Whether your business is seasonal or year-round, near a large population center or a 'destination location,' considered small or large in terms of sales or retail space, it is necessary to incorporate key layout and design elements that will encourage consumers to shop the entire store. During the planning stages it is easy to incorporate ideas; however, If the space is already being utilized it is still possible to incorporate changes while keeping the shop open for business. Making changes over time is also a good strategy when budgetary constraints are an issue. Remembering that a retailer's purpose is to meet consumer needs and wants, it is truly necessary to create a space that is inviting and visually appealing in order for the business to survive and thrive.
When designing the overall feel of a retail outlet it is important to consider the 'feeling' that customers should experience when in the store. If the retail outlet is a farmer's market or small produce store within the center of a city, it is possible to develop an atmosphere that allows consumers to feel as if they are choosing produce that has just been harvested. Specialty food stores, garden centers, and florists can be designed to reflect an upscale shopping experience, while ethnic markets can include elements reminiscent of the country that the food originates from.
The initial step is to decide on a concept and to select building components that support the idea. Components may include materials used to construct the floors, walls, and ceilings of the outlet, as well as wall and display colors, fixtures to place goods on, and how to use lighting to highlight merchandise and focus consumer attention.
Floor Plan Layout
There are several issues to consider when designing the layout of the retail space and building the floor plan:
- Position shelving, display cases, and signage to encourage customers to walk throughout as much of the store as possible.
- Make sure that aisles are at least nine feet wide so that two shopping carts or strollers can pass each other from opposite directions. If shopping carts are not used, two customers should be able to walk past each other without bumping.
- Lay out aisles to promote a counter-clockwise walking pattern that consumers are comfortable with when moving throughout a store.
When deciding how much of the floor should be allocated to merchandise display, a good rule to follow is that 40 percent of the floor space should be used for displaying goods while the remainder should be used for aisle ways and to encourage browsing, without crowding.
Though several layouts can be used in a small to mid-sized retail outlet, almost any layout can be altered to fit within a confined space.
- A grid style layout has a "criss-cross" pattern with two main aisles that bisect each other and usually creates four equal-sized coordinates.
- A loop layout creates a traffic flow where consumers enter the retail space on the right and are lead though the outlet in a 'race track' fashion and then exit the space on the left where the checkout is positioned.
- A free-flow layout is more unstructured and relies on a variety of colors, wall textures, heights and shapes of fixtures, and signage to draw consumers throughout the space. This layout is used frequently in boutique stores. It is important to use display cases and tables that do not block the consumer's view of the back of the store. Instead, displays should gradually increase in height as the consumer moves towards the back of the store.
Even after a good deal of consideration is given to the layout the following scenario is likely to happen: customers will walk down the main aisles, see the merchandise they desire, walk to the merchandise and place it in their basket, and then return back to the position from which they started. Hence they are 'boomeranging' back to their starting location without further exploring the rest of the department they just visited. Color, to attract shoppers, and signage, to direct them to other departments, should be used to encourage consumers to continue to walk throughhout the store, rather than adhere to this 'boomerang' effect.
As with color, a part of the decision regarding the layout will have to do with the concept for the retail outlet. An upscale garden center or florist might consider a free-flow layout, while a retailer who sells multiple quantities of smaller items, such as groceries, and needs to stock these items on more uniform and structured shelving and display units may consider using a grid style layout. Finally, a combination of layouts can be used. Retailer can position a free-flow layout at the front of the store to display accessories and use a grid layout in the back to display items in multiple quantities.
Color is a critical factor in retail design and can be used alone or in combination with other surfaces such as exposed brick or paneling. According to some sources, consumers make a subconscious decision about a person, object, or environment within 90 seconds and that color accounts for 60 percent of this decision, favorable or otherwise.
