Which Retail Store Layout Makes Sense For Your Business?

Learn about the four layouts all stores use to maximize impact, driven by amazing insights into customer behaviour.

Ever lost track of time while shopping? Browsing around a store, looking at products for longer than you anticipated, considering items you didn’t come to buy?
As retailers, that’s exactly what we want to happen — and why there’s an entire area of research and development focused on driving sales through optimally designed spaces that promote foot traffic, impulse purchases, and all that other good stuff.
If you’re looking at redesigning your retail store or opening a new brick-and-mortar location, you might be wondering what layout will work best for your space. Thanks to some fascinating insights into consumer behaviour, the retail industry has standardized the best store space-planning practices into four popular layout designs you can use to get started.

So what does science reveal about the vast majority of retail customers?

Individual retailers go for different designs, colours, and moods, but there’s astounding consistency from one store layout to the next. Why? Because there are universal truths to store planning that appeal to the vast majority of shoppers. Studies have revealed that nearly 70% of consumer decision-making happens in-store. When the right interior environment is absolutely crucial to a store’s success, retailers go with proven strategies that work.
If you aren’t surprised yet, consider this staggering statistic — 90% of people turn right when they walk into a store, and they should continue moving to the right in a counter-clockwise direction around a space. Turns out that in North America, we shop the way we drive — most of us will turn right when we enter a store, so retailers pay a lot of attention to this traffic flow and merchandising the key area known as the power wall.
Merchandising your store and choosing its layout are connected processes. Layouts encompass the design of retail floor space, and merchandising is the organization and display of products within the store’s layout. Both must be designed to entice shoppers to purchase. Go to your local mall and visit 20 stores, and you’ll notice patterns amongst them. Some of these practices will work in your store as well.

Learn the four store layouts that all stores use, and which retailers they’re best suited for.

We’ve learned that while interior designs vary from one store to the next, they’re all built up from foundational store layouts that create consistency in the overall retail experience. While all layouts are designed to suit the size and shape of the sales floor, their common goal is to move customers around the space with intent to purchase, and expose them to as much product as possible. Here are the four store layouts used across the retail industry to promote foot traffic and maximize sales:

1. The Grid Layout

store grid layout
This familiar layout is most recognizable in supermarkets, convenience stores, and pharmacies. Long aisles are packed with shelves that maximize product display. Impulse purchase items can be found near the front of the store, staple items are in the back, and ends of aisles are used as merchandising focal points to highlight specific products.
Recommended for:

  • Retailers with a wide range of merchandise and many different SKUs
  • Those with limited design budget using off-the-shelf store fixtures
  • Retailers seeking a standard shopping experience familiar to customers, with predictable traffic flow

Not recommended for:

  • Businesses looking to stand out with experiential spaces
  • Retailers that do not have obvious product categories (as customers may not know where to find what they need)
  • Stores with narrow footprints, as aisles should be wide enough to prevent customers from bumping into one another


2. The Herringbone Layout

Herringbone store layout
If you have a long, narrow retail space that doesn’t work for a grid layout, but you still want to optimize space for your merchandise, consider the herringbone layout.
Featuring a central ‘spine’ aisle with shorter ‘rib’ aisles, the herringbone layout optimizes space for merchandise in narrow retail footprints that aren’t suited to a grid layout. The side aisles offer plenty of opportunity for promotion areas on each side of the main floor space. This layout is also seen in large warehouse-style stores where the shopper has clear purchase intent.
Recommended for:

  • Retailers who favour the grid layout but have narrow store spaces
  • Businesses suited to a warehouse-style shopping experience

Not recommended for:

  • Retailers not suited to a grid layout (see above)
  • Businesses with a high risk of shoplifting, due to limited visibility down the side aisles
  • Those concerned about cramped spaces


3. The Loop (or Racetrack) Layout

loop store layout
The ultimate layout for perusing with countless creative display opportunities, the loop controls traffic flow to direct customers past every product in the store before they reach the checkout counters. This plan allows retailers to tell a linear story by guiding customers through a journey from store entry to purchase. Only certain categories are well-suited to such a controlled experience — as it can frustrate customers who require a quick in-and-out option — so consider carefully if the loop is the right choice for your brand.
Recommended for:

  • Businesses seeking to maximize product exposure
  • Experiential brands who want to craft a specific journey for their customers
  • Those wishing to control traffic flow towards specific promotions

Not recommended for:

  • Businesses with customers who prefer to control their own experiences
  • Brands that require less consideration time before purchase
  • Stores with high traffic turnover
  • Those who need to offer quick in-and-out service and can’t be perceived as wasting customers’ time


4. The Free-Flow Layout

free-flow store layout
Free-flow refers to traffic flow — there is little attempt to control customers’ movements around the store, allowing them to shop as they please. Simple to understand, yet complicated to execute. While free-flow rejects standardization, the layout is not totally without rules — to be successful, it should still follow many of the same insights into customer behaviour. Like with other layouts, exterior signage and displays guide shoppers through the entrance and a start path that leads to the power wall. From that point, the only limits are store walls, floor space, and your imagination.
The free-flow design is commonly used in mixed-layout plans. Large department stores often use a loop layout for their main aisle, and different configurations within, depending on the type of brand or store category of the component sections.
Recommended for:

  • Stores with small footprints
  • Retailers wishing to encourage browsing and impulse purchases
  • Experiential upscale and luxury brands with less merchandise
  • Individualistic brands looking to break the mold from established patterns
  • Those seeking to create an impact through negative space and slow down traffic flow

Not recommended for:

  • Retailers with plenty of merchandise
  • Businesses concerned about doing the wrong thing
  • Those with a limited budget for design risk confusing customers without expert advice


Which store layout is right for your store?

As the foundation of your store design, your layout has a direct impact on your sales, so before you create your floor plan, take time to consider your brand, products, and how you want customers to move through your space.
Of course, choosing a layout is just one of the first steps, and this article only scratches the surface of the entire store planning journey. That’s why we’re here to help you build your experience from the ground-up. Our in-house design and engineering teams have guided many retailers through the process — from initial strategy and sketches to sourcing and installation.
Give us a call at 905-264-0917 or contact us.

Planning To Open A Second Retail Location? Answer These 5 Questions To Decide If You’re Ready.

While a lot of big retailers are closing their brick-and-mortar stores, small business is booming. Here’s what you should know if you’re considering retail expansion.

When your business is thriving, it’s only natural for you to question whether it’s time to open another store (or two). But you might wonder if you’re creating new opportunities, or spreading yourself too thin. Success isn’t guaranteed from one location to the next, and your reasons should be motivating enough to keep you going as you experience growing pains.
So how do you know when it’s time to grow to your next location? Here are 5 questions you should be able to answer if you’re considering expansion.

1. How strong is your business now?

What factors are contributing to your current success? Are your sales high temporarily due to a busy season? Or have you observed a steady increase in foot traffic and positive feedback from customers?
Before you even think about expanding to another location, your sales should be growing consistently for an extended period. If they are, fantastic – you’re ready to strengthen your operations and move forward.

Be realistic about your budget. Is your current location cash flow positive? Can you secure the funds needed to expand?
The smartest move is not to count on your current location to fund the operations of the next. You should think of opening your new storefront as starting a new business venture: while you should try to replicate all the elements of what made your first location successful, some aspects – like your customer base and competition – won’t be exactly the same.

Know where your customers are coming from. Do you have customers going out of their way to buy from you? Could your second location serve them better?
Find out where your customers live – their answers may surprise you. You might find an opportunity to build on your existing loyal following while also reaching new markets. Perhaps you learn that you have a lot of customers making a long trek to visit your store, and they are clustered in another area. That would signal that you could feasibly expand to another location, and also point you towards the area where you should settle.

2. Can your business run without you?

Do you have time for a second location? Think back to when you opened your first retail store and how busy you were. Will you be able to stretch yourself between two stores, or do you have a capable second-in-command who can handle the original store while you focus on the new one?
Keep in mind that once your second store is up and running, travelling between two locations may not be practical, so you will need to be comfortable delegating to a store manager for at least one location.

