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.





You’ve spent a lot of time getting your retail business up and running. And you’ve also spent a fair bit of capital to prepare and advance your business plan.

Whether this is your first, or tenth store, you’re establishing and growing your retail presence.  No matter the store number, you’ve got this and you’re ready to build your business.

Part of building that business also means you need to have a clear picture of the additional start-up costs for the physical location itself – the planning of the interior space and how it’s going to look, function, and effectively engage your customers.

Getting it right today, and at this location, means you can drastically improve your chances for future growth and success. We add this side note because at CBSF we are strategic thinkers and always consider the broader context when planning – we think in terms of long-term growth, helping clients gear up for potential expansion into other communities and markets before they’ve even opened their next location.



Before we get you excited about the future, it’s important to determine what you can do now and within the confines of your current location(s) and budget.  Consider:


  • How much you’ll need to spend to open your doors for business?
  • What can you do with your budget?
  • If you’re considering both, where can you incorporate custom fixtures and where can standard fixtures be utilized?
  • If your plans are out of budget, what can you adjust to bring them closer in line?



As soon as you secure a space, don’t expect it to be ready for customers. In fact, be prepared to think long and hard about your plan because once you start to make improvements, there’s no turning back without a hefty cost.

To help you understand the importance of a store’s layout, here’s a recent FitSmallBusiness article that provides some guidance on how to visualize your space.



When it comes to design, we take on projects that may be as small as the design, prototyping, and production of a single fixture that easily complements an existing store, or whole departments within a fully-functioning store, to creating an entirely new retail space.


  • When building a single element, we rely on the current branding and store design to source colours and finishes — we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
  • When creating an entirely new space, the process begins with a consultative stage where we focus on discovering your brand’s essence and personality, understanding the people behind your brand and their passion for the business, and helping you define your brand’s purpose through design — how it impacts customers (the emotional component of the brand and the feelings it emotes).


So when jumping into the discovery phase, we like to get a sense of what inspires you (inspirational photos, visuals, colours, etc.). This part of the process helps us focus on an overall style and clients really appreciate the clarity it brings.




  • Discovery;
  • Strategy and design;
  • Manufacturing and sourcing; and,
  • Installation and merchandising.


Consulting with you beforehand to understand your needs is a must. Once that’s done, we’ll present you with a contract for services, which determines when on the build plan you will need us.



Based on our experience, look to allocate 10% to 15% of your overall budget to design (for an overall budget of $50K, $5K to 8K, will go towards recommendations for a fixture type – typically a commodity fixture – and doing space planning to lay things out).

For higher overall budgets, more dollars can be allocated to design, so more time can be spent on designing fixtures, focusing on the environment like finishes on walls and floors, and signage considerations to create a strong, cohesive look.

What about the architects and permit-ready drawings?

Typically we will determine the condition of the space and scope of construction and permits at the time of the initial consultations, as we can offer our services to cover the entire project (local projects and those within Ontario). Due to code differences and municipal approvals based on relationships with local planning offices, we recommend out-of-province clients source their own architects and engineers within those local communities.  Of course, we can help facilitate the permits process, but a cost would need to be associated with this.



Now we get into the fun stuff.  This is where all of our collaborative thinking and strategizing come to life.

In most cases — and not every client and project will be the same — this is how the process will evolve:


  • Design consultation: we understand your needs, the space, scope of work, budget, etc. — typically and ideally done with on-site visits.
  • The design contract is signed: our collaborative vision is put on paper.
  • Measurements are taken: this can take up to 2 days to compile, and we’re very meticulous with this step.
  • Site visits: this is an in-depth analysis of your needs, desired styles, and expectations — it’s also about outcomes versus tactics where we determine if a flexible display space is needed to show merchandise of various sizes without it looking empty or overly tactical and if shelves can be removable to accommodate for various sizes and seasons.


At CBSF, we pride ourselves on our ability to determine what’s working and what’s not working with your current locations. “What would you do differently?” is a great question to ask, so we can glean insights on style, design, and expectations on the functionality of space. We will:


  • Pull inspiration from any type of source;
  • Prepare 2 to 3 early concepts with a 2D layout of the space – this helps us determine how much we can actually fit into your space;
  • Review and refine concepts;
  • Produce 3D renderings of the space based on your preference of a concept and blended design (we call this “blended” because we take all the things you like from the various concepts and mesh them into one design); and
  • After a few refinements, a final design package will be delivered complete with 3D views, a 2D plan, renderings of fixtures, and a graphics package.


In our design analysis, we also consider accessibility requirements and advise you to ensure they meet current requirements (this is where an architect can also provide another set of eyes for permit purposes so all codes are met).

All solid, well-thought-out designs include every facet of what’s expected from the store including:


  • Specifications for displays and fixtures – custom and standard;
  • Floor plans and wayfinding – understanding every step of the way including exits and entrances;
  • The impact of lighting – what kind, how much, where to place; and
  • Colours and materials – millwork, metal, plastics.


Designing the right retail environment that’s as practical as it is impressive means we need to get to know your business.

To understand more about our design process, you can learn more here.



What else will you need to consider? How long will all of this work actually take? Fear not, we’ll take a closer look at many of the next steps you need to tackle in our second part of this topic. Keep an eye out for “Part” 2″ coming soon.

CBSF is a team of design and production experts creating retail environments that enhance spaces, engage customers, and generate opportunities for a retailer’s growth. If you are ready to see what your retail brand can do with the right fixtures, then give us a shout.





Today, shoppers are tech savvy.

Their shopping expectations have increased.

And they expect their deals to be personalized and customized for them.

So, why shouldn’t your physical retail experience match those types of customer expectations?

As the retail landscape evolves, you’re now in a position to watch a shift in shopper behaviours. You’re watching the line blur between online and offline experiences melt into one another, creating a single experience. You need to make sure the in-store brand experience offers a customized approach and meets the changing needs of your customers.

A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report showed that customer expectations are increasing. But those retailers neglecting the new order and new standard of the shopping experience will most likely become victims to change.

Take note: The modern consumer doesn’t differentiate his or her shopping experience on a brand’s online presence versus their physical retail store – they want the same, consistent type of experience regardless of where they’re being engaged.

