Retail Design More Important than Ever as Brands Expand and Consumers Shift: Interview

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As retailers expand and build out their brands, it’s important they get the right space and understand the space that they need, says a leading national interior design firm.

That will ultimately help them achieve success as well as keeping their costs in check.

“We spend a lot of time with our clients really identifying what they should even be hunting for,” said Sue Bennett, Principal and CEO of Bennett Design.

Who is the demographic? Where do they want to be located? What do they expect from the landlord? Looking at the size and the attributes of the space. And making sure all the infrastructure is in place before signing a lease.

Repair and Run (Image: Bennett Design)
Repair and Run (Image: Bennett Design)
Sue Bennett

Picking the right space is crucial in keeping costs in line.

“There’s just so much money that they waste. We need to be able to streamline and create efficiencies in the process not just to execute the design faster but to be able to be smarter about how we’re executing them. So from a material standpoint what’s going to last longer, what’s going to be easier to maintain, what’s going to look better longer and also what’s available today with the global shortage and supply chain issues we have right now,” said Bennett.

Bennett Design is one of the largest independent design firms in Canada. It does corporate and retail interior design right across the country from Nanaimo to Newfoundland. The award-winning company has a staff of just over 40 people. 

“We do almost specifically retail rollouts. We work with clients in order to establish the design for their brand then we will implement their branded locations right across Canada but we also do all the program management. So understanding their thoughts, how much work is coming down the pipe, when are the projects going to happen and then we also have a project management division that will actually execute and help get all of these built,” said Bennett.

Mobile Klinik at Vaughan Mills (Image: Bennett Design)

“We do a lot of work in the QSR, the quick service restaurant space. We do a lot of one offs if we are looking for a design kind of piece. But where our sweet spot is is really in doing the execution of the design and then the application of that design across many spaces across Canada.

“The biggest challenges we’re working on right now are clients that are coming to us with designs that have been done by marketing companies. So they’re not executable or they’re very expensive to be executable. We need to make sure from a legal standpoint that they comply with all the building codes, fire codes and things like that which is something that is our expertise but not a marketing firm’s expertise. What we like to have the opportunity to do is interpret their brand standards right into their store design and to be able to execute that store design so it is . . . easily replicable.”

Bennett said it’s important that clients be able to stand out in a crowd because today there are so many stores and there is huge growth. The company will also work with the retailers on the back end. 

“One of the concerns that we have always is how they are dealing with the real estate. What autonomy are they providing their franchisees? And so when they allow their franchisees just to go and lease any damn space we end up spending a fortune on construction,” she said.

Five Guys (Image: Bennett Design)

Initially working with retailers, Bennett said it’s important that the interior design firm needs to understand what the store’s success criteria looks like. At the end of the day, who are they appealing to and what’s going to create that success story? What is the long-term plan? How many stores do they plan on rolling out, the time frame and what does the growth look like? And who are their partners? Who is looking for their real estate? What is their real estate strategy? Do they have any criteria in place to understand what their ideal location is, what their ideal size and shape of store is?

“Retailers are working hard to invite people back. I know that there’s been a ton of creativity over the course of the pandemic just to get people into stores but I think that there is a loyalty. The service is going to be huge. And how you position your service. Making sure that there’s a visibility to your client. Making sure you’ve created space for your client to actually maneuver through your space in an effective way so that they’re not coming in being roadblocked, turning around and leaving,” said Bennett. “We want to invite them all the way to the back of the store.”

She also said that for retailers these days Instagrammable moments are huge. 

Blaze Pizza (Image: Bennett Design)

“We want to create moments. We want people to go in and have these beautiful little ahha moments to say that they really thought about the detail or the inside of the store was completely representative of what I thought it was going to look like from the outside. This is their brand and so I have an impression of what that’s going to be and when I walk through the door I want that to be realized,” added Bennett.

“Those are the things we’re thinking about because there has to be almost an emotional draw to get people into the store. There’s got to be a reason. What is that reason? And when we get people to walk through those doors we don’t want them to have lunch bag letdown. We want them to be able to realize this is what I expected when I walked through this door and that the service experience and the aesthetic experience, all of those things are all aligned.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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