Brick and mortar stores may not be the only way to shop these days, but they still have their place, and it’s a place that — now more than ever — needs to be used to full advantage. Helping a retail outlet make the best use of its physical space is the mission of Ruitenberg Lind Design Group (RLDG), which specializes in the planning, design, fabrication, and installation of professional environments for supermarkets, malls, specialty retailers, restaurants, hotels, and health care facilities.
The firm, which has designed interiors for several ShopRite stores in the area, including the one at Mercer Mall, is headed by Jagjeevan Kaur (Jill) Ruitenberg, who recently reorganized the business after a divorce from her husband and business partner.
Since you can buy almost anything online these days, Ruitenberg says, it’s important for retailers to know “what makes customers want to go into their store. What makes them feel your store is an event. It should be a feel-good place, like Cheers,” in the television series.
The goal is to make customers feel that they want to take their friends and family there, that “this a great place to be,” she says. Cleanliness, thoughtful customer service, and product presentation are big contributors — and this should not cost you any money. Proper attire for your staff, name tags, and a pleasant smile are very important.
The scope of RLDG’s work can be fairly technical. “Selecting the correct lighting can make a huge impact on your business,” a recent press release from the firm says. “It’s one of the most important elements in store design. If the customer can’t see your product, there will be no sale. Use lighting of 3,200 Kelvin over meats and produce because it helps the reds and greens pop. The rest of the store can use 4,000 Kelvin.”
Other advice is based on common sense and the store owner’s understanding of his or her customer base. “ A store redesign does not have to be costly. Update interiors every five to seven years to keep the store fresh while remaining consistent with your brand. Consider value-added updates that are cost effective, such as introducing new paint colors, wallpaper, lighting, window graphics, and new signage.
“Using real materials such as wood, stone, and steel gives the sense that your products are natural or organic, coming from the earth and, therefore, better in quality. Earth tones and natural materials can influence customer perceptions, but can be more expensive — so consider using only a hint of natural materials as accent pieces to highlight the environment. Control design expenses by utilizing wallpaper, wood, or stone laminates to keep costs down.”
The end result should be to create a space that customers, or potential customers, will feel comfortable in. “Make it fun,” says Ruitenberg, who lives in Skillman. “Do workshops inside the store. The Paper Source on Nassau Street, for example, could sponsor craft projects. Jammin’ Crepes could have a contest — make your own crepe. You can get people into the store without the thought of spending any money and the next thing you know they spend money.”
Even though the online world is cited as the bane of retail, Ruitenberg believes it can be used to the advantage of a physical store. She cites Wawa, the convenience store, as an example. It starts with friendly service. “No matter which one I go into the staff is always friendly,” she says. “I could make breakfast myself at home, but I prefer to go to Wawa.”
While technology is causing severe problems for retail, it also has its potential. The electronic ordering kiosks at Wawa, for example, give customers a chance to literally get it “their way,” minimizing the chance of a clerical error. In addition Wawa offers a cell phone app that tracks her purchases. When she gets to $50 she gets a reward — a free burrito, for example.
“It’s more fun than convenient,” she says. The lesson: “Some apps can drive customers away, others can lure you in.”
Ruitenberg Lind Design Group (RLDG), 1095 Cranbury South River Road, Suite 3, Jamesburg 08831. 732-474-1000. www.beststoredesign.com.