What does it take to do custom, so your store doesn’t get stuck playing catch up with the competition and ever-changing consumer expectations?

How long will it take to get custom-manufactured fixtures adorning your store?

Whether you’re a seasoned, multi-location retailer or a small, single bricks-and-mortar startup — the challenger brand fighting your way to market leadership — you can compete, even if it means being the David among the Goliaths.

But there’s a little clarity we need to establish first:

  • Custom is not cheap.
  • Custom will not appeal to all retailers.
  • And custom won’t be done in a couple of weeks.

Trust us. These points might sound shockingly unacceptable and less than heroic, but there’s so much truth behind them. Our experience, honesty, and good old common sense tell us these are necessary to share.

Sure, you’ll shop your store ideas around and there’ll probably be a manufacturer that’ll say, “Yeah, of course, we can do that in two weeks.” But the reality is, custom is custom for a reason.

Let’s take a quick look at what it takes to do custom the right way.




There are fresh strategies that will attract and engage your customers. As experts in designing and manufacturing custom store fixtures and displays, we know this and we’re always finding new ways to enhance the shopping experience.

Just like the need to create an experience personalized to shoppers, creating an environment that meets their expectations of your brand is just as important. Your physical shopping experience is about creating a compelling destination and a location-specific brand experience.

The challenge of redefining the in-store retail experience opens new opportunities for store planners to team with industry partners in creating imaginative fixtures, POP displays, signage, and furniture that attract, engage and command shoppers’ attention.


A custom approach is a unique approach. Nothing is cookie cutter.

Your retail experience needs to be memorable and impactful, so don’t expect to see anything standard with custom retail fixtures. That’s why we follow a process — one we’ve designed to take our clients from their original contact with us right through to the delivery of their new retail fixtures and solutions.


Step One.

We get to know you – we move to fully understand your brand, its story, the product strategies, your retailing and business objectives, your experiences, and how you want your customer to perceive you.

Then we look at your customer – we learn and discover how they shop your store, where else they shop, and what you know about them.


Step Two.

We delve into knowing what inspires you and your brand – dissect the things that inspire you and share our own ideas based on our collaborative discussions.

We’ll collaborate on elements we like, from the smallest details to the size and space of the products you’re offering, and interpret existing brand elements into new designs specifically tailored for you and your brand.


Step Three.

We get down to brass tacks on business operations – we explore the important business fundamentals that’ll play into ensuring the design we agree on will deliver on your ROI (product sizes, amount of products to be on fixtures, flexibility to downsize displays without looking empty, and so much more).


Step Four.

The budget – know it, own it, share it.

We won’t let budgets limit our creativity and innovation with respect to design, but we will have it play a practical role in the choice of materials. And we know that your budget is very important, and we’ll respect that – working with you to propose solutions above budget or help you prioritize the asks. If you’re a retailer with multiple locations, we’ll work to “value engineer” your ask by determining the best ways to allocate elements into the first store and provide some tweaks to the second or any following stores before anything is done with those locations.


Step Five.

Magic! Magic! Magic! Did we mention “magic?” Yes, this is where the magic begins. Design is a collaborative step – a huge step in our process – where options are narrowed down to a singular design.


Step Six.

And … a little more magic. It continues with the engineering and manufacturing steps, where we take raw materials and turn them into custom pieces. This typically feels like things are quiet for clients, but it’s a busy one in our facilities. And when things are ready, we’ll review with our clients at our shops.


Step Seven.

Now, we get to install and merchandise – getting those fixtures to the store, getting our clients’ products on them and prominently displayed, and readying clients to sell.


How long can custom typically take?

We’ll say it time and time again, but there is no cookie-cutter approach to doing custom retail fixtures, so there will not be a hard and fast timeline we can give; however, depending on a retailer’s needs, the average fixture or suite of fixtures should take anywhere from 9 to 12 weeks — and that starts from the time you first engage us to the time your fixtures get install in your store.

Sure, we’ve done it faster (and it taken even longer), but you’ll need to know that there are so many steps for things to happen smoothly and for the purpose of manufacturing the best fixtures of the highest quality — decisions need to be made, approvals need to be received, and changes requests can be made that go beyond the original scope.


How much will this cost?

In step 4 above, we briefly talk about the budget. So, that means it will depend on numerous factors – what your actual budget is, how many stores you need to update, the type of retail fixtures you need and want, the level of creativity necessary to bring ideas to life, the types of finishes and materials, and so much more.

The best thing is to start a conversation about what your needs are and how we can help you achieve your goals.


Custom looks good on you, and it has its privileges.

You have ideas on how to display products.

You want to take an innovative approach to your fixtures, to show off your products and your brand.

But standard, mass-produced retail fixtures don’t match your brand and your vision. You can either compromise on your vision or bring your vision to life, to your exact specs.

When you work with a partner like CBSF, you have access to skilled design and manufacturing teams with decades of experience helping clients visualize and bring life to ideas. And it doesn’t matter what you’re looking for in a fixture – we can design and engineer a custom program that will create a cohesive brand and design aesthetic.

We’ve been doing this a long time – working with clients to design and deliver retail-ready solutions to support their brand personality and promise, all intended to make your products stand out and optimize your customers’ shopping experience.

We like to think of ourselves as an extension of your brand.

Providing advanced design, engineering, and manufacturing competencies means we’re dedicated to creating the innovative retail fixture displays and programs that will deliver successful results for our clients.


From floor-to-ceiling, make CBSF your preferred retail display solution provider.

CBSF enjoys a stellar reputation among some of the nation’s most successful retailers and consumer brand companies, offering unparalleled expertise and capabilities in helping you create floor-to-ceiling visual communications and merchandise display solutions. And with a 150,000 square foot facility, we design and manufacture custom fixtures and displays, and for fulfillment and customer service excellence. CBSF is clearly positioned and capable of working with all types of materials to design and manufacture any retail program.

While the thought of a custom, personalized shopping experience may seem overwhelming, especially if you’re a small retailer, the rationale to design a space that’s unique to your retail brand has merit. If you want to thrive in a quickly evolving industry, custom might be necessary. And the decision to do so will force your competition to play second fiddle to your advancement.

