Monthly Archives: June 2019

Partnering to transform the employee experience: Citrix’s journey to align people, place and technology

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By Jenna Geigerman, Amy Haworth, and Chris LaPata, MCR

How can companies align physical space, culture, and technology to deliver an employee experience for the digital age, with company values at the core and improved productivity as a result? One path is to transform the workplace. This makeover is not simple and requires a well-thought-out plan that considers corporate values, business strategy, and vision of senior leadership. Ideally, it also actively involves the core group of people that the transformation will impact the most­—the employees. 

This is exactly what the Citrix Real Estate & Strategy team, human resources (HR) department, and BHDP Architecture did when partnering on the transformation of the HR team space from individual offices to unassigned open seating. The goals were three-fold: (1) reduce the physical and metaphysical barriers between prospective, new, and tenured employees; (2) reflect the company culture and brand promise; and (3) model an environment for employees and customers that encourages key behaviors and utilizes advanced technology to achieve strategic results.

Motivators for change

When approaching an organizational transformation such as workplace redesign, it is important to have a solid business case to help communicate the vision and get employees motivated around the change. For Citrix, the two major drivers were corporate values and timing.

Donna Kimmel, executive vice president of human resources and chief people officer of Citrix, knew it was time for a change when she realized that the team’s physical workspace no longer matched the desired company culture. “One of the Citrix core values is unity. We believe that our values are central to the design of programs and to our decision-making. We also put people first and create experiences that enable our talent to do their best and be their best. The physical workspace transformation offered us the opportunity to build with a values-first mindset and design an employee experience for the HR team, candidates, hiring managers, and our broader employee population that truly reflects who we are.”

Even though there can be benefits from a workplace transformation that enables better alignment to company values and culture, this driver alone might not build a strong enough business case. After all, there is a substantial financial investment with this type of redesign. As a result, having solid metrics that indicate a return on investment (ROI) to the CFO and senior leadership team is often required. However, in the case of Citrix HR, timing was on their side. There were already discussions about the team space being slated next in the campus upgrade, and since HR plays such a critical role in the enterprise function as an experience hub both internally with employees and externally with prospects, what better group to serve as a role model for the future of work?

SCARF and employee engagement with ‘Drive to Five’

While gaining the financial approval and business support from the executive team is imperative in any situation requiring organizational change, understanding the impact to the organization, including the employees, is equally important. Asking the HR team to relinquish the privacy, safety, and personalization of a traditional office requires big shifts in how they engage and behave in their updated physical space. As such, the team leading the change needed to be dedicated to enabling employee involvement in the solution of the new workspace design. 

Research conducted by both McKinsey Consulting and Prosci, a leading authority on change management, found that change projects are twice as likely to fail when no executive sponsor of the change has been identified. Conversely, success is more likely achieved when users are engaged and involved in the development of the solution. Team members who clearly understand the business reason for the change, while observing a leader who is an active participant in the project, will take ownership and a vested interest in the desired outcomes. This mindset increases the levels of adoption and helps to realize the return on the investment.

To collaborate with and influence the leaders and employees, the team leading the change decided to use the SCARF model designed by Dr. David Rock as a guide. SCARF is an acronym for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness. Any change or interaction that decreases one of these elements will cause a person to move away (aka: resistance). A gain in any of the elements will cause a person to move toward (aka: adoption). Rock highlights that the elements can counter-balance each other. A triple gain in autonomy, for example, might be enough to offset a loss in status. And, when it comes to losing an office, that’s exactly what the Citrix team has seen during prior workplace transformations. In many cases, the freedom to choose where to sit in order to do one’s best work has counterbalanced the status loss of an office.

