Should you expand your gluten-free inventory or buy a fancy new freezer case? Is it better to give your top manager a raise or redo the lighting in your deli? You’re confronted with these types of either-or decisions frequently, and chances are that the practical option usually wins out over the aesthetic one.
But retail design experts say the longer you neglect your store’s appearance, the quicker it starts to appear dated, dilapidated or even dirty to your customers. And once your store reaches that point, it’s too late. “If you sit and do nothing to your store’s design for a long time, you’re going to be shocked at how much it costs to catch up to your competition,” says remodeling specialist Steve Mehmert.
To avoid a six- or even seven-figure renovation bill, retail designers recommend you remodel parts of your store in yearly increments. Here’s what our team of experts rank as their top renovation priorities for three different price points.
The retail design experts
Steve Mehmert, president of Mehmert Store Services in Sussex, Wis.
Christopher Studach, creative director for King Retail Solutions in Eugene, Ore.
Terry Roberts, president of Merchandising by Design in Carrollton, Texas
Duncan Williams, manager of I-5 Design & Manufacture in Lacey, Wash.
Dan Phillips, project manager and designer for Phillips Enterprises in Bellevue, Wash.
Gary Petz, partner with Discovery-Based Retail in Kansas City, Mo.
Remodeling your store for under $1,000
Deep clean. Hire an industrial cleaning crew or pay your most meticulous staff members to give your store a thorough swabbing. “This includes things like the refrigerator grates, bumper plates, kick plates and underneath the coolers,” Roberts says. “It gives your store a fresh, new appearance that customers will notice.” If your floor is waxed, Petz recommends hiring a specialized service to strip, clean and rewax the floor, and then implementing a maintenance plan.
Re-lamp. Replace all the bulbs in your light fixtures. “Light levels have a declining life span—as a bulb ages, it can be less bright or put out more yellow or brown light,” Roberts says. The result can be uneven, unappealing illumination that subtly turns off shoppers.
Shake up your shelving. Companies now make shelves that curve or bow out 3 to 4 inches into an aisle. These are ideal to break up long aisles, give your store a fresh look and highlight special items. “You can give a 3-D feel to a 4- to 8-foot section, and pull the product toward the customer,” Mehmert says. At $15 to $20 a shelf, you could highlight 10 sections throughout your store for less than $1,000, he says.
Rethink your fixtures. Go beyond endcaps and create design focal points by displaying products on top of an old barrel, crate or a distressed-wood thrift-store table. “You can use pretty much any furniture-type item to replace fixtures as long as it coincides with your brand and style,” Studach says.
Look up. If your ceiling is tile, replace any stained or damaged sections. If you have a low, painted ceiling, Williams says you can make it seem taller by painting it a very light yellow or peach, which gives the ceiling a “sky kind of feel.”
Working with a $10,000 budget
Get a design consultation. For $2,000 to $3,000, companies like Studach’s and Petz’s will walk your store for a day, check out your competitors’ stores and then offer design recommendations you can implement on your own. It’s a good way to get a professional’s opinion without paying $10,000 to $100,000 for a full retail design audit and plan.
Reshelve a section or create a new one. Roberts and Phillips say the vogue in shelving is wire adjustable-racking units. “Consumer focus groups show that wire fixturing is perceived as airy, clean and friendly because it’s easy to see through and makes it easier to shop,” Roberts says. The shelving can be powder coated in any color and is the trendy choice for a liquor section, Phillips says. “With $2,000 worth of wire shelving, you could create a 200-square-foot wine and beer section in your store.”
Get on the case. “The biggest bang you can get for your design buck is in the equipment you choose to display your merchandise,” Phillips says. “A new case makes everything in your store look cleaner.” You can buy and install a reconditioned refrigerator case for about $4,000, he says, or you can put in a new, dual-temperature coffin case for $7,000 to $10,000. Can’t afford a new case? Paint your old ones, Williams suggests. “A classic white case has a tendency to wash out products, but if you paint the interior dark green or brown, it really makes products pop.” Exteriors can serve as accent colors for your store, he says. Paint cases yourself with an electrostatic paint gun, or hire a firm that does powder coating. Another option: Cover your cases in barn wood for a rustic, earthy feeling.
Refloor a section. Mehmert recommends highlighting a high-traffic area, like dairy, with a 4-foot-wide flooring section in tile, wood, stenciled concrete or anything different from your regular flooring. “It gives it a yellow brick road type of feeling, and people like to follow paths,” he says.
Paint. Think about your store’s image and brand, Roberts says, and re-create that through paint colors. Are you aiming for a soothing, natural feel? Williams says olive and gold are new twists on overused earth tones. You can also make a feature wall using a dark earth tone like chocolate brown, washed with a spotlight, to lure customers to a less trafficked area of your store. And if you really want to add oomph, paint the exterior of your store.
Revamp your signage. Roberts says anything more than 8 feet above the floor encourages shoppers to look up, away from product. Take down those sky signs and self-explanatory signs like fresh dairy (“As opposed to what? Spoiled dairy?” Roberts jokes), and substitute signage that communicates with and educates consumers.
What you can get for $25,000
Update your lighting. You can create focus and interest through proper lighting. “Point-source [track] lighting is very three-dimensional and makes produce look sensual,” Studach says. For the rest of the store, “LED is all the rage,” he notes. It has better color than fluorescents, gives off less heat and boasts a bulb life of 50,000 hours. Swapping LEDs for fluorescents in your cold cases can cost $250 to $275 per door, Mehmert says, but many communities offer energy credits that offset a portion of the price of a lighting remodel.
Install skylights. Research shows that adding more daylight to your store can increase sales, Studach says. According to a 2008 National Renewable Energy Laboratory report, skylight materials and installation costs between $46 and $51 per square foot depending on your climate zone.
Buy tall freezer cases or closed refrigerator cases.New, 88-inch-high freezer cases give you an extra shelf—a plus for small stores, Phillips says. Prices run from $5,000 to $15,000 for a three-door case. For refrigerator cases, “manufacturer surveys show closed cases get very good consumer response,” Mehmert says, plus they save energy and have better lighting than open cases. Some manufacturers make retrofit kits that allow you to put doors on your existing cases.
Consider a digital sign. For $5,000 to $18,000, you can add a digital sign to your outside signage to “catch people when they’re out and about and bring them into your store,” Petz says. These LED displays, which can be changed with a few computer keystrokes, can also include video, audio, animation and other sophisticated advertising tools.
Create a new entry. If your building has a flat front, add character by constructing a small “decompression zone.” Petz says that according to retail anthropologist Paco Underhill, it’s important to create an area just inside the store door where customers can adjust their eyes to the store’s lighting, unfurl their umbrellas, establish a line of sight and plan out their purchasing strategy. The area should be open and not cluttered with shopping carts or merchandise, Petz says.