Force your competition to play catch up.
We love hearing about a retailer’s future-proof vision and creating an in-store shopping experience that will impress your customers, deliver engagement, and drive revenue.

Ready to talk about how we can help you customize and personalize your store’s shopping experience?

We are.


The retail store fixtures you choose say a lot about what you’re offering, impact the customer experience and influence your customers’ perceptions.


Yes, traditional shelves like gondolas are cost-effective.

Yes, shelves work well for high-density merchandising, helping you get more of your products on display and making them accessible to customers.

And yes, your customers will respond to the unique and creative ways you display your merchandise.

But not all shelves, displays and fixtures are the same.

It’s okay to want your retail fixtures to work for you and to display the right products in the right places — to house the product information needed to help inform a customer’s buying decision and to allow for a neat presentation that’ll excite customers.

Before we dive into this topic, keep in mind that there will be a lot to think about when it comes to your store’s overall environment. A few questions that’ll ignite some though include: Are you changing it all or making minor additions with the addition of a fixture here or there? How do you want the fixtures to come together? What kind of a space do you envision with these fixtures?




What is visual merchandising and how can it help display products?

As you may know and exactly as it sounds, visual merchandising is a technique used by retailers to maximize sales, which considers a host of things:

  • Engaging customers with pricing, shelf talkers, offers, ambiance.
  • Effectively utilizing a store’s floorplan to become an authentic showroom.
  • How to display products properly.
  • Promoting the features of products and making them easy to find.
  • Establishing a neat, clean, and aesthetically appealing display to entice customers.
  • And making customers excited enough to go to the cash register.

Designing a new retail floor plan for a small storefront can be a rather large process. However, just by keeping in mind the five primary floor plans (straight, diagonal, angular, geometric, and mixed) you can make your life much easier.

  • Display of product is typically influenced by the product size and packaging.
  • Consider how much of the product needs to be on the shelf to result in the best ROI and cost per square footage (typically known as bin cap).
  • How customers want to shop for certain types of products.



Make your brand prominent to convert those window shoppers to actual shoppers.

You’ve taken the time and effort to create your brand – a personality complete with visual elements like colour – so you need to make sure your store reflects and supports it with the right display elements. In a word: Consistency.

Depending on the type of products you’re selling, the fixtures you choose will be of particular importance. You want to make sure they’re in line with your brand. But at the same time, as you create an experience, you don’t want to detract from what your customers are looking for and making it difficult for them to find what they want. They want to see the products you’re selling and not necessarily the shelves.


Avoid making things look drab: A recent study showed that Canadian shopper’s find in-store displays to be boring.

Inspiration is everywhere. Check out what your competition is doing and how your own customers are interacting with products in your own store for the guidance you need to help improve your visuals displays.


Show it off.

If you want your customers to visualize it, then show them what things can actually look like in a real-world setting.

IKEA is arguably one of the best at doing this. Everything is calculated to the exact detail – how customers maneuver through the store, how products look in environments outside the store (like a fully furnished kitchen complete with tableware on tables or a child’s bedroom with linens and toys), and they create easily accessible ways to get to products.

Selling housewares? Try using retail fixtures to create a kitchen setting where small appliances and other types of housewares can be displayed. Benefits of using retail shelving vs kitchen cabinet is maximized product display – once customers have committed to buy, the box product is right there for the taking.

But don’t fall for the latest fad in retail fixtures. If it doesn’t match the purpose and intent of your brand/product, then it’s not for you. And if that fixture that every other retailer seems to be using has caught your eye, ask yourself this: Will it make my products prominent and stand out with customers?


  • One size fits all is never a suitable approach.
  • Create a good flow that will not derail movement, so your customers can travel throughout the space without getting ‘stuck’ somewhere.
  • Be aware of your store’s building architecture – ceiling heights, overall size, the location of entrances and exits.
  • Decide if you’ll work with existing lighting or add and update.
  • Your store has a story to tell, so keep it clean and concise — it should inform customers about your brand and your product offerings.


If you’re selling, someone better be able to buy. So, make things easy for your customers.

We touched on this point in a previous article, but it’s always worth highlighting: Anything you use to display products (a shelf, a table, a glass case) must be able to engage customers in a very comfortable way. Don’t force your customers to reach up high or step on something to get to a product or force them to bend down to grab something that might be hiding under a table. Save those out of reach spaces for extra stock or empty product boxes used as a display.

Don’t be afraid to make some products more prominent than others.

A change in season.
A limited-time offer.
A huge sale of overstocked products.

Whatever the case may be, there will always be a reason to make some products more prominent than others.

If this happens, you need to make these products stand out with customers. The right lighting, fixtures, and colours will attract your customers’ attention.

If you’re a bit fussy with your budget, then don’t worry. Using a bit of creativity can help you make your retail store fixtures look unique and actually pretty sharp. Add some colour, the right shelf lighting, and a ton of brand personality, and you’ve got yourself displays that can change based on the product being featured and the evolving seasons.

Here’s an interesting look at how to make things enticing even when the budget might be less than exciting: The 9 Best Budget-Friendly Merchandising Displays to Inspire Your Inner Artist.

If you’re taking a budget-conscious approach to outfitting your store, then why not partner with an expert who has the experience with standard fixtures and local businesses? Action Retail Outfitters (ARO), a CBSF sister company, has been helping retailers of any size with their store fixtures and helping them stay competitive.


Retailing is a science, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

Using fixtures like gondolas and custom walls and nesting tables will allow you to get the most of your retail space.

  • Lozier Gondola: Accommodate different accessories, can hang almost anything, wall or freestanding models available and use slatwall as a backing option.
  • Custom Wall, Fixtures, and Counters: Great for maximizing space, many compatible accessories to display any product.
  • Nesting Tables: Multi-tiered tables offer a solution for showcasing a variety of products, cost-effective, pleasing to the eye.

Experimenting can also be about using retail fixtures and accessories in different and unexpected ways – like the pic of the hanging shirt in Italy, experimenting with adding temporary colour in the form of paper signage, etc.

Keeping your shopping experience fresh can be a challenge. But there are things to consider – dos and don’ts – that will help you along the way as you continue to experiment with your space and determine what’s best for your brand and customers.