Since Citrix places such a high value on its employees, their engagement, and their overall satisfaction, BHDP spent a significant amount of time and energy on the front-end to gain a comprehensive understanding of all the nuances related to the redesign from all levels and functions within the organization. This was carried out through a series of activities such as leadership interviews, visioning sessions and team focus groups, as well as on-site observations. This initiative led to the creation of five, high-value focus areas, or the “Drive to Five,” which are: (1) an HR welcoming showcase to greet new hires and employees, (2) a clubhouse feel to inspire a sense of belonging, (3) workspace options to balance the needs of different work styles, (4) new protocols that respect the private and confidential nature of HR, and (5) the promotion of comfort and well-being with ergonomic and natural designs.

New design goals balance people, place and technology

After securing executive sponsorship, identifying benefits of the new way of working that offset the loss of dedicated offices, and involving employees in the ideation process, the next phase was finalizing the design.

The challenge with a large campus is that many renovation projects simply bring old spaces up to a current standard that might have been established three to five years prior, when the overhaul began. Forward-thinking professionals recognize the need to address this important question: How do you create an environment that continues to evolve the workspace, while not seeming so different that it’s ill-fitted for the campus or isn’t able to accommodate another team in a future campus restack? The key for Citrix was to balance elements of the standard renovated floor, like open seating along the exterior walls, with innovative solutions that holistically address people, place, and technology, and that are future-proofed as much as possible.

The final design that evolved through the executive vision and employee-engagement activities resulted in aligning the way the team works with the open, collaborative, and unified culture by removing walls and assigning teams’ neighborhoods rather than individual seats. To address the confidential nature of HR, there are plentiful two- to six-person rooms, some of which are pop-in and others that can be booked in advance. The goals were to encourage more in-person interactions, allow for private conversations, and remain consistent with workplace design of other floors and sites. The intention is to promote collaboration while accounting for and respecting diversity as it pertains to how people like to work. The new design includes choice and control over places to sit and meet and furniture that invites and supports different postures and interactions. The technology solutions were developed by envisioning how to remove friction and amplify the experience of employees and candidates. Some examples include an interactive video wall in the welcome center, digital whiteboards in the learning center, improved training and conference room technology, and workspace hardware tailored to the way the team works.

The metrics and anticipated outcomes

The project construction is soon ending, and results of the careful and thorough planning will be measured after the team occupies the space. Even though a solid foundation exists, it is always a challenge to measure the ROI of workplace redesigns. That’s because there are often softer benefits that can make a big impact both internally and externally. This project is an example of where Citrix is not only talking about how its customers can accelerate digital transformation­—the company is living it.

“Partnering with our users to create spaces with choice and control provides tangible examples to our customers of the power of our solutions,” according to Guy Desautels, vice president of Real Estate & Strategy for Citrix. “Being our own best example enables a business function, like HR, to partner with Sales to demonstrate to visiting customers how we integrate people, place, and technology to foster both culture and productivity.”

Another indirect benefit of a high-quality workplace design that incorporates ways to increase collaboration and productivity is happier and more engaged employees. Success (and challenges) is being measured through pre- and post-project surveys, frequency of the team working in the office versus remote, and satisfaction assessments of employees coming to the space for interviews, HR assistance, and learning and development. In a world of work where the employee experience is the secret sauce for attracting and retaining employees and helping them do great work, Citrix is building best practices around mobility, flexibility, and a talent-first mindset.

Originally published in CoreNet Global The Leader, June 2019

The Case for the Chief (Employee) Experience Officer

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As the conversation about the employee experience balloons, the time has come to harness that hot air. Why not add a Chief Employee Experience Officer to give employees a voice?

Who hasn’t been to a workshop, focus group, or executive seminar where someone proposes that CRE, IT, and HR should function like a three-legged stool? Admittedly, I’ve been that person. I’ve also nodded along enthusiastically when someone else has been that person. It’s a good idea, and one that service-minded professionals almost universally agree on. It’s also incomplete. Stools are fundamentally unstable, after all, unless you add a seat. And indeed, there is a missing seat—not just on our proverbial stool—but a seat at the executive table.

