5 Smart Tips for Retail Design

by Billy Hinton

Let’s face it; retail design can be a tricky business. If you’re an architect, designer or creative type, these strategies will help boost awareness for your next retail endeavor.

Designing retail transcends novice-level architecture skills, often requiring Sherlock Holmes-like programming, interior design savvy, and scrutiny to details. As a designer, how can you manage the intricacies of client needs and landlord stipulations while keeping the process moving? Lami Grubb’s Ray Bowman suggests five points that will help architects earn retail accolades.

1. Know your Client

Some retailers are very protective of their brands, others are willing to entertain deviations from the standard in the name of cost or time savings. Some groups get custom millwork made for each location, others have off-the-shelf fixtures that get shipped to the store. Knowing what is important to the client and what can be fudged if need be helps when unexpected situations come up during construction. One thing that’s universal: money. Every design decision needs to be focused on maximizing profit, and every construction decision needs to be focused on getting the store open on time.

2. Read the Tenant Design Manual …

It goes by many abbreviations (TDM and TDS being just two) but the content is the same; it governs everything a tenant is allowed to do and is responsible for. Strip centers, malls and airports all vary in how strict they are, so it’s worth it to read through it each new building you work in. Stipulations may be relatively inconsequential (does the landlord or the GC provide the barricade wall?) or they may verge on design-breaking (all materials required to exceed code-mandated fire rating).

3. … and Find out the Work Rules

It’s highly valuable to know the intricacies of the facility you’ll be working in. Knowing whether or not union labor is required is pivotal in establishing an accurate bid. The schedule may have to be more rigid because of short work hours or restrictions on noisy work. Airports are the most inflexible of all; not only is there a lengthy process for obtaining security clearance, you can be suspended for leaving a door unlocked or shot for going on the roof without an escort. Good to know.

4. Beware of Long-lead Items

The design team has selected the perfect custom glass shade, designed specifically to make you think “I need cupcakes. Now”. All that’s left is to call up the last Italian who knows how to blow that glass and have him put it on the slowest available boat to whichever port is furthest from you. Retail projects have increasingly short construction schedules and some items can’t be rushed. Check into all the usual lead time suspects like signage, lighting and tile as soon as you have a contract.

5. “Approved” Does Not Always Mean Approved

In our office, most projects don’t go out to bid until they’ve been looked at by the landlord and building department and gotten their “approval”. The trouble is, the people on site get the last word about what goes into the building and they can be fickle. On the landlord side, what was approved by the higher-ups can be rejected by the operations manager on site even after it’s built. Or maybe the fire marshal wants his panel smack in the middle of the storefront. You can minimize any late-game changes by being proactive during the pre-construction meeting and making sure everyone takes a thorough look at the drawings while you’re all in the same place.

Raymond Bowman is a project manager at Lami Grubb Architects, a Pittsburgh architecture firm with 20 years of experience in retail design. He keeps a sometimes useful and often humorous blog of his own at RMB-Design.com

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