Design and function: the balancing act
Published:  14 November, 2008

Oliver Blank is from Aichinger, a German shopfitting firm handling the McCafé roll-out over there, as well as Birds of Derby and Waterfields over here. Richard Hamilton of Agile Space's clients have included Pret A Manger, Lovejuice, Itsu, FooGo and independent coffee and bakery retailers. Franco Costa heads up Costagroup - a cutting-edge Italian shopfitter that has fitted everywhere from McDonald's in Italy to Paul in France.

== What are the differences between the UK and the rest of Europe when it comes to shopfitting and design - where could the UK improve? ==

Oliver Blank, Aichinger: "You can compare airports everywhere: you'll find all kinds of food options that you can buy and consume on the spot. This is true of German bakery shops, where you'll have filled rolls, stand-up facilities and coffee. English bakeries rarely offer stand-up facilities. There are a lot of possibilities for craft businesses to extend into other areas, and not necessarily in the same units, where there may be restrictions with space.

"One problem in UK bakeries is that, while a German bakery will average 120 products, inclusive of seasonal items, the UK is closer to 250. Where do you put them all? It's more efficient to have a smaller range in bigger quantities and that makes the handling of the shop easier."

Richard Hamilton, Agile Space: "In the UK, independent stores are continuously under attack from the larger multiples and it's a combination of store evolution and design, as well as product development, that will enable them to succeed. A significant element of all UK stores is the importance of quality, both in design and fit-out, which customers have come to expect as part of their shopping experience. In the café sector in particular, customers spend more time relaxing, meeting and enjoying intelligently designed surroundings, which retailers have invested heavily in. A poorly fitted store can make such an investment near worthless."

Franco Costa, Costagroup: "I don't think there's a real difference between the various markets, at least for shopfitting in the food sector. There's still space for new formats dedicated to conviviality. You have to consider historical and cultural components, but most of all, the place has to reflect the owner's personality. It's necessary to have a vision of the context around him before shopfitting."

== What should you be thinking about when it comes to choosing displays, servovers, fixtures and shelving to create a shop environment that encourages more purchases? ==

OB: "It's about 'functional design'. For example, it's important to get the shelving right, so you have product displayed throughout the day, not only during the rush hours, while minimising waste. In shopfitting you have the choice of hiring an interior designer and going through the catalogues to purchase display counters and shelves, and maybe hire a carpenter. A designer may be very creative, but they may not have experience in the technology of presenting fresh food - questions like drying out effects, core temperatures and hygiene."

RH: "Simpler serve-overs and displays are increasingly popular and are considered an integral part of the overall store design. The counter and product are the most important elements of any store and have to be the focus; the overall store design must support the product and reflect the brand but never overpower the product. Popular materials such as corian are increasingly used for counter-tops with integrated shelving for impulse purchases, as they're easy to clean and maintain. Glass is still as popular as ever and, with innovative ways of strengthening and fixing, the scope for simplicity and maximising product visibility is greater than ever before, as brackets and bolts can be done away with."

== Can you quantify how much any single element, such as lighting, can have on increasing sales? ==

OB: "Fluorescent tubes flooding the store with the same light level is a stupid way to design a shop. You want to highlight the food presentation areas, so that your eye is caught by the food display. It should not be caught too much by the interior design - you're not selling interiors! You can use lighting to create the contours of the shop. You need dimmable lighting - if lights are too strong, it can kill the design. If the café area is uncomfortably lit, customers will register this instinctively and they won't return.

"Another important aspect of lighting is cost. If you can save 10-20% with the same effect or a better balance of light and shadow, that's a lot of money."

RH: "It's very difficult to quantify exactly how much one element can impact on sales, but stores that are intelligently updated will increase their sales - that's the designer's brief. No increased sales can usually be pinpointed to a lack of thought and understanding of the local area, the customers and the client's brief. There are key elements that are seen as 'quick fixes' and can help increase impact and hopefully sales, such as lighting, signage and decoration, but these elements in isolation are no guarantee to a store's success. For this there needs to be an holistic approach."

FC: "The type of light on the product is basic for selling, but so are smells and sounds for creating ambience. Costagroup created a managing control system to co-ordinate lights, pictures, sounds and fragrances inside the shop. This system is shaped on each client personalising each concept. Today the customer wants to be surprised."

== Could you pinpoint one thing that a bakery retailer, café operator or sandwich bar owner could do to boost turnover? ==

OB: "The question is, what can a baker learn from a caterer? You wouldn't recommend a restaurant with a 30-page menu. You would recommend one with two pages and a small selection of wonderful things. Waterfields wanted a sandwich shop in 40sq m with a 5m façade in Bradshaw Gate; the shop area took the first 6m. With a site like that, it's clear you cannot have 250 bakery products. If the selection is too big, it confuses people and they don't buy anything - better to give them three options. This is something that needs a lot of debate, because bakers are used to spreading out everything to show their competence. But this is dangerous, because the supermarkets will always have more. Waterfields concentrated on the best-sellers - sandwiches, salads, the hot range and drinks, and left the rest."

RH: "No two retailers are the same but there are recurring themes, which include making the store more appealing from the outside and making them user-friendly on the inside. This can involve anything from additional external seating through to improved lighting, menu boards or a change in store layout."

FC: "It's only professionalism that makes lasting differences."

== How can independents stand out from the branded chains? ==

OB: "We have one customer in Germany with several lines of distribution and branding: the classical bakery that sells bread and sandwiches; the bakery with coffee and seating area; the coffee shop for specific locations and target groups; and a chain based on a Tuscany-style catering concept, with pizzas, quiches and so on. The concept is always specific to the location and has a clear value to the customer. If, say, I open up a coffee shop in a row of 25 coffee shops, I can argue that I have the better coffee or the best sandwich, but how can I get that message over? I need to look completely different to the others. There will always be people who are bored of international brands, so there is potential to develop strong regional brands if you're open to reinventing your business based on location."

RH: "To be distinctive you need to be individual and cohesive. Colours, marketing material, finishes, furniture, uniforms, menu boards, signage and branding all need to be thought about, with a design thread linking and uniting all elements of the store. These core elements are essential.

"Your advantage lies in selling your individuality and being to your customers everything the branded chains fail to be - atmospheric, locally minded and unique."

FC: "A good format can be successful everywhere - I don't think that privileged places exist. We are also seeing more multi-purpose shops - they're the logical consequence of our times; people's relationship with food has changed and they're shopping repeatedly during the day."




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