Monday, March 18, 2019

Renovating- the first decision.

As well as designing shops I have the privilege of designing homes for many wonderful clients. This is a whole other design process to retail. Most of my domestic work is renovation designs of existing houses. Over the years I have found that there are common questions everyone asks as we embark on their design process. The first question is "should I pull down and start from scratch or renovate?"

Renovating is expensive. It is often cheaper and faster to build from scratch. 

Sometimes you aren’t able to pull the house down or maybe the original house has characteristics that you like and don’t want to lose. 

You need to also check the condition of the house. Does it have good strong bones? If there are no building controls on the house, don’t take on a reno if you are going to end up replacing almost every wall due to rot or damage. 

Renos become expensive due to the unknown. Whilst builders can provide a provisional cost estimate a lot of them are hesitant to give a fixed price for a reno as they just don’t want to get financially caught if they should discover a major issue once they begin building. Time and money can disappear quickly while you are trying to match timbers and moulding profiles, remove hidden asbestos or sand back old lead based paint. It’s commonly known that renos always cost more than your initial budget. It’s worth getting a few opinions from builders about your house before you make the decision to renovate or pull down.

 Keeping in mind these factors if you are still leaning towards a reno, it often comes down to making a decision about how much the existing character is worth to you on both an emotional and monetary level. It may even be possible to do a new build and incorporate some of the features from the old house you’ve pulled down. For example old worn bricks can be cleaned up and used for new feature walls.

 Old floor boards can be re purposed on walls or other surfaces. 

Clever forethought can put character back into the house whilst allowing a more cost effective overall new build.

Friday, October 26, 2018

A Proper Introduction

This week my mum informed me that she was going to Harris Scarfe to look for some sheet sets. She asked if I wanted to come with her, however I declined. I didn’t need sheets and I couldn’t think of anything that I thought the store would offer and which I needed.  But more to the point I’ve never been inside a Harris Scarfe store in my life, despite this store being only 15mins away at my local Westfield mega centre.
It got me thinking about why I knew nothing about this store and had never ventured in. I guess I’ve just never been properly introduced.

A quick google and it turns out the brand is almost 170 yrs old. It was established in Adelaide and I guess that has created part of my problem. I’m up here in sunny Queensland and Harris Scarfe is a bit of a new comer to our state that’s why I don’t really know much about them, none of my family or friends have introduced me.

When you think of shops they could be compared to family. Some of them have been around since our birth- Coles, Woolworths, David Jones, Myer, Kmart, Country Road, Sportscraft etc. (depending upon your age of course) They are like the grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins that we just grow up knowing who they are. They are constants in our life. You can’t even remember when you were introduced, just that they’ve always been there. Then there are our friends in life, perhaps you’ve been introduced via a 3rd person. Some introductions via a 3rd party come with an assurance that you’re really going to like so and so. Sometimes that’s the case and other introductions you just don’t gel.

Of those friends and relatives you work out their individual quirks and whether you get on with them. Some of them you always feel happy when you visit, others you visit occasionally and that’s enough for quite a while. There are the cool cousins and the glamorous aunties and the practical down to earth friends who are always comforting and no matter how long you spend with them, you can’t wait to see them again.

Think about a new store that you’ve ventured into. Did it come recommended via someone you know? Did they tell you about all the cool treasures they’ve found and they think you would like the products too? Or had you seen some really great advertising or social media and it just resonated with you to the point that you wanted to visit?

If you’ve had none of those experiences what do you do when a new neighbour moves in? Do you go and introduce yourself first and hope that they will be nice and reciprocate with warmth? When you meet someone new it’s hard not to make a comparison and think to yourself how much characteristics of them remind you of other people you know. I think we all make a little mental calculation of where that person fits into our social hierarchy. We do the same with shops. We know you can go to store A or B and their prices will be similar with subtle differences in their products or Store A and B will have very similar products with price point differences.