These are some things you can do:

  • Know what makes a great first impression with your customers.
  • Utilize end caps and gondola shelves to promote impulse purchases and generate higher returns.
  • Get to know you customers during their shopping experience, so you can engage with them better.
  • Offer the right products that will establish loyalty with your customers.
  • Label things correctly and make signage prominent – always!
  • Keep in mind that product should always be at eye-level and easy to grab.

And these are a few things that you shouldn’t do:

  • Don’t be messy – an aesthetically appealing space will resonate with customers.
  • Don’t create a tight situation – aisles should be easily accessible.
  • Don’t overcrowd your space with too many fixtures – customers will find it difficult to maneuver.
  • Don’t make your space become stale – change it up once in a while.
  • Don’t use too many styles of fixtures – this will confuse customers and most likely will not be a good reflection of your brand.
  • Don’t create a retail space that’ll be a roadblock for customers – they will make an immediate decision on whether to continue on into your store or to leave quickly the moment they find it overwhelming.


Does it make sense to invest in custom store fixtures?

Your products are amazing. Your marketing is bang on. And you’ve got the right personnel at the forefront of your brand. But it doesn’t end there.

Your customers expect a great shopping experience, so your store needs to match those expectations at every corner. That’s why many retailers now choose to work with custom, turnkey solution providers – design, manufacturing, installation and merchandising.

There are significant benefits to customizing your retail space:

  • Custom manufacturers like us are equipped with the right people, like engineers, designers, and craftspeople, who know how to maximize the efficiency of a retail space and how to create cost-effective fixture solutions.
  • There are various types of materials to choose from – wood, metal, acrylic – so you’re not restricted to a certain type that might not necessarily be best for your brand.
  • Your brand can speak better to your customer – they will engage better with a brand that is consistent and unified with its message and personality.


Need more of a reason to consider the importance of creating a great in-store experience?

A 2014 Point of Purchase Association (POPAI) study revealed that nearly 70% of consumer decision making happens in-store and that the environment is crucial to a store’s success.

And an OgilvyAction study further revealed that the decisions shoppers make, the environment they shop in, what’s sold, and in what country also impacts the decision-making process. One fact claimed that 28% of customers go to a store without having decided on what brand they want to buy, although they know the category of their product.




As the old adage goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. So, don’t be discouraged to know that this will be a work in progress — constantly making changes and updates based on new learnings and insights. Consider it a work in progress that will require a few tweaks as you watch how your customers interact within the space.

“Physical Retail is Not Dead: Boring Retail Is” is another great article that’ll help you understand that retail actually isn’t dead — it’s alive and thriving.

Walk amongst your customers, watch how their shopping experience progresses as they weave through your aisles, and don’t be afraid to interact with them and ask questions.

Your store may have four walls, but there shouldn’t be a ceiling on its potential.

Avoid having your merchandise compete with the fixtures you choose, and you’ll be making sure your products speak loudly and attract shopper attention. After all, everything should work together to help you gain that attention.


Ready to improve your customer experience? Need help with deciding on how to decide which fixtures are right for you? Then we need to talk.



With rents ballooning and demand for space skyrocketing, you need to be creative when maximizing the efficiency of your retail floor space.

You’ve heard it all before. You need to:

  • Diversify your product selection.
  • Optimize prices and promotions.
  • Improve your store’s layout.

Yes, all this will encourage people – your customers – to visit again and again, and even convince them to stay awhile. It’s all part of the movement of customers taking control of their own shopping experience.

But when it comes to optimizing the often-limited retail space available to your business, there’s no magic pill to achieving success.

With the digital age forcing consumers to change the way they research, share, and shop, retailers are up against the wall trying to discover new, exciting ways to put their businesses in clear sight of consumers.

If you own or manage small retail spaces, then this holds especially true for you, and this article will help as we take a look at a few ways to get the most out of your retail environment.




Oh, it’s so nice to see merchandise at eye level, all within reach. But with small spaces come big challenges for retailers with a lot of merchandise to display.

Things can get very cluttered, and very overstocked, very fast. So, consider going up with the right shelving options that will prominently display your merchandise.

But maximizing retail space is about getting more product on the floor. It’s about giving customers the opportunity to find what they’re looking for quickly and easily.

  • Don’t force customers to hunt for products.
  • For free-standing structures, stick with a max height of 84″ from the floor to make products easy to find.
  • Utilize the wall if you need to go higher.
  • Use clearly marked and legible signs to direct customers and navigate them as they shop.
  • And a word of caution: Never suspend anything from the ceiling.


If you merchandise it properly, they will come.

Yes, you need shelves. But your products need to scream from them — visual merchandising is essential to increasing sales.

Everything you do has to create a great customer experience.

  • Merchandise horizontally – customers will need to run their eyes across the top shelf to see options for a category.
  • Merchandise vertically – stick to strike zone principles and keep high-performing SKUs there, but offer options (customers will be more likely to scan to find the category in the strike zone).
  • Keep products you want to see at no higher than 72″ above the floor – don’t let customers climb the walls to get something.
  • Place empty product boxes on the top shelf as a way to show customers what is below – an effective visual tool that can save money on printing signs.

Large or small, you can do it all.

  • Focus on the strike zone to maximize retail racking (24″ high to about 60″ high) for private label, high-margin products, like a chrome toaster with a bagel option.
  • Place lower-margin products below, like a white toaster with basic functions.
  • Incorporate displays in strike zones for customer interaction.
  • Utilize the floor space for larger items and for cross merchandising – consider a digital kiosk to make online purchases for larger items that can be delivered to a customer’s home.
  • Minimize the mess, and stay clean and neat.
  • Brand signage can be positioned higher, but keep product information near the product off the face of the shelf.

So, you’ve created the illusion of height and your customers will be happy to look up to discover your merchandise. But you don’t want to make them feel confined or claustrophobic – customers don’t want to experience an anxiety attack, and you don’t want them planning their exit route before they’ve had a chance to experience your offerings.

There’s a happy medium. And yes, you can combine both tall shelves and shorter ones with a few tips:

  • Maintain a minimum aisle width of 4 feet for smaller retailers, 5 feet for larger big box stores.
  • Avoid creating a claustrophobic feeling – if you go higher than 84″ in racking, widen the aisles.
  • Avoid layering displays in aisles.

