Daring to be different: RYA Design Consultancy

March 2008


For too many years, one jewellery and watch store has been much like any other. Display windows, bright lights and cases all over the store.
Well, RYA Design Consultancy, with offices in Dallas and New York, headed up by Steven Derwoed, Managing Director, is out to change how jewellery and watch stores are designed and appreciated by customers.
RYA Design Consultancy has done a great deal of work with department store chains, but about four years ago, the company started working with independent retailers as well. Recently, they just finished a huge redesign and makeover project with Watches of Switzerland, based in the United Kingdom. They redesigned the flagship store, which is the model for the firm's other stores in Britain.

Levels of luxury
High-end retailers are now realizing that they have to have a store and experience that is on par with the products they are selling. No longer does ‘dark and dingy’ work when selling high-end luxury goods. Today, stores have to match or exceed the quality of the products sold within. That means if the most expensive watches are on sale inside, the store had better look like the best store ever constructed.
“For Watches of Switzerland, our client purchased the business and recognized that while they were selling these fabulous brands, the experience as a whole was inconsistent with the level of luxury of the brands they were selling,” Derwoed details. “The brief was to make it right; they wanted us to create an environment and a look and feel that was consistent with the expectation of the exclusive customer. They said, 'Let's set a new standard.'
”We threw out many of the old rules,“he continues.”Traditionally, watch and jewellery retailers create a long gallery with a symmetrical set of show windows. In our analysis, we saw that a significant portion of the product was in the window, leaving little in the store for customers to actually shop from. We analyzed the floor plan and married it with the expectations of the client, how they wanted the customer to penetrate the space and how they wanted the customer to interact with the staff."


Doing things differently
As they redid the store, RYA Design Consultancy broke a lot of the old conventions of watch retail. For example, most watch and jewellery stores do business from cases, where the product is displayed and then brought out to show the customer. Essentially, this creates a barrier between the customer and the salesperson.
“We threw out the entire idea of cases where the salesperson stands on one side and the customer on the other - we justified all the cases on one side and cantilevered them from the wall,” Derwoed explains. “Customers can easily shop the entire store and end up at a private presentation area to see the product. By justifying the cases to the wall, we increased the open space, which feels more luxurious.
”We then wanted to add services and amenities to make it a more luxurious experience,“he continues.”We took the support functions (offices, etc.) and completely rearranged them, creating a feel of a modern gentleman's club. When you open the door, you see a gorgeous fireplace at the other end. We created private selling rooms with floor to ceiling sliding glass doors that utilize electrified glass, so the glass can be changed from clear to cloudy with the push of a button.
“Part of the challenge was how to take a store for a customer who has seen everything and create a space that surprises and delights them,” Derwoed concludes. “The electrified glass is just one example. Another example is that on the desks on the selling floor, we installed individual control panels that allow the salesperson to control the level of light on that desk.”

Making it easier to sell
Every change that RYA made to the design of the stores for Watches of Switzerland is about the experience. The better, more luxurious and more memorable the experience, and the easier it will be to close the sale.
They even went as far as to reduce the amount of show window space, something that not many stores would be willing to take a chance on doing. “We created a smaller show window presentation on the left hand side of the store and from the middle to the right hand is floor to ceiling glass with a glass door, in order to reduce the barrier for entry,” Derwoed says. “We wanted people to see deeper into the space and attract them in. We wanted to increase the likelihood that they would become shoppers.
”We were not so much looking to create a place to sell watches, but a place that people like to be in,“he adds.”We want people to come back because it's a wonderful place to visit. The store design is about the way it makes them feel."

Unique spaces
Gone is the ‘me too’ era of store design and layout. Today's new watch and jewellery stores will be notable for their uniqueness and cutting-edge features, whether it's a fireplace, electrified glass or a coffee bar.
“Part of the challenge is how to make a store for a customer who has seen everything and create a space that surprises and delights them,” Derwoed explains. “The Watches of Switzerland store is wholly and uniquely different from any store we have visited.
”We concentrated on luxurious colours and materials,“he continues.”We used the most fantastic and difficult to get marbles. We wanted it to be special, so the materials had to be different and the best of the best. We had custom-made silk rugs installed, for example."
Good store design starts with listening to the client. It doesn't work for RYA to impose its ideas on their clients. The design stems from the clients' needs.
“I travel constantly, so I see what is going on all over the world,” Derwoed says. “We have an in-depth knowledge of the market but we still go and visit specific things that the client wants us to see. We like cross pollination - we look at watch retailers but we look at moving markets like hospitality and cosmetics, so we can understand what the best is at retail in general and bring it into watch retail.”
Once RYA has a design idea, they present it in a number of different ways, depending on the client. Some clients want to see artist renderings, while others will want to see a computer animation simulating the new stores or a combination of all the techniques.
“We have a wide variety of presentation techniques at our disposal,” says Derwoed. “Watches of Switzerland looked at three-dimensional drawings that were hand done and coloured with water colours, which gave it the gentleman's club charm we wanted it to have. On the other end, work for some of our high-end department stores is much more slick and modern, where we might do a virtual proto-type, where everything is drawn and modelled on the computer and we fly through the space as if it existed.”

RYA Design Consultancy has many projects in the works. “We hope to do more projects for Watches of Switzerland, and we are working on projects for Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, Shinsegae in Korea, Parkson in Malaysia and we just completed the reinvention programme for Macy's,” Derwoed notes. “We just recently opened new prototype stores for Calvin Klein Underwear. We are also doing work for London Jewelers in the United States. The one hallmark of our work is that it is all retail and it tends to be higher end.” RYA's approach to store design may result in real changes in the way stores are perceived and experienced by watch customers.

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Source: Europa Star February-March 2008 Magazine Issue

Daring to be different: RYA Design Consultancy