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First Impressions Of Your Store

Furniture World Magazine


How important is the exterior design of your store?

The saying that beauty is only "skin deep" does not apply to the exterior design of your store. How your store looks on the outside is every bit as important, if not more so, than the interior store layout. You have to get them in the door first before you can sell anything. It's that first impression that counts.

An appropriate exterior concept will tell potential customers who you are and why they should want to shop in your store. Your targeted market base will have a great deal of influence on how you proceed with your exterior concept. Do you want an upscale "high-end" image or is a more promotional warehouse look right for you? Are you trying to appeal to a younger customer, or are baby boomers your target group? A lot of thoughtful preprogramming is needed to develop the design direction that communicates your merchandising direction. With an effective exterior design concept your building will become a silent salesperson and dramatically increase your sales.

Your corporate identity should also be a major factor in your storefront design. You can reinforce the image you are presenting by using established company colors. You may also incorporate other design elements such as a mascot or logo that you are using on your business cards and elsewhere. This information should be carried through onto your delivery trucks, sales tags and signing.

Consider your local weather when selecting the finishing materials for your store. Stucco and stained wood are popular in temperate climates, but may not perform as well as metal and brick in the northern parts of the country. The compatibility of the surrounding buildings should also be taken into account. If the intent is to create a shocking look, be careful not to stand out like a sore thumb. You can expect less than favorable comments from your neighbors. The cost, maintenance and availability of finishing materials need to be considered when developing the design of your store exterior. This is where your designer's creativity comes into play.

CASE STUDY: Furniture & Appliancemart recently went through a dramatic transformation. A complete facelift was designed to accomplish several things. The store consisted of several existing buildings that grew together over the years. The owner wanted to unite the compound of buildings to create a cohesive appearance. He also wanted the store to look as big as it actually is. Before, the store looked relatively flat and insignificant. By adding height to the building with a system of false walls (or parapets), the store became a prominent building in the area. Many customers thought the old store was demolished and a new one erected at the sight. Local building height restrictions in Wausau, Wisconsin, where the store is located, were taken into consideration and the top of the new facade was brought to the maximum allowable height.

The type face and the color of the existing signs were updated for the new facility and incorporated in the building design. The sign system was carried throughout the store interior developing a strong cohesive design presentation. Customers know they are shopping at Furniture & Appliancemart. Plans are in the works for transferring the new look to their other store in nearby Stevens Point. That facelift will further strengthen their corporate identity. This is, by the way, just what you want to do if you have more than one store. Repeat architectural elements or colors on all your stores to make your presence stronger. Think about how McDonalds restaurants don't necessarily all have the same shape or type of building, but they have the golden arches that immediately and almost subconsciously lets consumers know who they are.

Furniture & Appliancemart's Furniture Manager/Buyer, Sheila Brainard, says, "...Our new exterior concept has significantly upgraded our image in the minds of our customers... and the new merchandising layout has really increased sales. We just had another great week-end."

AWNINGS AND SIGN PYLONS: Certain elements of your building such as awnings and free standing sign pylons are perfect places to reinforce and repeat your corporate identity. Strong colors for awnings can be very appealing and eye catching--just what you want. It may be an accent color that you use in your interior display walls or on your business cards and signs. A black and white striped canvas is very elegant, but may be too "high-end" looking for most stores. The choice of awning style is another important factor to consider. Round, square and triangular are typical awning shapes that will have a definite impact on the appearance of your store. As an alternative to the conventional canvas awning, consider using metal, plastic, wood or glass. Internally lit awnings are also very effective in your overall presentation. Signs and or the store name placed directly on the awnings will further augment your store's exterior identity. Adding awnings to an existing building is a highly effective method of creating a unified and cohesive look.

Make sure that any free standing sign pylon looks as if it was intentionally designed with the building and not as after thought. Use the same design elements as on the main building. The colors should be the same or harmonious to the store itself.

WINDOWS: The configuration and location of windows and doors have an impact on the presentation of your storefront. Windows can be very effective where there is a lot of foot traffic. Otherwise, they can be highly reflective from the outside and not as effective in showing your furniture. Windows should be kept to a minimum and are best placed near the door to enhance the entire entry design. Another location for windows is at the corners of the building. They can become anchors to the entire exterior concept and aesthetically pleasing on a large building. One last thing to consider when placing windows on your store is the security issue. Unfortunately, many retailers have vandalism concerns. In some cases, thieves are driving cars right through their display windows.

DOORWAYS: Doorways have the ability to compel customers into your store. They should be welcoming and stylistically distinct within the entire design of your building. Special attention to the part of the building surrounding the doorway can intensify the sense of entry. Vestibules are small enclosed, areas located at a doorway that serve many purposes. They offer a place where the bottoms of customer's shoes can be cleaned before they enter your store. They also help control heat or air-conditioning loss. Stores located in windy areas can benefit from a vestibule as well.

STOREFRONT LIGHTING: Lighting your storefront is critical to that important first impression and reinforces the exterior design unity. The proper lighting will not only help in the identification of your store but will also add to the visual appeal and design harmony. Safety and security are added benefits to good exterior lighting. Landscaping can be enhanced too.

Your entire retail presentation is greatly effected by the look of the exterior of your store. Careful planning along with consideration of your corporate identity and your target market will assist you in getting the most out of your storefront--and making the profits you deserve.

Curtis Manns is a principal with Curtis Randahl Associates a store planning firm based in San Francisco. Questions can be directed to him care of FURNITURE WORLD at editor@furninfo.com.