Friday, April 5, 2024

Squad Shopping


An intriguing phrase has been popping up on retail feeds. “Squad Shopping”. It would be easy  to imagine a pack of women roaming a shopping centre, however Squad Shopping refers to online shopping with your friends. It’s a shopping party, sharing your cart with facetime.  Imagine everyone watching their phone/ computer as friends look thru various websites and discuss products they are thinking of purchasing. Everyone is watching the same screen images and able to talk to each other. It’s a relatively new concept. The biggest uptake demographic is Gen Z females, with China heavily embracing this technology due to their strong culture of peer purchasing pressure. This demographic have grown up more comfortable with visual phone calls than audio.

In 2020 ex L’Oreal brand manager Elysa Kahn and her father invented a program called Squadded. Chrome partnered with Squadded and so the fun began. Squad shopping could be seen as riding the wave of group participation digital activities. You can remotely join with your friends for a streamed movie night or if music is your thing Spotify have group listening control Jam. Online gaming apps have options to bet with your mates. Squadded promotes applications such as Bridal party shopping or long distance shopping from your holiday location.

It would be easy to dismiss this shopping behavior if you don’t fall into this specific demographic. As a concept and existing product it has potential to evolve into a lot more. In time poor society it provides an avenue to consult with your most trusted panel of “influencers”- the ones you know best- your friends. The opinion of your besties holds much more weight than influencers you don’t personally know. Currently there are options to text or facetime your friends. But this speeds up the process by allowing you to move quickly between other sites and consider more products. Not all brands or products will be compatible with this platform but it will be interesting to watch the entity morph.


Thursday, February 15, 2024

Home Renovation and working with what you have.


Work it Baby! It’s human nature to notice the physical beauty of others and sometimes wish we had the same attributes; this also applies with houses when you are undertaking a renovation. You must learn to love the bones and limitations and work with what you’ve got.

Often when I begin a domestic renovation design job, I find myself looking through Houzz or Pinterest mood boards that my client has made. It’s a great way for me to learn about their ideas for what they want and their tastes. I can usually start to pick patterns in what they have saved.

It is quite easy to admire a particular style and want to copy it, but the style you love may not translate to type of house that you have. Behind most successful and emotive interiors photos are unique characteristics of that property that have been enhanced. It is possible that the story you are reading about in a home magazine started out with a brief in a different direction but was carefully steered and moulded to make the best of what they had to work with.

At the early stages of a job it’s important to be realistic and assess whether it’s possible to achieve the desired outcome based on the existing house that you are starting with. For example I can’t turn a Queenslander cottage into a New York loft. Nor can I achieve the same window effects in a house with 2.4m ceilings and plaster board walls if the example image is a vintage French chateau with 4m ceilings and full height billowing curtains. Sometimes acknowledging those limitations can be a disappointing realisation for clients. That said, it is possible to pull off amazing transformations with good interior design. There are many industry tricks that can conceal offending features.

Seeing something you love is the easy part but being able to recognize what elements have made that initial image successful can be more difficult. This is where an experienced designer can help. They can offer the client guidance and options which put a positive spin on what they can achieve with what they’ve got and where possible rework some of the original elements to suit the space.

Approach your renovation with an open mind and know the importance of flexibility during the concept stage. Designers love excited and inspired clients and your finished look may become another person’s inspiration.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Meters Matter


What makes a successful strip shopping precinct? This question came up recently during discussions I was having with my local retailers association. Strip shops are those on a street, as opposed to being in a big shopping centre. The British refer to it as High Street.

There are many factors that make strip shop precincts successful such as good anchor tenants, interesting mix of retailers, demographics. Transition also plays a major role and meters matter in the world of retail. If you think of a strip precinct like a body, the strongest populated street is the spine, the attached streets would be the ribs. However if there are gaps from the spine the body loses its strength. Successfully transitioning customers means that the flow must be imperceptible. 

I’ve seen this formula in action in my own suburb. I live in an older suburb. Times have changed and competition increased. In my childhood you could get everything you wanted without leaving the suburb. The shops all opened for late night trading on a Thursday and Saturday mornings were super busy. Today, some retailers are stalwarts from my childhood, others new kids on the block with very innovative ideas. There’s also the usual turn-over and empty tenancies which are mirrored in all suburban areas like this.

Map of my local area showing wide spread of shops.

One of the negative issues impacting my local shopping precinct is the spread over multiple streets. Transition can be difficult to successfully achieve within retail. It's difficult even within a store, especially if it's a multi level store. A few years ago Woolworths supermarket built a brand new building in my local area and relocated the library to above Woolworths. This previously empty non-destination zone created a whole new traffic flow within the area, which affected other traders.

Byron Bay is similar to my local area, in that it's also spread out and has good and bad pockets as a result. However it has large tourist influxes which boost the numbers.  

Map shows single street transition.

