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Editorial: Branding by Design

Sept. 9, 2009

Shopping isn’t quite what it used to be—not in this economy anyway. Retailers everywhere are struggling to lure customers into their stores and to keep them coming back, with declines in sales fluctuating from 4.9 percent to 8.7 percent during the past 12 months, according to The New York Times.

Despite the Federal Reserve’s statement on August 12 suggesting that household spending “has continued to show signs of stabilizing,” an article appearing the following day by The Times’ chief financial correspondent, Floyd Norris, proved otherwise: “Retail sales excluding cars and gas were down 5.5 percent in July from a year earlier—the largest monthly decline yet. Among the categories posting their worst year-over-year comparisons were general merchandise stores— the category that includes Wal-Mart—and home supply and garden equipment dealers—the category that includes Home Depot and Lowe’s.”

Further, despite the 2.4 percent increase in auto sales, thanks in part to the Cash for Clunkers program, the AP recently reported that while economists had expected a 0.7 percent increase in retail sales in July, the Commerce Department released disappointing figures indicating that retail sales had fallen 0.1 percent, creating concerns about how quickly consumers will be able to contribute to the economic recovery.

So where does that leave us—particularly those firms and designers who serve retail clients? Obviously, there isn’t much that can be done if there aren’t new projects in the pipeline. However, when those rare opportunities do present themselves—perhaps in an overseas market, for example—what you do as a designer could have a significant impact on your client’s success, and may result in some repeat business down the road.

But, as ASID president Bruce Brigham points out in his forum article this issue, it won’t matter if you simply design a beautiful retail space because “beautiful stores go out of business every day. ‘Beautiful’ doesn’t necessary ring the cash register.” The question he poses (and answers) is, “So what does?”

Brigham suggests that strategy is the most important element in designing a successful retail space, and part of that strategy involves serving not only as a designer, but also as a brand manager. “The job of a brand manager is to bring some kind of meaningful new experience to life in a way that reinforces the brand attributes customers respond to and that expands and rounds-out the brand’s unique ‘vocabulary’ to create not only the right experience but a memorable one.”

Such an effective brand strategy was clearly part of the success of the new Jakarta branch of the London-based Harvey Nichols department store, the subject of this month’s cover story. Designed by Seattle-based Callison, the project had to convey both the company’s brand identity— where high fashion rubs elbows with found objects, op art sensibilities mingle with traditional crafts, and British whimsy meets savvy merchandising—and an individualized look respecting the store’s Indonesian location.

According to Russell Sway of the Retail Design Institute, which awarded the 90,000-plus square foot project as the 2008 winner of the New or Completely Renovated Full-Line Department Store category, “Stores are a three-dimensional statement of a brand: What is Harvey Nichols? What does it mean to a customer? Why should they shop there?” The new Jakarta store answers those questions with images that speak louder than words, reports contributing writer Elzy Kolb.

Speaking of great brands, we all have our list of personal favorites—from restaurants to shops, clothes to cars. As designers, you probably have in mind your favorite piece of furniture or lighting fixture or wall covering; perhaps some that you’ve specified on recent (or past) projects that really made the space unique.

Or maybe you’ve discovered your favorite products in magazines such as the one you’re reading. If that’s the case (and we certainly hope it is), we invite you to tell us which products we’ve featured in the pages of Interiors & Sources are your favorites by casting your vote in our first ever “Readers’ Choice: Best Products of 2009” feature. Voting is easy. Simply log on to www.interiorsandsources.com and pick your favorite product in each of 13 categories and tell us why you love this product or brand. We’ll tally the votes, and the winners and runner-ups—along with your comments—will be featured prominently in our December issue.

May the best products (and brands) win!

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