Contradicting reports of the decline of brick-and-mortar retail, The Design Hunter in Sydney has doubled its store size just two years after opening.
While physical retail outlets continue to dwindle, The Design Hunter launched its brick-and-mortar store along with its online store in 2012.
With a retail store at the front and offices at the back, all facets of the business, including the firm’s service team of designers, decorators and stylists, have contributed to the studio's overall growth.
Last month, The Design Hunter unveiled a new store just across the road from its existing retail space.
“By the start of 2014 we had expanded to the point where we had outgrown our existing store and studio,” said Melissa Bonney, designer and director of The Design Hunter. “In May, we found the ideal new retail space, just across the road, and turned our existing store into our new design studio. We are also in the process of revamping our website and online store."
The Design Hunter wants to offer a physical presence instead of just a website in order to allow customers to "experience furniture, homewares and art in an inviting interior space."
The company is following the growing trend of blurring the boundaries of the physical and online brand. In the case of The Design Hunter, the space follows an engaging narrative that aims to take the customer on an unique interiors journey - similar to navigating through the online store.
Inside the physical store, themed vignette corners that showcase products are highlighted with greenery. Textured rugs are rolled up and stored upright bringing vertical decor to the space, while storage products and large furniture pieces are draped with soft furnishings and housewares, encouraging the client to touch and feel the products.
The company aims to provide both in-store and on-line clients with the same unique product offerings, but the new store will also include styling services and the opportunity to see products first hand.
“In the store, customers will be able to experience many of the products in situ, and have our staff on hand to answer any questions,” said Bonney. “Having said that, however, we are also incorporating a feature into our website where customers can ask questions while browsing our online store and will be responded to immediately.”
During a visit, customers can engage with a staff member for service that moves beyond a point of sale transaction to one that can offer styling advice - a definite retail advantage for the organisation.
The store is visually engaging and carefully reflects The Design Hunter’s online space, a strategy that is key to today's redefined store design.
A case study that explored the branding synergy in retail found that "a brand needs to be consistent in its presence; from its logo to its website, from its packaging to its display strategy in a store. The physical setting of a store is particularly interesting for it is where the customers can interact with the brand in the most intimate way."
Bonney agrees with that concept.
"It’s important to regain the same consistency and look and feel," she said.
The signature blue tones of The Design Hunter's logo appear on the street frontage along with accent walls and point of sale shelves. The space itself offers a warm aesthetic through considered products and their placement.
Timber reigns throughout the space, offering a raw and natural ambiance, while textured and refined silk fabrics on linen and cushions add colour. The store offers a luxury home-type aesthetic.
The retail store hopes to extend the customer experience through workshops and presentations with showcased artists and craftsmen giving clients the opportunity to learn a skill or be immersed behind the scenes of some of the products.
The Design Hunter’s success reminds the industry of the growth benefits inherent in creating a memorable customer experience, whether customers opt to shop or buy offline or online.
Earlier this year, Peter Firth who is a director at shopper insights agency TNS Global told Inside Retail that without an experience, the physical store may not hold enough enticement for a visit. "Customers want to enjoy their shopping time, be entertained, and interact with knowledgeable and motivated staff. These experiences are key to encouraging them to continue to visit bricks and mortar stores," he said.
Even as many brands are shrinking their physical presence, the retail market continues to rethink traditional stores by offering customers the opportunity not only to purchase but to participate in store through staff engagement and product activities.
Customers continue to seek a memorable experience, and a retailer's ability to do so will determine its future in the shrinking brick-and-mortar world.