A suburb near to me shows the difference that strip shop layout makes if the majority of stores are on the one street. This street (shown above) has a movie cinema as it’s long term anchor tenant. There is also a popular pub that would be considered an anchor as well as some very reputable one off retailers. Here people can browse at the shops when they go to the movies. They have multiple choices for food all along the one street. Half way along the street a large park with sporting fields and a playground breaks the flow. This is where the transition starts. Across the road from the park is the local supermarket, which always does well, but is a destination in itself and doesn’t attract the same kind of foot traffic. After the park the customer flow changes. The end retailers are visited by car and don’t have the same exposure as near the cinema. This is why “meters matter” in retail.

Another strong retail strip street is Hastings St in Noosa. It’s a very easy street to walk a lap around the shops.

Map of Hastings St, Noosa.

There’s no sure answer to creating a successful precinct, however as a potential retailer, looking at the layout of the area can help with a more informed decision for future growth.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

The Lipstick Effect


You can’t get it, but you may already unknowingly be part of it.

The Lipstick Effect

You’ve probably heard it mentioned but wondered exactly what it is. It’s being used more frequently at the moment, especially when the household spending is discussed.

It’s a subtle, but unofficial economic indicator. While the term was only coined in the past few decades, it can be traced back to the depression in the 1930’s. The Lipstick effect is the purchase of a luxury beauty item that gives a feel good effect to a woman. It refers only to cosmetics, not clothing or any other discretionary item. The psychology behind this is the in tight economic times women want a product that quickly and easily makes them attractive to a potential mate with good earning capacity. Whilst in this day and age that may seem very antiquated and most modern women would strongly argue this, we are still seeing it in action.

It was reported that Estee Lauder saw significant increases in lipstick sales after the 9/11 stock market crash and also the 2008 crash. The one significant variant to the Lipstick Effect was during Covid and the economic roller coaster of those couple of years. Women swayed from purchasing lipstick that would be concealed by a mask and instead perfume purchases increased.

The Lipstick Effect relies on regular sales figures from major cosmetics brands- which are not always forthcoming. It’s also a bit ambiguous because some women may be sticking to their regular cosmetics brands, whist others are still purchasing lipstick but have downgraded to cheaper brands.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

The Demise of the Department Store


Around the world department stores are struggling. Many reasons are used to explain this phenomenon; rising rent, internet shopping, growing sized shopping malls, too many shopping malls, bad store layouts, lack of consumer experience, too much discounting, spending slow down, product and stock not relevant to customer base.

In recent years Corona virus and the increase of online shopping are claimed to be behind the downturn, however if you look back through media, department store decline was being discussed back in 2000 and earlier.

The decline of department stores comes down to the simple fact that they are no longer seen as “destination” stores. They have lost this destination status because they no longer offer exclusive products to customers.

The brands that were sold exclusively in department stores realized that they could afford to open stores under their own name and sell direct instead of limiting themselves to sales from one head retailer. It became possible for them to reach their customer base through another avenue. Why shop in a department store when you can walk a matter of meters and find the same stock in the own brand shop?  Online shopping opened yet another sales opportunity to sell direct.

The chase for the mighty dollar has gone even further with some wholesale companies now selling direct to the public, at pre-set retail prices. Customers are also more savvy now a days and with simple googling will often find the wholesaler or agent for a brand and approach them directly to purchase- with the intention of saving some money.

Previously department stores were a launch pad from new brands wanting to capitalize on the guaranteed traffic into the stores. In turn department stores dictated terms such as high rent for a concessionary store and long payment periods for stock. Issues such as these became motivating factors for brands to look at other ways to sell their products.

Australia has the distinction of being the birth place to the worlds oldest continuously running department store- David Jones. The first DJ’s opened in Sydney in 1838. Myer on the other hand opened in the exploding gold fuelled city of Bendigo in 1900. Back then both stores were able to offer things that no-one else could. David Jones was the first store in Australia to sell Coka Cola. In 1928 their Elizabeth St Sydney store had a restaurant that served 5000 customers a day, including the queen during a royal tour. The department stores of yester year were fed by rapidly growing populations and wealth and in a sense they could be everything to everyone.

The decline of department stores is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Think tanks and retail consultants have brain stormed many ways to revive the stores, but none have proved to be the magic bullet. Some ideas have been to target towards a younger market, which lost them the “older” market who still think young and want to look young and very often have more money to do so. This idea was not a hit. Another solution is to pivot and adapt the stores. This is a broad brush. In the past it has worked. During WW2 the David Jones store on George St Sydney adapted 3 floors to become free accommodation for service women.