Also, make sure to personalize the shelves to match your brand with something as simple as coloured ticket strips — coloured paper inserts that slide into standard shelving or custom printed strips with key messages, and accent shelving in brand colours.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with various retail formats – a variety of shelving, displays, and decorations – to make your space look and feel airy. And know that you can still create an open space. Just like today’s typical bookstore, which has redefined the social meeting place, your retail space can use shelving to accommodate merchandise and still be inviting to shoppers.




Going vertical maximizes space. It’s a simple enough approach. But shelves alone can’t be the solution to effectively creating the illusion of space.


Let there be light.

Dining in total darkness is a thing. It is! Patrons at these types of restaurants love the idea of feasting on surprise dishes that will test and tantalize their taste buds. But when it comes to retail, nothing sells less than darkness.

Your store needs light, and you need to light it properly — it’s too important. And the less there is, the less likely shoppers are to shop.

Bad lighting could mean:

  • A part of the store is inaccessible.
  • Gives the impression that items in a dimly lit section are discounted.
  • Angry customers – they need to see the product and read labels, so save the ambiance for a romantic dinner and give them a chance to shop.
  • A bad perception of your store’s experience is created – if bulbs are out and not replaced, then perhaps you just don’t care. So, why would your customer?

Both small and large retailers must make lighting an integral part of their shopping experiences.

  • Overhead lighting needs to be exceptional and maintained properly.
  • Accent lighting at shelf level is best for ROI.

Ensure your space is lit properly, and you’ll be ensuring your customers feel welcome and willing to shop.


Colour happens.

Colour is a wonderful way to add life to a retail space, and very important to creating the illusion of space.

Here are a few key takeaways to consider:

  • Your brand colours should be prominently featured to remind customers where they are, especially for anything permanent.
  • The right colour draws attention to displays and product offerings like a sale.
  • Use off-brand colours for a limited time – 3 months is the maximum we would suggest.
  • For short-term, seasonal campaigns, consider colours that complement the season and don’t be afraid to be creative.

You’ll be happy to know that colour is a great opportunity to get customers excited about your brand. The style of your store and the strategy behind the design direction will determine what colours to use and where.


Re-jig your blueprint.

A smaller retail space is easier to optimize, right? Not so fast.

Size matters when it comes to getting more merchandise on the floor, giving your retail space a sense of variety. And your store could be filled with incredible items. But it’s not about getting more product out. There has to be a strategic approach to how it’s all displayed, regardless of your store’s size. Reconfiguring your footprint is about matching your shoppers’ expectations and behaviours, and how you want them to interact with your space.


How can you approach your retail space to optimize efficiency?

  • Inventory levels should always be maximized – empty shelves leave empty feelings with shoppers.
  • Customer shopping behaviours need to be considered.
  • Find the right balance between open space and product display.
  • Reduce the possibilities of errors with a plan to promote movement – reducing traffic flow and making it easier to navigate aisles.
  • Plan to have complementary product categories in close proximity to each other and add cross-merchandising opportunities (batteries can be in the electrical department, but also use be sold on a smaller display near flashlights).
  • If your store is long and narrow, don’t trap customers – break aisles up so customers don’t feel discouraged about walking a long distance to get out of the aisle (try for a max of 40 feet for large stores, 24-28 feet for smaller stores).
  • Keep seasonal and high impulse offerings at the front near entrances and checkouts.
  • Keep customers informed with the right signage – to inform loyal customers and to keep new customers coming back.


Dress up your retail space with some personality.

Your space is your space. It’s a reflection of you and your brand. So, you need to make sure it’s uniquely created and positioned for you and the products you’re selling.

What can you do to make your space more personal and inviting?

  • Stay on brand with any design elements like colours.
  • Connect added value to products.
  • Don’t add seats if it doesn’t make sense to your shopping experience.
  • Consider providing samples for items that require customers to make a better, more informed decision at home (wallpaper).

Don’t make things look and feel the same as any other retail space. Customers will notice — they don’t “buy” bland, and they won’t be inclined to stay and shop.

But a similar-sized space designed to sell its products in a unique way – a personal expression of the brand and you, the retailer – will make customers stay and shop.

Reduce clutter with a merchandising accessory that’s right for your product.

Create the illusion that your space is larger than it actually is, with lights, mirrors and reflective surfaces, and wide aisles.

Be personal, be smart, and welcome the idea of customizing your space, so your merchandise and brand are represented well.


Looking for some additional reading? Here are a few more articles to get your creative juices flowing.

6 Visual Merchandising Tricks to Increase Your Sales Per Square Foot

Apparel Magazine:
Fitting More Square Feet Into a Small Hole: Leading Retailers Test New Ideas to Increase Sales Per Square Foot

‘Brands are becoming culture coders,’ retail trend researcher reveals

Retail Merchandising Tips: How to Capture Attention in Your Store

6 Tips for Creating an Optimal Retail Store Layout


We know what you need to effectively sell.

Give us a shout and let’s chat about how we can help you discover the endless possibilities for improving your retail space.



From strategic display placements to creating an inviting atmosphere, there are many ways to make your retail space more engaging for customers.

Lately, there’s been an increased sense of hope when it comes to consumer confidence: It’s actually rising. People are actually spending money.

But while consumer confidence rises, their baskets seem to be shrinking as illustrated in a recent Nielsen report (mainly with their food purchases).

So, while brands, retailers, and consumers alike watch intently at how the economy progresses, we want retailers to know that there’s always a way to spend money to attract consumers while saving at the same time.

If there were one formula for retail success, we’d like to think it would look something like this:

Retail formula = X+Y
(“X” = where a retailer should spend, and “Y” = where a retailer should save)

Scientifically tested? Maybe not.

Useful for determining what to put where? Absolutely.

How do you start if you’re looking for ways to improve your store’s efficiency? Well, have you considered looking at what your competition is doing?




Yes, go shopping, and start with your competition – you need to know what your competition is doing to engage and persuade consumers to shop.