As organizations continue to add titles to fill the crowded C-suite to account for an expanded set of stakeholders, there is one perspective that is woefully under-represented: employees. As the conversation about the employee experience balloons, the time has come to harness that hot air. Why not add a Chief Employee Experience Officer to give employees a voice? Since the CEO and the CXO are already taken, let’s call them the CxO – the lower-case “x” to account for experiences large and small.

Experience matters.

In their seminal work, The Experience Economy, Pine and Gilmore make the case that the key to accessing untapped market value and generating lasting customer loyalty is staging experiences. They argue the difference between a service provider and an experience creator, is essentially stagecraft: valuing and designing the relationship that customers have with a company, rather than monetizing a stream of transactions. The examples they cite are abundant. Starbucks, Disney, and Nordstrom were the vanguard of the late 20th century push into crafting (and charging a premium for) authentic, meaningful, and memorable experiences. Now twenty years into the 21st century, and with the digital transformation well underway, consumer experiences in physical space have been augmented by technology, which continually expands the landscape.

As designers, workplace strategists, and leaders of corporate real estate, you might wonder what the consumer space has to do with the workplace. Starbucks doesn’t pay its customers to enjoy its coffee, but employees show up for a regular paycheck. The connection between the consumer space and the workplace is demand. Consumers demand more than a cup of hot coffee, and Starbucks supplies experiences that meet that demand. Inversely, employees supply their time and expertise to meet the demand of their employers. So, employees control the supply. Here’s where it gets interesting, though. In businesses where experience matters, demand straddles both sides of the transaction. Leading organizations understand that delivering engaging workplace experiences can stimulate demand (desire) on the supply side of the labor ledger.

Those of us that wage battle in the war for talent know that employee engagement is not a transactional affair. Rather, top talent desires a workplace experience that resonates with and reinforces the passion they have for their work. If you are wondering, “Isn’t a great paycheck, a good benefits package, a clean and safe place to come to work, and a stable career enough?” No, it’s not… not if you want to compete. In short, premium talent wants more than a job. They demand a relationship, and in that sense, experience matters more than ever.

Whose job is it anyway?

In the consumer space, the responsibilities of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) have expanded dramatically in the last twenty years. Once the steward of the brand, CMOs are increasingly becoming Chief Experience Officers (CXOs) with a purview that extends along all touchpoints—be they physical, digital, emotional, or otherwise—that consumers have with an organization. Consumer loyalty is contingent upon building an enduring relationship, and CXOs understand there are no longer first, second and third moments of truth for their brands. Rather, the prevailing marketing logic holds that the bond between customer and brand is constantly in flux.

Similarly, the bond between employer and employee is being tested continuously by the practical demands of the work at hand. One way to build connections with employees that endure the strain of the day-to-day is to demonstrate authentic consideration and care. All organizations invest in their workplace. Organizations looking to capitalize on that investment must prioritize and take ownership of the employee experience. Viewed once again through the lens of the market, it’s clear that there is a vacancy in most organizations to be filled. According to Gilmore and Pine, “A new approach to demand creation is needed, one that forces a company to be what it says it is; and someone needs to head this new effort.” If the CXO is responsible for experiences that external customers have with an organization, then the CxO owns a similar and symmetrical role internally. The Académie du Service has called this notion the Symmetry of Attention.

According to Accenture, “the parallels between a superior customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX) are striking. An optimized CX generates loyalty and additional sales. A stellar EX attracts talent, boosts workforce engagement, productivity and retention. This in turn directly improves a business’ financial performance.” There are real gains to be had. Based on research from Gallup, companies with highly engaged workforces are 21 percent more profitable than those with poor engagement. In highly competitive industries, that’s likely the margin between sustainability and irrelevancy. It’s simply too important to ignore.

The role of the CxO.

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The CxO is a synthesizer who is responsible for crafting memorable workplace experiences that connect, motivate, and inspire people.

