Editorial: Shopping for What We Need

Sept. 1, 2007

By Robert Nieminen


Having been a surfer for most of my youth, I was thrilled when Gensler's design of Pacific Sunwear Inc.'s latest retail venture-a hip, trendy shoe store aptly named One Thousand Steps-found its way onto my desk. Even more so, I loved that contributing writer Carol Tisch played up the surf lingo in her article (see "Designing for the Perfect Wave") and drew comparisons between one of surfing's greatest moments-seeing a perfect wave looming on the horizon-to a similar scenario every designer dreams of: a sea of white space with endless creative possibilities.

It was fascinating to learn how the design team at Gensler San Franscisco started from a void in the retail market and ended up with a model that broke down conventions and turned the typical shoe store inside out. "For One Thousand Steps' customers, kids 15 to 25, it's all about getting away from mass homogenous brands. There's a
backlash in this market segment against the ubiquitous nature of retail as it is today," explains Ted Jacobs, retail principal for Gensler.

With this kind of mentality at play, branding becomes a much more difficult task. Yet, the design team at Gensler
understood that customers are fickle and, as a result, developed the ability for change throughout the store; whether through lighting, imagery or to highlight changing products. This branding strategy resulted in a design that works-a boutique-type, well-designed retail environment that is extremely functional and new.

Interestingly, the One Thousand Steps project is practically a case study in the latest trends in retail design. According to a past issue of Implications, a monthly newsletter by InformeDesign, the current trend in retail­ing is actually the search for the next new idea. "Retailers are getting more and more focused on specific customer groups and designing retail experienc­es to target and match these specific groups. Multiple venues, differing store sizes and niche locations, changes to merchandise mixes, bundling and cross-selling tests (even across major brands), the blending of e-commerce and stores-all of these suggest a constant search for the perfect match between micro consumer groups and a specific, niched retailing experi­ence," according to the newsletter.

Other results reported by InformeDesign on this "focusing" trend include:

  • New specialty retail brands emerging, some of which are actually off-shoots of existing larger store ideas;
  • Across the board, a continuing emphasis on brand strength and positioning;
  • Marriages between brands (both short and long term) to leverage access to specific consumers;
  • Integration of technology into selling environments continues, with seemingly no end in sight; 
  • Department stores will con­tinue to have problems competing unless they stay current and find ways to appear to be specialists in the various departments they maintain; 
  • Last, but certainly not least, green design, recy­cling and use of remanufactured materials, and lighting/energy-use efficiencies are all now a firm part of the strategic plans of the most forward-look­ing retailers.
Deborah Steinmetz echoes this last point in this month's NCIDQ forum article when she suggests that our industry must continue to make sustainable practice a standard in all interior environments, including retail. Citing recent research by Envirosell, Steinmetz suggests that the difference between stores that work well and those that don't often has nothing to do with price points and inventory, but has everything to do with a well-executed strategy based on human needs. And if the success and popularity of environmentally-conscious retailers such as Whole Foods, Starbucks or even FedEx Kinko's is any indication, sustainability is the new competitive advantage-and it's just what we need.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of I+S Design, create an account today!