The New World of Experiences: Commercial Architecture

I usually feel I shouldn’t write an article unless I know the answers, but today we have a new economy and we’re all creating it. Sometimes we create a new reality without giving it a lot of thought. I would never design a commercial architectural space or a home without input, conversation, and decision making by all parties involved. And yet I see a huge cultural shift that is slowly affecting our society and world without giving it a lot of thought.

We all know how the Internet’s exploded and everyone is shopping online, including myself for most of my holiday shopping. It used to be I would walk aimlessly from store to store trying to figure out that perfect gift. Now I aimlessly browse the Internet for my shopping! It’s changed how we purchase things and interact; studies say 1 out of 4 major shopping malls will eventually close. Besides being a place to shop, the malls also served as a social place; people, especially teens, would gather at the mall. Teens now treat social media as a gathering place. The big question is, what are the brick and mortar places doing to survive?

Change is inevitable. The car replaced the need for the blacksmith. It’s an evolution that happened. You’d be hard-pressed to find a blacksmith except at Greenfield Village. The brick and mortar establishments have to change with the times or they will perish. Certain ones won’t survive, yet there is always a need for a physical place to shop such as the grocery store, automotive parts, and shoes you can actually try on.

With architecture, we look at how to fill the spaces that are there. The current outlook is; you’ve got to make it an experience.

There must be a reason to go to the store, to not just sit at home on your computer and purchase things. Eddie Bauer in Columbus, Ohio created a cold room which they keep at 16 degrees. When people want to purchase cold weather gear, they can try it out in actual cold temperatures. You can’t do that online. It’s a neat way to create interest. Likewise, electronics stores let you try on the newest virtual reality goggles – you also can’t experience that at home.
On the other hand, Sears, Kmart, JC Penney, and now a lot of Sam’s Clubs are closing their doors. I’m surprised because whenever I go into Sam’s Club, it seems they’re always busy. A lot of what you buy is perishable; that seems perfect for a brick and mortar store. So it’s shocking to me to see the number that are closing. However, the shift is now to order online and have it delivered. Where we used to buy bulk paper towels for the office, now it’s arriving at our door in huge boxes. Good for the corrugated 4cardboard and shipping industries, not so good for Sam’s Club stores. As I said, change is inevitable.

There probably isn’t much of anything to stop this trend, but creating a stimulating environment, an experience, can help save or even grow a business.

We are currently working with a company to create a Pet Resort and Doggie Daycare. They are planning to take over the location of a former Hobby Lobby, about 12,000 square feet. It features glass block doggie suites. They are easy to clean, feature a little bed, and there’s even a TV in some of the suites. This is totally catering to our obsession with dogs being part of the family now. It’s become a popular trend. Also a great example of how traditional retail space can be transformed.

34n spite of my own tendency to shop online, I do find it enjoyable to shop at a physical store. When shopping online you miss the opportunity to engage in a short conversation, interacting with people while shopping. As a society, we’re missing these things by staying at home.

The million-dollar question, for brick and mortar stores and for all of us is, how do you build an experience that people will gravitate toward? Car dealerships constantly update their image and their brand, but they have an advantage in that people enjoy test driving cars. What about you? What is your brand and what are your thoughts on how to update it?

What makes you different from anyone else, including an online seller and your own brick and mortar competitors? Let’s talk about this and what it means for your commercial architecture project. I’d like to know what’s on your mind.

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