Designing Money

Interior designers skilled in retail merchandising and branding can help create stores that will encourage customers to buy.

There are two good reasons to renovate a store: to sell more product and to promote the store brand. Major renovations may require the skills of an architect (see “An Architectural Approach,” JCK, May 2002, p. 116), but an interior designer may be better able to meet the merchandising and branding needs of retailers.

According to interior designer Greg Gorman, principal of GMG Design Inc., St. Louis, architects and interior designers bring different skills to a renovation project. “Typically, architects develop the ‘white box’ [the structure itself], and interior designers complete the entire interior as to what you actually see and how it works with the merchandising, which in the case of retailers is the most important factor,” he says.

In many cases, architects and interior designers work together on projects. Interior designers also often work with a general contractor (hired by the design firm or store owner). Architects are required for projects involving major construction (such as tearing down walls) that requires state-approved plans, local building code enforcement, fire marshal permits, and work permits. Other items that may require government approval include mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC work, for which you’ll need mechanics and engineers who specialize in these fields. In fact, architects usually hire a team of engineering consultants to design and approve such plans, and interior designers often hire outside consultants as well, or use an architect as a consultant. In some cases licensed plumbers, electricians, and other technicians are authorized to get the proper permits.

Gorman notes that an architect’s seal isn’t required for flooring, lighting specifications and selection, wall finishes, display fixture design, seating, graphics, signage, and visual items.

Know your needs. Gorman stresses that retailers need to understand and clearly define a project’s requirements, whether it’s a new store, partial or complete remodeling of an existing site, or a job involving minor—but important—touches, such as new lighting and finishes to project the proper image to customers. “This [initial assessment] covers the main issues that retailers face with store design and, more importantly, branding statements,” Gorman says.

Small retailers should interview several interior designers before hiring one, he cautions—and make sure these designers are experienced in designing retail spaces. Gorman notes that smaller firms are often better equipped to meet the needs of small retailers.

“Retail projects differ greatly from residential, commercial, and hospitality projects,” he says. “Retail design is a specific field of design and focus. It deals with merchandise first. That is the reason to be in business. A pretty store that does not sell merchandise well will fail. The first and highest priority is merchandising, and there are companies that specialize in this.”

Gary Goodman, owner of Frederic Goodman Inc., agrees. Goodman’s company recently moved one of its three stores from a 700-sq.-ft. space in the Willowbrook Mall, Wayne, N.J., to a 2,400-sq.-ft. space in the same mall. “Choose people who have expertise in the jewelry field,” Goodman told an audience at the winter Jewelers of America Show in New York. “And make as much information [as possible] available to them to help them make intelligent decisions.”

What to expect. Every store design is unique. But there are certain basics that retailers should expect from interior designers, Gorman says. Among them are:

  • a complete interior design layout that includes a merchandising program, lighting specifications and layout, graphics, signage, brand statements, and a concept of how products will be displayed;

  • the ability to stay within the schedule and budget;

  • a willingness to listen to the retailer and complete a design based on the retailer’s needs rather than on the designer’s ego.

Contracts with the interior designer should be clear. Some designers use American Institute of Architects (AIA) contracts, but most interior design firms have their own contracts. These are similar to AIA contracts but geared to interior design projects.

How much? The price depends on the project, but there are some guidelines. Keith Kovar, principal of interior design firm GRID 3 International, New York, says that on average, it’s wise to budget about $100 to $175 per square foot for a project.

Another way to budget costs, Kovar says, is to figure on spending about $1,500 for every running foot of display cases you plan to use. “If you have 100 feet of showcases in your store, then you can figure it’s going to cost about $150,000 to build the store.”

Kovar also notes that about 25% of the total cost of designing and building a store goes toward lighting and electrical needs. Another 40% goes toward fixtures, display cases, window displays, and anything else that requires a millwork contractor, and the remaining 35% pays for everything else. “So you have two items in the store that comprise most of the costs,” Kovar says. “And these are the two most important elements—where you place the merchandise and how it looks.”

He notes that there are too many variables to budget the cost of finishes: “For example, you can use porcelain tile for $4 a square foot, or you might use stone for $20 a square foot.”

GMG’s Gorman says that one way retailers can reduce costs is to make sure they have the option of buying materials such as flooring and wall treatments themselves.

Goodman, who used GRID 3 for his project, says that based on previous experience, he used a figure of about $200 per square foot and the project came in on budget.

Ronda Daily, owner of Bremer Jewelry, Peoria, Ill., who also used GRID 3, budgeted $125 per square foot for design and construction when she moved from a “poorly designed” 3,500-sq.-ft. location to an 8,000-sq.-ft. space in April 1999. This estimate turned out to be too low, but Daily isn’t complaining. She says her business has doubled in the three years since moving to the new store. The additional money went toward custom-designed display cases, glass block, and other high-quality finishes—all of which, she says, improved the customer experience.

“Good design will create such a better client flow and better customer movement in the store,” she says. “It’s so beneficial.”

The store has two floors, each with 4,000 sq. ft. of space. One floor is dedicated to retail while the other serves as offices for the staff, a training area, a cafeteria, and general storage.

Daily says the retail portion of the store has the contemporary, elegant look of a store you might find in Chicago’s Michigan Avenue shopping district (also known as the “Magnificent Mile”) but doesn’t intimidate customers. Up front is a traditional jewelry store, while the back is dedicated to a bridal gallery, and customers can enter and leave at either end of the store. In addition, the store has smaller elements to keep customers interested, such as an area where they can watch the store’s goldsmiths work.

“This is how I visualized this store,” Daily says. “It’s spread out and is much more comfortable for our staff and customers. What happened when we moved to this location is that we solidified our position as being the premier jeweler in the community.”