The Layout of the Land

When L.L. Bean began expanding its stores beyond its Freeport, ME-based flagship location, the venerable outdoor gear and apparel cataloger was challenged with re-creating a bit of the Maine experience in stores outside the state.

So L.L. Bean hired a Maine-based fixture company, which works in reclaimed materials such as wood and steel, to give the new stores the rugged, outdoorsy feeling that customers like and expect. The result? In addition to the rustic appeal of using reclaimed materials in the flooring and in the structure of the building, “our fixtures look amazing,” says Sean Salter, director of visual presentation at L.L. Bean. “They really evoke the L.L. Bean brand and the heritage.”

Common sense would tell you when designing a store that it has to be pleasant and easy for customers to shop. But retailers should use materials, props, and visuals to give customers a strong sense of where they are, says Jeff Grant, president of San Diego-based Trio Display. This is all about maximizing your brand, says Grant, a third-generation shopfitter and author of a book on store planning and design.

The retail experience is always important, but it’s crucial, now given the difficult economy. According to Kurt Barnard, the president of Barnard’s Retail Trend Report, consumers are increasingly cautious about how much they spend and where.

“And when consumers are very cautious about spending, they will spend only when they are truly excited,” says Barnard. Even if you have brand-name recognition, what may work online or in a catalog may not work in a store, and vice versa.

So what can a multichannel merchant do to attract shoppers and excite the people who visit its stores? Retailers must make the store as attractive “and as much of a magnet as possible,” states Barnard. “Unless the store shows itself to be different from the rest of the gang, there’s no reason for a customer to prefer one store over another.”

To help you make your store stand out from the pack, we asked several experts for some tips and best practices. Here are five rules for store layout.


“If you don’t know your customer, don’t bother opening the store,” says Barnard. “You have to understand the consumer. And you have to know what motivates the consumer.”

For L.L. Bean, knowing the customer’s likes and dislikes is a top priority. That’s why when Salter was assigned the task of designing several new regional stores, he organized focus groups and “shopalongs” (accompanying customers on shopping trips to like stores). This was to help get inside shoppers’ heads before he put pencil to paper.

Salter wanted to get feedback on everything from shoppers’ impressions as they walked in the door, to which way they went, to how they interacted with the fixtures, the product, and the salespeople. Did they like the way the store was set up? Did they enjoy the music that was playing? Did they find the signs helpful? These were all important things to determine upfront.

Equally important, says Grant, is to create a one-page mission statement for your store — before you’ve even signed the lease. How are you going to differentiate yourself from the pack? How do you want this store to look? How would you describe the perfect customer experience?

Most retailers don’t think about these things in advance, he says. “I’ve had people call me who’ve said, ‘I’ve got a perfect location,’ and I’ve watched them fail” because they just didn’t think it through, he says.


“The design of the store is very important, from the exterior façade to the first thing you see and experience when you come in the front door,” explains Salter. L.L. Bean’s Freeport flagship store, at 100,000 sq. ft., is considered a retail destination, with tens of thousands of people from around the world visiting every year. But your store needn’t be that big to be considered a destination by customers.

The important thing is to make your customers comfortable — and keep them interested. “Generally speaking, people walk into a store, bear to the right, then follow a racetrack pattern around the store, starting on the right and going all the way around and ending up on the left,” explains Grant. That means you must create a good traffic flow so shoppers can easily get around your store, try on clothes, and check out.

Depending on the size of your stores, you might want to break your space into territories or departments that “tell a story,” Grant says. “I think territories, visual breaks, are critically important,” he notes.

“Not only does it make it easier for the customer to shop inside those areas, it makes it easier for the salespeople to keep the area merchandised correctly.” That’s why Grant’s store designs typically break walls into 4-ft. or 8-ft. sections, with each section telling a story.

At the new L.L. Bean stores, the “stories” are camping, hiking, biking, fishing, and paddling areas, each of which has its own look and feel. Then flanked around the perimeter are apparel and other merchandise that support or go with the various activities and reinforce the outdoorsy theme.

Music is another way to create an atmosphere conducive to shopping. “Music is essential,” says Grant. “It works. It keeps people in the store longer. It keeps them in a buying mood.” But before you start blasting Metallica, think of your core customer. While a kid shopping in your store may like it, his mother may not — and you could lose the sale.

To help you find the perfect soundtrack for your store — and avoid copyright trouble — Grant recommends using a company that specializes in providing music to retailers, such as Muzak. Such services cost $30 to $100 a month, he says, and provide you with music that will fit your demographic.

And don’t forget about lighting. “Lighting is the single most important thing in the store,” says Grant.

To create the right mood, you need several kinds of lighting: ambient lighting, display lighting, and functional lighting, for showcases, for example. But too many retailers just stick with whatever fluorescent lights have been given them, he says, and this can have a detrimental effect on business.

