Achieving the perfect optical retail environment isn’t easy – somehow you need to find the perfect balance between an energetic retail space and a professional practice environment. It’s a giant leap of faith to close your optical door while you spend time and money on a costly new refurbishment… but it’s also an essential expense… there are plenty of reasons why.
Optometrist Tien Trinh designed the interiors for her Adelaide practice called The Pinhole Effect with a specific purpose in mind. “The Pinhole Effect is aiming to be different, hence the name, and the display of the shop, so we effectively are telling people we have different eyewear brands to the surrounding CBD,” said Tien.
She went all out when selecting the fixtures and fittings, settling on wood as the mainstay of her interior design, which is propelled into life with a brilliant green marble wall. “The practice is located in a heritage listed building so I wanted the store to look as if it has existed there for a long time but with a modern twist to it… It has a warm retro aesthetic feel that looks more like a retail boutique than an optometry practice, which was what I was aiming for… I didn’t want it to look clinical at all,” said Tien.
“I don’t think I was very money smart as all the furniture and display are premium material… who has a marble green wall for their workshop shipped all the way from Italy? However, it does reflect on our eyewear collection that we stock only good quality frames, and that’s working well for us,” she said. Having completed her design project in March this year with installation of cabinets, she is already making changes and improvements to her retail environment.
…space and light are the most important elements of good practice design and they should always work together…
According to the experts, practices should be refurbished every five to 10 years and ideally, refreshed in-between times.
“Like everything, when you look back after a few years, things always feel dated, like flared denim and Bert Newton,” says David Cameron from Sydney-based DB Projects, a specialist in optical fit outs.
“Optometry is now very much fashion focused, so the area surrounding the glasses needs to look great too – we need to ‘frame the frames’ more now than ever before… if the display or retail fit out is not in sync with the times, it can take from the customers’ retail experience and take sales from the practice.”
David recently completed the refurbishment of Master Specs in Sydney’s CBD under instruction by the store’s new owners, Julia and Lachlan Campbell. Julia said the makeover was long overdue. “Karen (our optometrist) used to greet clients to the consulting room with the words ‘Welcome to the 1960s’. So when Lachlan and I bought the practice we wanted to give the place a new look – something we would be proudto call our own.”
She said the aim was to stand apartfrom the look and feel of the chain stores, promote the fashion aspect of the product on offer and create warmth in-store –all without losing the essence of professionalism.
“A point of difference for our store is we have a workshop where we glaze lenses to frames. It is on display to both passing foot traffic and customers, and while it is a talking point, it runs the risk of looking messy. We didn’t want to hide this unique aspect of the practice, but neither did we want to emphasise it. David advised us to keep the colours neutral for the workshop while drawing customers’ eyes to the sales areas within the store using colour and light.”
Space and Light Key
According to David, space and light are the most important elements of good practice design and they should always work together. “There are many ways to shine light on frames and sunglasses but only a few work well. Elaborate designs can overshadow the product too. Many practices want to put many frames on display but a lot of my clients now know the importance of using space to emphasise what they have on the shelf.”
At Master Specs, he selected Australian recycled railway sleepers to create the warmth and rich colour Julia had specified in her brief.
The 80-year old Ironwood sleepers create a contemporary space with a dash of old, and the good news is, they are both cost effective and durable.
“I’ve always thought it was strange that in general, retail spaces are fitted out with materials from China when Australia has some really great materials that are cost effective, design-friendly and robust,”said David.
“In optometry, all fittings are very tactile – people touch them constantly when trying a pair of glasses on. If the design and build is not top quality, the frames which adorn them lose their perception of quality. The problem is, a lot of fit out jobs are won on cost. Getting things made cheaply obviously reduces cost but in turn reduces quality – and increases the risk of breakage. In the end this ‘low cost’ strategy can become more expensive.”
With no experience in practice design, or even working on the retail floor,
Tien Trinh set herself a few well thought-out guidelines to minimise the risk of costly errors.
“I planned every section, mocked everything up and pretended to use the space to see if it would be suitable before making any decisions – this was particularly important given that I was ordering custom made furniture. So, for example we placed sticky tape on the floor to indicate the position of all the wall frame displays and centre cabinets to ensure there would be enough room to enter out from the consulting room and to walk around etc.
“Little things like the height of the counter top tables relative to the case drawers are important, as are ensuring there is room for a bin and storage space for promotional and miscellaneous items,” said Tien.
Transition to a New Look
In general, the cost of a refurbishment, David says, will come down to the demographics of a practice’s target market and of course the size of the space being worked in.
“In my experience I would say a refurbishment, including new joiner, painting and flooring can cost from AU$30,000 up. New builds can range from $70,000–$350,000.”
That’s big money, especially if you have to close the store for business while the refurbishment takes place, so it could be tempting to jump in, guns and all, and completely change the look and feel of your practice. David doesn’t recommend this strategy as a rule of thumb.
“It’s definitely more risky to jump into a major change. My advice is transition but the right transition. All major brands have modernised their logos and brand design over time. The saying that people don’t like change is very far from the truth especially when it comes to retail. People love change and people love fashion. Even if your brand is well established and well known, you should never sit back and avoid change. You have to evolve in any business – if you don’t, you get left behind.”
A Positive Move
Julia said despite having to close Master Specs for a week for refurbishment, the decision to do so was worth every sale lost.
“Redesigning the store changed the way we feel about going to work – initially it was stimulating to make decisions on colour, wallpaper, the logo, flooring and frame displays, then it was exciting to see it come together over a week of intense hard work. Now we’re enjoying the feedback from customers – we have noticed an increase in first time customers and we have retained our loyal followers, which was something we were mindful about – we didn’t want to alienate them by creating a look that was over the top. In terms of sales, closing had an impact, but it was necessary and definitely worthwhile.”
Successful Refurbishment Tips
Refurbishment is an important intervention that will attract new and existing customers, and prolong the lifecycle of your practice.
A successful refurbishment will:
Ramps, contrasting colours, strategic lighting and prominent signage for instance, will make your practice more accessible to people with low vision.