Consider this an opportunity to boost your management skills. If you don’t feel comfortable hiring someone to run your business as you would, then you can’t expect things to go as smoothly without you. However, if your customers don’t need to do business with you directly, chances are you can train another person to fill your shoes in your new location.

Is your current location running smoothly – employees, inventory, payroll? How you will offer a consistent customer experience? Consider moving some of your strained staff to the next store so you don’t have to start over from scratch. You will need established processes all ironed out so you can double them at your new location.

3. Do you need more space?

Are you running out of inventory, space, or staff? Turning away customers who would otherwise be paying? These are good signs that another location will launch successfully.

Don’t risk cannibalizing your original store. Consider if it’s in a market area large enough to support another location nearby. Benefits of running a new location nearby includes the ability to transfer some of your experienced staff to the new location, and established brand recognition in your current area.
If you don’t feel there are any more potential customers in your area who aren’t already shopping with you, that could be a sign that it’s time to grow elsewhere.

4. Can you try out a temporary location?

Could you test out your business in another neighbourhood? Is your potential neighbourhood the right fit, one you could see yourself spending time in? Is there an unfulfilled demand for your products or services? Will the same sort of customer base you currently rely on for business be present elsewhere (and do they patronize your future neighbours? Is your competition well-established there?)

Create a pop-up version of your store. Before investing heavily in a traditional storefront, you can test potential future markets by establishing a temporary location. This is a great way to pilot test sales of your products and services in or near your proposed new location. Pop-up shops typically run about six weeks, and can be established in a mall kiosk, vacant storefront or a complementary retailer’s store.

5. How can you build on the success of your first location?

What changes could you make to improve the experience? Can you make your next location run even better than the first? Creating a detailed business plan for your second location is a great opportunity to improve upon your original plans.
Even though you’ve done this before, don’t assume everything will go exactly the same (or cost the same) as when you opened your first store. Can you anticipate different overhead costs? Different rent, business hours, utility bills? Budget 2-3 times your initial projection costs to cover any unpleasant surprises (such as high heating costs.)
If these questions sound daunting, consider the upsides.

Going through your due diligence will make the decision easier. You may even uncover efficiencies that you hadn’t seen or considered before! Running multiple locations could give you the opportunity to order larger quantities or offer a more diverse range of products, which could potentially reduce operations costs. This provides the benefit of increasing profit margins while also passing some savings on to your customers.

Opening another location demonstrates that your business is thriving. An expansion is a sign that your company is well run, which will make a positive impression on your customers. Keep them in the loop as soon as you’ve decided to go ahead with opening another location. By communicating often with your current and potential customer base, you’re setting up future sales down the road, especially if you tie in exclusive promotions to your store opening. Making your original customers feel like they contributed to your success will strengthen their loyalty and boost your brand as a proven business success.

Ready to go ahead with your next store design or space planning?

We’ve helped many retailers grow successfully from one location to the next. Our in-house design and engineering team is here to help. Give us a call at 905-264-0917 or contact us.

Retail environments and store designs we wish we’d done.

When you’re privileged to be part of a tight-knit retail community, it’s alright to be green with envy… here are some projects that impress us (and why).

The world is a really big place. And since we can’t be a part of each and every amazing project, there are retail environment projects and retail store designs that we come across and think to ourselves, “I wish we had a chance to be a part of that.” Factors like engineering, tech and data considerations, material usage, use of space, floorplanning, and custom fixture design are all crucial elements when developing and executing the perfect space, so let’s take a look at some of the crème de la crème.

Kumoto Restaurant

By Esrawe Studio + Rojkind Arquitectos

Photo by Jamie Navarro
Photo by Jaime Navarro

Taking a cue from the Japanese bento box (serving a meal in a cluster of wooden boxes on a tray), these designers tapped into simplicity, intimacy and uncluttered lines appropriate for Asian cuisine. From the organic materials in the wraparound envelope to the centrepiece fixtures – and right down to sake containers, collection vessels and tableware – the integration is subtle yet superb.

OUR THOUGHTS: We love the tie to the heritage of Japanese cuisine with the interpretation and modernization of the bento box. The combination of light woods and brass let the darker pieces anchor the space and carry the compartmentalization of the bento box theme.

BXP Burger & Grill

By FAL Design Estrategico

Photo by Vitor Reis
Photo by Vitor Reis

The pop of a hot colour combined with strong graphics makes this takeout locale the perfect fit for Sao Paulo, Brazil.

OUR THOUGHTS: We applaud the play of the geometry ie. introducing it into the burger graphic is very cool. Small space equals big impact. Also the way they don’t shy away from using big bold brand graphics even in a restricted space. Usually, there’s a fear of using that much real estate for one sign/message, but it works so well here and contributes extremely well to the overall dominance of the experience.


Part of Italy’s largest co-operative supermarket group, Alleanza 3.0; developed by Zurich-based Interstore; implemented by Schweitzer Project

Photo by Daniel Horn
Photo by Daniel Hord

Turning personal shopping into an experience in-the-round has been the ambitious goal of this hypermarket concept of this group that fuses small, local food co-operatives with a beauty shop, florist, optician, housewares, even a jeweller. Think modern design with a high degree of flexibility that puts the focus on the merchandise, and you’ve captured the spirit.

OUR THOUGHTS: This project is interesting first, because it’s basically a big box so common in North America, but not as common in European cities. They’ve taken a novel approach to make a large store more digestible to the consumer navigating it by cutting it up into bite size pieces so you feel like your entering and leaving different areas. It encourages exploring. The use of standard fixtures that have been dressed up (some custom) is a successful demonstration of how to marry custom and commodity, A solid example of how to prioritize where to spend and where to save. Notice a completely different philosophy in how to treat the front of the store that’s lined with product [cosmetics] to sell vs. checkouts.



Photo by Allbirds
Photo by Allbirds

How the world’s most comfortable shoe is sold when you’ve eschewed the industry-standard petroleum-based sole and embraced Mother Nature’s alternative, as reflected by the Soho location. It’s truly a one-way flight!

OUR THOUGHTS: The use of natural materials ties in and reinforces so boldly their product values. Even with a limited, exclusive selection of products on offer, the experience screams volumes. This place should be on everyone’s list to visit on the next trip to NYC.

Hudson’s Bay Company’s Amsterdam Location

By CallisonRTKL

Photo by Business Wire

How the Canadian retailer has tailored highly customized and localized fashion, services and brands to the Dutch culture and design landscape. Pop-up areas, a blend of local and national brands as well as highly interactive spaces are just some of the strategies employed by the design team. Contemporary, clean interiors, exposed ceilings along with an elemental colour-and-materials palette have been carefully integrated into these rejuvenated buildings. Add to that, cooking demos, a new restaurant and heritage shop and consumers will take notice.

OUR THOUGHTS: Definitely an event to experience. We love this for bridging the line in “gallery.” The architecture alone draws consumers to spend the time walking through –
working through it and lounging along the way.



Photo by B8ta
Photo by B8ta

These stores are designed specifically for discovering, trying and buying innovative new products and it shows. Every detail of their model, from a software platform to an expert retail team, serves to open pathways to discovery and purchase. By removing barriers for both brands and customers, they’re aiming to make bricks-and-mortar retail as easy as the online experience. And with ten locations scattered around the U.S. and a partnership with dozens of Lowes stores, b8ta is taking retail to the stratosphere.

OUR THOUGHTS: We love the fact that consumers can touch and feel everything, even if the retailer collects data on every time something is touched and sells that data back. The environment is as clean; the experience as seamless as an Apple store without them selling their own company. Here’s a great example of the retailer being part of the sale.


Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side of the pond. But at CBSF, when we stop, take a step back and look at the projects we’ve had the opportunity to work on we’re reminded how amazingly challenging and creative our work really is. So, we applaud those who help push our industry forward – those who find new ways to be creative in a world that’s recycling ideas – when everything’s been tried and done before. Because in the end, an extraordinary customer-experience is what we all strive for.

