Real-Space Retail - Design Bureau

Tashi by JGA

Tashi by Tata International photo by Khurshed Poonawala, Mumbai, India

Destination XL by JGA

Destination XL photo by Mark Steele, Columbus, OH

The North Face by JGA

The North Face photo by Laszlo Regos, Berkley, MI

LittleMissMatched by JGA

LittleMissMatched photo by Laszlo Regos, Berkley, MI

Museum of Arts and Design by JGA

Museum of Arts and Design photo by Laszlo Regos, Berkley, MI

Real-Space Retail

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

The overwhelming volume of online shopping has made us curious about the future of brick-and-mortar stores. Design/architecture firm JGA is a global leader in retail environments, and it recently completed projects for The North Face, Museum of Arts and Design, Tashi, LMM, and DXL. Here, JGA chairman Ken Nisch speaks about retail, the world's second-oldest profession, and how real space can keep up with its virtual counterpart.

So, the future of retail is . . . ?

Fewer stores. More dynamic interiors with less in them — spaces that are easier to adapt to new circumstances and a shift in focus away from mono-branding. The retail outlet will be seen more as an impresario, a host of ideas, someone who orchestrates, conducts, complements. Retail is the second-oldest profession. Shopping is innate to human nature; you want to have what someone else has and vice versa. We look at retail as transactional environments, where intellectual property is exchanged for money. So why not create a physical app store? Even though one can’t buy a tangible product there, the shop can dimensionalize that bird in the tree you’re listening to — and eventually persuade you to buy the app. The shop is an impetus for the transaction.

What’s the most difficult type of shop to design?

A technology space. Because it’s such a competitive field. Unaware of the contrast they should have created, many technology brands have set up outlets that failed. The environments were too flash – reminiscent of the Starship Enterprise. With this type of store, especially, you have to be able to stand back. Apple has done an amazing job in this respect. Although they have the most expensive stores per square meter, the space itself is inconspicuous. An Apple store embodies the brand but doesn’t have a personality.

I like to compare the art of retail to painting a bridge: when you’re  finished on one end, you have to start again on the other side.

Common retail mistake?

A commonly held retail-design stance is, "It should be finished when I’m finished," thus leaving too little oxygen in the idea for customers, products, events – for accidents to happen. Take the Dior boutique on Avenue Montaigne in Paris. Even when only a few customers are inside, the shop seems to be in pain, as if people are actually violating the composition of the store. What we end up with are overly structured and designed stores that are not nimble enough. I like to compare the art of retail to painting a bridge: when you’re finished on one end, you have to start again on the other side.

How can a real shop keep up with its virtual competitors?

The New York Times Magazine published a cartoon of a man and a woman putting their clothes back on after an indelicate moment in a bookstore. It was captioned, "This could never have happened" Yes, I can get more information on more products more easily from my couch, but I won’t have the smiles, the scents, the feel. It gives me no reality whatsoever of the transaction. Stores can compete with their virtual competitors because they’re real.

Personal design blooper?

Not really a blooper, but when we designed a store for a pet-food company, we spent a whole day discussing — with highly paid people — the height of a Poodle marking his territory compared with that of a Great Dane. It was part of the "understanding the customer" aspect of retail design, which influences everything from safety regulations to store appeal.

Questions by Alexandra Onderwater
Originally published in MiND magazine
Feature photograph of Hot Topic by Paul Bielenberg, Los Angeles, CA

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