Relationships are double sided. So how does the new retail kid introduce themselves? They can’t just sit around waiting for outsiders to make the first move, they’ve also got to decide who they want to appeal to, be friends with and hang out with. That’s where the marketing gurus step in to become the match makers and introduce us to new friends that hopefully we will have lasting relationships with.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Too Much Choice

Recently the retail world has been talking about the fact that the online shoe company- “Shoes of Prey” has stopped taking orders and are now assessing the future direction for their company. Since commencing business Shoes of Prey has won numerous retailing awards and many accolades.
Many articles have been published since their “pause” asking why this has happened to such an innovative company. There are many reasons being discussed all reasonable and interesting and seem valid, but I am not necessarily focusing on Shoes of Prey and of course I have no insight as to the real reasons, I’m just using them as an example.

Choice in Retail- such a First World issue. From my side of the fence when I am designing shops and retail outlets, my job is to create an interior that becomes part of that choice process and that customers want to choose as a shopping destination. But when I strip the design process back to the bare beginning of the concept, I know that what I am going to present to my client, in response to their brief, will be a carefully narrowed down selection of choices. Everything that I present to my clients is an option that I feel will be most beneficial to the sales and presentation of their range of products. The same philosophy applies when I’m designing for residential clients. After taking their brief and asking many questions about how they live, I present them with a narrowed down range of options that I think will best suit their lifestyle.

I have learnt from my many years of design that too much choice just becomes overwhelming for most people. I will often joke that I don’t take clients into the “candy store”. By this I mean that instead of taking them to my fabric wholesalers or other wholesale showrooms, I bring a narrowed down selection back to my clients. I know from personal experience that the minute you walk into the fully racked and stacked showrooms, you just want it all. You literally feel like a kid in a candy store and so many things catch your eye.

When I go to a showroom I remind myself to stay focused for the jobs that I am working on. I will often go with a list or lug in my finishes selection and concept images (like they say- never shop on a empty stomach). By remaining attentive I can pull together a look that I’m happy with and won’t have become side-tracked in that process.

But the thing is; I’m a professional with 25 years experience. I know how to stay on track, but I also know how to sort through all the delicious array of choices at the candy store and create a great looking outcome.

Which brings me back to my original example of Shoes of Prey. I have never designed a pair of shoes in my life. I know what I like when I go into the shoe shop and try them on and look at myself in the full length mirror. I’ve also learnt that sometimes shoes I see online look very different when I’ve actually got them on my feet.
As fun as it might be to design some shoes I think I’d rather leave that to the shoe industry experts and let them shift through their candy store to come up with the final creation as I would be too scared that my choices will not look that great once I have the final shoes on my feet.

With the fashion industry I’m happy to sit outside the candy store and wait to see what wonderful creations come out to me. I think if I had to choose I would go silly and pick everything in sight and then end up feeling regret after. I’ll leave that to those experts, just as I know people would say the same about my industry.

As much as we all love choice sometimes too much choice can be overwhelming and may even stall the decision process.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Counter Effect

Over my years of store design, I have seen many cases where the retailer doesn’t need a big counter. This often suits retailers in the service industry such as hair and beauty. Hair salons and barbers involve getting the right balance of chairs and washing stations and the movement zones around each chair. Beauty salons need lots of small private areas and by the time these requirements have been catered for, the front of house area is often left as a small space to design for.

As technology improves it becomes easier to go “counterless” or at least very small. Most salons now use a computer booking program which also invoices and stores client details. It’s no longer necessary to have the large format paper appointment book and the separate client cards.
Add to that all the fantastic wireless technology and customers can now book and pay with the staff attendant standing anywhere in the store. So long as there is somewhere to store a printer and some type of register or cash drawer the counter can be made redundant.

Of course, it’s important to remember that you will still need some type of bench to wrap and package the all-important “products” that become the add on sales after the hair or beauty treatment. However, this does not have to be a traditional counter floating out in the middle of the entry area. It can be off to the side and designed to store the packaging and other items and become almost invisible.

I think the best example of “counterless” is Apple. Their stores have heaps of tables/ benches but not really an actual counter. The most important part of foregoing the counter is to know that the staff can make the customer feel at ease. Without a counter to gravitate to, customers can feel lost and uncomfortable, however the use of a “greeter” solves this. They acknowledge the customer and instantly begin the service process, be it with them or by assigning another staff member. Apple use wi-fi everything and conceal their docket printers at a couple of strategic points under benches and same with their packaging.