We recommend that you look at others’ work, get inspired and then put your head down and get to work. And if you’d like to talk about your own possibilities, give us a shout.

How to get started: When to consider a new store design

5 red flags that every retail business owner should recognize signaling it’s time for a new store design.

To stay competitive, those responsible for creating dynamic and engaging retail environments need to take the blinders off. No matter your role – whether you’re a store planner, location manager, or retail business owner, you have to take a hard look at your space on an annual basis to see if it’s falling behind and failing your business and your customers.

Forgive me if that sounds harsh – believe me, there’s no judgement here.

But as a retail-environment designer, it pains me to see retailers – who are otherwise at the top of their game – working in a space that doesn’t leverage the latest technologies, design elements, and strategies to drive purchases, both in-store and otherwise. While these tactics include fundamentals like keeping foot traffic up, nowadays they encompass so much more – creating a place to connect, build community and loyalty to your brand, and offer an authentic, immersive experience.

It’s a matter of survival.

So, let’s look at 5 red flags that retailers should take note of – things that might be silently screaming, “it’s time for a change!”

Is Your Branding Blurry?

If your retail space isn’t creating what we call an “immersive experience” for your customers, then you’re probably not telling your brand story well enough. The buzzword of the day is “experiential commerce” – a consistency of look, feel, and even smell to envelop the customer in your message, tone, and story.

Consider window displays as an opportunity to tell your brand story, using elements that are relevant to existing customers and relatable to new ones. Appeal, surprise and delight with seemingly random touches. You’re making that crucial first impression before anyone enters the store.

Where signage is concerned, be crystal clear on your brand story and your positioning. Create an Instagrammable moment. Think bold, branded artwork to entice people to snap, chat and share. In his book Re-Engineering Retail, Doug Stephens writes that “media is abundant; attention is scarce.” So be sure to grab their attention.

All that sizzle you’re selling should be supported by store flow, fixtures, colours, and ambience. Ask yourself, are you missing any elements that your customers require? Watch them to learn. Visual merchandising is powerful, but don’t forget that humans react favourably to sensory cues like smell and sound. The key is to make your presentation fluid, clean and interesting enough to engage shoppers’ attention – and then hold them.

Same Old, Same Old

Ask yourself if your store looks old. Just like hairstyles and jean fashions, styles change – and your retail space may just be caught in a timewarp. It’s helpful to work from the outside in (windows, threshold, or decompression zone) to appraise the kind of update your store requires.

CONSIDER: As a person who is in the space often, you may not notice little things like dirt build-up, scratched door frames, chipped fixtures, or an overall “worn” feeling to the space.

Next, check out your merchandising displays. Are they located where they’ve always been? Perhaps it’s time for a refresh. Eighty percent of your sales tend to come from the first third of your store, so highlight all the “wants” at the front and all the “needs” in the back with the sale stuff.

Then, if you need more than a quick nip and tuck – if full surgery is required – you’ll be able to lay out a plan, determine your timeline and create a budget for whatever is required to give your space that facelift.

Perhaps The Flow Is Muddled.

Realize that designing your retail space is a never-ending process. You’ll never stop switching out, tweaking, adding, or subtracting elements in order to build that resonating experience. And at the end of the day, your focus should be the customer journey.

Try doing a walk-through yourself. Where do the visual cues guide you? Or get staff, friends, or family to do the same and give you honest feedback. Watch the customers to see what draws them and what they avoid. There’s a set formula for optimum traffic flow within retail spaces – “enter and turn right,” power walls, etc. – that have been researched and proven for 90% of consumers. These are unconscious reactions and can be easily implemented to up your retail game. It’s not rocket science.

Hello, Comfort Level. Hello, Personal Space.

If you haven’t heard of “butt-brush effect” (coined by consumer behaviour expert Paco Underhill) then you might not realize how much shoppers value their space. It seems that typical customers avoid merchandise in an aisle where they could potentially brush another customer’s backside or have their backside brushed. In other words, crowding them. Even if they are very keen on the product. The easy fix is more breathing room in aisles, sales floors and around displays. Call it browsing space, if you like.

CONSIDER: Dwell-time is time spent engaging in-store with a product. If that item is laundry detergent that’s dash-and-grabbed, it’s not as vital a factor as when the purchase is a piece of apparel that benefits from more space and time to encourage it into a change room, then brought to checkout.

So adding elements of comfort such as couches, benches, or other seating will be seen as a “personal touch” (remember branding) to pamper your customers and anyone accompanying them. They’ll speak to dwell-time. Perhaps an invaluable trade-off for merchandising space. That may mean consolidating. Or making better use of fixtures in order to convert space. Either way, keep seating facing the merchandise to frame the merchandise as top-of-mind.

Looking the Part – Knowledge Headquarters Or Experience Center?

If your retail space looks light-years removed from the current trends towards Bluetooth-connected-app-pings-for-dressing-room-availability and digital signage to entertain those in the checkout line, don’t fret. No one says you have to make a big technological leap all in one move, but a certain level of product knowledge and expertise helps draw customers to your bricks-and-mortar location – just as a “coffee bar” or “kid zone” positively affects customers’ “approach behaviour”. Help your retail space look forward-thinking in whatever way possible.

Now screens, apps, and devices aren’t a plus if they’re blank. They require content and expertise. A strong social following can generate content to display and push genuine engagement. Dependable technology for staff to check product info and inventory is a baseline. If staff have apps at their fingertips, it’s absolutely key that they are experts at demonstrating and promoting the advantages to customers.


It’s one thing to look at an Apple store and want to emulate its style, but Apple’s entire being (store design, merchandising, staff, service methodology) is built on its brand story “think different.”

  1. So, figure out what your own “think different” is.
  2. Walk the store or have an unbiased, trustworthy straight-shooter you know pinpoint your hits and misses. Listen. Of course, CBSF can help.
  3. Get your game plan on: prioritize what needs fixing, budget for it, start plan how you’ll make it a reality, and determine the help you need to get there.

Here’s some food for thought: retail doesn’t stop changing, and that cycle is now faster than ever. The renewal/refresh cycle was once every 10 years; now even the slow-to-change big-box stores are looking at 2-to-5 year cycles.

You don’t need to tackle the whole store at once. You can move through the neediest areas or departments. Only plan for what you’re changing now. Trends will stale-date by next year and there’s no use in redoing work that’s already been done because the retail landscape has scrapped it for you.

We’re happy to fill the role of unbiased, trustworthy straight-shooter for you, if such a need arises. Give us a call at 905-264-0917 or contact us.

Don’t give up without a fight.

The 10 retail insider-tricks you can implement when new retail competition moves into your neighbourhood.

The retail sector is more dynamic than ever. It’s a knock ‘em out, dog eat dog world, part-Mad Max, part Braveheart (freedom!) – where every retailer is fighting for their space in shoppers’ minds; and wallets.

The way that consumers make their buying decisions has shifted dramatically: they stand in your aisle, using their smartphones to compare prices and product reviews; family and friends instantly weigh in on shopping choices via social media; and when they’re ready to buy, an ever-growing list of online retailers deliver products directly to them, sometimes on the same day.

Historically, market shifts have created winners and losers – from local corner stores to department stores; shopping malls to discounters and big-box chains; to online, the trends stops for no one. As an existing and successful retailer, you’ve always got to be on the lookout (and plan for) the new kid on your block.

So what do you do when that new player knocks on your door, ready to take your market share?

1. Keep your eyes open.

Although it might seem that newbies burst on the scene, trends actually unfold over longer periods, giving you a chance to examine what you’re doing well and what to refresh (ie. new floor plan, a light reno, better service, new graphics or window displays?).

So stay on top of current trends and keep your ear to the ground. Those that stand still fall behind.

2. Focus on what works.

Despite the e-commerce boom, trends suggest that bricks-and-mortar retailers will retain 85% of sales in the US through 2025 (McKinsey & Co) so there’s time to tackle what they’re naming the 5 big trends: demographic changes, rising multichannel and mobile commerce, increased personalized marketing, a distribution revolution, and emerging retail business models (think: mattresses bought online).