The new position captures several shifts in the way people think about the workplace. The CxO embraces the movement away from business administration and towards workplace hospitality. The CxO acknowledges experiences in the consumer space have forever altered the workforces’ expectations of the workplace. The CxO believes the digital and physical space are in the process of collapsing into one another. And finally, the CxO eschews the notion of step-wise career progressions along pre-defined paths.

The CxO is responsible for crafting a workplace experience that authentically reflects the mission, vision, and values of the company; creating memorable, meaningful, and purposeful connections; building a team of service-minded stewards that work on behalf of the workforce; delivering tools and technology to enable seamless workflow; and instilling enthusiasm if not excitement for the work at hand. It’s a big job. The case for the Chief Employee Experience Officer hinges on the notion that leading companies take ownership for the relationships that people have with their organization—all the relationships. In The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr makes the case that the stories inside an organization should match those outside it. That’s authentic leadership, and the CxO is nothing if not the most authentic leader.

Original published in Work Design Magazine.

Inside BHDP: EGD Co-Op Edition – Allyson Shown

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Allyson Shown
University of Cincinnati
College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning
Class of 2022

Q: This is your first co-op—what were your expectations of working in a design agency?

A:  My first expectation was that I would gain insight into the design process from a professional point of view. I also expected to be surprised by the unpredictable things I would learn that would help me problem solve in various scenarios. One thing that surprised me was the variety of projects I was involved in, which helped me develop my graphic design and communication skills.

Q: What was your perception of experiential graphic design (EGD) before working at BHDP?

A: My perception of EGD before working at BHDP was that a lot of installations were wayfinding oriented. I understood EGD as more directional and focused on getting a user from A to B. However, now I see the strong connection EGD has to storytelling.

Q: Was there a moment when your perception of EGD changed?

A: I first discovered the influence of EGD while walking through the office of BHDP during my interview. It informed me of the company’s culture and made me feel that my experience and skills would be valued while working there. The EGD created a visual story of BHDP’s culture, people and priorities.

By working on multiple projects where I had to identify different user paths, I also learned how much consideration there is for the multitude of users in a space. I started to see EGD as enhancing the built environment to educate, stimulate, or celebrate the user.

Q: Did you feel like you were able to explore the spectrum of the design process? Did you enjoy or learn from one part in particular?

A: I enjoyed the beginning of the design process where we worked to understand the client and concept. It allowed me to look at a brand in multiple ways to visually satisfy their needs and taught me about EGD strategies and materials. I learned that a design’s details evolve throughout the whole process because there are so many factors to consider.

I also attended an informative workshop where the EGD team dissected each part of their design process to improve efficient collaboration with other team members. This helped to provide a cohesive language between BHDP’s designers and their clients. Attending this allowed me to understand the density of the design process. There was a lot more breadth to each step than I initially assumed from my experiences thus far.

Q: What advice do you have for BHDP’s future EGD interns?

A: 1. Learn how to set up your files in a collaboration-friendly way so that additional changes are manageable and efficient. This will give you more time for creativity!

2. Your teammates are your biggest resources for learning tips and tricks for design. Take note of tools you aren’t familiar with that members of your team are using. This is a learning experience, so don’t be scared to ask questions and soak up as much information that is beneficial to not only your project at the moment, but possible projects in the future.

3. Be open to experiences and opportunities that you are surrounded by. Whether it be taking a new route to work or going into a shop where you know you won’t buy anything, design inspiration comes from everyday life and exploring. People and spaces can’t be fully understood by looking at pictures on your screen.

Space As A Service: It’s Time To Break The Norm

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Multiple drop-in meeting rooms with a variety of tools provide spaces for employees to innovate and collaborate.

Why we should design spaces that are upgradable and adaptable to match the ever-changing organization.

Typically, organizations construct new or update space for their employees as a capital investment. While intended to serve the purpose for the long-term, the reality is as organizations evolve, the space remains stagnant. Then a decade or more later, funds are used again to completely redesign the space.