From our perspective, we strongly encourage a competitive analysis to be part of your design strategy and research. You need to get to know your customer:

  • Act like a customer in your competitor’s bricks-and-mortar location and go online (yes, actually do some shopping to see what the experience is like).
  • See what they’re doing right, and what they may be doing wrong.
  • Conduct research with a third-party agency to develop a competitive analysis – they can do the shopping for you and track customer movements within a store.
  • Always get intimate with your own store – spend some time to see what your own customers are doing in your retail space (your store’s camera and tracking software can help greatly).

In his book, “Made in America,” Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton wrote that he built the world’s largest retailer by stealing ideas from his competition. Walton was like a professional covert shopper and made his own retailing experience better by understanding what others were doing and improving where necessary.

Notice how Wal-Mart has had its eye on Amazon lately? And now Wayfair? Not surprising.

Recently, we helped one of our clients with changing their retail environment. As part of our initial analysis, before any design and strategy were done, we:

  • Spent time with their teams to understand what they had as “wants and needs” for their experience.
  • Spent hours shopping and visiting their competitors.
  • Observed customers in their own retail spaces to collect data regarding their customer behaviours.

Our analysis was presented at their annual general meeting, where we were able to successfully articulate the needs and wants, and how to achieve them.

Now, we won’t go into the psychological side of consumerism (as a side note, here’s a recent PwC retail survey that explores consumer behavior and paths to purchase), but there is a correlation between store and customer: The brand experience and a retailer’s layout can impact a customer’s buying behaviour.

Boosting your bottom line means being smart. And being smart means knowing what your competition is doing – the good and the bad – so you can better prepare to strengthen your environment.




A study a few years ago showed that 40 to 70 percent of consumers make purchasing decisions in a bricks-and-mortar location.

And there’s no shortage of clever techniques retailers use to attract customer attention — getting them into the doors and getting them to shop. Consumers react to big red signs better and faster than other colours, they love the big shopping carts that welcome them to buy more, and the smells and colours of a space attract attention.

But how can you improve your store’s design?


Know how customers move through your store. When it comes to a mass merchant, the tendency is to get customers to go to the right when entering and have them move along the perimeter of the store (often referred to as a “racetrack”), then they’ll duck in-and-out of aisles. When it comes to fashion or specialty stores, customers will weave in and out.


Know where to put the premium stuff. When it comes to mass retail and convenience, for instance, the racetrack behaviour mentioned above establishes a premium status — customers will see more products along the perimeter. With fashion or specialty, customers are conditioned to see new products upfront and clearance items in the back of the store. In the mall, windows are premium display areas as they generate initial interest for customers walking by.


Loation. Location. Location. High-traffic areas are great. They create attention, a sense of urgency, and a need to get out of the way. That’s right. Shoppers will linger less and avoid getting in the way of traffic or causing it. This is a phenomenon known as the butt-brush effect, coined by legendary retail strategist Paco Underhill. And yes, it says exactly what it means – people don’t like to be brushed up against or touched, especially from behind. Customers will also engage with the display and products differently, and perceive them to be either discounted or higher quality based on how they’re displayed.


Different strokes for different folks. You need to showcase the right products in clear sight of customers, whether it’s grocery items on a run of gondola shelves or a striking dress on a mannequin at the entrance of your store. High-margin, private label brands in food and general merchandise stores should always use the strike zone to attract attention (eye-level location of products at the front of an aisle) and place lower priority offerings above or below them. For big box stores, customers perceive “bulked out” products displayed on the floor as a good deal. For higher-end shops, avoid clutter to create a sense of demand and urgency — if it seems like supply is low, a sense of urgency can be created.


Give them a reason to stay. History has shown that providing a diverse product offering will keep customers shopping longer. And making your space aesthetically appealing and comfortable with an experience, like coffee, food, and yes, barber services (Frank & Oak is making their fashion experience complete by going beyond clothing and adding services to enhance a customer’s look with an in-store barber services, and Club Monaco in New York City has added a flower shop to cater to the discerning set of clothing shoppers).


How your space looks impacts the customer decision-making process. Remember the butt brush we mentioned earlier? Keep that in mind when determining how you want to influence your customers. If you’re selling convenience items, avoid obstacles to purchase and consider impulse items at the check-out counter — customers are expected to come in and out quickly. Also, consider how to stay in business when you’re renovating — we shared an article recently that digs into this topic a bit more.


What you see is what you get. The type of store dictates how merchandise should be displayed. And perception is everything. Cluttered, messy-looking aisles in a store will create a sense that products are priced lower than another, more organized store, even if the products sold are the same at both. More expensive products create a greater emotional response and need an environment that matches the product offering – it creates a sense of comfort and value.


There is no cookie-cutter approach. You can sell them, but we don’t use a cookie-cutter approach when designing a strategy to attract your customers. You need to be very intimate with your brand and your customers. And if it’s a trend that’s caught your eye, be cautious — select the trend that makes sense and that’s a genuine match for your brand.




Retail is a dog-eat-dog world, and your retail space lives in an aggressive sales-per-square-footage world. So, to avoid getting bitten, here are a few ways to get the most of your space.

  • Shelve it the right way. To increase consumer traffic flow, get more products on display.
  • Properly position displays to increase exposure to inventory. Create a path to purchase.
  • Create an atmosphere to make the customer feel comfortable. As part of the shopping experience, customers want to hang around if there’s a reason to, like nice lighting.
  • Declutter your space to create a crowd and attract a crowd. If you make room, they will come, and they will stay if others are there, too.
  • Tantalize them with smells and colours. Turn up your customers’ senses with inviting aromas and strategic use of colour and sound – inspire your customers to envision themselves with your products.
  • Become a mind reader — yes, you read that correctly. Trash the hard-sell approach and engage your customers quickly to support their reasons for shopping at your store, and to know whether your customer is seeking immediate help or is waiting for check out.


Retail space isn’t cheap. By compelling customers to visit, enticing them to spend time, and encouraging them to spend money, you’ll be able to justify the rationale for making changes to your retail space.

Remember this: Don’t take your space for granted. Changes are good to encourage customers to visit and to stay a while. Think outside the box, be creative, and be willing to take action on what you’ve learned from your competition.

The formula we shared at the beginning of this article may seem simple, but our clients have gained success because of our approach to design, supported by deep insights and experience.


