shades of pink, green and purple. The dressing rooms have psychedelic wallpaper with squiggly marks, flower and swirl designs. One teenager shopping recently at the Annapolis Mall store said it's decorated like a girl's bedroom.

`Sensory overload'

"We try to create an atmosphere of sensory overload to encourage girls to touch and feel," said Robert Atkinson, vice president of investor relations for Tween Brands Inc., which owns Limited Too. "We make it as positive an experience as possible. The longer we can keep her in the store, the higher the rate of conversion."

Katrina Johnson, 11, and a seventh-grader at Magothy River Middle School, said the store has a fun look to it. It's one of the more popular chains among her classmates, she said.

"This is definitely one of the stores people talk about at school," she said.

Big-box chains are picking up regional design influences.

"You had one format across the country," said Andrew McQuilkin, vice president of design at FRCH Design Worldwide, which has designed stores for retailers such as Starbucks, Macy's, OfficeMax and Target. "That was a lot cheaper to do. What they're finding out is that there is pressure regionally. Consumers in the Midwest are not the same as those in the South."

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