Retail design is all about unlocking the energy of the store, says Anirudha P. Mukhedkar, CEO of Restore Solutions. This Bangalore-based store branding boutique outfit, which has worked with companies such as Arvind Brands, Coupon and Indus League an d store brands Megamart, Indigo Nation, Scullers and Urban Yoga, sees a bright future for retail design in three areas: food, fashion and lifestyle and electronics and entertainment. This is explained by the unique Indian middle class spending habit: when the income goes up, these three segments enjoy a higher apportionment of budgets, points out Mukhedkar.
Apparel retail branding, is, of course, the most evolved in the country because of its longer retailing history. But most players have failed to realise that they have to stand for the same set of values that their brands represent.
“All communication should be centred on showing people the value of the brand. Today the only form of value that is being communicated is in terms of percentages, the discount or the deal offered.”
Mukhedkar reasons that companies do face shareholding exigencies, but argues that retailers should offer other values, like maybe make a statement on nature-friendly or recycled products or handmade products or anything else that the consumer would also like to relate to. This means brands must have a belief system and must express that as evocatively as possible with their own personality and style thrown in, he says.
This also impacts consumer likes and dislikes. “Our whole stress at Restore is on working with clients to bring in more and more clarity for their brands,” says Mukhedkar No designer, though, can invent a brand’s belief system. “Finding that belief system is a process of discovery and brands have to fight to find space for themselves in the overcrowded retail market.”
With retailing getting more efficient, the growth of private labels is inevitable. For instance, Megamart, a retail initiative by Arvind Ltd, built its equity on factory seconds of various brands. But soon it had to do some forward thinking and launch its own slew of private brands whose sales initially depend on the captive audience that already exists. “This is where our job comes in - to make the place delicious enough for consumers of both well-known and private labels.”
Commenting on the design or lack of it in the food retailing industry in the country, Mukhedkar finds that these players are still in the process of finding the perfect business model.
“They are still running around chasing their own tails. In fact, there’s no difference between one supermarket and another. They are located within a stone’s throw from one another, offer the same kind of products, service and discounts.” he says. Food retailers are still busy creating capacity but not keeping enough SKUs. Mukhedkar sees no room for a designer in the store at least for another year.
Luxury retailing, of course, is the most evolved in store branding as they have seen the value of spending money on design in other countries. There is also a huge opportunity in electronics retailing.
Mukhedkar credits the Indian consumer with a high degree of clarity about what she wants. “I think what the Indian consumer is not willing to do is support brands that do not offer some brand equity.
But Mukhedkar points out that these are good times and that consumers are willing to down anything that retailers do now. “Lot of consumers do not mind being treated badly. In fact, people are willing to spend and buy anyway, so things like store design, branding and selling does not matter in these times.” The challenge would be bad times, when people start becoming choosy and cautious. Mukhedkar says all retailers should plan for such times. Also, with foreign brands coming, there would be greater consumer awareness in terms of brand value and shopping experience. “Then we’ll need to have a stronger sense of retail design which is not there now.”