Wolfgang Gruschwitz: “I frequently notice a uniformity and dilution of a store’s own history and identity. “
Interview with Wolfgang Gruschwitz, Design- & Realisierungsbüro Gruschwitz, Munich (Design-and Implementation Agency)
Civil engineer Wolfgang Gruschwitz is not just a numbers person. He successfully completed parts of his academic studies in the U.S. and Great Britain and familiarized himself with the world of marketing. Since 2003 he runs his own business; approximately half of his 30 employees work in his office in Moscow. Gruschwitz, born in 1961, also designs office spaces, hospitals or private homes, yet he views store architecture as an exciting trendsetter. Among others, his customers include German soccer club FC Bayern München (Bavaria Munich), Red Bull, Mango and Zara.
What is so exciting for you about store design?
Store architecture in retail is far more than mere furnishings, and also more than the composition of light, floor, ceiling or the use of materials. Nowadays we have to bring unconscious factors into the equation. You have to appeal to all senses to cast a spell on the customer depending on the merchandise and objective target.
The key lies in tapping into feelings and to tell a genuine and interesting story – the aptly named “story telling“. It is all about touching the customer emotionally: to grab his/her attention, to create identification and ultimately make him/her a fan.
Since online and offline worlds are merging more and more – keywords “Clicks Meet Bricks“ – in the future it will become ever more important to always show the customer the same face on all interfaces. An ideal multichannel strategy combines merchandise variety, merchandise competence and display of goods as well as the haptic experience of the real world with the comfort, transparency and availability of the virtual world.
Shopfitting companies offer everything from a single source, from design and planning to construction. Why should you break up the tasks?
Generally you can argue both points. What counts in the end is the objective you are trying to reach. From a purely creative aspect it certainly is ideal to look at design as completely separate from production. Constructive parameters automatically make the mind biased and can thus block innovative, revolutionary ideas from the start.
Especially in store design the half-value periods have gotten much shorter. To set new trends you need expert professionals who can also find cross-industry inspiration.
However, if you take a look at the implementation, it is of course more cost-effective and easier to regard both areas – design and implementation – as one unit, if for no other reason than to minimize costs.
Generally a certain flexibility and willingness to communicate between designer and the one that implements things is in the interest of the customer. This applies even more if these are countries that have to grapple with waste circulation and quality problems, such as for instance the BRICS member countries Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
What are the most common mistakes in shop design in your opinion?
I frequently notice a uniformity and dilution of a store’s own history and identity. I often miss a lighting design that’s coordinated with the overall concept and strategy. And I often don’t see a well-balanced relation between orientation and discovery: too many goods or sales areas that are too large oftentimes lead to stress, exhaustion and frustration; too much organization and order on the other hand quickly appears dreary and therefore boring.
How adventurous are German retailers compared to the ones abroad when it comes to new ways in a shop’s dramatic concept? Do chain stores from abroad bring new impulses to Germany? Or is everything getting more and more alike internationally?
Successful international chain stores like Hollister, Bershka, Zara or Desigual that by now have also established themselves in Germany convey an exciting story. This story is then gutsily and forcefully staged in the store in a colorful, carefree design without conventions.
The fact that store concepts can work beyond national boundaries is an expression of our globally connected world, adapting perceptions and general principles. Regional and local influences will continue to remain important of course, because an ideal salesroom is always fascinating and familiar at the same time.
Desigual or Globetrotter successfully model how you can emphasize what’s special: they intentionally incorporate the architecture of the house and in doing so create an individual identity. Thus each store looks different, but is still recognizable. Of course this is also lots of fun for customers who travel around more and more and head for “their“ stores in different cities, shop in their familiar ambiance – and can nevertheless keep discovering something new.
But regional and local stores will also be able to make their mark in the future – as long as they position themselves authentically and strongly with their target group. Companies like Apropos or the German grocery stores Kochhaus and Oschätzchen, which inspire their customers with a very individualized design are just some of the examples. Our market is highly competitive, ranging from local to international companies. At the end of the day those who stage their story most reliably will stand their ground.
You work for chain stores and owner-managed commercial enterprises. Which one is easier, which one is more exciting – and why?
Both are a lot of fun and have their appeal. In owner-managed companies the decision making processes are usually shorter, you usually deal directly with the owner or the successor and you can introduce your ideas face-to-face and get immediate feedback. This can make things very dynamic. We work internationally for chain stores – here of course it is especially fascinating to successfully adapt a typically perfect design concept to the conditions in the different foreign markets.
Lately people more often refer to showrooms instead of retail shops. A showroom has a lot less products in it. Does selling no longer take center stage?
Sales takes even more center stage in a showroom than it does in a shop, since the target group of a showroom is the buyer – and the buyer of course only wants to be introduced to the latest and best trends and then order.
Needless to say, the salesroom of the traditional store will continue to be there, but the way of selling will more and more resemble the way it’s done in a showroom. The modern customer is somewhat lazy: apart from a little something that reminds him/her of a nice shopping experience and that immediately creates social acceptance, he/she doesn’t want to lug all of their purchases around with them. In fact, everything should be directly delivered to his/her home. That’s what makes online shopping so popular. In contrast, at the store the main focus is on personal customer service and especially the haptic experience – those are all those things that cannot be accomplished online. As I have already stated in the beginning of our conversation, multichannel strategies with an integrative approach are quickly gaining ground here.
Natural materials have been a hit in store design for many years. Is that just something that’s skin deep or does it depict a real rethinking in retail?
Sustainability can no longer be conventionalized as a short lived trend. No, this is actually a societal attitude. Today trust, transparency and authenticity are more important to the consumer than ever before. Sustainable shopfitting needs to include three aspects: material, lighting and visual merchandising. Sustainable materials are characterized by high quality, longevity and well-rounded, organic shapes, earth tones and a clear, classic design. In this case, predominantly stone, glass, natural finish wood, steel, iron, leather, cork, felt, linen and wool are being used. Aside from their sustainability, these materials convince with their look. They create emotions and thus a welcoming atmosphere and pleasant surroundings. One example is the scent of untreated wood. Yet oval shapes – for instance pebble stones – and earth tones are also associated with a feeling of security.
In April you are going to give a lecture on “Store construction and Store Design for Discount stores“. Do discount stores no longer want to look cheap? Does the price image get lost for customers if you spruce up the stores?
Customers in department stores have different expectations and needs of course than they do from a discount store. Yet in discount stores it is also about carving out the appropriate story as well as illustrating it clearly and authentically. The modern customer gets around and compares. Mere focusing on the product and the price, respectively, is not enough and is also too predictable. To win the ever more spoiled and discerning consumer permanently over and to wow them, you have to become uniquely rooted in your clientele’s brain. Needless to say, the store design needs to match the respective customer expectations – otherwise you lose credibility.
How does multichannel marketing change store design?
The challenge for the future is to offer customers a perfectly balanced mix comprised of available online and offline communication elements in a networking approach. The virtual and real worlds melt into a viral world; the global and local worlds melt into a glocal world. In addition, an integrative view combines the means of nonverbal communication, meaning shopfitting and design, with verbal selling, because today the role of well-trained employees is more important than ever as a part of the presentation and should not be underestimated despite all of the high-tech gadgets.
Interview by Rene Schellbach, EuroShop.de