Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Time your Opinion

In the past week I’ve read 2 articles about the state of retail in Brisbane. They referred to my local area of Wynnum and how retailing is dying. There’s absolutely no denying that retail is tough at the moment. That’s a given.

However these articles made heavy mention of the observations of the reporter walking around the streets during school holidays. He mentioned that tumble weeds would not be out of place as it was dead. Hello… first clue is the school holiday timing. Immediately alarm bells rang for me which suggested that perhaps we weren’t getting the most accurate observation.

Just as 2:45pm on a weekday is the best time to jag a front door carpark at your local Westfield (in case you aren’t aware- all the mums are in the school pick up que and not at the shops), school holidays in the streets of the local burbs are not the best indicator of general retail conditions. Given that it’s the first of the warm weather holiday periods- September, heaps of people have gone away or are doing summery types of things like day trips to the coasts etc.

Let’s do a quick teleport up to Hastings Street Noosa at the same time period. I know that street would have been humming as it’s a premium holiday destination. And yes, I’m sure that Hastings St’s overall retail stats have dropped. However the past 2 weeks there would have looked very different to their normal Monday to Friday pre school holidays.

The point I’m making is that if you want to gauge a situation accurately look at it under normal conditions not in an extreme condition.

The article followed on with a couple of retail experts offering their opinion of retail in the future for the burbs. They cited that foodies and gyms will become more popular. Yes, we are seeing the rise of both of those industries filling retail tenancies. However the other thing I’m noticing is a glut of residential apartments being constructed in the burbs. Like or loathe them they will eventually fill with residents and with that will come the demand for more local retail and it won’t just be for foodies and gyms. People will want other types of retail.

After nearly 30yrs in the retail industry I’ve now seen the circle and it’s now coming around again.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Following Trends

If I had to make a list of good points about ageing, I would put Hindsight on mine.

You reach a certain age where the trends and fashions you see appearing have already been a personal life experience and you have strong feelings about those. Quite often in the negative, I might add!

I made a comment to a client the other day that rose gold was on its way out. And that if you want to use if just be careful where you use it. My advice is to choose it for things that are more decorative rather than permanent, so that when it does go you can easily remove that item.

One of my earliest experiences of interior trends gone rotten was within my first year out of uni. I was working for a designer who did a lot of domestic work. An item that kept popping up was the heritage tap set that one of the major plumbing brands made. This set was available in heritage red, green and cream. And it was gross. But SO MANY people had it in their homes back then, which indicates that originally it hadn’t been gross!
Interior trends are a type of click bait for our emotions. I have no problem following trends but I am careful to analyse the situation before specifying. Here’s the break down of the assessment I use for each situation.

I design lots of retail outlets. They range from foodies, hair and beauty and fashion and so many different types in between. Stores in large shopping centres usually have a 5 year lease. It is expected that your store design will reflect the latest trends that are complimentary to selling your product or service. That’s great and customers love seeing new design direction and 5 years is a perfect time for a trend, because at the end of 5 years that retailer will be expected to do a new fitout featuring the upcoming looks.

This is the consideration that I use when I begin a residential job with a client, and we need to decide how much trend factor we allow for in the design. I use 3 main categories, and this is where emotion starts to factor in.

Residential- general housing
Home is where you spend most of your time besides work. Most people want to appear “with it” and trendy with their homes. That’s fine. But if you want to do trendy perhaps think of how and where to use it so that you’re not stuck with it 10 years after the trend has gone. Tiles, plumbing and joinery are expensive items to replace. They are the items I would err on the side of caution with. The industry rule of thumb is that kitchens have a 10-year life span, bathrooms about 15. But the reality is that due to the high costs most people are only redoing their kitchen every 20-30 years. You can still have beautiful and amazing as well as longevity. If the owners are thinking they’ll stay long term but also aware that down the track things may change, then I would discuss a more considered approach to following trends.

Residential- reno/build for sale
If you are doing up a house with the view to sell reasonably soon- go for it. Get on trend and enjoy. Think of all the home shows where the end game is to sell the house. The fitouts are all totally on trend. That’s where the emotional click bait comes in. Potential buyers walk in the door and are hit with the WOW factor. They usually aren’t thinking about how long the trends will last, just how great it all looks. Chances are they haven’t even fully identified all the trends, only some. The trends are all working as an overall amazing package.

Residential- you and your personality.
If you are about to do a house reno and you really love rose gold, black taps and leopard print wallpaper- do it. If that’s your personality and it just happens to be on trend, why not show it. This is tempered with the advice that if you plan to stay in your house long term and not sell within the foreseeable future, then have fun and reflect your personality. It’s your home and you have to be able to smile every time you walk in the door. This is my category and the way most designers handle their own houses. I have not designed my house for resale, but for my life- long term. I have features in my house that people who know me just totally understand why I’ve chosen them.

Clothing trends are easy. You can throw it out if you get sick of it. However if something is chem-set to your wall, it becomes a bit trickier and also expensive.

Food for thought from Albert Einstein……
What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Those who Watch....

I’ve just come from a client meeting in a nearby Westfield centre and I've left pondering “who is watching who in the shopping centres?” 

A lot of people are not aware of the inner workings of the large shopping centres. To many people it’s the local retail hub, a place to meet with friends for recreational shopping, enjoy a meal, catch some entertainment or fulfill daily tasks of grocery shopping or perhaps medical appointments.

Personally I love the behind the scenes inner workings of the large centres. After hours they become a mini city of workers who are creating the fantasy for the next day of trading. That’s my “retail designer” version!

In a large scale centre part of the “behind the scenes” is the interaction that centre management have with their tenants- the retailers. There’s the daily give and take that happens with retailers pushing the envelope and moving display racks further out into the malls and being told by management to pull them in. Sometimes there are issues with retailers introducing new product lines which may breach their original lease agreement. Other established retailers don’t like it if their neighbour suddenly starts selling very similar products to theirs.

On a daily basis various people in Centre Management walk the floor and observe, however after today’s visit I was quite surprised by the slipping standards I saw.
I passed a café with the most disgusting dusty pendant light hanging over tables where people sit and eat. At another café I saw a Happy Easter sign up now 3 months after Easter. These are house keeping issues that should be getting noticed and actioned. I also saw kiosk stores with piles of unnecessary and non retail items in big stacks. It made the stores look messy and gave them a worn feeling. Usually Centre Management would be onto individual tenants quick as a flash, but that is obviously not happening. 

If I’m noticing this as I walk past at a brisk pace, the shoppers definitely are as they linger over their coffee and meals. Plenty of phrases come to mind- where does the buck stop? Whilst I think it’s a harsh analogy- does rot start at the top? In any type of collective group in society the actions of one affect the whole. In these retail times and the high rents in these big centres, everyone needs to play their A game all the time.

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.