Where to from here? There’s no going back and no changing what’s happened. The golden days are over and department store locations are decreasing. This could also be viewed as a much needed market re-adjustment. Now it’s time for the shopping centre rental agents and the centre designers to work out how to move forward. Department stores have huge floor areas and often deep tenancies. That means reworking the centre layout to divide into smaller tenancies or thinking about different types of large footprint tenants- mega churches, small residential apartments, indoor farming or car dealerships as some ideas. But it may also mean time for department stores to pivot their model. Well known multinationals have done it previously. Nintendo was originally Japan’s largest seller of greeting cards. Perhaps future generations will know the name Myer or David Jones as a large hotel chain or indoor amusement parks.

Monday, March 20, 2023



This subject has been in the news a lot lately. It’s an issue which greatly affects my industry from the initial product specification stage to the end manufacturing- which is where the disease is occurring.

It relates to the silica content in the dust of quartz, sand, stone, soil, granite, brick, cement, grout, mortar and bitumen. But it’s the engineered stone benchtops that have been causing the most problems. I don’t see the demand for stone benchtops declining at any stage in the future.

However the past couple of years has seen the trend swing back to the natural stone for benchtops as opposed to the engineered stone. The reason for the resurgence of natural is riding on the 70’s design trend going through, which heavily features stone but also celebrates the uniqueness of each stone slab.

Engineered stone was invented for numerous reasons. It enabled a consistent finish to be guaranteed. If you wanted a particular colour or pattern heaviness in the stone slab you could specify it and know you would get that. If you are using real stone slabs you need to go to the actual stone mason and reserve your specific slab if you wish to ensure you get that exact pattern appearance.  The natural stone could not guarantee exact colours and patterning. The natural was also limited by the amount found in nature. Some stones are very expensive because they are rare and found in one off locations in the world.

Manufactured stone enabled the creation of a similar look to the real but could be provided as an endless supply.

The manufactured stone is a much stronger product than some types of natural stone, which may have cracks and fissures resulting in higher breakage and therefore replacement costs.

Silica does occur in natural stone, however it’s usually around 30% silica. The manufactured stone is has approx. 80%  or higher silica due to the formula.

How does the building industry keep up with the demand for a product while eliminating the dangers of manufacturing the product?

For a while now the major engineered stone companies have been creating new products with a lower silica content. Smartstone have a range with the stone image printed onto the top surface and allowing them to decrease the silica in the substrate. Caesarstone  are also working on new products which will have at least 40% or lower silica content. That is the percentage they are expecting the governments to regulate.

The other initiative which has been implemented for a while is safer handling procedures to manufacture with this product. I must say that any stone masons I’ve worked with over the years have been very professional and run wet cutting procedures. This is a proper way to cut as it eliminates the deadly dust. However there have been some manufactures who have not wanted the expense of setting up a wet factory and cut dry.

I’m keen to see how this all develops as I know we can’t simply outlaw stone benchtops.


Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Sterile House Design


I was reading the real estate lift out this weekend. For a while now we’ve been seeing the 70’s/ Palm Springs architectural trend. It’s usually white, lots of arches in doorways, perhaps some curved walls and gardens that could in some cases be described as stark. The other feature that strikes me is that they look like sterile impersonal show houses, not homes.

I understand that when you are selling a house the real estate agents advise to declutter of personal items. That makes sense- potential buyers need to envisage their future lives in the house, not see your life.

However it’s not just the real estate pages showing the impersonal interiors, it’s also reflected in feature articles where people are showcasing their homes in glossy magazines and online stories.

I always feel that these houses tell nothing about their owners’ personality. Sure the home owners would have briefed the architect about the look they wanted. But when the house has only trendy design features and neutral d├ęcor, it sadly comes up lacking the lived in/ loved feeling. And more to the point, it’s really difficult to live a minimalist show house lifestyle. There’s shoes that get discarded around the house, pet food bowls, magazines, bills, books, family photos & mementos, homework, coffee cups, devices and chords etc. 

My thoughts were echoed to me when reading a recent article on Oprah Daily. Oprah describes finally accepting that she needed a house that showed her true personality, instead of trying to conform to trends and how she thought people wanted her house to look.

As a designer or architect it’s not unusual for a client brief to request “a hotel feel”. However as a designer if I want a Hotel Feel- that’s exactly where I go. I’m more than happy spending time in a nice hotel or boutique accommodation that is beautiful and elegant yet neutral.

What I most enjoy when entering a house for the first time is seeing the personality of the owners. It can still be a stunning modern interior, but the details such as family photos, framed children’s artwork, well tended hanging plants with tendrils trailed around shelves, book collections, the odd lamp that stands out because it’s a family heirloom or the dog bed in a spot where he can watch his family come and go. They are the things I like to see, not the inter-changeable cookie cutter houses.

Trends are great and they influence everything in life from our cars, to fashion and how we live, until they don’t and we’ve been oversaturated and then suddenly realize that just because it’s trendy, it doesn’t represent the true you. It’s easy to throw out the acid wash jeans and trade your car to upgrade to a new model, but houses are a lot more expensive to update.