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 décor, 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.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

My 5 tips for Retailers


Ask anyone who has worked in the retail arena for their top tips and you’ll get different answers every time. The responses are largely influenced by the area of specialty that person has.

For almost 30 years I’ve lived in the realm of the retail world. I love watching all the mechanisms that meld together to make this industry function. I’ve designed shops and retail outlets for all types of clients- hair and beauty, foodies, clothing, jewellery, health and medical, real estate, furniture, produce, garden and lifestyle.

Here are my Top 5 Tips for Retailers.

1.      Know your Market. I always ask new clients who their market is. If I’m designing their store I have to make the look appeal to that market, but also be conscious not to isolate any potential customers on the fringe who may be enticed in. Knowing the market is also important for service. One example that comes to mind is a brand of upmarket clothing that appeals to the pre-teen market who aren’t quite old enough to work and therefore rely on the bank of mum and dad. However the sales people are known for being super rude and dismissive to the parents.

2.      Have Omni channels. We’ve definitely seen the importance of this during covid, but even before then businesses knew the value. Multiple platforms and ways to allow customers to buy are so important. They may be browsing your socials or website at 11pm but wanting to come into your store the next day at 9am so they can touch and feel the product and then purchase. Or they may simply purchase online, as many had to during covid.  Do not limit the methods for them to purchase from you.

3.      Educate your customers. If done well this will generate add on sales. This is done by sales staff and visual merchandising and promotional/ advertising online. It’s the sales person who offers up accessories or a top that goes with the bottom piece the person is trying on. Or it’s the window display that shows the a whole outfit all working beautiful together or the online images showing a range of home décor that compliments the furniture in a room. People often need to be shown or advised about how to make something work or how versatile it can be. Many people are nervous about “getting it right” if left entirely to their own decisions.

4.      Walk the walk, Talk the Talk. I know a gorgeous older woman who owns a suburban clothing boutique. When I see her at the local supermarket she always looks stunning in an outfit from her shop. Her hair and makeup are beautiful. Her social media promotes her stock and shows her customers out and about wearing clothing from her store. She attends fashion events and also promotes these on her socials. She personifies what she sells. If you are building a brand it needs to encapsulate everything you value for your brand. There is nothing more disappointing than the plumber with the leaky taps.

5.      Acknowledge your strengths that set you apart from your competitors. There will always be competition in life regardless of what you do or which industry you’re in. Instead of getting caught up in what your “competition” is doing, think about what you can do to be unique and add that edge of difference. Perhaps you have an interest in a charity that ties into your area of retail- promote it. Offer customer incentives- spend $1000 on clothing and get a free styling session. A well known tile shop is currently promoting the fact that you can get complimentary tea or coffee while you are in the showroom browsing.


My tips are not about having a well designed store. That’s important, but is only one cog in the wheel. A great looking store will only get a retailer so far if the other elements are not working. Over the years I’ve designed stores knowing from the start that they won’t work because the other factors are not in place and not considered important. However it’s an absolute delight to watch a retailer who nails it in every aspect and their brand grows with success.