And by the way, we love working with new and existing clients. Their unique business challenges become our challenges. Their needs and wants evolve into our strategies and become our motivation. And the solutions we create are distinctive, designed especially for each client. With years of experience, we understand that one-size-fits-all is not a sound approach and that each project is an opportunity to distill our know-how and guide clients with new insights.

Interested in making better use of your space? Let’s talk and see what we can do for you.



When it comes to answering the “slings and arrows” of retail fixtures, much like Shakespeare, we’re renowned for creativity.


To customize or not to customize is a must-ask question when retailers consider choosing between custom manufactured retail fixtures or off-the-shelf commodity fixtures, or whether they can (or should) have both.

It’s an all-too-common question. And rightfully so – there’s so much to consider.

How will the fixture look? What brand manufacturers the fixture? How much will it cost? Does it match your in-store brand experience?

The customer experience has long been a key consideration for retailers. Today, it’s not unexpected to see some go beyond by making it less about a product and more about the overall experience.

And a part of the shopping experience is a retail brand’s ability to convey its aesthetic standards – how it looks, feels, and how it creates an emotional connection with the customer.

So, what’s the difference?

  • Like a nicely tailored, bespoke suit, custom gives you the luxury of designing, engineering, and manufacturing fixtures specifically for your unique retail experience.
  • When you think “off-the-shelf,” you think commodity, the standard option for fixtures with a host of alternatives for shelving, racks, hangers, mannequins, and so much more.

But did you know that commodity and custom fixtures can be used together? Yes, you can marry them to complement your brand’s experience. Designing a unique retail space means you can spend more on making your brand more prominent in some sections, and reducing costs in other areas by taking advantage of commodity options.



Commodity: Off-the-shelf to your shelf.

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So, what’s the big deal with commodity fixture options?

Commodity fixtures are an attractive option since they can be very cost-effective versus custom. But if your retail space seems to take a basic approach to its environment, understand this: You still have to spend money, and the commodity isn’t dirt cheap.

What can approximately $25 per square foot get you?

Well, sometimes the least attractive (and cost-effective) retail space can be a successful experience. As the following article states, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and a retail space can seem “ugly” and still be successful.

But not all consumer experiences are created equal. And, not all commodity fixtures look the same. It can sometimes feel tricky, trying to navigate options for complementing your brand’s personality with your customer’s tastes.

What to consider?

  • Choosing the right finish – metal, wood, low-grade laminate, and a host of standard finishes.
  • Knowing that you’ll get commodity fixtures to your stores faster than custom (weeks versus months).
  • Realizing that commodity can be versatile.
  • Figuring out ways to maximize the retail footprint.
  • Not being afraid to explore design with commodity fixtures – yes, you can! And you can still use commodity with custom.
  • Your decision can often come down to price.


Custom: a sense of style matching your offerings.

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Bringing the same aesthetic to your store fixtures that your brand already emits can be tough. That’s why custom is becoming a strong consideration for many retailers looking to add depth to the in-store experience.

Much like custom lighting and bespoke furniture, custom fixtures play a prominent role in a retailer’s larger brand ecosystem.

Is there a shift toward custom?

Well, that depends on the brand. But we’ve seen greater interest in custom, especially considering that some online retailers are creating bricks-and-mortar retail spaces now.


This is disrupting retail and making the landscape very competitive.

But what does custom achieve?

Since retailers are trying to create a point of difference – an “in-store experience” that enhances products – custom can help differentiate and create a competitive advantage. Retailers are hankering to showcase the uniqueness of their brands, and custom fixtures can build on the brand’s personality, help celebrate its identity, and create an air of exclusivity.

With custom, there are endless possibilities – shapes, sizes, and textures can be distinctive with a lot of out-of-the-box thinking. A retail brand can take a very innovative approach to how they showcase products.

But considering the investment of custom, retailers are constantly asking how they can effectively demonstrate ROI.

In a recent Shop! white paper, we participated in a case study that examined a recent project. It helps to offer actionable insights for justifying these investments that create successful store redesign for enhancing the retail experience for customers.


What’s trending?

Is there a particular finish that’s hot right now? Is steel better than wood or stone better than glass? What about fabrics? Should I go with earthy elements or natural tones, and what about colours?

Trends are great for celebrities. But with retail fixtures, we suggest shying away from the trends, unless something “now” is aligned with your brand.

With that said, there are always design considerations that can help the brand.

A recent article by Shopify outlines 7 key retail trends that any retail brand should take the time to read and strongly consider their own experiences. And the one takeaway that resonates with us is a quote that sums it all up nicely:


“Today’s consumers want what they want, when they want it, the way they want it, and given all the shopping venues available to them, those wants are critically important.”

In sum: Be prepared to deliver.


Focus on the customer experience.

At the end of the day, this is certain: You know your customer and you know the experience you want to create.

And from our perspective, we know that:

  • Both commodity and custom fixture options have a place.
  • Both commodity and custom fixture options can be used in combination with one another – yes, they can.
  • We help retailers expand their businesses and manage their capital expenditures.
  • We will show retailers how to achieve their unique proposition as part of their unique physical environment.
  • We are experts at effectively showcasing a retailer’s offerings and captivating shoppers.

Your store shelves should always be strategically positioned to sell. And they should always be stocked with neatly organized merchandise. So, regardless of whether you choose a commodity or custom fixture option, or marry the two, we’ll help you make the decision that’s right for your brand and for your business goals.

If you’re willing to design your fixtures from scratch as a way to embrace your brand’s heritage, create new designs to encompass a modern aesthetic, or choose ready-made options to complement your budget, there’s a way we can help meet your needs.

We’re experts in commodity and custom retail fixtures.

We’re advocates for creating spaces that will thrive.

And we work within budgets to determine where best to spend on custom, on commodity, or both.

To help you understand the ins-and-outs of transforming a retail environment, look out for our next article in our “How to Get Started” series: “When you need a new store design.”



Business renovations can be an inconvenience to customers. The challenges are many, but the rewards of creating a better customer experience will be very fulfilling.


Business is booming, you’re excited about the change, and your business is considering a complete redo – renovations that will make the customer experience so much better.