TIP: Don’t just watch and borrow from your own industry. By visiting your favourite retailer; someone who’s doing it really well (preferably in a different sector, so you’re not the ‘follower’) and adapting those learnings, you’ll be able to mix it up, create a stir, maybe even disrupt a bit.

3. Create tighter bonds.

Strengthen your bond with existing customers by personalizing their shopping and service experience (think: tracking their favourites and surprising them when new orders come in, seasonal reminders, what’s-new tips, or private shopping experiences). Perhaps creating in-store events (for kids, women, couples, hipsters, etc) or allowing for online purchasing to be picked up in-store or delivered will warm the relationship. Throw a party, if it serves to expand your demographic or purchaser catchment. Don’t forget to try leveraging peer recommendations via social networks or user reviews and the like.

4. Bulk up.

Consider adding to your current product line. Just as many conventional retailers like warehouse clubs, pharmacies and even dollar stores have added fresh food to their lineup, you may be able to augment your current product base to attract customers. You never know what may work unless you research try. Start small with a simple pilot, measure, and then take it from there.

5. Knowledge is everything.

Simply offering a product, any product, is not enough. Competitive retailers need to possess transferrable, deep product expertise to help consumers decide on their purchases and explain the rationale behind their choices. Think of the sommelier at your local restaurant, the barista at your local coffee shop, the curator at your local bookstore, or the personal stylist at your local tailor. Each one of these offers a unique experience tied to product knowledge. Again, your environment will want to be increasingly experiential.

6. It’s not just the price.

With the boom in discounters, margins are always under pressure. And all retailers have to be vigilant when it comes to three cost levers: direct product costs, the indirect costs of goods not for resale, and labour costs. Retailers who tackle these intensively can curb expenses and come out on top in a competitive market. In the product cost area, some retailers strip back costs by going ‘private-label’, thereby also giving customers exactly the features they’re most looking for. Some retailers examine their ‘should cost’ models in order to reset their pricing. And increased technology in-store can reduce infrastructure spending. It all adds up!

7. Reconfigure your footprint.

Many retailers are already ‘rebalancing’ their real estate. Bricks-and-mortar locations can’t simply be places where products happen to be sold. Grocery outlets haven’t been as greatly affected, but witness what’s happening in toys and consumer electronics sectors. Often a footprint can be downsized by half. Reconfiguration, of not just within each individual space, but perhaps considering the complexion of your multi-store portfolio can make all the difference in the world.

8. Tech is king.

Forward-thinking retailers examine their use of data and build an analytical muscle to enable targeted marketing, the tailoring of product assortments as well as more effective pricing and promotions. Gathering and analyzing data to understand the needs, preferences, and attitudes of your expanding consumer segments, such as focusing on under-served groups like Hispanics, the LGBTQ community, and centennials will be just as important as understanding individual customers and customizing their shopping experience on a one-on-one basis.

9. Don’t wait.

Instead, embrace the challenge of continuous evolution. Perhaps this means continuously experimenting to develop with a proprietary line of products, fresh technologies or a new business model. This kind of pre-emptive ‘global think’ isn’t easy, but it’s a good line of defence.


It’s very Canadian to be shy and polite, but some of our most powerful success stories (Aldo, Lululemon, Frank + Oak, Indochino) have been bold and willing to challenge US or outsider brands. It’s easy to forget when embarking on an ambitious expansion plan and staring down a few significant setbacks along the way, to keep your eye on the prize. Don’t be afraid to break a few eggs in your quest for success.

Perhaps that means making a secret shopping trip to your nearest and dearest competitor and scoping out some of the things they’re doing right? More often than not, you’ll want to surround yourself and your venture with the finest expertise possible.

If you’re facing a challenging local market, or new US competition and need some help our door is always open.

6 Ways to Tackle Retail Space Planning Like a Pro

Wouldn’t you love to know the tricks professional retail designers and planners use to the most of your space? Free of charge.

“Your brand [read: your store] is a story you tell to the world with the hope that it will resonate, and consumers will want to associate themselves with your brand,” says Adrienne Weiss, the designer behind stores like Build-A-Bear and Baskin Robbins.

And there are a handful of clever and sure-fire and profitable tactics that professional retail designers employ that could help any retailer up their game when it comes to customer engagement and management. So, let’s explore some of the techniques most used and under-appreciated.

Many of these tricks and tips can be seamlessly added to your retailers’ handbook.

Secrets from the Best of the Best

A secret sauce of sorts, we’ve lined up six insider strategies that you’ll typically only learn from the professionals for a fee. Concepts that will improve your retail environment, customer experience, and selling opportunities.


Let’s start with the obvious, but also often overlooked: something as simple as making sure your windows shine with some spit-and-polish is dead-easy for starters. Then ensure that your window displays are appealing; that they tell a story and revolve around a single thematic colour. It’s important to avoid a cluttered/overcrowded look because a sense of space will signify that feeling of luxury.

From there consider:

  • Once inside the entry-way area, also called a decompression zone, you’ll want to present an open, inviting and easy to navigate space. Its purpose is to give shoppers a chance to transition from the parking lot/mall/outside world and refocus on shopping. Size for the decompression zone will depend upon the size of your sales floor, but it’s generally the first 5 to 15 feet inside the front door.
  • Remember, first impressions are lasting impressions. An eye-catching store-front display is paramount. As shoppers walk in the front door, they should be attracted by merchandise, not repelled by checkout counters or other service elements including baskets and carts, which should be kept clear of your decompression zone. Tucked off to the side will help shoppers find and grab them as needed.
  • Nothing within your store-front display should be so tall as to block the sightlines of the store and certainly not so crowded as to create an overwhelming experience. Try something seasonal, touchable, or tryable for interest-sake.
  • For your decompression zone, avoid too many products or signs. The first thing shoppers will notice inside your store is your décor package (walls, flooring, primary and accent colours, fixturing, signing, wall striping) which must work together to tell a single story.

PICTURE THIS: Décor and signage are two language elements that tell your store/brand story. They encompass the whole as if an onion skin, while shoppers peel back the layers of that onion, moving from the entrance to department, from department to category within a department, from category to a product line, shelf level browsing, detailed examination of features and benefits of items, all to make that crucial buying decision.


Odd as it may sound, be sure to steer shoppers to the right. Yes, customers will look left then right, but prefer to move to the right through a counter-clockwise direction around a space (says Brian Dyches, chief experience officer of retail branding firm Ikonic Tonic, Los Angeles).

  • Customers will move just past your decompression zone and look to the right at the wall commonly known as the power wall. This is another one of those key merchandising areas, first and foremost because it’s the wall shoppers see first after turning right making it a useful perception builder. Therefore think logo, corporate colours and thematically displayed merchandise.
  • Have An Angle – Shoppers find angles more appealing (ie – angled aisles that create an arrow leading to an engaging final display) although for practical purposes this approach can take up to 30% more space, with the same number of store fixtures. Layouts more commonly used are:
    • The Grid-Street Layout: where fixtures run parallel to the walls, customers typically grab a shopping cart and start in a front corner walking each and every aisle. Benefits are clean sight lines throughout the store and maximum end-feature exposure. The best examples of this layout are grocery or big-box stores.
    • The Loop (Racetrack) Layout: offers a clearly-defined main aisle that circles through the store like a race track with perimeter fixtures running perpendicular to the wall, and center fixtures running parallel to the side walls. Benefits are the ability to send shoppers to the right and maximum product exposure using perimeter walls. The best examples of this layout are Target or Best Buy.
    • The Free Flow Layout: is used by specialty stores because it allows for the most creativity with no set aisles or straight lines. Benefits are angle-placement of fixtures to encourage shopping, more opportunities to romance the merchandise and create lifestyle display vignettes. The best examples of this layout are fashion and apparel stores or automotive dealerships.


It’s important to create breathing or white space to allow the eye to rest/relax.

