If visual merchandising is the face of a retail outlet, store design is its spirit. Good merchandise assortment can happen only with an “intelligent design” of the store, which also helps increase footfalls and sales. Manu Neelakandhan, design director, Idiom Design & Consulting Ltd, in an exclusive interview with IndiaRetailing, talks about things to keep in mind while designing a retail store.
Q. How has Idiom’s journey been so far?
Very exciting. We have managed to create an interesting portfolio of projects and more importantly contribute positively to many retail business ideas.
Q. What kind of challenges have you faced in meeting the demands of your retail clients? Have these challenges changed over the years?
Budgets, time, limited infrastructure, cultural responses, hangovers of tradition, availability of locations, the list is endless. Challenges haven’t changed much, except that more people in the retail industry have recognised the potential of design intervention to address various challenges. The industry has given birth to a new generation that believes design can drive businesses. (But soon, there will spring “half intellectuals” who will pose strange new challenges).
Q. Can you brief us about your retail clientèle?
We have had a large spectrum of retail projects. Our intervention in retail spans a host of industries — fashion, food, home, consumer goods, telecom, healthcare, finance, real estate, travel and more. Our clients range from MNCs to small entrepreneurs and the projects from as small as 40 sq.ft kiosks to two to three lakh sq.ft mega stores and malls.
Q. Apart from ensuring higher footfalls, what benefits can one draw from an “intelligently-designed” store?
Retail design is a physical marketing of any brand. The job does not end in ensuring footfalls, it begins there. The footfalls have to be converted into sales. With an understanding of the buyer psyche, the design has to aid identification of merchandise and help customers decide and buy faster. Design helps retail businesses create the best brand experience for optimum budget, facilitate quick rollout/replication and adapt easily to different behaviours of shoppers. The shopping experience has to be multi-sensorial. The store’s aesthetic appeal is the basic hygiene.
Q. While the known and established brands hire retail designers, do you also educate mom-and-pop stores to design their stores?
Retail design is not merely restricted to known brands, many small retailers too employ retail designers. But they employ them purely for an aesthetic intervention.
We are not too qualified to educate mom-and-pop stores; on the contrary, we have been learning from them since they know the shoppers best. We have been using this knowledge to sensitise established brands and add value to their businesses.
Q. How different is Indian retail store design from international store design? What is the one thing that you want to adopt from international retail store designs?
It is much easier to design an international store than an Indian retail outlet. India has a large palette of challenges and it takes much of our senses and creativity to address all of them. I cannot help but admire good Indian retail designs more than the best international stores. Having said that, we need to learn a lot from meticulous planning, detailing and fine implementation of ideas from the international market.
Q. Are Indian retailers receptive to an eco-friendly store design?
The “green cause” is a small but increasing concern today. The larger the scale of operation, the easier it is to sell eco- and energy-friendly ideas. Smaller operations employ “green causes” at smaller scales. It is all about justifying the RoI (return of investment).
Q. What are the other emerging trends in store design?
Technology of all kinds have found their way into different aspects of store design — communication, entertainment, displays, customer engagement, billing, monitoring, queue management, circulation, etc. Brands have also started reacting to cultural sensitivities instead of using blanket rules and design theories.
Q. Do you agree the retail design industry is growing at a brisk pace? Why?
I am amazed, is anyone negating this statement? While the West might have reached the plateau of consumption, our population of over 1.2 billion has just started. Retail and its associated industries, including design, are still gearing up to cast their impression in every nook and corner of our country.
Q. Where do you see Idiom five years down the line?
In the thick of all design and business activity in the country and abroad.