Make local work on a global scale

Working with independent stores as well as corporate chains can stimulate your consultancy, argues Luke Carrington

We’ve heard much of ‘market saturation’ and criticisms of blandness and cloning in UK retail design markets. Some even feel the fierce threat of the Internet is just what complacent, staid retail environments deserve.

In contrast, a reinvigorated interest in ‘local’ and specialist retailers has emerged. Indeed, with the ongoing demand for exclusivity, the smaller, independent stores can remind us of the basics and how getting these right can lead to innovation and inspiration, regardless of size.

As designers understandably covet the bigger jobs (for the bigger pay cheques), it’s all too easy to forget the creative benefits of smaller projects.

Indeed, the benefits can be tangible. Working with boutique retailers offers a platform to encourage business development in emerging markets. It enables designers to get to know product areas and polish up on sector-specific knowledge. A recent project with a privately owned London optician has been a real pleasure and a team-building experience. Working directly with the owners gave us freedom. Without layers of management or lists of constraints, things happened quickly and we had the chance to make a real impact.

When we pitched to design and develop a Latvian supermarket chain, we invited the client for a walk along Northcote Road in London’s Battersea. Specialist independents with a feel for knowledge, tradition and quality line the street, from a shop selling honey – with real bees at work in an in-store hive – to beautifully presented grocers, butchers and cheese shops. These independents offer in-depth knowledge of their product range.

Their passion is immediately evident, and the merchandising tells the story of their products to engage the customer. They advise on the best choices for individual tastes, while recommending complementary products. The result is a more responsive personal experience that puts the pleasure and the atmosphere back into shopping.

So, does expanding in size and scale have to lead to anonymity? We took the basic principles and looked at ways of translating them for a larger market in Latvia. Rather than just department sections or named aisles, we created mini-worlds. A potentially anonymous 2000m2 space was treated as a series of different stories, each ‘celebrating’ its produce with carefully considered references to related products, inspiration, education and masterclasses. This was not just random samples of food, but chefs passionately demonstrating how to combine ingredients, and so on.

While the emerging markets may not have the sophistication of long- established Western markets, they do provide opportunities. Although they now share our consumer focus, they do so while retaining fundamental roots in local communities. There is plenty to be learned at both ends of the spectrum.

As a consultancy working in new markets, we avoid defining in terms of similarities to our large national or international brands. Indeed, while Western design consultancies offer excellence in design with effectiveness and functionality, working in culturally diverse countries reminds you of the importance of sensitivity and being receptive and responsive.

In emerging markets, you can often be confronted with local businesses that are reticent about embracing design, but if you can convince them, you have the opportunity to work with people who are refreshingly excited about the prospects and keen to try out innovative ideas.

Independents start with a foundation that should be at the heart of all projects. We’ve seen how well their concepts can translate into the emerging markets at a national level. A Russian shirt retailer, inspired by Emmett and other stores on London’s Jermyn Street, is now rolling out a chain in Russia inspired by these brands: a specialist, well-defined offer, engrained in history and tradition.

We work with global brands where the acclaim is obvious, but diverse experiences help you stay fresh and enable you to think big more creatively. It benefits your clients and gives the design team breadth and creative freedom, which is great for morale.



Luke Carrington is director at Push Design

• Take advantage of opportunities in emerging markets, but listen to these markets and learn from them
• Embrace the creative freedom and attention to detail of the smaller, independent jobs – diversity of experience can be invaluable
• Don’t be limited by thinking big or thinking small
• The right design should evoke the right atmosphere: big environments deserve atmosphere too

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