Why off-the-shelf fixture systems are flying off the shelves
By Robert Nieminen
Off-the-shelf systems work for a wide variety of retail types, and the ability to customize them enables designers to bring the wow. For the Nike House of Innovation on Fifth Avenue in New York, Visplay customized standard parts developed with NIKE Design.
Off-the-shelf store fixtures once were a four-letter word to designers: dull. That’s not the case anymore. Today’s fixture systems are anything but generic, and their flexibility, reliability, and variety of features are quickly making them a go-to solution for retail spaces.
“The negative connotation of off-the-shelf is ‘generic,’” says Brad Somberg, president of fixture supplier B+N Industries. Because anyone can buy a standard fixture system, they are often perceived as “non-branded” and not as design-friendly or aesthetically pleasing as their custom counterparts.
But with a range of options in finishes, fabric, metal or wood panels, light boxes, and power integration, fixture systems can be specified to match virtually any brand’s aesthetic. “These off-the-shelf systems now from companies like mine can be extremely branded and look custom,” Somberg says.
Custom magnetic graphics for B+N’s System 1224 tell the Amour Vert brand story for this San Francisco store. Panels can be removed and reconfigured without the use of tools.
Ease of execution
The ability to customize or tailor components within an off-the-shelf system has become a major focus for fixture manufacturers, according to Jean-Paul Morresi, partner with retail strategy and design consultancy Watt International. “Larger fixture companies have been [promoting the] world of possibility within the constraints of their systems and within the efficiency of their systems,” he says. Resistance to off-the-shelf has diminished because designers and retailers recognize that they can sufficiently differentiate their retail experience without going fully custom, he adds.
Kara Walker, design director at retail design firm JGA, has observed an uptick in off-the-shelf fixtures due to their efficiency and reconfigurability. “People want to do more testing and move faster and quicker,” she says. “The fact that you can get an off-the-shelf system and put a new merchandising story in or change the assortment helps [retailers] put something in and get results quickly.”
In a designer’s ideal world, every retail shop would be custom designed for the client’s unique brand identity. But in reality, cost and efficiencies are major factors. “To have a top-to-bottom bespoke store makes no economic sense,” Morresi says.
No retailer wants to deal with managing inventory for 15 types of brackets for an equal number of fixture systems. “The logistics of it are incredibly inefficient and add more work to people’s lives,” he says. A standard system boasting components with similar interfaces that can be integrated with new ones is logical. “Some degree of standardization make’s people’s lives easier,” Morresi says.
Andy Hearle, director of Visplay North America, says off-the-shelf systems make it easier for large organizations to reorder products down the road. He recalls how Pink by Victoria Secret ordered a new bust holder from Visplay to supply its stores around the world. “If they’d had a different hardware system in every country, or even every state or locally sourced, the logistics of that become a nightmare, whereas it’s a simple process for them now.”
Though currently closed for renovation, New York’s Museum of Modern Art needs to accommodate merchandise changes periodically to match exhibitions. Visplay’s Invisible 6 P/L not only facilitated such changeouts, but integrated power that allowed the museum to display live product. PHOTOS: RICHARD CADAN
Perhaps the biggest value proposition of off-the-shelf systems is the ability to combine standardization with variability, which opens up tremendous design possibilities both today and in the future. “When you imagine future-proofing or the idea of a store configuration being malleable and flexible and responding to changing consumer needs or product cycles, the freedom to know it will give you flexibility in the future appeals to the sensibilities of certain types of retailers,” Morresi says.
For future-proofing, Hearle notes that one of the most significant developments with off-the-shelf systems is the ability to integrate power to support LED lighting, digital media, or device charging.
While designing a custom solution from scratch may look good on paper, Somberg says there’s typically little or no time to field-test them. “The reality is you’re going to have more success with off-the-shelf because we have spent the time engineering, developing, testing, getting all the UL approvals that are needed for whichever system we’re working on.”
Visplay’s mission isn’t to make their fixture the focal point, but rather to not be seen at all, Hearle says. “We’ve always figured if you walk into a retail environment and you don’t see us and you see the customer’s product, then we’ve done our job.”
For this Murad flagship in Los Angeles, B+N’s System 1224 affords seamless integration of shelving, graphics, and cabinetry in custom Echo Wood color on a wall of featured products. The system incorporates technology that displays information related to customer interaction with product.
The flexibility of today’s off-the-shelf systems enables virtually limitless applications. “Because these products for the most part are kits of parts, they adapt across multiple market segments,” Somberg explains. For example, B+N has supplied systems for soft goods, hard goods, automotive and luxury hospitality, thanks to the line’s ability to graphically change with magnetic components in some models to match nearly any décor, he says.
While off-the-shelf systems are “less typical” for major rollouts and more appropriate for projects with a shorter lifespan or for testing concepts, Walker suggests that they could even be used for flagship projects, depending on the client and the merchandising goals.
No solution solves every problem. Retail designers need to consider the client’s objectives and budget, and find the right balance between available fixture solutions. Given the nature of off-the-shelf fixtures today, the task may not be as daunting as it once was.
Robert Nieminen is an award-winning writer and editor.
Off-the-shelf fixtures showcase products curated for the local market at this JGA-designed Beach House Resort Shop at Sandals Royal Barbados.