Secrets to making prototypes scalable for multiple sites
A prototype design can’t be simply cloned from one site to the next. Not only do sizes and shapes of footprints vary, but site needs differ. So multi-store rollouts require design for scalability. What makes a design scalable? Expert consensus points to a three-pronged approach: flexibility, fiscal planning, and forecasting. The result should be a kit of parts that can be reshuffled to meet individual site needs while maintaining the same look, feel, and experience from store to store. Expanding while safeguarding brand image presents a different set of challenges than does planning a one-off flagship. Designers’ tips range from special software to the use of regional fabricators to cut down on shipping costs. Many voices should be involved too. Paul Lechleiter, chief creative officer at Cincinnati-based FRCH Design Worldwide, sums it up this way: “We include our resource and supply partners, contractors, and fabricators early in the design process to get the best advice and be thinking about materials, fabrication, shipping, and installation.”
Collectively, this combination of expertise can be creative in solving issues affecting both the design outcome and scalability such as speed, cost control, and material availability over the life of the program, he says.
The process starts by anticipating future needs. “When designing a prototype design or evolving an existing design, we try to think ahead about how this new design can be built in different locations, to ultimately look site-specific but also have the ability to adapt to a variety of conditions and configurations,” Lechleiter says. The desired retail location types for a project—mall, freestanding building, historic shell, multilevel, or downtown location— give experienced teams insight into the challenges they’ll face, he says. Every situation has unique nuances, and the design must be able to adapt to those differences without deviating from the desired brand and guest experience, Lechleiter says. He advocates a kit of parts, and other experts agree.
Designing a compartmentalized kit of parts while creating a cohesive, holistic solution provides an easy transition into various sized spaces without major design change, says Michael Gatti, retail studio director at Gensler’s New York office.
“The client is happy we’ve created something recognizable, whether the space is very large or very small,” Gatti says. “It’s about designing pieces that can be implemented in different spaces without sacrificing initial intent.” The 3D brand component system must appear as if it’s all part of the same family, says Kraig Kessel, co-founder of Kraido, a San Francisco-based design firm. “For instance, signs may have the same look and details, but be developed in various sizes,” Kessel says.
Think budget and sourcing
Scale can allow for better price negotiation with an increased push to source domestically, Kessel says. “I can’t think of the last time we sourced something from overseas,” he says. “You’re then dependent on when those container ships come over.” Domestic sourcing provides for plentiful materials and multiple distribution points that cut down on shipping costs. For instance, if a project is in the Southeast, it’s good sense—and good cents—to find a fabricator from that region. “Our responsibility as a fabricator is to clearly present optional material and manufacturing methods to the client and designer in a way that allows them to make informed decisions about prospective deviations from the prototype design,” says Dan Petersen, president of Wisconsin Built Inc., a store fixture provider in Deerfield, Wis.
Value engineering is par for the course. Scalability done well results in matching the client’s launch pace, volume, and budget requirements to the appropriate manufacturing resources with minimal impact on the design and durability, Petersen says. “Structural and design integrity remain the priority.” Retailers can often get volume discounting. “We’ll find sources interested in the rollout right off the bat because we’re creating something that will repeat and be manufactured more easily,” Gatti says.
“Clients planning multiple spaces or a prototype rollout will typically receive volume discounts on all types of materials, from flooring to lighting to furniture.” Both budget and speed are important. “When creating scalable prototypes, we pay particular attention to how elements are designed and which materials are selected. We need to ensure that everything can be produced quickly and cost-effectively, while still maintaining our intended quality and design aesthetic,” says Alex Shapleigh, principal with Seattle-based design firm Callison. This is where true teamwork comes into play, says Bob DeGroff, VP of design development for Miller Zell, an Atlanta-based turnkey firm that designs and builds store interiors.
Multiple disciplines brainstorm to achieve the best price for the best product without compromising on functionality, quality, or any other parameters, he explains.
“It’s always best to know the budget up front. What kind of overall bottom-line dollar amount does the client want to spend? Then you won’t show them things (or too many things!) they can’t afford,” DeGroff says. “You can only value engineer things so far before you have to change the conceptual design. With the average store refresh being approximately every five to seven years, it may have been a long while since a budget had to be contemplated.”
And if timing is everything with a new store project, it’s even more so for scaleable design. “The most important aspect of designing for scalability is to allow enough time for multiple rounds of design, testing, and prototyping to ensure that the overall design and every detail is right before launch,” Shapleigh says. “On large-scale projects, a small design issue can become a big problem when multiplied by hundreds—if not thousands—of locations.”
Think tools and lessons learned
Design team’s expertise and use of technology can pay off for retailers. Experts recommend: Steer clear of oddball finishes. “They’re not only more expensive, but often have longer lead times or availability issues,” DeGroff says. Instead, strive to specify as many common materials and finishes as possible, then branch out from there if it’s crucial to the aesthetic, he says. Prepare for change. Kraido is moving toward putting standards into online portals, giving users remote access to the most current drawings, standards, and specifications at all times.
“For example, if there is a more energy-saving LED, we can incorporate it into all the drawings and specifications. We have them posted in the online portal. Then an email is immediately available to all the fabricators involved,” Kessel says. “It’s more efficient. It’s not a static PDF document. This is dynamic, is easily updated, and can be viewed on a phone, tablet, or computer.”
Build full-scale mockups (see page 31). “Building mockups of portions of your design or, ideally, the entire store environment, is invaluable in the development process,” Shapleigh says. “It can be costly, but the process provides great returns downstream during rollout.”
Go new school. FRCH has a software kit of parts package that allows designs to be implemented quickly and cost effectively. Software also scores big at other firms. Miller Zell uses MZ REACH, a proprietary project management system that gives clients visibility into all aspects of the process.
Go old school. “Good, old-fashioned footwork counts,” Lechleiter says. “We send a team to survey a space that the client is taking and tell them whether the space is right for the prototype from an architectural, engineering, and mechanical systems standpoint. This often helps in lease negotiations and long-term cost management. Additionally, when surveying a specific location, we want to make sure that the prototype fits without hurting the concept or, ultimately, the guest experience.”
As a designer who has managed many scalable retail projects, Gatti believes there is no substitute for experience. While computer programs have sped up the process of making design changes, they can’t replace the human element. “There is no one tool that automatically scales the project while at the same time solving all the challenges that can arise,” Gatti says. “Repetition and familiarity with what retail clients need is the key,” Gatti says. “It’s understanding who they are, who their customer is, and what they both want.” DeGroff agrees. “It’s the value-added wealth of knowledge that each individual brings to the table,” he says.
Beth Feinstein-Bartl is a freelance writer with many years of journalism experience. She has covered issues ranging from manufacturing processes to design for A.R.E.