A1940s airport squeezed into three levels of high-street space? No, it’s not a rudimentary air-crew training school, nor the home of an eccentric artist. It’s a Dockers clothing store in Bangalore’s posh suburb of Indiranagar.
The casual-clothing brand from Levi Strauss has recreated an airport terminal aiming to connect the exclusivity attached to air travel in that age to the luxury image that Dockers projects. The same aspiration associated with air travel is the feeling that Dockers expects to wrap around its line of casual luxury clothing that is arrayed around the store, where a vintage aircraft hangs from a ceiling in the foyer.
Window-shopping in India is never going to be the same. On high streets and malls, storefronts are now a platform where retailers use theatre artistes, live models and thematic displays to draw and keep customers engaged, and the property looking fresh as they fight to draw people.
“Retail today has a strong element of theatre. No longer is the store just selling goods, there is always a theme, a story that the retailer wants to draw a consumer into,” says Sonia Manchanda, founder and director, Idiom Design and Consulting Ltd, a design firm formed by the merger of two Bangalore-based studios, Esign and Tessaract Design, that specialize in shop displays.
Titan Industries, which is due to give its flagship World of Titan stores a new retail identity, chose Idiom to script the retail look despite having an in-house design team.
“Our in-house design teams focus primarily on product design and visual merchandising design. But a contemporary and thematic retail identity, which includes window display, is best done by a specialized design house that focuses entirely on this field,” justifies Dhruv Bogra, who is head of retail, watch division, at Titan Industries. Titan expects to invest up to Rs3,000 per sq. ft to create a theme of everyday celebration, with display counters that will change on a daily basis at its flagship store in central Bangalore.
According to industry estimates, in the past, retailers would on average spend Rs25 lakh on in-store displays and the layout. But at the new look stores ranging in size from 3,500-4,000 sq. ft, premium men’s clothing ranges such as Levi’s and Nike could spend between Rs1.5 crore and Rs2 crore on in-store design.
Says Sunil Inasu, head of retail design for Dockers, “The cost of in-store design normally ranges around Rs2,500 per sq. ft, but at our flagship store in Bangalore, which features the air travel theme, the cost was Rs4,000 per sq. ft.”
The India Retail Report 2007, compiled by Images F&R Research, estimates that over 100 million sq. ft of premium shopping space will be created in 2007-08, with over 10,000 existing outlets set to undergo a complete facelift.
“Our revenues have increased fivefold as demand outstrips supply in the design space,” says Nirav Somaiya, who runs Rigved Retail Concept, a Mumbai-based design house that specializes in store design and elements such as fixed furniture, partitions and trial rooms. “Store design in India now has to meet global benchmarks in terms of quality and finish.”
Manchanda, whose team at Idiom designed the in-store display and promotions at Home Town, the construction and interior décor mall from the Future Group, draws on Indian heritage themes to build customer interaction.
The bazaar concept at Home Town recreates the flavour of the open-air shops in towns where one scouts around multiple outlets for items, haggling with shop owners before settling for a mutually acceptable bargain—except that the prices are fixed at these stores.
Theatre artistes act out everyday scenes in a home, such as a couple baking cookies, a man lounging on a sofa offering snacks to visitors as if they were guests at his home, or a group of girls celebrating a birthday. Home Town’s Noida store, spread over 1 lakh sq. ft, has special themes that run across weekends to draw customers into the interactive ambience, which is being termed “retail theatre”.
“Home Town was a blue-sky idea. We had no precedent to draw on, but had to create a new identity that would merge the wholesale end of the home-building business and the do-it-yourself concepts that prevailed in western markets,” says Akshay Vijayan, project manager at Idiom Design, who worked for more than a year on the project.
Some of the push by retailers is paying off. To drive down the 100 feet road in Bangalore’s Indiranagar is to feel the tug of India’s booming retail revolution. Shop windows dazzle with wares ranging from apparel to footwear, home furnishings to accessories.
“There is a distinct pull that makes you stop and walk in,” says Balaji Vishwanath, an advertising professional. The last time he was on that stretch, Balaji was convinced his gym gear needed upgrading and he pulled up to walk in and pick up a pair of track pants off the shelf for Rs1,500. “Once you are drawn in by the glitz of the window displays, impulse buying takes over,” he says.
In the last two years, he estimates that his monthly spending has gone up by half, most of it on impulse buys, shirts, gym wear and accessories being his favourites. “Window displays and retail ambience are the main reasons I splurge on impulse buys,” he says.
The store theme at Nike is fixed by season. But the India team is free to create localized content in displays and themes that relate to local customers.
“Our window displays always tell a central story and we use brand evangelists who visit stores every week and interact with in-store personnel to ensure that our staff can articulate the concept behind the thematic displays around them,” says Ashita Mandanna, retail development manager, Nike India.
Stores are also drawing up larger themes of social responsibility. A Levi Strauss store located in an upmarket neighbourhood can actually have window displays and store themes that change every week to retain freshness.
But in downtown areas that have a mixed age group customers, a central theme such as “No to Plastic” can run for an extended period, as it revolves around a larger campaign. Says Shyam Sukhramani, marketing director at Levi Strauss India Pvt. Ltd, “There is always a larger, overarching message that a brand uses to draw a customer in and window displays are the first level where that interaction happens.”
“In the future, the entire experience of shopping will be designed (so that) when a customer picks up a ‘cool’ soap, she will feel some cool air, hear a soft jingle and see the advertisement right there,” says Manchanda who draws inspiration from thematic window displays at Selfridges in London.
Back in India, 45-year-old Koshy Varghese, a property developer, is not immune to the allure of retail design either. Driving back home late one night, he spotted a pair of stretch jeans on the window of the Levi’s store in Indiranagar.
“In the midst of the traffic, I made a U-turn, driving back to check it out. It didn’t fit, but by then I had to have it, so I stepped into the Lee store adjacent. I must have been the last customer in but I was insistent I just had to pick it up that night itself.”