As a result, the space does not serving the corporation effectively. It’s time to break the norm, implement strategies and design spaces that live and breathe in sync with the organization—spaces that are upgradable and adaptable to match the ever-changing organization. With this model, internal environments are created with the mindset of providing a service. In this way, companies can evaluate the use of the space and easily make changes and enhancements to this asset to better meet the organization’s needs.

What is space as a service?

The common definition of space as a service is the change in the real estate model from asset ownership to monetization of access and services that include physical space. Yet, space as a service is more than just about real estate. It is a model that facilitates a change in management’s beliefs about the design and use of real estate to one that proactively enhances productivity and experiences within a company’s real estate portfolio.

A common question about space as a service is how does real estate create higher profitability by providing more service, experience, and access, instead of focusing on a product packaged for ownership? The answer is by changing the service model to focus on more personal, flexible and tech-centric solutions. In fact, space as a service often includes technology disruptions to an existing market. Primary examples include Amazon in the bookstore/retail space, Airbnb in the hotel space and WeWork in the temporary/flexible office space.

The open space is multifunctional for hosting agile employees and accommodating company meetings and multiple technologies.

The increased speed of business, propelled by ever-changing advancements in technology and compounded by expectations from Wall Street, dramatically impacts the workplace. Technology includes smaller and more powerful personal devices, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, sensors, smart buildings, and artificial intelligence. The cost center capital model of changing a workspace once a decade based on market benchmarking, past experiences, typical rules relating to ratios and relationships, organizational programming and design formulations is outdated. Organizations that want to thrive in this environment must change their mindsets and strategies to incorporate spatial solutions in a space as a service model to provide constant evolution and progress. The new model means delivering spatial solutions that proactively meet employees’ needs over time to support dynamic changing business. This is accomplished by taking into consideration internal cultural aspects as well as external factors related to the company, sometimes without employees recognizing or even realizing they needed these changes. These include the corporate real estate strategy, labor markets and human preferences.

Corporate real estate strategy

The first aspect of space as a service related to the cultural environment involves real estate strategy. Key components of this strategy include:

  • Maximizing utilization of space. Ensure owned and leased assets are in use and eliminate or reduce underperforming or unused space.
  • Ensuring a smart investment. Any space acquisition, lease or design update is executed to enhance the business with a positive net present value and clear return of investment.
  • Speed to market of the space. Portfolio modifications are performed quickly to limit disruptions and increase the strategy benefits immediately.
  • Decreased liability. All facilities are designed to safeguard users’ health, safety and welfare.
  • Flexibility to adjust to changing business needs, including mergers and acquisitions. In a constantly fluctuating environment, multiple organizations may need to manage assets together to improve efficiencies.
  • Upkeep and maintenance. Routine and large-scale building-related maintenance tasks are performed on a regular schedule to extend the life of the space.

Corporate real estate (CRE) executives are under pressure to reduce real estate costs during a design or redesign of a workplace. At the same time, they are tasked with increasing employee productivity. A 2015 survey on global corporate real estate trends by Jones Lang LaSalle determined that over 90 percent of companies expect their CRE executives to improve workplace, business, and people productivity. At the same time, the study found that 77 percent of CRE executives face pressure from their senior management to reduce real estate and related costs.

One solution is for CRE executives to incorporate activity-based work to enhance productivity and the use of the workspace. “The Once Alternative Workplaces Strategies” Fifth Biennial Global Benchmarking Study 2018 discovered that the endorsement of alternative workplace programs by executives increased from seven percent in 2009 to 17 percent in 2017. These programs are defined by the study as “the combination of non-traditional work practices, settings and locations that supplement or replace traditional offices.” Without these approaches, a workspace may become stiff and stagnant. Yet, when these elements are incorporated into a workspace, the space can support and enrich the workplace culture by providing employees with the tools to innovate and tackle problems with creative solutions.