When deciding on a color for the walls there are several strategies that can be considered. The first is to use a color that builds off of the main theme for the outlet. For example, walls in a retail outlet where ethnic food is sold, or where a certain ethnic group shops, could be painted in a color palate that is important to this ethnicity. Overall, the color preference among the major ethnic groups in the U.S. is blue with secondary preference being: purple for African Americans and Hispanic Americans, red and pink for Asian Americans, and green for European Americans. A second strategy is to consult resources such as the Color Marketing Group (colormarketing.org) or Panton, Inc. (panton.com). Both groups predict colors that will be important to the fashion and interior design industry. An additional strategy would be to paint the walls with a neutral color and use more vibrant, monochromatic colors on select walls that will serve as focal points. For example, the walls or backdrop for a space where new merchandise will be displayed could be painted a shade of yellow or red, colors that in some instances have been proven to attract consumer attention, to make the space distinctive.
Whatever method is chosen it will be essential to consider the color of the goods that will be placed in front of the colored wall or back drop. Items that are clear, white, or cream will work well with most any color, while red packaging may not look visually appealing if placed in front of a blue, or other contrasting color, back ground. Drapes and colored fabrics can be used to provide color and depth to a space and will allow the color of the display area easily throughout the year.
Selecting Flooring Material
A number of flooring materials are available and can be used in a retail space. When making the final selection consider how the look of the floor will complement the rest of the design components, but not overpower them. Consider whether or not the floor will become wet at anytime during the day, if shopping carts will be pushed along the floor, if the floor will be exposed to excessive sunlight, and what amount of upkeep will be needed. Wood flooring, even distressed flooring with scratches and minor imperfections, can help turn a space into a cozy atmosphere. The sound of footsteps on wood flooring is very distinctive and the material itself is easy to sweep clean. Tiles can also be used and installed in many different patterns.
Carpeting or small area rugs can be used as the foundation for small vignettes or to create designated spaces. Not only does flooring help create the overall atmosphere within a retail space, but a change of flooring can actually moderate a consumer's walking pace. Many times when a consumer walks onto a carpeted space from a wood floor they will actually slow their pace. If a retailer would like to plan areas within a layout where they would like to have shoppers stop and linger, they might want to consider using this strategy. A less permanent option would be to install one type of flooring and then place rugs in strategic locations and move them as needed.
Though not the primary surface in a retail outlet; the ceiling should not be ignored. For existing ceilings that are not visually appealing, it may not be feasible to change the surface; however, fabric can be attached to the ceiling and mask discolored or cracked ceiling tiles. If ceilings are too high and seem to detract from the overall feel of a space, fabric can also be used to 'lower' the height of the ceiling to a more manageable height. Fabrics can be changed frequently and colors can coordinate with displays and the seasonality of the year and holidays that are being celebrated. Aside from fabric, consider other options such as hanging accessories that are meant to be hung in the consumer's home or garden.
Some consideration should be give to the music that will be played in the retail outlet. Research suggests that music should be played and that the beat of the music can influence the pace at which consumers walk. In addition, the type of music that is played can also give the impression that products are either expensive or inexpensive. Other sources suggest that retailers choose 'light jazz' as this type of music promotes a moderate walking pace and appeals to a broad spectrum of consumers. Do be aware that associations such as the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, as well as radio and television stations, require retailers to purchase licenses in order to play recorded music or programming.
Retail layout and design is certainly a combination of science and art as there are key elements that work to create a smooth flow and transition for most retail outlets, while other components are dependent upon the retailer's overall theme for the space. The main idea is to design the space so that all aspects work together toward the goal of creating a space that is visually appealing. It will be necessary to continually update the space and make significant changes to wall color and fixtures as trends change and the space needs to be refreshed. With the understanding that changes will continually need to be made it is not necessary to make changes to the entire retail space all at once. To fit within a more modest budget, changes can be instituted from the front of the store towards that back, as one region is finished another is started. Remembering that consumers are likely to make decisions about objects you sell or the environment you've created in less than two-minutes, retailers will likely understand that display and layout are as important as the products offered.
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