So, from just past the decompression zone, you can utilize the placement of fixtures in what is known as speed bumps. These merchandise displays work much the same way as speed bumps in parking lots by slowing customers down. They can also grab attention and introduce/feature cool products. Specialty fixtures such as slat board 4-ways or small display tables for seasonal or new items can make great Speed Bumps.

NOTE: Be sure to rotate the product on your speed bumps at least once a week.

TIP: Your front right corner is not the best checkout location! It should be located at a natural stopping point in the shopping experience; perhaps the left side of the store and close to the front.


Here’s a hit-list of the best ways to reinforce everything your store/company/vision stands for:

  • Be consistent with branding (for impact).
  • Use signage for memorable, enticing first impressions.
  • Spread your logo around and accent with a colour theme generously (preferably your corporate/brand colours) because colour equals feelings.

SIDEBAR: There are two kinds of colours used in store décor: Primary colours (neutrals) and secondary colours (bold, accent colours). Primary colours are used in 80% of the store’s décor to create a relaxed atmosphere for customers’ shopping. Accent colours, 20% because they are the attention grabbers.


Not only does lighting create visibility, but it also contributes to the mood; think moody, edgy, playful, relaxed, energized, or mysterious.

Mirrors can increase that expansive feeling of space and help bounce that light around. Also, a glass or acrylic components in your displays can help achieve an open and airy or backlit effect.

A few other simple fixes are:

  • Utilizing music and scent (but be aware the scent-free movement may prefer a scent-free zone) to create ambience.
  • Corner protectors on drywall and other painted surfaces can keep everything looking fresh. Keep touchup paint on hand to ensure high-traffic areas don’t look rundown
  • Use the checkout area for impulse merchandise.
  • Update your displays regularly. If you are lean on inventory, make sure to push product to the front of the shelf to make it look neater and more fulsome.


In your window display, product displays, or point of sale location, using the colour green has been shown to increase customers spending by 25%. Plants create the most appealing sense of green for humans, so perhaps a living wall is your answer!

And as food for thought, here are some other ways to go green:

  • Switching to more energy-efficient lighting such as LCD or compact fluorescent
  • Stepping down to less toxic cleaning products
  • Cutting back on plastic packaging and bags or offering an email receipt?

Then to save that other form on green ($), turn things down or turn them off. Consider putting timers in under-utilized spaces such as storage areas, washrooms, change rooms. And shut down those ‘power vampires’ like computers, cash registers or other electronics for the night.

At The End of the Day…

As a retailer, you need to stretch your budget to cover your vision. That means understanding where best to spend your money and where to save it. The premier retail designers know just how to tip the game in your favour by implementing some easy tactics – that almost effortlessly add to your bottom-line.

Of course, if you’d like help with your next store design or space planning, our in-house design and engineering team is ready to help. Just give us a call.

How To Get Started: Open a new store or renovate an existing space? Each has its opportunities.

If you’re ready to grow your retail business, you may ask if it’s more advantageous to stay put or to change locations.

As part of our How To Get Started series, we look at the burning topics that affect all retailers who are looking to grow their retail footprint. Our previous post in this series looked at how retail fixtures can help improve your customers’ experience.

From ordering inventory to researching market trends to merchandising displays to training staff and planning in-store events to scheduling online marketing and more, running a retail business means constantly having a thousand details top-of-mind You’re focusing, balancing, juggling finances – frankly, it’s all consuming!

So, moving from a location for any number of reasons: whether it’s because you’ve outgrown a space in size and layout; or because of population shifts or consumer catchment area growth; or even downsizing into a shared space with a complementary business, or perhaps following consumer trends. From time to time events are out of your retail-hands such as when a building is sold.

Moving makes sense, right? But not always.

You have to decide for yourself if renovating an existing space – maybe taking on neighbouring square footage if necessary, is the smarter move.

The decision to stay put or change/add locations is such a personal one in your retail-journey; dependent on timing; intertwined with your own unique set of circumstances; tied to your location(s) and the size of your retail portfolio (whether it’s 3 stores or 49; or somewhere in between). Covering all possible options is near-impossible here, nevertheless, it’s helpful to explore some diverging paths for such a complex decision-making journey by examining some possibilities.

Perhaps some of these roads-less-travelled will be just up your alley.


Firstly, you may already have a sneaking suspicion that your current location won’t get you to the next level of growth as things stand. So, what are some signs that something needs to change?

  • Your core customer demographic might be changing. Or your core may no longer be close to your targets.
  • Perhaps an influx of ethnic customers (if you’re not part of that ethnic group) has made it more difficult to conduct business and be profitable. Or at the very least, riskier.
  • Customer traffic might be decreasing. Average basket or purchase/receipt of sale may be declining; inventory may not be moving as quickly (or even worse, lots of merchandise could be left after the season is done). [NOTE: This might also be an indicator of incorrect ordering practices]
  • Competition may be driving you out. Or if your strategy was to co-locate with competition to feed your sales traffic, their customer base may have shifted in some way.


Whether staying or moving, analysis of sales potential and market capture is vital.

What are solid reasons for each option?

Only by examining all the data can you decide which choice is right for any given moment. And as with every business move, it generally comes down to a cost/benefit.

The cost of making a move vs. upgrading where you are currently. Costing must include the expense of renovating/expanding compared with those of moving (and potentially facing construction in a new space). Consider ROI – what your expected increase in sales could be and how long you’d be willing to pay off the investment made.

Calculate your ROI whether renovating or moving.


Ask yourself what you’d need to consider if you’re open to both options (staying or moving to a new location, or possibly both right – after all, you could be expanding).

  • Take inventory of what is working in the current location and consider if that can be replicated.
  • Take stock of your layout/setup/merchandise, etc. and plan for any changes or updates you might wish to make to the customer experience in any new locations. REMEMBER: You’ll want to budget for an update to the current location, so your brand presents a consistent impression.
  • You’ll need to plan on using staff from the existing location to train new staff.
  • Ask yourself if you’ll need to consider a store concept now? Think, a standard layout that you can replicate in a new location and roll out in more locations to come. Or perhaps your offering is unique to each community. Maybe you’ll be using the space/location to dictate what that look should be.
  • And then schedule, schedule, schedule. Consider what the right time might be to open new your business. Allow for 16-20 weeks for fixtures and installation. Another 4-5 weeks if you need a design/floorplan and more time depending on the amount of construction work needed on the space. Time always matters.


Let’s take a look at some of the considerations that could (and should) factor into your decision to move (or add) locations, bearing in mind that very personal and unique circumstances will influence any decision made.


  • You’ll have the opportunity to start with clean slate. An empty box. And you’ll be able to make it to suit your own vision.
  • You’ll have control over location quality when selecting your site. A prime location, ideal footprint and layout, high visibility, great accessibility, a ready-made customer base or population trends or customers that would follow you make GOING an easy decision. Perhaps you’ve found a site that’s already outfitted for your business (ie – restaurant).
  • If moving costs out at the more affordable/budget-friendly option, then moving it is.


  • There may be unknown factors involved with moving. Remember, there’s always an element of risking some misstep.
  • Filling that bare-bones box is going to be an expense that has to be accounted for. A net-new location requires more work in permitting, plans, construction and inspections than a reno (assuming that reno isn’t just shuffling fixtures around).
  • Timing/potential downtime at any location is critical to assess. You may need to factor in staying open at one location (perhaps serving customers in a reduced retail space while work proceeds in phases). Try to time rental for shortest time before opening for business (typically 2-3 weeks) so that you could earn sales revenue within your first month. TRY: Negotiating with the landlord for an amount of rent-free or reduced rent to cushion that prep-time.
  • TIP: Many retailers fail to consider the lead-time prior to opening, so ask for a closing date no earlier than 20 weeks (that’s 5 months!) minimum from signing the lease agreement. This time will be necessary for concept design, manufacture/sourcing, install and merchandising.
  • Then, see Colliers International’s moving checklist with over 60 items to be aware of.


When weighing the other side of the equation, your own personal and unique situation will come to bear on any final decision you should and could make to fulfill your retailer’s vision.


