PROFILE: Steve Esdaile

Steve Esdaile is an interior and brand design consultant. Through his business, Esdaile Design, he has designed showrooms for KBB retailers such as Bathstore, CP Hart and Magnet, as well as a number of non-KBB retail environments. He outlines his principles of good showroom design to Rebecca Nottingham and suggests how retailers can make the most of their showroom


Q: Your presentation at this year’s kbbreview Retail & Design Conference focused on ‘creating the ideal showroom’. Why is this so important?
The showroom is the strongest tool that a retailer has so ensuring it is designed to the highest standards is key to operating a successful retail business. I kicked off my presentation at the conference with a quote by Charles Eames: “The role of a designer is basically that of a good host anticipating the needs of the guest.” The quote very neatly sums up that, in principle, when designing your showroom you have to put yourself in the shoes of the customer walking through the door. Consumers should immediately be able to understand the brand, the price point of the environment they’ve entered and should also understand the journey that they’re about to go on. They should know if they’re looking at something that’s there to inspire them, whether they’re looking at something that’s there to give them information and where they go within that environment to look at materials or to make a transaction.

Q: With that in mind then, what are the most important factors of good showroom design?
Creating the right ambience reflects the price point that you’re retailing at, so it’s an essential part of the consumer’s showroom journey and there are three points that will help retailers deliver that. One is the density of the product on display – how much you cram in or how much fresh air you have around the product. The second thing that helps create ambience is the amount, and type, of POS featured in the showroom. To explain how POS sets the tone of an environment consider that in a bargain-basement type shop you would expect to see lots of signs highlighting price, but if you went to a very top-end fashion boutique then you would expect prices to be invisible and POS to be more subtle and inspirational. The third thing to consider is the materials you choose to create the envelope of the store, which, again, can differentiate one environment from another.

Q: What are the key principles of the physical process of designing the showroom?
The first thing we consider in the physical design process is the envelope of the store. So, we draw up a plan of the store, including areas like the bathroom and kitchen that are difficult to move, so we can understand the size and shape of the space we’re dealing with and then we’re left with what we call the front-of-house space. We would then apply a materials palette to suit the brand, and that would be the backdrop to the store. The next thing we would physically work on would be the window displays. The windows are the most important feature of the showroom, so maximise them – give consumers a bit of eye candy and colour to look at, but also make sure those displays really represent your brand. Everybody that walks through the door should get inspiration in the front of the store. So, your hero displays, whether they’re window displays or not, should be the first ones they see. Once the window displays are in, we would then be looking at where we want to position the sales desks and the consultation areas, because this is about the interaction the retailer gets with the customer. The most important point to consider when thinking about the layout of the rest of the store is the consumer’s vision from the entrance mat. You must make sure that, when they’re standing at the entrance they can see as much of what’s in the showroom as possible and that the journey round the showroom is clear. Of course, knowing your target market and knowing the trends in the market is also essential to achieving this.

Q: How does that relate to independent retailers who may be restricted by space and budget?
Obviously space and maximum spend is a key consideration, but the same principles should be true for whatever size showroom or budget you have. Some factors make no difference to the price of a refurbishment or of putting a showroom together.

SE798-205 32Q: How important are elements such as lighting and props on displays to perfecting the design of a showroom?
The lighting scheme and the finishing touches are important, but they come after everything else I’ve talked about. In terms of lighting, retailers should look to add light and shade to the showroom and highlight the things they want people to look at and, ultimately, buy. Look at adding different types of lighting too – general lighting for moving through the store and feature lighting over the products you want to highlight. Because they have to compete with natural light, window displays need two or three times as much light as you put around the displays inside the showroom. There’s no benefit in overdressing displays with prop after prop, because all that does is mask the product the retailer is actually trying to sell. Perhaps opt for accessories that add a splash of colour to the showroom or plants that help create a more inviting environment. Pendant lights over a breakfast bar or island are great too, but don’t feel you have to fill every nook and cranny of every kitchen, or bathroom, display.

Q: How often should retailers think about updating their showroom design?
In terms of layout, if it’s good and well thought-out in the beginning, not very often. Product displays, on the other hand, quite regularly. A window display in a high-street showroom should be updated once a year so that it represents the very latest trends. I’d say retailers should be looking to refresh 20% of their product displays every 18 months to two years. The other thing to consider here is how the people who work in the environment feel. If they’re in an environment that hasn’t changed in five years, they may struggle to feel enthusiastic about the products they’re selling. But, if that environment is kept up-to-date and fresh then staff members are likely to feel inspired, excited and motivated to sell.

Q: How realistic are those time frames for independent KBB retailers?
The time frames are realistic provided that the format of the showroom’s envelope is designed in a way that enables the retailer to update displays easily. In the beginning, some of the displays may have been designed specifically to be updated regularly, whereas others may have been designed to stand the test of time and be there a lot longer.

Q: Should retailers be looking outside of the KBB sector for inspiration on how to perfect their showroom design?
That’s the first place I would suggest retailers look for inspiration and to find out what makes a good showroom design. That’s how you can get a real grasp of how people retail product. If you’re looking to create a good showroom, then understanding what it is that you like, or don’t like, about other showrooms is a good place to start.

Q: What’s your general impression of standards of showroom design in the KBB industry?
Across the board you could pick out good, bad and indifferent examples. My biggest gripe, however, is that so many retailers try to cram far too much product in. Nobody wants, or even needs, to see every single product that’s available from every single different supplier the retailer deals with. What consumers want to go away with from a KBB showroom is a vision that they can translate into their own home. A good retailer understands who their client is, and with their displays, subconsciously makes the decision for the consumer. If you get that right, and you follow the key principles of design, you can’t get it wrong.

Q: As the retail landscape changes, is there always going to be room on the high street for KBB showrooms?
The way some items are sold may change, but there will always be a need for physical showrooms in this industry as far as I can see. Most people buying in this sector won’t buy from a picture and need help to make the right decisions.

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