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This chapter is from the book

Putting the Mantra into Action

Properly done, the mantra for a company that is primarily retail can serve as the corporate mantra as well as the design mantra for the actual stores. This is evident in the "Quality, Variety, and Activity" phrase for the pharmacy example. If the company has other major sales channels, such as wholesale or mail order, then for our purposes—developing a new retail business or energizing an existing one—the mantra should focus primarily on the retail business. All aspects of branding should be aligned with the mantra, however. A retail mantra that speaks of "quality" will lead to a certain design concept, and the packaging for mail-order products needs to convey the same sensibility. It is not sufficient to use the same corporate logo on the mail-order products if the retail presentation is high quality, but the mail-order packaging is inferior. The customer should have the same brand impression regardless of the sales vehicle.

For existing companies, it is often easy to jump quickly from the mission statement and existing values to the three-word mantra. The following examples illustrate how we ideated with clients to create a three-word mantra that distills the core values. The mantra can serve as a focus in the development of business strategy. Strategic planning is covered in Chapter 9, "Taking Your Organization Long," and other chapters are devoted to the many other business actions that derive from the strategy. Because so much of retailing rides on the customer experience, this chapter focuses on how the mantra can be translated into the physical expression of the retail idea.

    Il Fornaio Café and Bakery

    Il Fornaio is an established "white tablecloth" restaurant chain mainly focused on the West Coast. Seeking to extend the brand into the fast, casual dining market, Il Fornaio began work on a new café and bakery concept that would not compromise the brand's quality image in the fine-dining category. The core values were Il Fornaio's roots as an Italian bakery: an authentic Tuscan tradition that evokes simple, timeless quality, a combination of sophistication and approachability, and a desire to be the preeminent bakery café brand. These values led to the three-word mantra for design:

    The Tuscan ideals of style, simplicity, beauty, and utility.

    A warm, friendly, and comfortable community gathering place.

    A distinctive, high-quality product that is quickly made to order and delivered with exceptional customer service.

    Omaha Steaks

    Omaha Steaks has been producing and distributing a variety of premium beef, poultry, seafood, and other gourmet foods for five generations, and it now has more than 1.6 million customers, mostly through mail order. Seeking to grow its retail business, Omaha Steaks began a reevaluation in 2004 of its retail concept, its offerings, and its design. To frame our process we ideated the following three-word mantra:

    Omaha Steaks' quality inspires me to create great meals for my family and friends.

    The store experience reminds me of the pantry in my home. [The store has a complete supply of related products, and I know just where to find everything.]

    Shopping here makes it easier to plan my family's meal program.

    For Il Fornaio, the design concept of the new café and bakery that emerged from the mantra was a "Tuscan ideal." In contrast to a highly ornate and opulent "Roman" concept, for instance, the design values of the Tuscan ideal would be a very high quality concept that is more honestly and simply expressed. For Omaha Steaks, the mantra led to a design concept that would create more reasons for consumers to use the existing product line, develop a new store environment to improve awareness of the company's complete meal offerings and the variety of its products, and make it easier for the customer to navigate the store. These values would increase the frequency of shopping and raise the level of the brand.

    Both projects were unfolding as this book went to press, and we cover various aspects of the work in later chapters. In particular, the results of the design effort for Il Fornaio are covered in detail in Chapter 4, "Maximizing the Retail Experience Through Design." The mantra becomes the basis on which you can ideate, create, and execute a new store concept, as the next example involving Gateway Computers shows. Although the business outcome of Gateway's retail experience was unexpected—and to us, disappointing—the process shows how core values should drive all the thought that leads to a new retail approach.

    Gateway Computers

    Ted Waitt, Gateway's founder and chairman, returned to the company as CEO after a three-year absence and invited my company to help with an ambitious turnaround and reinvention of the company. Ted wanted to create a new category—an end-to-end consumer connection from the Internet to flat-screen television—and to transform Gateway from a PC maker to a "branded integrator" for all these products. He sought a company that could help consumers put together their various home systems to get more education and enjoyment from them—PCs, personal digital devices, DVD players, high-definition televisions, stereo components, games, printers, plasma screens, and whatever else comes along. The approach would create a strong alternative to Best Buy or Circuit City, with their huge, impersonal stores and the sensory overload caused by massive displays of televisions and computer monitors and aisles and aisles of other equipment.

    As with other clients, we used the ideation process to come up with three key words to shape the retail experience and store design behind Ted's idea:

    A welcoming, comfortable, and communal atmosphere.

    An exciting place that makes one feel creative and productive.

    A playful, interactive experience that promotes learning.

    At the center of our design concept was the area called "hearth," a central area situated at the entry that felt like a family room or den and invited customers into the store. The couches, counter stools, and cocktail table sent an overall subliminal message that this was a place to relax. One side was devoted to a floor-to-ceiling, wood-faced slab that could display various items such as a plasma screen. Merchandise was placed together the way people actually used products, so that customers could see what they needed and what was involved in putting a system together. The setting encouraged a purchase because customers could visualize the items installed in their own home, and training was part of the package. We incorporated Gateway's new logo, a variant of the computer "on" button, in various graphic displays along with several new icons unique to Gateway and subtly infused the company's old black and white cowhide pattern in the artwork.

    We designed the store's physical environmental changes to be relatively inexpensive to implement so that we could move very rapidly to execute the concept's rollout to one hundred eighty stores. A modular fixture and graphics package made the design easy to retrofit into existing stores to keep upgrade costs modest. We went from ideation to complete concept design in less than ninety days, and the first store with the new design opened within five months from when we first met with Ted. See Figure 1-2.

Figure 1.2Figure 1-2 The hearth design for Gateway retail stores felt like a family room or den and invited customers into the store. The comfortable setting encouraged individuals to visualize digital systems installed in their own home, which led to increased sales and won a design award. However, a strategic business conflict led Gateway to withdraw from the retail market shortly after the new stores opened, leaving an opening in the "high-touch" home electronics market. (Photo by John Durant. Reprinted with permission.)

    In short order, remodeled stores were doing 5 percent more business than they had done previously, and some new pilot stores were doing 42 percent more business compared to existing stores. In early 2004, however, Ted let me know that Gateway was closing its retail operation! The company had just purchased another PC maker, eMachines. The acquisition gave Gateway a strategic price advantage that greatly enhanced its chances for distribution through other retailers worldwide—but not with the substantial channel conflict created by Gateway's own retail stores. Ironically, the Gateway store redesign project won a SADI (Superior Achievement in Design and Imaging) Award the same week that the company announced the closing of the retail business unit.

    Proud as we were of our work in the renewal of the retail concept, we understood the company's need to take another direction. In business, sometimes strategic conflicts can trump the role of any one sales channel, no matter how promising.

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