  • There’s something to be said for dealing with a known quantity, be that competitors or compatible neighbours, where there are common strengths and needs.
  • An existing customer base is invaluable.
  • With the right partner you can keep your store open during the day while having renvoations take place during off-hours – so your revenues are not impacted.
  • Perhaps it’s cost-effective to refresh vs. absorbing the expenses of moving in both time and money.
  • You can count on your existing logistics like parking and visibility/accessibility.


  • Perhaps staying put hems your business in (sizewise) by not allowing for growth/expansion? The desire to reconfiguration an existing space might also not be well supported at your site making staying a harder option. And the need for expanded services might warrant moving rather than staying.
  • You’ve heard that expression of putting lipstick on a pig? It may not be cost-effective to rejig an existing space when moving is an option. Your decision, once all factors are weighed.


So, what if you’re keeping one or more retail locations open while starting at a new location? Consider that renovating or relocating are less costly than adding locations…but once other options (such as diversifying your offerings, expanding to online or adding pop-ups) are exhausted, multiple locations may be your best solution.

Adding locations has definite perks by expanding your customer base, building brand awareness over a larger area, allowing you to provide better customer service (again over an increased service area), increasing your ordering power, lowering operational costs, bettering profit margins and displaying valuable social currency by showing off a thriving business.

Location, location! Ask yourself, are you / should you be adding different kinds of units to the mix of your retail portfolio? Should you be located in a strip mall? Perhaps a stand-alone store or a more commercial location will augment your customer base. You might also consider whether to allow each retail location to be injected with a local flavour distinct to each community.

Then it’s vital to focus on remaining consistent in your branding. Sure, standardizing all processes, logistics, technology will help, but multiple locations can muddy your image if not carefully managed.

TIP: Keep an eye on the market shift as discount retailers collectively add hundreds of stores during 2018 while mall-based stores shutter stores in record numbers. This speaks to the power of cheap and high-end succeeding while mid-tier specialty stores close). Trends and market movements are important indicators that bear watching.


  • With a clear eyes crunch the data for all scenarios.
  • Look in. You know your business best; what are your traffic and sales are telling you?
  • Look out. Are there new emerging markets where your product or offering would be a great addition? Or are more of the same type of clients you currently have or want in a new location?
  • REPEAT: Give yourself at least 5 months breathing room before the opening. This will allow you to get in and set up with minimal rent payment before you start making sales. And don’t be afraid to negotiate early entry rent free or reduced rate. Perhaps ask the landlord to pay for any renovations that will remain to benefit the next tenant (such as lights and flooring).
  • Know where you want to spend and where you want to splurge. Life is full of compromises and when you have to make tough decisions, it typically makes the choices more valuable.



It’s clear that the lines between online and offline retailing continue to blur. After all, the retail landscape and the ongoing ‘bricks and mortar’ stores vs. online retailing fight is ever present. And yet, amongst all the industry strife smart retailers are building their online and offline brands on the fact that customers should always be left with a unified brand impression, always arriving at the same outcome, emotion, and result. So despite the challenges that all retailers face, which the media seems to perpetuate with headlines alluding to a ‘retail apocalypse’ or ‘death of the mall’, the apparent glut of real estate on the market is leaving property owners and many retailers optimistic about the new approach to business.

In the same way that not all online businesses operate on the same model, not all businesses follow the traditional trajectory of moving from bricks and mortar to online. More and more, online-built and scalable businesses are transitioning the other way by establishing and increasing their bricks and mortar footprint. Always mindful, of course, of the brand they’re building and the customer experience they’re striving to translate that into a physical experience.

Looking at these power-players’ power plays, see many commonalities given the fact that online-first brands are by their nature profoundly digitally-native. “They’re vertically integrated, meaning that they totally understand their entire supply chain and they’re selling their own goods,” explains Art Coppola, CEO of the REIT, Macerich in the U.S. “They all want to have stores. Having stores is not an appendage. It is the core [of] their strategy.”

So, with real-estate experts calling for an increased number of brands to expand online to offline (calling for online brands like Away for luggage, Outdoor Voices for athletic apparel, M.Gemi for Italian leather shoes, Everlane for apparel and accessories, Harry’s for razors, Untuckit for button-down shirts, Allbirds for tennis shoes, Boll & Branch for bedding), it’s worth examining what makes the hits and how near-misses happen.



It might seem that Apple stores have always been with us, but they shocked the market by announcing the opening of 25 retail locations in the U.S. in May of 2001. Headlines stopped short of calling CEO Steve Jobs crazy, saying he was bold; anything but boring in a climate of Gateway tech store closings, a marked retail slowdown and the PC market bottoming out. One Bear Stearns analyst said, “We can’t figure it out… I’m sure [the computer retail store model] can work, but it hasn’t so far.”

Jobs announced that “Apple stores [would] offer an amazing new way to buy a computer.” Knowledgeable salespeople demonstrated Macs® running innovative applications like iTunes and iMovie™, as well as Apple’s revolutionary new operating system. All of the Macs were connected to the Internet, and several were connected to digital lifestyle products that complimented the Mac experience.

San Francisco Apple Store interior, lower floor
photo credit: Mark Hogan from San Francisco, USA – Apple Store San Francisco // Apple Store San Francisco Union Square Store

Products, solutions, ‘genius bar’, accessories (printers, scanners, tablets, cables, ink and software… ad infinitum) which are now so familiar, were available for cash & carry so there were no more 5-15 day wait times for product. Apple was determined to get back to delivering individual products and experience rather than widespread markets (music, movies) and they succeeded in creating a commercial environment that let customers spend time, not just money.

Apple delivered the touch in a high-touch world.



One of the world’s largest retailers – the company that tries to be everything to everyone – has attempted to make inroads as an offline retailer (since early 2015), but the glowing successes have not materialized quite as planned. Amazon has done the slow-march towards modest offline locations that are still worth looking at:

  • By partnering with Kohls Department Store and Whole Foods (which it owns) with displays in their stores; and,
  • by creating a web of about 48 sleek pop-ups (a few in every key city around the U.S.) and one cashier-less Amazon Go store (with 6 planned for 2018).

Amazon Go in Seattle, December 2016
photo credit: SounderBruce – Own work


As a data behemoth, Amazon certainly has the ability to create partnerships and initiatives, leveraging that collaboration and access to large-scale data assets to remain competitive. This is becoming increasingly important for brands and retailers moving in both directions across the blurring lines (ie – Walmart moving online; Amazon moving offline).

But Amazon’s innovation in non-stickered product (allowing pricing changes on the fly based on consumers previous spending habits) or cashier-less outlets (requiring a plethora of cameras like a giant surveillance device) is still being questioned in 2018 as gimmick or future.

Impressive, yes, but does that spell success? The jury’s out.



With a mission to educate savers and facilitate co-working, market observers called ING Directs’ expansion a ‘joke’ saying, it’s a bank in café clothing. Let’s take a quick look at where this bank without branches came from and where they went as they opened branches that are coffee shops:

  • Like the direct banking model they pioneered decades ago (starting as direct mail and phone book bank in 1997 in Canada), the ING DIRECT Cafés challenged the conventions of banking, redefining the role of banks while acknowledging shifts in technology and attitudes.
  • Developed to empower Canadians to make their own financial decisions, without line-ups, tellers or pens on a chain, and to make banking as simple as having a conversation on the same side of the table over a cup of coffee.
  • Starting with 1 test-site (the Gordon Baker Café in the 90s, see the video below for the full story), locations appeared in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto then spreading to Paris and Melbourne (as well as 11 locations across Canada).
  • Cafés integrated a first floor, housing a team that knew the ins and outs of ING DIRECT’s products, website and suite of mobile apps to give people the ability to create their own personal branch in their pocket (including free Wi-Fi; opportunities to learn about and support local businesses and non-profits, featuring a new organization each month while donating 100% of proceeds to local charities) and great coffee, tea, and juice. A second floor, called Network Orange was devoted to a high-tech co-working space ideal for companies in their early stages. The space helped establish small businesses and individual entrepreneurs across the country. The third floor was a satellite location for ING DIRECT staff to work.

