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Avoiding storefront uniformity

For an industry in which the only constant is change, we have remained remarkably staid in our approach to the development of storefront criteria. Emphasis has been on design control and limitations rather than cooperation and innovation. Tenant coordinators are thrust into the role of enforcers, spending countless hours reviewing documentation to fit criteria ideals. These restrictions limit the variety needed to provide an animated shopping center and to express the individuality essential to retail differentiation. Printed criteria booklets, as well as being expensive to produce, become outdated quickly and fail to promote needed interaction between designer, tenant and developer.

The run of storefronts is the strongest visible element of a mall, and often the most overlooked opportunity during a mall renovation. Visual integration of high-impact storefronts takes mall theming to a new level, opening up new options, expanding boundaries, encouraging pop-out storefronts, projections, cantilevered signs. Although the need for a degree of control remains, that need for control must allow for new possibilities, for ease of communication and quality of design. Next-generation mall design demands a re-examination of the criteria approval process.

Open the box! Turn rules into guidelines, embrace technology and prepare for exhilarating results.

Surfing for solutions

Taking a proactive approach is the first step. Tap into the vast design talent pool, hired and funded by tenants. Establishing an effective review process is key to successful design management and maintaining the strategic integrity of the development. The review process can become a participatory evolution, starting with the critical preliminary submission. Many developers are now embracing technology such as CD-ROM or website interface as a way to share information and issue current documents.

Working with a website provides new opportunities to present ideas and concepts in a pictorial venue. Photographs illustrating both “do” and “don't” qualities provide more insightful explanations than text documentation. GHA recently worked on a project that allowed us to post a virtual library of the actual storefronts through the mall. Tenants and designers logged on using a designated PIN number and were able to view the existing stores on either side of their location. This view enabled designers to determine complementary elements that would distinguish them from neighboring tenants.

Seeing the work of other professionals also encouraged discussion and promoted new potential, which led to improved design quality and variety throughout the mall.

Website interaction supports an ease and immediacy of communication between the tenant coordinator and tenant designer. Preliminary design concept sketches can be e-mailed to tenant coordinators for review and comment.

This interchange has a personal quality without the cost or time required for more formal face-to-face meetings. Tenant coordinators can offer constructive suggestions, supported by scanned pictorial examples of suggested improvements and alternatives. As standards evolve, criteria information can be quickly and easily updated, with posted notices announcing updates for those logging onto the site.

Capital cost efficiencies

Knowledgeable developers have realized that this new spirit of cooperation and participation has resulted in a reduction of base building costs, since costs have effectively been transferred to tenants. This strategic use of tenant inducement allocation is a clever solution to renovation, optimizing visual impact with minimal effect on the bottom line.

Tenants win too. Relaxing the rules means more effective expression of retail branding and fewer costs incurred to meet strict criteria boundaries. To create more successful storefront criteria, developers and designers need to work together. Participating in the process, fostering innovation and communication not only produces time and capital efficiencies, it promotes a new visual vitality throughout the mall.

Denis Gervais is co-founder and president of Quebec, Montreal-based Gervais Harding & Associates (GHA), an industry leader in the design of commercial and retail environments.

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