In my shop, I have also forgone a counter. My POS & wrap area doubles as a boardroom table. This has enabled me to have more surfaces to display stock and given me the room for the necessary desks in the design studio. The shop is open plan and I can acknowledge customers upon entry and then use my wi-fi technology to handle the payments. Any confidential documents are kept elsewhere and upon interaction with the customers they can see what a design studio looks like as mine is blended in with the shop.

Counterless is not going to work for every situation. I personally believe that there are some sectors of retail who have gone too far with their open plan and minimal counters. I don’t believe that this concept works well in banks. People want a level of privacy to handle the confidential matter of money. Being on a computer with a staff person and all your account details visible on the screen does not feel comfortable knowing that many people are walking past and able to view the screen.

Counter or not- food for thought if you are starting out or planning a refurb.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Is Bigger Better?

Every day I get an email feed from Inside Retail Australia. It contains short stories about what is happening in the world of retail. At least once a week there will be a story about one of the large retailers who has entered financial difficulty and the story will suggest that the writing is probably on the wall for them as a business.

Over the last Christmas season there were approx. 5 retailers that declared some stage of going, going or gone, Pumpkin Patch being one. There seemed to be a pattern that these were all stores that had undergone large expansions over the years. In their quest to grow and find more customers it seemed that they lost things along the way. 

As a new and small retailer- like many other small independent stores, I have learnt the power of personal individual service. As an owner working in the store I can tell you where my customers are coming from, I know if they are responding to promotions I’m advertising, I know their ages and the mix of demographics. This is because I’m speaking with them and asking questions to help me tailor my product mix. 

I love hearing stories about other individual retailers especially if they are in a similar industry to me. Reed Exhibitions have been running an interesting video series lately with their ambassador Tara Dennis visiting gift and homewares retailers and discussing their stores. These are always interesting and inspiring. I love looking at how they display their stock, hearing how they select it and about their customers and seeing what they’ve grown their businesses into with a few years of hard work. Very often the fact that they are a one-off store creates that destination factor. If it’s a good store, people don’t mind travelling- within reason. The journey becomes part of the hunter/ gatherer process. I have retail design clients who have happily travelled interstate to view other retailers whom they find inspiring and have elements that they wish to emulate into their own.

However, the flip side in the quest to grow and conquer is the risk of loss of personal service standards, decrease in product knowledge with the staff, workers for whom it’s “just a job”, stock flow management issues and increased overheads to name a few negatives. Very often businesses are gauged in monetary value, but take away key people or compromise your standards and ethics and suddenly a business can become worthless.

Success and achievement are common aspirations of human nature. For some the desire to grow bigger is well worth the work, for other businesses remaining as a one-off destination may be the solution. Next time you are dreaming with stars in your eyes, ask yourself “what could be lost in the quest to grow?”

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Mappin's Nursery and Aquarium

I love Serendipity. Admittedly this was not an accidental discovery, but an amazing shop that someone had recommended to me.
 There just seems to be so many incredible treasures in this wonderful city! Mappin's Nursery and Aquarium is a perfect example. Located at 240 Montague Rd, which is now super busy and a mix of commercial and residential, no longer are the days of it being a seedy run down part of town.

The business has been here for 8 years and prior to that many years at Brookfield. It's an oasis of greenery amongst the buildings. 

The original shop is in the middle and recent expansion has spread into the neighbouring buildings either side. 

The kids and I visited on a rainy day and in this original section the rain was coming thru the roof and we happily sloshed thru the puddled floor- it really was a proper greenhouse!

Everywhere you turn there is heaps to look at and all displayed in very quirky surrounds.

The aquarium section was a huge hit with the kids and I now have a phone filled with video of the turtle swimming around! (courtesy of my daughter). There are even some chooks out the front in their custom made chook house.

Through the doorway into the adjoining building to get a coffee from the Kombi van. This is also the section set up for gardening workshops.

Mappin's is amazing and I've already lined up friends to take back so they can experience it. 

Definitely worth a visit.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Wynnum Uplate.

It's 3 weeks till the next Wynnum Uplate. On Thursday the 9th of March us and many other local businesses will be open late till 9pm. It's a great way to get together with your friends and check out the local retailers and perhaps pick up some special finds along the way. We will have a lucky door prize of a Peppermint Grove candle valued at $40, drawn at 7:30pm. 

Our local Wynnum Manly promoter Kevin Liepins has listed us in Weekend Notes, link attached. Hope to see you on the night!