Business renovations are absolutely necessary.

Physical improvements to your retail space will improve your bottom line, help you keep customers loyal to your brand, and drive new customers to your shopping experience.

But not everyone will be happy, and we mean customers. You can’t afford to lose them during any period of change. And you can’t afford a complete shutdown that can last for weeks.

If you’re getting ready to renovate, you’ll need to think strategically, and consider many things:

  • How do you stay open?
  • How can you continue offering a suitable shopping experience?
  • How do you minimize the inconvenience to customers?
  • How do you actually keep them shopping and wanting to come back for more?



Be patient. Stay calm. Always smile.

At CBSF, our retail clients are always looking to make their experiences more incredible than ever. And that can mean making changes to their physical environments as a response to market factors, changing consumer habits, and introducing new products.

So, when they come to us, they’re trusting that we’ll help them work through a successful construction period.

We’ll work with clients to understand the need for the change (determine why this change is necessary), design the right environment to complement their brand, and create a plan that’ll work for their business during and after the renovations (there’s no cookie-cutter approach to renovations, and a single plan will not work for all businesses).


You can’t hide, so don’t try.

Any renovation that happens during business hours is almost impossible to hide.
So, don’t try to cover up the fact that you’re renovating.

Be transparent about what’s going on. Your customers need to be informed and better able to negotiate the “currently under renovations” experience.

You need to make customers realize that the renovation experience can be good, and we’ll help you realize that it can be achieved in multiple markets.

We understand the apprehensions to do a renovation: It will impact business. But it’s a short-term hiccup that will achieve long-term results.


We heard you, and we’re making changes because you asked for them.

Yes, things can get messy (no worries, customers won’t see this) and some of the retail footprints might be temporarily unavailable. But you need to engage customers in a creative way and keep them informed. Make them feel a connection to your business by letting them know that this is being done for them because your business has listened to their feedback.

Whenever you can, redirect the need for changes back to customer feedback.

Also, make the disruption seem less rowdy, and more like a normal part of creating an exceptional experience.

  • Plan ahead, and make changes when necessary.
  • Work after hours for some of the jobs that can get a little too loud, dusty.
  • Always think health and safety.
  • Constantly keep your staff informed and communicate often.
  • Show plans of what the new space will look like.
  • Put a PR plan together.
  • Let customers know why you’re doing this – speak to them, and often.

Customers will notice the changes (they’re going to be too big not to notice), so don’t try hiding anything, and share every step of the process.

  • You can remain operational, just be confident.
  • You need to be friendly.
  • Provide renovation updates on a regular basis.
  • You will need to communicate to customers every day (add signage, email your subscriber list, and inform on your social media channels).

Just think business as usual, with just a slight interruption as you create the best experience possible.


Plan to work around the clock.

Let’s be blunt. No customer – especially a loyal customer – likes to have their shopping experience disrupted. And no business wants to disrupt their sales and revenue flow. But major renovations are needed since market factors drive the need for change. So, that means planning to work and shop around disruptions is necessary.

As part of the scope of a project and the comfort level of retailers, the renovation team (contractors, construction companies, engineers, architects, project managers) will determine how quickly the renovations can be done.

The health and safety of workers, retail employees, and shoppers is paramount during any renovation.

Phasing out the renovation process helps things go smoothly while minimizing the disruption to the shopping experience. When planning, we recommend dividing the retail footprint into four or five phases. Quarantine products in one phase and squeeze other products into another portion of the retail space, making one section inaccessible – this will be the phase where the renovation begins.

Although the brand experience may be minimized, temporary set-ups and establishing quadrants will enable products to remain accessible during the rebuilding process. Ensure the proper products are prominently displayed, and which can be displaced or combined with other product categories (displacing seasonal products, for instance, can make this process easier to manage).

Key takeaways:

  • Try to do business renovations with the least amount of disruptions.
  • Schedule work based on your best interests.
  • Run a “hard hat special” during renovations to entice loyal patrons to continue shopping, with the hopes that you’ll welcome new customers during renovations (they may, in fact, become regulars themselves).


Always think safety.

When renovating a retail space, there is no bigger challenge than keeping everyone safe. Yes, there’s a deadline. But this type of a project moves smoothly with meticulous planning and proper communication with stakeholders.

Signs, signs, and more signs! Ensure your customers know exactly what’s happening, where it’s happening, and what to avoid.

  • Let customers know what is accessible.
  • Mark things properly – show customers how to properly detour the retail space (prominent signage at the entrance, arrows on the floor, wall signs throughout).
  • Install signage that indicates where products are located, if they’ve been temporarily moved.
  • Show them what’s happening – an artist’s conception of what space will look like after the renovation will get people excited.

Construction can be a messy thing to deal with, so don’t forget to keep things clean. Sure, barricades help, but things can get dusty and loud. Take the necessary precautions to ensure shopping is still fun and not annoying.


Let the world know what’s up.

Renovations can be a big deal for a retail brand, large and small. Consider making the experience worthy of sharing because, after all, you’re doing this to make the shopping experience better than ever, and your customers will appreciate the changes.

  • Consider using local media resources to help garner attention – if the story is worth sharing, media will want to share, and people will want to listen.
  • Add incentives for the post-renovations/re-opening phase, even before the renovations are completed.
  • Stay active on social media and share what’s happening frequently on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
  • Share the news in trade publications with an advertisement or editorial support.

During the renovations and once they’re completed, make sure everyone knows that it’s a big deal that business is back at full, uninterrupted steam. The news will be great for business.


Give them a reason to shop.

After weeks or maybe a couple months of construction, your tireless efforts to make your retail space as perfect as possible will come to life. And your loyal customers will be looking to be rewarded for braving the disruptions. So, have a sale! The loyal customer will be happy to shop and chat about the new experience, and you’ll attract new customers with the incentives to experience your new store.


Back to business as usual.

We’re going to make this really simple:

  • Be patient.
  • Be smart.
  • Be safe.
  • And keep the business going when you’re renovating.

By acknowledging that renovations will disrupt business, but are necessary evils to building on your success, you’ll quickly come to realize that your growing pains will pay off. And your customers will love you for it.


Ready to renovate? Then give us a call and let’s see what we can do for your business.