Often, a good renovation doesn’t have to be a bold reinvention. It can be as simple as modernizing the look and feel of a store and opening and brightening the space. This is precisely what Ruscio Studios achieved with its renovation of Underground, a Canadian apparel retailer. That’s not to say the firm’s task was simple.
Underground was leasing two adjacent spaces in Chinook Centre (the first store exclusively for women; the second exclusively for men) when in February 2009 they made the decision to unify the spaces and, at the same time, revitalize their image.
The main problems with the existing spaces were that the stores felt like two completely separate entities (one was dark, the other metallic) and neither offered an experience reflective of the brands. Underground’s main objectives with the new unified design were to better represent the hot brand names carried and to increase the women's sales, which were very weak relative to the men's.
At the outset, Ruscio made the name Underground relevant to the space. As the name suggested that the products carried were not mainstream but rather alternative designer labels, the design concept took an anti-mainstream approach reflecting more of a hip "underground" world and its urban inspirations.
To follow through with this theme, several design elements were introduced: Raw metal finish on solid steel sheets; tunnel-like walls with white ceramic tiles as found in subway stations; concrete floor finishes; street posters similar to city hoardings; bright orange finishes similar to the ‘safety orange’ lines found in subways/sidewalks; yellow fluorescent strip lighting simulating an urban neon glow.
Following the renovation, the new façade, with its single spacious entrance and strong visuals, now clearly speaks to the brand’s demographic and immediately draws the attention of passing shoppers. The slick glossy black tiles at the storefront also set the tone for the underground world.
Upon entering the store, the new retail area is demarked by a row of columns as well as a yellow “safety marker stripe.” These elements not only separate the women’s area from the men’s, but the columns provide a niche for accessories and the yellow stripe draws shoppers towards the rear of the store. The addition of a row of fluorescent suspended subway lights further delineates the space.
The women’s area, defined by a large curved white glossy tiled wall, distinctly sets an underground tunnel tone. This, along with the introduction of a feminine color palette, female mannequins and colorful poster graphics, makes the women's section much more attractive to the female shopper.
The men’s section, in contrast, is dominated by a linear ceiling and ecycled timber bunk units. Colorful translucent acrylic panels and exposed yellow fluorescent strip lighting found in this section also simulate the often harsh lighting typical of subway directional signage. As a backdrop to accessories, the department also features an enlarged city transport map similar to ones found at transit stations.
The cash unit, positioned behind the storefront window, gives room to the sales area for merchandising and allows for better greeting at the entrance. Comprised entirely of heavy gage metal sheets riveted together, the cash unit offers an authentic industrial feel comparative to the construction of a subway cab. Real street hoarding posters collected from 3 major cities are individually pasted behind the cash area and positively reinforce the city core urban feeling.
The fitting rooms, with their chains as hooking devices and "security stop" orange metal benches, follow through with the design concept. The use of stainless steel poles throughout the store, which simulate typical handrails found in subways, further enrich the shopping experience.
After encountering certain cost overruns during the construction phase, the total design and construction costs increased from $665,000 to +/- $750,000. Yet, rather than revising the design to fit the original budget, the client revised his budget to fit the design. With female shoppers finally taking notice of the unisex store, sales immediately doubled, far surpassing anyone’s expectations.
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