How Concept Stores Could Save Brick and Mortar

The past decade has seen many challenges thrown at the retail sector. From the rapid rise of the internet to the proliferation of smart technology, and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic, this chaotic norm has pushed retailers all over the world to come up with clever solutions to increase profits and draw customers into their brick and mortar stores. To combat these challenges, we’re seeing a rapid rise in concept stores that use head-turning design to create one-of-a-kind customer experiences that are competitive with the online market.

Let’s start by defining what a concept store is. A concept store has been defined as a place where new ideas are put together in a bid to enhance the shopper experience and boost sales. The assortment of concept stores is a joyful mix of different kinds of products. They are carefully curated and characterized by a unique selection of products that connect to an overarching theme. Whether they sell books, beauty, fashion, food or homeware items, the collection might be diverse but always tailored to a specific target group. Alongside the concept of offering different kind of products, creating unforgettable customer experiences plays a huge role as well.

In this blog we will be highlighting some standout concept stores around the world and take a look at the unique elements that make them strong competitors against the online shopping experience.

Lost & Found

In their second collaboration with lifestyle brand Lost and Found, B.L.U.E Architecture Studio further builds on the concept of “home” in a design that brings the delights of daily life to a retail backdrop. Located in a bustling part of Hangzhou, China, the space offers a quiet reprieve from the surrounding streets, while reflecting the brand’s philosophy of art and daily life.  

Divided into the furniture display area and event space, spatial design revolves around the materiality of the interior with natural textures and artisan craftsmanship on show. Three washed stone boxes scattered around the interior exhibit a tableau of everyday scenes, intended to showcase the brand’s beautiful furniture and homewares collection. Semi-enclosed with different wall heights, patrons are encouraged to wander in and between the boxes, exploring the various portrayals of daily life. The warm and soft atmosphere is enhanced by the natural and washed texture of the stone walls.

The dialogue between store and brand is developed wonderfully by Blue Architecture by incorporating materials that Lost and Found use in their own furniture into the store itself. The floors, walls, and ceiling feature five different kinds of wood – beech, walnut, white oak, cherry and ash – all woven together to create a uniquely personal interior reminiscent of the Lost and Found brand. 

Pictured: Lost and Found concept store by B.L.U.E Architecture Studio. Photography by Tantan Lei.

Axel Arigato:

After launching its first store in 2016, Axel Arigato has expanded its presence with four standalone retail spaces. The Swedish fashion brand continues to challenge the norms of taking online offline, and their newest retail store in Marais, Paris is a testament to that. As a digitally native business, the Axel Arigato stores are designed to forge real connections with customers by inviting them into a unique experience of the world of the brand. Co-Founder and Creative Director Max Svardh worked in collaboration with Stockholm-based architecture studio Halleroed to design the new head-turning location in Paris. 

Pictured: Axel Arigato concept store in Paris. Photography by Benoit Florencon. 

The interior presents a play of form and shape with light yellow travertine stone as the main feature material. By using different finishes on the stone, such as honed, bush-hammered, and raw sides, these forms take on unique shapes used to display product. The space consists of two rooms with a raw concrete backdrop throughout divided by a freestanding travertine wall, an abstraction of the classical architectural elements of a column and beam. Along the ceiling is a punctured grid with hidden lighting, visually connected by the largely monochromatic palette. 

The travertine features continue to be seen throughout the space in the form of shelving and custom dressing room chairs, which are placed rhythmically in the centre of the interior to form a grandiose entrance in a gallery-like surrounding. A strong contrast is made between materials, introducing mirrored stainless steel railings that help emphasize the large travertine podiums displayed amongst the space. 

Forte Forte:

For their newest concept store in Rome, creative duo Giada Forte and Robert Vattilana wanted to create a store interior that would sit in contrast with the building’s traditional travertine facade.

“The focus is on contrast, because in Rome contrast is always, and has always been, harmony,” said Forte. “The boutique looks like a vibrant monolith of green onyx, a precious material with a unique design that contains a thousand-year history in the loops of its marbling. Green onyx creates a total immersion in the shop: it drowns the entire space, from floors to walls.”

Brass serves as an accent material to complement the onyx and is used to form hangers, curved clothing rails, mirrors and shelving. In the portion of the store nearest to the entrance, the ceilings are finished with white overlapping panels, while further inside, the designers installed a white plaster ceiling punctuated by porthole lighting. Portholes also adorn the brass doors of the dressing rooms, which have walls clad in buttoned sage-coloured capitonné velvet to create a “boudoir-like” interior. The area in front of the dressing rooms is occupied by a circular bench carved from a block of agglomerate, which wraps around a cloud-shaped vase containing an alocasia plant with giant leaves.

This chic, unique space is the brand’s eighth outpost, with others located in Madrid, London, Paris, Tokyo, Forte dei Marmi, Cannes, and Milan.

Pictured: Forte Forte retail store in Rome. Photography by Danilo Scarpati.

Concept stores come in all shapes and sizes, as shown in these world leading examples that we’ve just highlighted. Rather than a space that is primarily focused on selling products, a concept store sells the idea of a lifestyle to a specific target audience. Taking inspiration from galleries, magazines and the hospitality industry, these kinds of shops aim to give the modern consumer a more holistic shopping experience. Creating unique, memorable spaces that bring the customer inside the world and lifestyle of the brand is a powerful way to retain the future of the brick and mortar retail experience.