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Branding: The In-Store Experience

Branding: The In-Store Experience

  As part of Safeway's goal to connect with customers using a "Lifestyle" prototype format, the nationwide grocer looked for ways to give its stores a more urban, contemporary and pedestrian-friendly look and feel.

A company’s brand incorporates elements of its name, logo, go-to-market strategy and business philosophy. A brand reflects the personality and integrity of an organization and differentiates it from its competitors

in people’s minds. A company’s online and physical environments, vehicles, signage, premises and every other point of public contact should all affirm its brand identity.

A strong compelling brand is a powerful asset in today’s competitive retail environment. Whether they’re selling groceries, automobiles, electronics, coffee, jewelry, apparel, or other merchandise, progressive firms are pulling out all the stops to create retail environments that are comfortable, friendly, in synch with their target demographics, and above all, reflective of their brand identity.

In order to make shopping a pleasurable and memorable experience for customers, retail designers use color, style, texture and design elements – as well as products and services – to establish a lasting connection with their patrons. They even incorporate sensory appeal into the brand experience with sounds, scents, tactile and visual stimuli. A well branded retail environment is a rich experience that entices and entertains shoppers.

Interior designers and marketing professionals intertwine art, architecture and technology to create comfortable, tasteful, appealing and yet functional in-store environments that showcase their merchandise and provide customers with a great shopping experience.

And retailers are finding that there’s no better material to use to achieve this effect – and still hold up to daily wear and tear – than wood. Wood makes an emotional connection with people that no other material can match. With its warm, lustrous tones, diverse palette of colors, textures and grains, versatility and classic appeal, wood exudes a sense of style and quality. At the same time wood is strong, durable and capable of withstanding heavy use.

Many well known retailers are using wood in innovative ways as they update and upgrade their facilities and premises, and re-define and re-emphasize their brand images. These retailers know that it is worth investing in a well conceived, well designed, appealing environment to gain a competitive edge. According to the A.R.E. Outlook 2012, the rebound in capital expenditures is continuing upward, expected to increase by 14% next year. “In general, retailers appear to have adequate cash to fund renovations and increased store openings,” said Klein Merriman, executive director of the Association for Retail Environments (A.R.E.).

For suppliers of wood and other building materials, this is great news. Moreover, the trend has an inherent multiplier effect as retailers endeavor to maintain brand integrity and ensure consistency across their footprints. Thus once a store prototype design is accepted and approved for use in a chain, the retailer begins to incorporate the design into the construction and floor layout of other stores that are being opened or are scheduled for remodeling. Ultimately, all of the stores in a chain will evolve over time to the same design theme and use similar materials, with slight modifications to adapt to city-specific locales or unique store sizes.

Living the Lifestyle

East Bay Fixture Company, based in Oakland, California, has been manufacturing store fixtures and architectural millwork since 1923. One of East Bay's largest projects was remodeling Safeway’s pharmacy waiting areas, adding modular wall systems as well as changing out the jambs, millwork and doors. East Bay also renovated several of Safeway’s wine departments. European beech (Fagus sylvatica) and sapele (Entandrophragma spp.) are two woods that were utilized in the 20-store prototype concept.

As part of Safeway’s goal to connect with customers using a "Lifestyle" prototype format, the nationwide grocer looked for ways to give its stores a more urban, contemporary and pedestrian-friendly look and feel. At the same time, the company’s management made a number of other changes, placing greater emphasis on their selection of organic and specialty foods, adding a specialty cheese department staffed by a cheese expert, and making the bakery department more reminiscent of a patisserie. As part of the upgrade, store designers made the decision to change out the old aluminum fixtures to wood and glass fixtures. The makeover resulted in stores that are more welcoming and exude a cheerful, cozy, home-like ambiance.

“We've been working with Safeway since 1923 before the company was even called Safeway," said Paulo Abreu, general manager of East Bay Fixture Company. “They look to us for recommendations in woods and materials.”

“Safeway wanted a wood with a grain and hardness similar to mahogany," Abreu said. “We first thought of domestic poplar, which is one of our favorite woods because it takes stain really well. Unfortunately, when poplar gets damaged or dented you can see the white interior. We then turned to European beech for its density and resistance. Beech has a darker color than poplar so it’s easy to imitate a dark mahogany finish with great durability and low maintenance."

Abreu added that when the differences between poplar and European beech were explained, the Safeway designers chose the beech wood for use in their stores. Poplar and domestic cedar had been used previously in a number of applications throughout Safeway, including trellises over the floral kiosks and features in high-end wine departments. Now imported woods are making inroads in some of these areas as well. “Within some of their high-end wine departments, sapele is used in the cabinets in the wine cellars. For the temperature controlled wine caves, we find sapele most suited for that environment,” said Abreu.

"We used to use a lot of melamines and manufactured woods. But, in general, the industry has been leaning heavily toward green and renewable materials. Currently we try to use as much solid wood as possible, including imported solid wood,” Abreu added. “Our customers are requesting it, as well as some architects and designers who pursue LEED credits.”

Eventually, positive customer feedback on Safeway’s initial 20-store test prototype led to the construction of one thousand pharmacy storefronts all refashioned based on the “Lifestyle” format and incorporating both European beech and sapele wood.

Ayous Sparkles at CityCenter

Ayous can be found in all of display cases and light colored walls in this Louis Vuitton store.  The exotic wood was chosen for its naturally light color and strong grain pattern. 


The new Louis Vuitton store at Crystals in Las Vegas features a stunning 31-foot chandelier made of 1,600 shimmering titanium plated LV flower motifs surrounded by a series of three dimensional metallic curtains and playful artwork that lend splashes of color. Situated below the spectacular chandelier is a backdrop of light and airy ayous wood panel store fixtures.

The interior of this new Louis Vuitton store is the brainchild of renowned New York Architect Peter Marino, who notes that the combination of art and architecture was deliberate. In an environment designed to cater to a very upscale clientele, the space conveys LV’s own luxurious appeal in incomparable Las Vegas style.

Using art, light and color, Marino brings out the glitz, glamour and allure of Las Vegas with his careful selection of materials. All of the display cases and light colored walls in the CityCenter store are constructed with ayous wood veneer. The tone is lightened both chromatically and atmospherically with ayous (Triplochiton scleroxylon), a soft, very light, elastic and flexible wood.

“The advantage of ayous is that it can be dyed easily for a very consistent veneer that can imitate any number of species,” said Eric Thomsson, vice president of Brookside Veneers Ltd., who specializes in composite and natural veneers. “Louis Vuitton wanted a wood very light in color to give an airy feel, yet with a strong grain pattern. [They wanted something] repeatable and adaptable to multiple locations. Ayous veneer met those criteria," said Thomsson. The store reflects the spirit of Las Vegas and the architecture of CityCenter, yet still remains true to the Louis Vuitton brand.

Yves Carcelle, chairman and chief executive of Louis Vuitton Malletier commented in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek that a new era has begun where the in-store experience is almost as important to the customer as the product itself; this is the trend in luxury retail.

Ayous (obeche) is naturally light in color. Its fine, even grain lends itself to be engineered in a variety of colors and textures, attributes which most retail designers can relish. Ayous was selected for use in a national chain of jewelry stores and is currently specified in a nationwide project for Louis Vuitton.

Safeway and Louis Vuitton are two among many retailers pumping millions into store renovations and remodels. Architects and store designers are banking on the use of imported woods as a key component in these and other retail environments. Imported wood is durable and adaptable, and appears to be a great choice for retailers who are seeing increased foot traffic from customers, whether they’re wearing sneakers, boots, crocs or high-heels.

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