Storytelling as part of retail design

The household supply and electronics retailers can only win the battle against the competition selling online if they increase the attractiveness of their shops and regularly surprise their customers with extraordinary initiatives.

Additionally, the use of social media is an important factor for success or failure. That’s the standpoint of Wolfgang Gruschwitz, managing partner of the Gruschwitz GmbH in Munich, in an interview with HZ Haushalt & Elektro. The company, employing 30 employees in Germany and Russia, belongs to the world’s leading interior architecture and project management agencies in the retail area. Among its projects, the Gruschwitz Gmbh designed the shops of the football club Bayern München.

HZ: Mr. Gruschwitz, can you tell us a bit about your company? What are your core competencies and the main focus of the business?

W. Gruschwitz: Since 2003, we are dealing with everything that makes a shop, a cafeteria or a showroom successful. On top of the basic architectural structure of the rooms and the lighting concept, we also use concepts to increase customer shopping frequency, to prolong the customers’ length of stay and to win drop-in clients. The basis of our work is the experience with various industries, knowledge of neuromarketing and research on media concepts. Our clients range from retailers with floor sizes of 15-20 m2 to shopping malls with sales areas of multiple thousand m2 , where the household supply industry depicts a very important segment of our work.

HZ: As an interior architect specialized on the stationary retail industry, what is your opinion on the chances for the stationary retailer to compete with the stores mainly operating online? Do you share the common opinion that the online shopping industry will kill the traditional retailers?

W. Gruschwitz: I am convinced that the stationary retail industry will always continue to exist and that it will be able to hold its ground against the online competition. Nevertheless, it will only be able to do so when a shift in thinking and attitude happens in the heads of the retailers, changing existing viewpoints and approaches and initiating investments. If the businesses do not tell a compelling story, they are unattractive to the customer and they will in turn lose the battle with their competition. Simply modernizing the stores and believing that this will appeal to the clients, just isn’t enough. What’s most important is putting yourself in the head of the customer to figure out what really attracts them and to derive stories and initiatives from that knowledge. Price and product selection are important factors but are by far not enough to succeed.

HZ: That sounds very abstract. To ask more concretely, what makes a good store in the household supply industry nowadays? Let’s start with the design concepts of the physical stores.

W. Gruschwitz: To achieve attractiveness, visual as well as haptic elements are of importance. There has to be an interchange between light and shadow, the senses have to be appealed with scents and information points can help the orientation. As clients are under time pressure, that fact has also to be taken into consideration. An example are free hallways and wide areas between the shelfs which allow fast and free movement. Eliminating barriers, such as stairs, counts towards it as well. The design of the bathrooms and the air conditioning of the store is not less important. Especially the store employees are mostly suffering from the high temperature in the stores which in turn disturbs the customer.

HZ: What about the presentation of the product portfolio?

W. Gruschwitz: Especially in the household supply retail industry we observe the phenomenon that the products do not display any emotions. Showing carton boxes to emphasize product selection and portfolio reinforces this lack of emotion. Concentrating on the customer will show you quickly that even household supplies are strongly connected with emotions. The knife that I used to prepare the first dinner for my wife, the first smoothie that I made. If you can trigger these positive emotions with the help of product presentation, visuals or initiatives, you will be able to make your customers happy. If you don’t, the clients will only ask for the price and buy the product online afterwards.

HZ: You are talking about the extraordinary, about eye catchers, what could that be?

W. Gruschwitz: One way to delight the customer is to incorporate abstract elements or unspecified presentations in the store design, such as a pyramid made of knives. The design of the service offering and the additional benefits play an additional role herein. Regardless of it being the delivery service, the cooking class or the product presentation – the customer needs the extraordinary experience. Regarding the question how the extraordinary could look like, you have to specifically involve the employees. Not only do they have excellent ideas, if you integrate them into the planning and implementation they will be distinctively more authentic and convincing in selling and consulting the customers.

HZ: You mentioned that social media plays an important role for the success of the shop. Why is that?

W. Gruschwitz: Nowadays, the customer expects to be invited into the store and to be informed about recent changes in the business. In the modern times of overstimulation people are barely capable to obtain the necessary information by themselves. Using social media is therefore an ideal solution to directly reach the customer very cost-efficiently. Why not equip every sales representative with a smart phone and ask them to build a community with their clients using e.g. WhatsApp? Today, we need view and treat our customers as fans. Not only does it increase the loyalty of the clients to your business, additionally the profession of the sales representative becomes more attractive.

HZ: Being a GIA award jury member allows you to experience a vast amount of shop concepts worldwide. What is typical for the German retail market and what can we learn from the other countries?

W. Gruschwitz: It is inherent for the German market that we want to perfect everything, mainly looking at the past to draw inspiration from. Other countries also take a leap of faith and try out new concepts and initiatives to see what works and what does not. The ones that don’t will simply be discontinued. Retailers in Germany are certainly so conservative and little creative because they expect their loyal customers to not accept the new and innovative concepts. Thus, we mainly base our actions on assumptions instead of trying out to find successful concepts. The Netherlands or Sweden are entirely different in this regard, also Australia. There you can see chandeliers made of spoons or an entire car placed inside the store. Another problem is that the employees in German retail stores simply do not have the necessary media knowledge. A stronger focus on training and development is needed to resolve this issue.

HZ: If a retail store owner decides to redesign the store, how should this be approached?

W. Gruschwitz: The first step is to identify the need for change. Is there a decrease in revenue? Is the customers’ length of stay too short? Is there a lack of young clients? Derived from these findings, a store check should follow to identify strengths and weaknesses. The next step is then to implement the measures and actions to solve this challenge. As I mentioned in the beginning, if and how the store is redesigned, which materials are being used and how this attracts costumers depends on one single factor: The story that you want to tell with your business.


About Gruschwitz

Gruschwitz ist ein führendes internationales Design- und Marketingbüro mit 360° Leistungsspektrum. Ob für Beauty, Fashion, Food, Lifestyle, Services, Shoes oder Sports – unser Team inszeniert marken- und zielgruppengerechte Erlebniswelten mit individuellem Charakter und unverwechselbarem Profil. Zu unseren Kunden gehören unter anderem Weber Grill, SuperDry, Jaguar/Land Rover und Red Bull, sowie sämtliche Marken der Inditex-Gruppe (wie z.B. Zara und Massimo Dutti).