How we design for specialist stores 

When retailers or D2C brands come to us to design a physical presence for them we ask if they have a site secured, and how far into the process they are. Some clients are still mulling over a store location, discussion the lease with the landlord or have all contractors lined up and some are still scoping out different locations – its a huge mix. 

What do we classify as a specialist store? 

A specialist store is a retail space that has a category or sub-category as its total product offering. For example a furniture store (sub-category of homeware), an opticians, sports shoes, tile store (sub-category of home improvement) etc. Our approach for a specialist vs standard retail is unchanged, but we do seem to design a wide variety of specialist stores. 

How does Barber work with Specialist Stores?

Our consultation often covers looking at a Feasibility Study and conducting a Store Audit  – i.e. how feasible the location or site is for the brand and the target demographic, we question can the space facilitate what you need to achieve. 

For a retailer such as King Living, they were based in Australia and knew they wanted a decent-sized footprint on Tottenham Court Road, where Homeware brands all play.  We were tasked with scoping out the location, providing a feasibility study and a building condition report before the lease was even signed and then our design work could begin. We also worked on some initial draft space-planning to ensure that the retail location was big enough to do what the client wanted with it. (Case Study here)

It’s interesting for us as designers to cross into the architecture of a project, which is essential because we have to create a design that can be built within the shell of the building in line with budget, and of course pleasing the customers and the retailer. For this project, we had to remove the ceilings from both floors, stripping away all fixtures and flooring, all of which is detailed in the tender documents. 

Barber often works through the following stages; Feasibility Study + Site Audit, Strategy, Branding, Concept Design, Design Development, Construction Drawings, Tender Documents and Project Management. It’s a more comprehensive and longer approach than other design firms, but in our twenty-year history, we find this system works. 

Other specialist projects we’ve recently worked on include WEX Photography in Cambridge. We designed graphics to work along the existing customer journey, in partnership with another contractor, see photo below. The graphics are quite large, they add a layer of story-telling throughout the entire store and customers have made some very positive comments, we’re connecting the store’s product range with facts that resonate with the store’s target audience.

Another example of our work in the specialist retail sector includes The Triathalon Store; a niche area of sports and fitness retail and a space that required zones for services for their customers. It’s difficult for wetsuits to look cool in a store, but with a simple materials palette and nicely designed store fixtures, it really help. The design for this product allows for a good amount on display and also the signage shows the product facts too.

LA Muscle in Richmond was a first-time physical store selling nutrition and a small collection of apparel. When the range and services are niche, we as designers have to focus on the experience that the brand wants to deliver. We kept it minimal, distinctive and bespoke.

Our final recent example of a specialist retailer is Love Brand & Co, a beachware brand that needed a concession design for within Harrods, with a store overhaul in Chelsea also in the back of their minds therefore we had to push the design brief further and conceptualise the experience the brand desires for this initial small footprint. 

If you’d like to discuss your specialist retailer design, please get in touch with us here