You can increase store sales by 20% to 40% just with the appropriate lighting, Grant notes. “It has more bang per buck than any single thing you can do — and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.”


A store requires clearly marked fire exits, as well as smoke alarms and fire extinguishers and perhaps a sprinkler system. If you neglect to follow fire and safety ordinances, you can get hit with fines and possibly store closure.

Similarly, to ensure the safety of your customers and your valuable merchandise, consider installing surveillance cameras and mirrors in hard-to-see areas. Keep in mind that if you use surveillance cameras in dressing rooms, you need to let customers know; you also need to make sure the people monitoring your security system are trustworthy.

Consider designing your stores so that salespeople can monitor merchandise from a variety of angles, to reduce shoplifting. If you sell expensive jewelry or smaller items, it’s a good idea to store them in a locked display case. Tag expensive clothing with a theft-prevention device (such as a tag that spurts ink when forcibly removed) or lock them to a rack with a cord or cable.


Obviously, your budget will vary depending on the size and location of the store, and the type of merchandise you are selling. But let’s say you want to open a 3,000 sq. ft. store and have a “basic vanilla” shell to start with.

Must-haves fixtures include carpeting, construction, paint, electrical, and the lighting, Grant says.

Then you have the want-to-have fixtures, such as TVs or video monitors, sound equipment, graphics, and props. These cost can vary widely, depending on, say, whether you want one giant plasma TV or 20 monitors (plus installation) or just a bunch of props and posters.

Grant says fixtures for a store this size typically range from $20,000 to $60,000. That’s why you need to determine a budget upfront.


Often retailers lose sight of their customer and just forge ahead. So before making any drastic changes, test your concepts. It can be in one store, several, or a dozen, whatever the budget allows. (See “Cacique concept store a keeper for Lane Bryant” on page 40 for an example.) If customers like the changes — and don’t be afraid to ask them — roll them out to few more stores, always keeping in mind that store’s demographics.

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a Wilton, CT-based freelance business writer who shops online, via catalog, and in stores.

Cacique concept store a keeper for Lane Bryant

Executives at Lane Bryant in 2004 noticed a curious trend: While the plus-size women’s apparel merchant’s intimate apparel sections typically took up 15% of the retail space at the back of the store, they delivered 20% to 25% percent of store revenue.

To capitalize on that trend, Lane Bryant, a division of Charming Shoppes, picked about 40 of its 800 worldwide Lane Bryant stores and added more SKUs to the intimate apparel department, “to see if we could add more productivity to that space,” explains Charming Shoppes’ spokesperson Gayle Coolick.

The test went so well that the retailer expanded it to 75 stores — and doubled the amount of space it gave to intimate apparel. Customers responded, so Lane Bryant redesigned its stores to highlight its strong sportswear are intimate apparel brands, Coolick says.

The company designated the intimate apparel section of the stores as Cacique — its private label intimate apparel brand. It even created a new double entrance for the test stores. The sportswear side of the store includes the traditional Lane Bryant sign and the lingerie side’s entrance is marked Cacique.

“Each side of the store is incredibly different as far as the aesthetics, the design, the mood, and the feeling that we are presenting to the customer,” explains Coolick. The intimate apparel side of the store is feminine, with chandeliers and soft colors.

The company completely redesigned the fitting rooms in the new concept stores, making them “incredibly roomy,” says Coolick, with a large, three-way, lighted mirror in each dressing room. The changes to the dressing rooms alone have been “an incredible win,” says Coolick, because a lot of the selling for a retailer takes place in the fitting room “when the customer sees how something looks on her.”

The first prototype Lane Bryant/Cacique store opened in September 2005 in Pembroke Pines, FL. It was followed by six more stores that same year. Based on the success of those locations, Coolick says, today there are 86 of these concept stores, with more on the horizon.


A few basic store layout and design tips

  • Make sure your aisles are wide enough, so that people don’t bump into one another when shopping.

  • Include helpful signage and displays that help customers get to where they want to go quickly.

  • Make sure you have enough dressing rooms, and include at least one handicapped fitting room. Customers don’t like to wait on line to try on items, so if your store is larger than a few thousand square feet, consider several fitting areas. You may also want to have separate areas for men and women, depending on your clientele and your merchandise.

  • Optimize your checkout areas. Depending on what you sell and to whom you sell it, you may want to include video monitors near your checkout areas, which show off your merchandise or reflect the mood of the store.

  • You may also want to place smaller impulse-type purchases near cash registers, as customers often make last-minute purchases while they’re waiting on line to pay.

  • Separate your returns or customer service area from the checkout area. Returns often take two to three times longer than a first-time purchase and annoy customers who simply want to check out.