Incorporating activity-based work settings enhances productivity and collaboration by providing the spaces preferred for different types of work styles.

Labor markets

In a tight labor market, there is increased competition for high-performing employees. Designing space as a service assists with attracting and retaining new talent. Employees care about working in an invigorating space. Also, they appreciate the flexibility to work anywhere, to balance their work-life demands. According to the 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce report, regular telecommuting grew 115 percent in the past decade, and 40 percent more U.S. employees offered flexible workplace options than they did in 2010.

The emergence of the gig economy, where many of the jobs are freelance or short-term contracts instead of permanent ones, also dictates the way a space can be designed. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, in 2015, contingent workers accounted for approximately 40 percent of the U.S. labor force. Static and permanent offices may not appeal to this workforce. Instead, there is an appreciation for proximity, convenience and hospitality related to where employees prefer to work. The 2015 PGi Global Telework Survey found that in North America, remote workers preferred to work from a home office (63 percent), a local coffee shop (nine percent) and a shared workplace (nine percent). Offering workspace flexibility and telecommuting provides organizations with strategic advantages to attract and retain skilled labor, increase employee engagement and reduce employee stress, absenteeism, and work-life conflict.

Human preferences

As the workforce shifts, so do employees’ preferences. Younger generations demand change and are stifled by old-fashioned work environments that haven’t evolved to keep current with the latest technology and other innovations. Employees need the right tools to perform their jobs and functional, modern space where they have some level of personal ownership and control.

The workspace is more than an area occupied by employees. When designed properly, the workspace can increase employee interactions that lead to innovation, productivity and better connection to the organization and coworkers. The findings from a survey conducted with 1,000 employed American adults were reported in a recent article, “The Surprising Power of Simply asking Coworkers How They’re Doing” for the Harvard Business Review. Almost half of the employees surveyed reported feeling physically and emotionally isolated in the workplace. The author stated, “When employees feel like they belong at work, they are more productive, motivated, engaged and 3.5 times more likely to contribute to their fullest potential…” Employees want to feel valued by their organizations. Employers who consider the needs of their employees when designing their workspace can provide the user experience that employees are seeking.

By organizing the space into adjacent neighborhoods, this Fortune 500 company keeps their space flexible and more accessible with a variety of choice in work settings.

People-centric versus project-centric

Designing space as a service is more effective when using a people-centric rather than a project-centric approach. The project-centric method primarily focuses on designing the space for renovation or getting people in the space as quickly as possible, potentially without considering the impact on the people using the space. The attention isn’t about the final results that occur because of how the space was designed. Rather, this method concentrates on how the space can be designed within a specific timeline for a specific cost as a one-time complete solution.

A people-centric approach is different. It addresses the habits, behaviors and needs of the individuals using the space. The goal of the renovation or design of the space is to support the users’ accomplishments and the value they bring both as an individual and as part of the organizational team. Space is designed in such a way to empower and inspire employees to produce results and be successful. Space as a service takes these concepts and overlays the idea of the spatial solution living and changing over time with the organization.

The outdated model of refreshing a space as a point in time capital expenditure without making additional evolutional improvements consistently over time to support a changing organization, especially related to technology, is no longer a viable standard. The use of space is most effective when organizations plan for continual involvement and tweaks to proactively meet the needs of both the organization and its employees. When the design strategy of work “space” is based on a service model supporting the dynamics of people who will use the space, the outcome is increased engagement, satisfaction, happiness, collaboration and innovation for the employees and experience-based solutions and results for the leadership.

Originally published in Work Design Magazine.

Will Expanding Grocers Learn From The Decline Of Department Stores?

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Each month brings with it another new dominant headline on how one of our most frequent shopping experiences – buying groceries – will be forever changed. Curbside pickup. Driverless cars delivering to our homes. Automatic checkouts.

Each year seems to bring with it a new headline on how one of our most frequent shopping experiences—buying groceries—will be forever changed. Curbside pickup. Driverless cars delivering to our homes. Automatic checkouts.

