Retail / Furniture Designer


Retail is poppin'

The small format popularity surge

Around this time a year ago I accepted my design position at a company providing products to the interior and retail design market. I’ve always been intrigued by beautiful interior spaces, but forfeiting the opportunity to be out in the factory tinkering with bits, being replaced by staring at a screen for the majority of the day was not something I was originally keen on; luckily I got the best of both worlds.

Peerless, historically have a fantastic reputation among architects, design agencies and customers, because quality is priority. Unfortunately when the recession hit around 2008 naturally buyers and consumers alike, were more tempted by cheaper alternatives, which can sometimes leave those who prioritise quality control, labelled as expensive. This isn’t a major issue however as needless to say, the market fluctuates in reflection of the ups and downs of the economy, thus when consumers have money to spend, naturally those with a reputation for quality benefit from this upheld status. The unpredictability in the market ultimately forced change within the company, resulting in new ownership and my appointment in mid 2015. My job then, to contribute to the company revitalisation and bring in a fresh design outlook.

My finalised Peerless Designs branding  see more here

My finalised Peerless Designs branding see more here

It is widely accepted that the creative industries are fast paced. Trends come and go in cycles; fashions, here to stay one minute then gone the next. Clearly it is important to stay on top of your game in an ever changing industry, which is why i’m always trying to find ways to progress our product range. I’ve adopted the habit of photographing the shop fittings instead of actually shopping, and my twitter feed has changed drastically, all in a bid to immerse myself in the market.

History has taught us failure to attempt to remain at the forefront of your industry is damaging. Blockbuster is probably the most high profile victim of innovation lag I can remember, and whilst their failure to adapt to the clear change in market demands and competitor developments (somewhat foolishly turning down the opportunity to buy Netflix in 2000 for $50million) can be attributed to how heavily invested they were in the market, ultimately their inability to keep-up was their demise. Others including Blackberry are arguably on the same page. There was once a time they dominated the ‘business phone’ market, but then snubbed developments in touch-screen technology. It is this mindset I've got to avoid slipping into (although on a somewhat much much smaller scale). By constantly looking into what other people are doing, not just competitors but customers and even others in the creative industry, it is a lot easier to evaluate your current market position and personally goes a long way to help me stay on top of my game. One of the main problems in our industry are the decreasing barriers to entry we face as a design & manufacture company, largely due to developments in production technology. Twenty years ago our product range and high quality services were relatively niche and repeat custom was a given. Fast-forward to 2016 and we somewhat rely on the quality of the experience we sell as well as the products, due to increased competition from abroad.

Image copyright - Boxpark

Image copyright - Boxpark

By now it’s hard to have missed what others are doing. Clearly the rise of the small format store is upon us and it’s fairly evident that retailers are adopting this new trend as countless fantastic examples are awash throughout various design and architecture magazines, websites, award ceremonies the lot.

Pop-up Store
also known as: ‘flash store’ or ‘pop-up shop’ 
Often small in size, a pop-up store is a venue dedicated to housing a temporary retail experience. Originally tagged by some as the guerrilla shop, the name is thought to have developed due to the nature in which stores seemingly ‘pop up’ one day and disappear the next.

In a study conducted by EE, pop-up shops are reported to have contributed £2.1 billion to the UK economy in 2014 and provided employment to over 23,000 people. Not something to be taken lightheartedly then.

As with many trends, the early adopters have their roots in the architecture & fashion worlds, so it will come as no surprise that key players in the market were reported as pioneering this movement way back in the early 2000’s. Now, the concept of a pop-up shop isn’t something that’s likely to be new to anyone who’s visited specific areas of major cities like Shoreditch in London for example where dedicated pop up areas like Boxpark are now flourishing. Similar to Shoreditch, areas of L.A and New York serve as a perfect modern day trialling ground for companies looking to take advantage of often a relatively inexpensive environment. But now it seems Britains biggest supermarket chains want in on the act, and this is where the phenomenon begins to evolve. Only last week Tesco announced a deal with Holland & Barrett to bring store-in-store branches to their supermarkets. An obvious attempt at offering convenient small format shops within their large stores — a great idea. Typically, they aren’t the only ones either, as store-in-store style kiosks can be found within many fashion and beauty outlets including Topshop, Topman and Boots just to name a few.


The evidence suggests then that small format stores are gaining increasing popularity, so hopefully understanding why, can offer an advantage when it comes to early product innovation targeting these markets.

Are pop-ups successful because of the convenience they offer? The short time scale? The appeal of finding or experiencing exclusivity, or simply the flexibility? I believe, the unique environment on offer, together with a wealth of benefits to brands and consumers alike, all contribute to the success of the small format concept. I’m intrigued by pop-ups in the same way I am when any new store opens up. The excitement and buzz of something new is almost captured in a short time frame, which gives the illusion the business occupying that space are always ‘on-trend’.

So are small format stores the future of retail?

Well who knows? I believe it is not enough to say that the future of retail is online because it shouldn’t be, and that is a lazy assumption anyway. Technology cannot always be our go to answer when we talking about the future. There is something about shopping online that is yes incredibly convenient, yet terribly impersonal [currently]. It is that feeling of going to the local butchers, the corner shop down the road, your local off licence for your goods. It is immensely difficult for technology to replicate that sense of intimacy and connection. Human interaction is key when transferring brand values. I don’t particularly adore ASOS for example, but I use it because it’s practical, well organised and relatively cheap — not because the shop assistant tells me I look good in my new jeans, or stitches them together in front of me.

With the rise of companies like appear[here], the self proclaimed air bnb of retail spaces, there is clear evidence to support the argument that small format stores will play a key role in the future. We could soon see empty spaces turning into flourishing temporary businesses all around us in the near future. Needless to say the sheer amount of large format stores lining the country are highly unlikely to just empty and never be filled again (including those previously occupied by BHS and Woolworths etc). Retail giants are under pressure to make these larger format stores work for their money, in the best interests of governments, economies and landlords, a solution which benefits all parties may be found in a cohesive shopping experience, whereby marrying eCommerce / mCommerce and in store experiences could prove fruitful. So in response to the question, no, small format stores aren’t the future of retail, but as next big trend I believe they are likely to play a significant role.

What effect does this have on my design process / thinking and how can this information be of use to me?

The key thing is understanding the end user. I know, it sounds obvious right? Well it actually isn’t as easy as it sounds. If we were to ask our end users what they want, or moreover what matters most to them, I can almost guarantee you they would say cheaper equipment or more value for money etc. It’s about walking that fine line between utmost quality, fair price and availability. Our display systems sell because they withstand the test of time, where the cheaper Chinese alternative may not. These cheaper alternatives are better suited to the increasingly popular temporary / small format store, so clearly we must adapt to accommodate this trend.

At Peerless, we’re working alongside interior designers and architects to help develop systems more attractive to their clients. What are the stresses of shopfitting and retail design? How do behavioural changes affect the way the customers shop? How can we work to reduce the cost of installation without risking a decline in product quality? What does the future of retail look like? All questions we are regularly asking ourselves.

So how do I take this information on board? Well currently the answer is quite frankly not determined yet, but it is clearly an intriguing time in retail.