For the second year in a row, through the Retail Design Institute Sao Paulo Chapter, I was invited by the Brazilian Franchise Association’s to speak at their annual convention. George Homer, the Chapter President and gracious host, took me around to visit retailers and restaurants that catered to a higher level of design and clientele. I saw several concepts, but there was one furniture store that I thought put it all together.
Artefacto – Beach and Country brings the seaside and rural residential living to life, one vignette at a time, one top designer at a time. Broken up in more than 25 room setting, each commissioned to showcase one of the top Brazilian home designers. The only requirement is that the design reflects the Beach & Country concept and that all the major furniture pieces come from any of the domestic and imported collections. As part of their commitment to bring sustainable ideas to the community, each room also uses eco-friendly flooring from the showcased flooring vendor.
Each room is unique, with its own personality and styling. There appears to be no budget for concepts, allowing each design to fully express their ideas to the fullest. Some of the designers have brought in artisans to create their finish and artwork. Each designer’s effort and business is acknowledged behind a glass plaque in each room.
Overlooking the open courtyard in the back, the owners have invited 4 vendor partners to have their offices, including: GE appliances, Eco Lumber (Flooring), ” Puntoluse Lighting, and SMS (a residential designer).
As with every guest, George and I were also treated to a personal tour by Ricardo. He answered our (George’s) every Portuguese question and knew not only the furniture details but the designers and artists. At the end of our tour, we were offered finger sandwiches and treated to espresso and tea.
As we relaxed in the entry foyer, George and I recalled the days when department stores used to have separate designers to conceptualize individual departments. I remember when I was afforded the opportunity to redesign the 5th floor men’s store for the Saks Fifth Avenue NYC Flag ship., I was amazed that every existing sub-department was a totally different concept. My job was to create the overall “Ruhlman” inspired envelope of architecture in which independent sub-departments and vendors ( DKNY , Hugo Boss and Armani) would live.
What if every sub-department was conceptualized under an umbrella concept, but allowed to be more aligned to each customer lifestyle, but not by vendor? Flagships for Bloomingdales, Saks and many retailers have used different designers per floor, even a recent concept for Macy brought three design firms together. We agreed that the Selfridges Bullring store came close, but the idea never really took off.
As we finished our beverages, George and I concluded that the high cost to hire separate design firms, along with the efficiency of a single ‘kit of parts’ design details, has been to root causes of retailers implementing a single formulaic concept. Many retailers have also concluded that the rollout of the same design is a a way to control the brand. I still believe that a single design firm in partnership with a visionary retailer can create a varied customer and design experince that marries to the brand. The keys would be access to relevant department based customer data and a strong over-arching concept/philosophy.