The technological rush shows a willingness by the largest chains to ensure they outmaneuver online upstarts and avoid suffering the curse of the department store. What used to be destinations for retail and socializing—fun places to shop with memorable and unique design features—became utilitarian and generic, so much so that they lost their appeal and relevance.

Consider this: Sales at department stores have fallen more than 35 percent from their peak of $232 billion in 2000. Meanwhile, groceries have seen sales rise nearly 60 percent over that same period, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Some of the growth of groceries has come by adding products common at department stores, such as apparel, beauty, and personal care items. But grocers should look beyond just department store categories. They should incorporate the flair and keen understanding of marketing that made department stores so successful for so long.

What Ralphs can learn from Macy’s

Merchandising: It all starts with the product assortment and display—the various sizes, shapes, and packaging of products which influence the fixtures used to present them. Even with soft goods, groceries have been slow to expand beyond the versatile metal gondola fixture.

Department stores, meanwhile, use upwards of 100 fixtures, everything from racks, hang bars and tables for apparel to showcases and back islands for cosmetics. Groceries should recognize the product itself is your best brand messenger and storyteller, and its display should not be hindered by store fixtures. Simply put, perhaps a beige metal gondola is not the best way to display apparel and beauty products.

Visual displays: Whether customized at the store level or handed down from corporate, visual displays tell shoppers of seasonal trends, brand lifestyles or product benefits—and engender confidence and purpose. The best that groceries have historically done are stacked, branded endcaps with large prices. Department stores, however, devote entire budgets and regional teams of visual merchandisers along with mannequins, display tables, toppers, and banners.

Since customers expect—and enjoy—having their imaginations engaged, grocers should dedicate more areas to displays and tell cross-merchandising stories that combine apparel, home, and food.

Lighting: The top way to sell more products and create visual interest is through great lighting. The best approach is a layered one. Start with a functional level of lighting to help guests clearly read labels and employees to perform their jobs. Beyond that, add brighter impact for key messaging, displays and architecture.

Like department stores, groceries should use more spotlighting on apparel, as well as fruits and vegetables, to highlight them from a distance and enhance the products’ textures by creating deeper shadows. Plan out where to subtract light for dramatic contrast, and don’t forget to leverage natural daylight as it has proven to increase circulation, mood and time spent in stores.

Brand expression: In most groceries, the brand story is relegated to the band of signage above the cases, the cash register light poles and a series of black-and-white historic downtown images at the front. As department stores have shown, design and architecture can play a much more prominent role in better delivering a grocer’s brand and overarching message.

Before finalizing perimeter fixture plans, carve out a foot or two of vertical space to bring brand-focused finishes down to customers. For instance, instead of just a Starbucks area in the coffee aisle, introduce highlighted zones within the aisle that highlight special services, categories, and brands.

Graphics/signage: At its core, wayfinding should help guests move through stores, as department stores have done to guide shoppers through each of many showrooms. Groceries should try this simple test. Take a photo of a typical department and make a horizontal mark at the bottom of each sign and message. If the marks create a nearly continuous line with few or no gaps, you are asking the guest to absorb too many messages. There should also be no more than five vertical information points.

Customer journey: This is the intended story that unfolds as guests walk around stores. In most groceries, customers shop the never-ending outside perimeter and must memorize the maze of center aisles. Department stores wisely limit sightlines to a 30-ft. to 40-ft. vista to help tell the story of each area. Groceries can add surprise and delight by breaking up the long center store runs with perhaps wine tastings or a demo kitchen in the center.

Services: While physical stores can no longer compete with online retailers for sheer product selection, the face-to-face conversations with employee experts and the services they provide is a store’s greatest differentiator. For groceries, it’s long been the butcher, as well as newer services like clinics, catering, and delivery. Department stores have long boasted beauty consultants, tailors, and personal shoppers. As grocers continue to expand their beauty and personal care sections, adding consulting services may be the next logical step. Also, beyond catering, they could also look at party planning.

