If life were a color, beige—basic and blah—would pretty much cover the recent recession years.
Attitudes are changing with the economy, and it?s showing in a resurgence of color—purples, reds, yellows and blues—in retail environments.
Three years ago, when Alexandria, Va.-based Color Marketing Group forecasted 2005 consumer and industry color trends, it anticipated consumers would move away from a mood of abstinence to one of indulgence. And business owners, while maybe not exuberant, would be more optimistic and it would show in store design—with colors including a soft yellow, a bold and multicultural red-orange, and a dual-personality blue-green.
Those bright, rich colors, in fact, are exactly what?s turning up in new design.
Natural foods stores are no exception. A wave of retailers is moving away from the characteristic beige background. Both Wild Oats Markets and Whole Foods are opening bolder and brighter stores.
Sage green is a starting point for three Outpost Natural Food stores in and around Milwaukee, but the palettes vary from there, intended to reflect the conservative, urban and culturally diverse shoppers in the chain?s different locations.
What better way to stand out from competitors than through color? Plus, adding color—primarily through a fresh paint job—is one of the most affordable ways to refresh a space and re-energize shoppers.
The question is, what colors? There?s as much science involved as creativity.
Colors affect our moods. Colors convey an image—right or wrong—about the retailer. They enhance or detract from a perception of freshness. They can stir or stymie appetite. Rich or bright colors also can be confining.
Colors change with different lighting, varying when paired with day or night, artificial or natural light, halogens or fluorescents. And by the time the paint dries on walls, fixtures and signs, a trendy color may be passé. Think Miami Vice and walls awash in teals, coral and flamingo pink.
Mood is a major component of the color selection process for Linda Cahan, retail visual strategist for West Linn, Ore.-based Cahan & Associates.
?What?s hot right now are the Mediterranean colors and cerulean blue—a deep, bright blue with green,? she says. ?The problem with that is that blue puts off the appetite, so it?s not a good color for natural food stores.?
She recommends reds, yellows and pinks for naturals grocers: ?Colors from the sun inspire the appetite.?
Red is most invigorating, so bright and deep hues are best kept for sign lettering and other small touches. Terra cotta is perfect for in-store cafés because it?s earthy, friendly and warm.
?Yellow says ?stop and think,? so it?s an ideal place for the vitamin area,? Cahan says.
As for beige? It?s safe, which may be why it?s had such a great run. But beige lacks definition, she says.
?Beige is sort of an emotional blank. It doesn?t really attach us in any way. If you?re going to have neutral walls, have fun floors,? Cahan says. ?I find natural food stores are emulating supermarkets more with neat, clean gondola presentations. Every store needs to establish some identity that separates them from others.?
In some cases, however, beige is thought to help products stand out, especially when used as a backdrop. At Wild Oats Natural Markets, you?ll still find beige in the fixtures for that very reason, but that?s about the only place it?s used.
The Boulder, Colo., chain several years ago tiptoed into color with soft greens, yellows and oranges. If that was rainbow sherbet, the new design is a tropical bouquet.
Starting with the Superior, Colo., flagship store last year, Wild Oats began opening and remodeling stores with brilliant yellows and oranges on the ceilings in the eating area and produce department. The floors are stained a rusty terra-cotta brown. A calming sky blue provides a backdrop for the holistic health department. A deep blue wall above seafood and a plum wall above the cheese area make those perimeter departments pop out as soon as the shopper enters the store.
But what if such vivid colors fade in popularity?
The colors are found in nature, so they should have some staying power, says Wild Oats spokeswoman Sonja Tuitele. Plus, she says, each store is repainted every five to seven years—so there?s always opportunity for something new.
Wild Oats spends about $100,000 to paint a store. Still, that?s a small slice of the $1 million tab for a major remodel or the $2.5 million to $3 million total cost of opening a new store.
Paint and other wall coverings typically account for about 8 percent of a store?s interior design budget, making it one of the better uses of design dollars, says Lyn Falk, president of Retailworks Inc. of Cedarburg, Wis.
Surface color and lighting are the most critical aesthetic elements within a store and should represent about 20 percent of a total design budget, Falk says.
Along with mood, strategy plays a big role in color choice, Falk says. What are you selling? Meat? Produce? Books? Who?s your target market? And what image are you trying to portray? Earthy? Upscale? For Falk?s client, Milwaukee-area Outpost Natural Foods, it?s all of the above. Each store shares the same general palette but has individual variations based on its neighborhood.
In the downtown store, sage green—a calming color associated with freshness and nature—is intended to welcome customers from the urban surroundings. A butter-yellow in produce is uplifting, and a cream ceiling, because it reflects light, helps keep energy costs down, she says.
In a more conservative suburb, consumers will see more shades of sage. The whole color scheme is softer with plum accents.
The newest store is opening in a culturally diverse area. As such, there?s greater variation in color: Purple and a muted reddish-orange accompany yellow.
Other stores, like Lazy Acres Market in Santa Barbara, Calif., are slower to take the color trip. When that independent grocer expanded in 1997, it remodeled with a heavy use of wood, off-white and beige walls, stone floors, and live plants as accents. The goal was warmth, cleanliness and comfort, says owner Jim Searcy.
While the store continually updates fixtures and freshens paint, the decor is mostly the same. Searcy sees no reason to change. Business is great and, he says, ?The whole foundation of our business is our people. All the compliments I get about Lazy Acres—95 percent of them are about the people.?
Kelly Pate Dwyer is a business reporter in Denver. Contact her at [email protected]
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 7/p. 12, 16