The Importance of Store Design—Q&A with Mike Lawshe, Paragon Solutions Inc.

By Mike Lawshe   read

Customer experience is a driving force behind store design. Mike Lawshe of Paragon Solutions shares sage advice to retailers at various stages of the store build, branding and design process. Here’s a hint: Look outside the box for new fresh ideas.

June 10, 2018

1. A retailer wants to build a new convenience store. What foundational knowledge should he or she have before meeting with an architect or consultant?
I believe that the most important thing you should work on is establishing the key offerings in your store that will separate you from the competition. Get your team of professionals together and discuss. What is your food program? What are your unique products? What is the experience that you want your customer to have when they walk into your store? There is an adage “form follows function.” I believe you should establish the industry specific functional design of the store long before you look at the form. You should bring in an industry expert who will challenge your team to improve the offering and grow your brand to the next level. Only then do you start to look at the architectural elements.

Too many people start with the architect and he/she starts with the box and then asks what you want to put in the store. Architects are not retail designers and should not be put in that position. I like to say never ask a plumber to do brain surgery. Surround yourself with the right professionals Including site analysis, retail design experts, merchandisers, architects, engineers and contractors. They each have a critical function throughout the overall project. You may have some of these professionals in house and that’s great, but don’t hesitate to reach out for additional expertise.

2. Do you have any advice for owners who want to redesign older assets?
When an older store was built, the industry was quite different. The design at that time met different customer needs. Putting a new coat of paint on an old, tired asset does not solve the problem. Look at the ingress, egress, parking, offerings and even adjacent properties before you look at the remodel. Open your eyes to the possibilities and then start the design process. Don’t limit your scope to putting lipstick on a pig. Look outside the box for new fresh ideas.

3. How has store design evolved? Are there trends?
Store design changes every day. As our customer base changes, so too does the design solutions that serve that changing demographic. I find it frustrating when I walk into a customer’s conference room to meet the team and all I see are 50- to 60-year-old men. The biggest key today is diversity. Your design team should be filled with diversity in age, sex, race and preferences just like your customer base. If you had a 25-year-old Asian, Hispanic or Indian female vegetarian on your team, she would likely bring a much different perspective and her insights would be extremely valuable.

4. What can a small retailer do to make their space more inviting?
The first thing I would suggest is to focus on the experience rather than the detail at first. Big picture things like lighting inside and out can sometimes make the biggest impact. Go through your store and do an experience assessment. What do you feel as you enter and as you go through the store? Next, ask your customers what they feel. You might be surprised.

5. Why is it important to continuously change or refresh store design?
Simply stated, your potential customer base is continuously changing. You can change with them and grow or you can do what you have always done and stagnate. The choice is yours. Customers like to see that you care and you are trying new things. It doesn’t always have to be a big remodel. Continuous change in the right direction helps keep your brand relevant.

6. When you’re on the road visiting convenience stores, what do you purchase?
I go in hundreds of stores every year so my perspective is probably different than others, but I generally have three key areas that set the tone for me when assessing a store. 1) The bathrooms need to be clean. 2) the coffee needs to be fresh and organized. 3) The sales counter needs to be clutter free. These are as much operational issues as they are design issues, but they are indicative of the store culture and what to expect as you dig deeper.

For an extended version with more information on how to run a successful convenience store, check out our downloadable guide, 4 Key Considerations When Evaluating Store Design.

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Mr. Lawshe is the owner of Paragon Solutions, a nationwide retail design and consulting firm based in Fort Worth, Texas. He has 35+ years of specialized and targeted industry experience, consulting a multitude of customers including convenience stores, travel centers/truck stops, petroleum companies, large chain operators, independently owned retailers, quick serve restaurants, fast casual restaurants, and other specialty retailers.