Amenities: With more apparel in groceries, a high-level fitting room experience akin to those in department stores is a must. And as beauty products become more integrated, the placement of testers and mirrors will help shoppers have confidence they’re making the right choices.

Make the pop really pop

While some grocers have already embraced these department store design tenets in their apparel sections, it’s time to bring these ideas storewide. Just as these tips boost sales of beauty products, they also improve the customer experience everywhere from produce and the deli to frozen foods and cereal.

The technological rush shows a willingness by the largest chains to ensure they outmaneuver upstarts and avoid suffering the same decline of the department store. Consider this. Annual U.S. department store sales peaked in 2000 at just over $232 billion. They’ve been falling ever since, and 2017 saw only $150 billion in sales, the lowest in at least 25 years. Over that time, many leading brands – Boston, Bonwit Teller, Burdines, The Bon-Ton, and B. Altman’s just to name a few B’s – have been absorbed or simply vanished, and the shake-out is far from over. In 1992, department stores accounted for the fourth-largest share of total retail sales. Today, they have fallen to 12th.

What’s behind the precipitous drop? One explanation is a change in shoppers’ behavior. Those who once appreciated the wide selection of brands available at department stores now opt for the convenience and even greater selection offered online. While this has certainly been a factor, it isn’t the full story, though. Similarly, situated retailers such as specialty and general merchandise stores haven’t experienced the same kinds of sales impacts.

The fact is department stores failed to adapt and evolve their merchandising and real-estate strategies with the times and with shoppers. What used to be destinations for retail and socializing – fun places to shop with memorable and unique design features – became utilitarian and generic. Because they ignored customers’ needs and failed to invest in spaces, amenities and the overall brand experience, department stores simply lost their appeal – and relevance.

Originally published in The Shelby Report.

ALADN Library Conference – An Architect’s Perspective

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As an architect involved in the planning and designing of academic libraries over the past three decades, I recently attended my first ALADN Library conference at Louisville, KY to hear development experts share their unique stories and strategies about generating interest and raising funds specifically for the library. I found this to be an inspiring learning forum and would recommend it as must attend for academic leaders who are seriously interested in taking their library to the next level.

I also came away with a more empathic understanding of the challenges facing librarians today. Although the library is still considered by many to be the academic heart of most college campuses, there needs to be a greater commitment by academic leaders to make the library a top academic priority to fund necessary physical transformations that will enable the library to remain relevant to students and faculty and to keep pace with evolving patron needs. This lack of commitment to the library among leadership was confirmed in conversations with several academic administrators who attended the conference.  

One of the conference attendees made the point that “Everyone Graduates from the Library”, which in essence means the library is still a fundamental campus resource because it touches every student’s academic experience, regardless of study major. So it makes sense to ensure libraries become top of mind on many campuses. Visit a thriving academic library today, and it’s easy to notice that space dedicated for book stacks requires a much smaller footprint than even a decade ago. These freed up spaces have been repurposed for student services, academic resources, digital information access, study, collaboration and creative spaces that libraries now offer. Students and potential donors are no longer attracted to tired, irrelevant “book bunkers” where the lack of varied study spaces and refreshments, and incompatibility with modern technology make it more difficult for study, research and group projects. 

So what are the ALADN takeaways that can be applied from this situation as a library planning strategist? Before programming, planning, and designing can begin, we need to challenge ourselves to consider how future design decisions can positively reinforce the value that the library must offer to those who use it (and to those future donors who will invest in it!). This means developing inspirational and implementable design strategies that reinforce the library’s strategic plan while being compatible with the academic institution’s mission into the future. It’s important to adopt this disciplined approach and compel administrative leadership to invest in the library so it can continue to keep pace with future changes in technology and evolving student needs so inspirational learning, research access, and discovery, and greater collaboration are experienced by all well into the future.