By focusing the concept on a core idea: ‘saving money should be as simple as having a cup of coffee’ then throwing in lounge chairs, communal tables, power outlets and video tellers, ING Direct succeeded through open spaces creating comfort. Around the time the Canadian division became Tangerine (ING DIRECT was sold to Scotiabank and rebranded), the U.S. division was purchased by Capital One (a publically-traded company, accountable to shareholders) who pursued opening a dozen new locations within the year. They obviously looked at data and deemed it profitable.

BACKGROUNDER: ING Direct founder, Arkadi Kuhlmann tells the story of so many people showing up at their first Gordon Baker site to verify ING’s existence that staff offered them coffee and they lingered. This sparked the idea to encourage that elusive quality of connection/community that can create a brand’s lifestyle experience.


video credit: PHANTA



Casper Mattress Canada
The journey from online to offline shot like a rocket across the retail sky for Casper Mattress, but a very controlled rocket at that:

  • In 2014, the New-York based startup upended the mattress industry with its bed-in-a-box memory foam product that can be delivered right to customers’ doors
  • Chief executive Philip Krim cites three years of triple-digit growth in Canada
  • Using ‘nap-mobiles’ and ‘snooze rooms’ (tiny storage-like pods with garage doors) to test the market (2016) in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto
  • Followed by strategic partnerships to retail through West Elm in Toronto in March 2017 and Indigo with ‘nap-pods’ in February 2018.
  • Its own cash & carry pop-up called the ‘Casper Cottage’ (scandi-like cabin bedroom decked in pine furniture and shiplap walls) in a trendy Toronto location in July 2017
  • Opening the first of its retail shops north of the border shortly in Toronto starting with a new CF Sherway Gardens Casper retail space.


photo credit: blog.casper.com


Warby Parker
Online eyeglass retailer Warby Parker was founded in 2010 on the basis of shipped-to-home, custom-made glasses to great success, but similar to Casper plans to have nearly 100 stores across the U.S. by end of 2018 (up from present 64 locations). Their groundbreaking business followed their customers through their money and their data:

  • By first testing pop-up shops, stores on wheels (in decked-out school buses) and other “mediums” to reach customers; then secured well-vetted market locations in prime real estate locations.
  • Opening one retail location in New York because so many shoppers requested a place to try their glasses on.
  • Moving into retail was a logical step – gaining exposure, new customers and insights into shopping behavior, using their online databases to determine ‘patches’ of loyal demand to plant stores, whether old-fashion drugstore fronted, filled with bookshelves and card-catalogues like a library or outfitted with glass, chalkboard art and hip displays.
  • All the while developing relationships with top retailers and property owners (read malls and shopping centers).

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: The idea of using pop-up trailers as test sites instead of/before committing to long-term leases as part of growing process; at special events, temporary ‘under construction’ replacements, or travelling stores allows for flexibility at all ‘bricks and mortar’ retails.

Frank + Oak
Six years has seen this Montreal-based online menswear retailer flourish in the U.S. as well as in Canada, running a website and app, operating 16 bricks-and-mortar stores with in-store barbershops and cafés, brand outposts less concerned with sales per square foot than hosting whisky tastings and promoting the Frank + Oak aesthetic. And here’s how they did it:

  • Their strength was starting online without huge investments and understanding their customer base before the bricks & mortar expansion.
  • It helped that menswear was the fastest growing category of online sales between 2010 and 2015.
  • CEO Ethan Song approaches any move with a theory of ‘find your wide space’ by which he means an open market segment – one uncluttered by competition, where a new company could find room to grow.
  • The use of shopper data and hawkish analysis of sales patterns is what informs Frank + Oak’s decision-making. Nowhere is this more valuable than the move from online to offline retail which is all bleached floors, modern wood panelling and gunmetal greys.
  • Their recent move into women’s wear stands to double their market and they just launched a ‘style plan’ monthly subscription fueled by their celebrity following.


photo credit: Frank+Oak, Le Carrefour Laval, Laval Quebec, CBSF Inc.

BACKGROUNDER: It’s invaluable to partner with suppliers, as Frank + Oak did with us after their first few stores, who can help implement growth plans, modulate efficient spend through standardizing, and create the customized identity for your unique brand.



“When we were first talking to potential landlords, there was a lot of skepticism that they didn’t want mattress stores in the mall,” Krim of Casper said. “Now the landlords see what the experience is about, and it brings a lot to their properties.” 

Many of these retail brands today are also much more flexible in the size of their stores, circumventing a precedent set by department stores ages ago, to develop one model — one-floor plan — and stick with it.

Instead, companies today aren’t afraid to start small and move around. No more expensive, long-term leases to burden young brands, making life difficult at start-up. It’s a world of pop-ups and short-term, low-risk leases, all opening doors to the growth of an offline presence.

A Fall 2017 study surveyed 504 CMOs, heads of marketing, and other senior marketing executives of retailers and brands. A majority (67%) confirmed “the value they can offer customers” to be a top marketing driver for their business and most understood that data is key. Non-personally identifiable customer data enables them to deliver greater customer satisfaction.

Online retailers and brands with access to large amounts of customer data across different channels and stages of the buyer journey are better positioned to dominate in commerce marketing. It seems that personalization wins in an era of saturation. And advantage goes to the online startups since conventional bricks & mortar retailers won’t have the same data-perks without conducting a lot of customer surveys.

Take Ethan Song of Frank + Oak, who believes the future lies in artificial intelligence — machine learning that can look at a customer’s online profile and understand whether he is the sort of person who needs two new white dress shirts for work, plus a Raptors-logoed jersey. “Software is going to transform every type of experience,” he explains. “There’s still a big space for physical shopping streets and malls.”

Therein rests the massive transformation possible in retail as lines fade between online and offline markets.

Thinking of making the move from online to offline? Need help in navigating the look that will be right for you? Then we need to talk.




When it comes to building out a store, the main phases of the process include discovery, strategy and design, manufacturing and sourcing, and installation and merchandising.  In the first post in our series, we covered discussed the need for discovery, strategy, and design and covered general costs.  If you haven’t checked that post out you can find it here.



At this point in the process, we move from the conceptualizing phase, where all design considerations and planning is put on paper, to building out the custom fixtures and sourcing standard fixtures.  And truthfully, this is where most of your working dollars are invested.

How much can you spend in this phase? It all depends on your tastes and material specifications – but regardless of your working budget we’re able to provide a general guide:


  • High End: $130 to $150/square foot
  • Medium: $100 to $125/square foot
  • Low End: $85 to $95/square foot
  • Commodity or Standard Fixtures Only: $65 to $85/square foot


Of course, the choice of materials and the complexities of the design or the commodity fixtures will factor in greatly. Choice of materials range, from low to high, could look something like:


  • Low: melamine, simple shapes, dressed standard fixtures, adding trims and details to standard components;
  • Medium: laminates, colour core laminates, more components to designs, man-made solid surfaces; and
  • High: stone types, lighting integrated into displays and/or signage.


To influence your customers, you need to have the right fixtures and displays at every touchpoint. In addition to the right products at the right prices, it’s the in-store experience that will influence customers to make a purchase and hopefully come back again and again.

So, prepare to live and breathe your brand vicariously through everything inside your store. Nothing can be overlooked. And every expense needs to meet the requirements of your retail brand and the parameters of your budget.

Making things as painless as possible, we ensure you’ll have the right quality of custom and/or standard retail fixtures on budget and on time. To understand more about our Manufacturing and Supply capabilities, you can learn more here.


Installation and Merchandising – Making it Look the Way You Imagined.

Installation services are the service hours and resources needed for setting up and installing all shelving, displays, fixtures and planned built-ins, like checkouts and counters.

Merchandising services are the resources needed to fully merchandise and stock your retail store for the first time before opening.

