Over 152 Years of Service to the Furniture Industry
 Furniture World Logo

In-Store Design Center Trends

Furniture World Magazine

on

Part 1

How to make design centers a bigger part of any in-store shopping experience and further differentiate your retail operation.

Designing beautiful rooms with the help of an interior designer was once a luxury reserved for the rich and famous. Today, however, all types of consumers want home furnishings retailers to step up with professional and personalized design advice as part of the retail purchase experience.

If you want to attract customers who value design, or convince average shoppers that you can help them to make excellent design decisions, you need to strongly communicate that message. That’s why having a prominent and well-configured Design Center is so important. It helps demonstrate that your store takes design seriously and that you offer design expertise as part of a package of services. Without this, you are just another furniture store selling product and offering nothing more.

Many furniture stores have communicated a shift towards design and customization through rebranding. By adding the words “home,” “design” and “decor” to their names, they extend their brand appeal to a broader audience. Examples are Schewels Home, Miller Waldrop Furniture & Decor and Mathis Design Studio.

Interiors Home placed the Design Center at the heart of their Camp Hill, Pennsylvania store.

Location, Location, Location

It is critical to have a designated area that tells people you offer design services. It should be centrally located, easily visible from multiple locations and, ideally, positioned in the middle of your customizable upholstery department. Adding a Design Center to the heart of your store as part of a central customer service area or next to an in-store cafe are other good options to create more engaging and interactive shopping experiences.

While the visibility of a centrally located Design Center helps customers notice that you offer design services, some retailers prefer to meet with clients in closed-off destination spaces. These are often located at the back of stores or in upstairs areas. They may be behind glass doors, with consultations offered to customers by appointment only.

Living Spaces’ centrally located open, colorful and engaging Design Studio is near the cashiers’ area in its185,000 square foot, Grand Prairie, Texas, store.

Accessibility

Although an exclusive approach is still valid for some clientele, many furniture retailers benefit from offering free design services to a broader range of their clients. Providing design services at no additional cost entices customers who might otherwise fear designer fees or off-putting prices. La-Z-Boy, for example, has invested in educating shoppers about the cost of DIYD (do-it-yourself-design) versus using their free “La-Z-Boy Interior Design Program.”

La-Z-Boy gives all interested customers free access to an accredited interior designer. They say it will save their customers $5,000 versus the cost of hiring an independent designer. They also offer to work within customers’ budgets, provide complimentary design plans (with options) and allow customers to walk away at any time. This program puts customers in control of the design process and helps them to feel comfortable with their investment in quality home furnishings.

Mainstream retailer Pottery Barn is adding Design Studios (left) to their stores to provide customers with free one-on-one design consultations.

A Good-Better-Best Approach

Although an exclusive approach is still valid for some clientele, many furniture retailers benefit from offering free design services to a broader range of their clients. Providing design services at no additional cost entices customers who might otherwise fear designer fees or off-putting prices. La-Z-Boy, for example, has invested in educating shoppers about the cost of DIYD (do-it-yourself-design) versus using their free “La-Z-Boy Interior Design Program.”

A Good-Better-Best Approach

Large-scale furniture stores often struggle with where to place a Design Center and how large it should be. The concern comes from the possibility that it might:

  • Be located too far away from floor displays.
  • Overwhelm customers in a large space with too many choices.
  • Not attract enough attention if it’s not sized correctly in relation to the rest of the store.
  • Seem either too elite and exclusive or not memorable enough.
Like many retailers, La-Z-Boy’s Interior Design program is offered as a free service that provides a no-risk option that works within customers’ budgets.

Therefore, some large furniture retailers have installed multiple Design Center experiences to meet the needs of different customer groups. The approach is similar to the way that retailers group and sell merchandise according to good, better, and best categories. For retailers that operate 75,000-square-foot stores and up, it is important to create a customization experience that appeals to each level of clientele.

“A prominent and well configured Design Center helps demonstrate that your store takes design seriously and that you have expertise in this area. Without this, you are just another furniture store.”

Good Design Service: At the “Good” end of the spectrum, just having custom fabric swatches displayed adjacent to furniture sets is helpful.

Because 90% of its business is custom order, Furnitureland South opted to create a single large-scale Design Center (left) offering thousands of fabrics and finishes.

Better Design Service: For “Better” upholstery and dining sets, carving out an area to showcase a manufacturer’s displays make a stronger statement. Flexsteel, for example, provides a very well-designed and simple fixture that can be re-purposed for any brand’s swatches. Smith Brothers, Daniel’s Amish, Amisco and others are also well-known for their easy-to-order and well-organized customization displays.

Best Design Service: At the “Best” end of the market, customers expect a more sophisticated, separate and tailored experience. Creating a Design Center that appeals to this type of customer is valuable. Offering this level of expertise also increases average tickets.

Mathis Brothers, for example, understands that their “Good, Better and Best” customer types require a unique shopping experience. For their “Good” customers, they offer an Ashley store or Mathis Outlet experience that has customization options offered directly on the sales floor next to room sets. Their “Better” customers are offered the traditional Mathis Brothers Furniture experience. This includes vendor displays with custom options for Jonathan Louis and La-Z-Boy that appeal to mid-range customers.

Smith Brothers is well-known for providing simple yet elegant rod and hanger displays for its array of fabrics.

“Best” customers get a unique, high-end “Mathis Brothers Design Studio’’ experience. Customers meet with an interior designer of their choice by appointment only. The Design Center, located next to their Cafe & Bistro, is over 2,000 square feet. In this area, designers meet with clients at tables (up to 12 feet in length) that offer ample surface area to make presentations. These are surrounded by built-in fabric, hardware and accessory displays. Mathis also offers private all-glass meeting rooms. However, they find that most clients prefer to be in the central Design Center space, not separated off in a fishbowl.

Dwellings in Barbados prefers to have a separate, room (left) at the back of its store so that high-end customers can meet with designers privately.

Next Issue

In the September/October edition, the second part of this two-part series will delve into:

  • Amenities to include in Design Center areas to make customers feel more comfortable.
  • Ideas for creating raised staging areas to show products for more impact.
  • Ways to incorporate natural lighting and help customers to view colors as they will appear in their homes.
  • Display techniques that allow retailers to showcase expanded custom product categories.
  • Recent design center trends that include customization outposts, style centers and new technologies.

About Jennifer Magee: Jennifer Magee is an architect and designer who has over 15 years of experience in the home furnishings industry. She has designed over three million square feet of retail space. Working almost exclusively with furniture and mattress retailers, Magee has an in-depth knowledge of how to layout stores to create better customer flow, improve the way merchandise is presented, and increase sales. 

She is the founder and owner of Retail in the City, a boutique design firm offering a full range of retail design services from storefront design to interior design, branding, space planning, visual merchandising, signage, new store concepts and more. Her talented team of architects, interior designers and renderers creates exterior and interior design packages so retailers can become more competitive in their home market or expand into new markets.

For additional information, visit www.retailinthecity.com or contact Jennifer directly at 917-533-4372 or jennifer@retailinthecity.com.