What’s the typical range retails should expect to spend on these services?  That’s a hard question to answer in general terms as much of the work depends on the size of the store, the location, and the complexity of the work.

What we can say is that these services are pretty straightforward and costs will vary, keeping in mind that work is based on an hourly rate and any travel expenses incurred. One thing to note — and it’s a great advantage of ours — is that we have a huge network of teams across the country, so we can remain competitive since we’ll have the right people close to your store, regardless of the province.

Another element to consider is timing, we typically see full stores completed within a week, with larger big box stores needing more time. As each project is different, we also consider:


  • Is this an existing store being renovated? If so, you might need to consider nighttime-only work, so noise and dust doesn’t impact the shopping experience during the day (the retail space needs to be clean during business hours);
  • Is it a new build? If so, we’ll have free reign of the place to work unobstructed;
  • The cost will also be impacted by the number of people on the job – depending on scope, we may need to send specialty craftspeople and tradespeople along with general installers; and
  • Other factors impacting cost may include: tear down and/or disposal of what’s existing on site.


To understand more about our capabilities within execution, you can learn more here.


How Long Will This Take?

Great question. And considering you have a business to run, it’s an important question to ask.

Here are a few things to consider with respect to timelines:


  • Design is typically a 5 to 7-week process that can move a bit quicker or slower depending on review cycles in your organization.
  • Manufacturing and supply is typically a 16-week process which includes pricing, engineering, and manufacturing and sourcing. We don’t like to cut this timing down as it typically means compromising on the work or putting your investment at risk – we do not want to impact the quality and cost.
  • All timelines are driven by the availability of materials and the time it takes to engineer and cost the project before we start to build.
  • Installation and merchandising can take about 2 weeks when the retail space is available at all times (overnight crews may require more time due to restrictions during your store’s operating hours).


The good thing about working with a full-service partner like CBSF is that we have a line of site on the full scope of work so we will always communicate any changes to the timelines at every stage of the project.

To say that we haven’t squeezed any of these timelines in the past would be a lie – we’ve done it and have been successful, but the success is really against a reset of expectations on both our’s and the customer’s side. Both sides need to understand what it will take to make it happen and what obstacles may arise.

Keep in mind that there’s always plenty of room to grow — that’s how we like to look at every project.

We hope you found this topic and the two-part series valuable, and that it’s shed a bit more light about how to proceed with your next store.

Are you ready to see what your retail brand can do with the right fixtures? Then give us a shout.




Are you in the process of transitioning from business plan to physical storefront?  Or moving from one pre-existing location to a second one?  Realize just how important it is to consider all of the details.

Your business plan, your playbook and any logistical blueprint you’ve been working with might suggest that all you need is to get those doors open; get the systems operating for everything to work out. That might not be (and often isn’t) the case.  There’s a possibility that you’ve missed some aspects in your preparation.  And how can you know what you don’t know? Expanding your retail footprint can be intimidating.

So, let’s walk through where your focus should be and what to beware of, while you’re looking for that perfect space for your brick-and-mortar retail location.




1. Match made in heaven.

Customers first, right? Any location you scope out must take their needs into consideration:


  • You’ll need to know your customers’ wants and how that translates into your brand’s presence in the physical space.
  • You need to understand customer expectations and what your competitors’ offerings are.
  • You must have a plan to draw customers into your store, starting with exterior signage (location permitting, visibility from the road).
  • Your location needs to be accessible and appealing. Make it easy for your customer!


2. It’s all about the details.

If you like a location, drill down to demographics and get intimate with your target market:

  • Analyze and embrace the demographic your business will cater to – your target market’s age, income, education and shopping habits.
  • Understand the types of products or services they want and ensure your location best suits your business.
  • Know what vehicle traffic to expect and provide adequate, accessible parking.
  • Consider the level of foot traffic coming your way and accessibility to public transportation stops.


3. Like a good neighbour…

While exploring your surroundings and your neighbours, ask:

  • Is the area safe?
  • Are you prepared for certain times of the year to create fluctuation in sales?
  • Have you gauged the lifespan of other comparable businesses in your area:  frequency of new openings, closeouts, and length of stay?


4. Birds of a feather.

It’s vital to understand your competition, where they’re located and what they’re doing, whether that’s around the corner or within a quick drive from your potential location.


5. Do not zone out.

Understand the rules of running your business at the location you want. Familiarize yourself with municipal bylaws, zoning regulations, and more:


  • Determine if your business is compatible with the potential location.
  • Have you done your due diligence with the municipality to ensure you and your business meets all operational requirements?
  • If you’re opening a restaurant, consider whether the potential location is already outfitted with everything you need (a good kitchen, the right type of plumbing, gas for ovens, ventilation etc.) or is it a complete gut-job (cha-ching!).


6. Your journey starts here.

Evaluate the physical space and what you need to sell your products:


  • On the exterior of the building, examine doors (entrances, exits, accessibility), windows (size, purpose, quality, condition) and the roof (perhaps you want to add a large sign or a roof-top patio).
  • Assessing the suitability of the interior retail space for product display is a given, but factor in other areas like restrooms, offices, storage areas, lunch rooms, etc.
  • Envision the interior layout. Would this space feel empty, because it’s too big? Or cluttered, because it’s too small for what you’re selling? Use a critical eye.
  • Determine what codes will be applicable to your business. If it’s a restaurant, health codes are vital.
  • Nothing is perfect, so do your own inspections.  The space might require repairs or renovations; updating hardware, electrical, lights as well as fixtures and displays (shelves, counters, etc.).
  • Structurally speaking, the property needs to handle the weight of your ambition! And the products you’re selling, of course. Floors must be strong enough. Walls must be sound. The space must carry its weight.
  • The mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEPs) needs to be sound, up-to-date, appropriate for your business needs and must meet all applicable standards in your city.


7. Don’t break the bank.

When searching for the best space for your new store, affordability is always the bottom line. A detailed budget can be your best friend and more often than not, unexpected expenses arise. Over-estimating or buffering your numbers can provide some breathing room. Stay calm; you’ve got this.

Begin by ensuring that both your building and desired layout accommodates any equipment you’re planning for. A building permit will be necessary (although codes vary by province/state depending on location), but any decent contractor can help with securing proper paperwork.

And speaking of contractors, budget-friendly is great, but be sure to ask if the firm is licensed. Consider if that work was. It’s your wallet and there’s no room for mistakes.

And if your wallet can expand to hire a good architect (even at higher cost), it’s worth considering. Rather than scrimping on essentials such contractors, designer partners… even a qualified architect, quality, and consistency frequently save money in the long-run.


8. Stick to the plan.

Details matter. Overlooked aspects can cost you, so keep your eye on additional costs for electrical, plumbing, landscaping, etc. Avoiding last minute changes wherever possible is critical, but should they occur, make sure they don’t create delays or budget overruns.


The takeaways.  Starting with “nothing” doesn’t always mean nothing.

Often, retailers turn to us unsure how to proceed.  They may have their lease in hand – unaware how to design and build their space.  Others have detailed plans and need the ability to make the plans work across different location requirements.  And others still, come to us with almost nothing on paper.

The simple truth is that the earlier we can be brought into the process, the more help and guidance we can provide.

Take this real client story for example.  A leading subscription-based service in the retail entertainment space wanted to move their business into a brick and mortar location, their first.  They came to us asking for a concept, and at the same time, unbeknownst to us they also signed a lease for a brand new space – not knowing that brand new space was only a blank box.  Their space didn’t include electrical, flooring, and any finishings. 

This, of course, was a bit of a problem, as their budget and plan didn’t account for the time and materials needed to build out the space.  Luckily we were able to step in and coach the client through the process of renegotiating with their landlord to get out of the lease agreement without penalties and instead move into a previously built out space that needed only cosmetic work, as opposed to structural work.


In closing, remember that it’s your vision, your purpose, and your business. You know it best.  But along the way, things can build up and feel overwhelming and that’s why you don’t have to go it alone. We’re here to help with feasibility studies, space walkthroughs, and we can provide direction on location potential.

Give us a shout; let’s talk.