Retail Therapy

My husband and I have been finishing our basement for the past two years. It’s almost complete (hopefully done by the time this issue hits the streets), and I’m so over it. Creating living spaces in a raw, concrete block basement was stressful (and drawn out); I’ve definitely had enough of home-improvement projects for a while.

This probably sounds like the opposite of what someone who makes her living championing the great work of the design and construction industry should be saying. Therefore, I should point out some of my angst over the remodeling process came from the retail options available to me. I live in a rural part of Iowa and, consequently, do most of my shopping online. However, there were times during our basement remodel when I needed to touch items and compare colors, and my computer screen just wasn’t cutting it.

To solve this problem, I made a list of all the items I wanted to experience in person—wallpaper, for example—and planned a trip to the largest city near our house (an hour and a half away). I stopped at three brick and mortar stores in the city and none of them carried the items I wanted to consider. If they did have the item, there were only a couple options from which to choose or, in the case of the wallpaper, sample books to flip through, but I couldn’t buy rolls immediately and bring them home. All the sales associates said the same thing, “You’ll have to order that online.”

I was disappointed to say the least and a bit surprised, considering brick and mortar stores are struggling against online shopping behemoths, like Amazon. One of the brick and mortar stores that forced me online actually lost my business—not because I found the item I wanted cheaper online but because I already had ordered from and had an account with another online retailer who had the same item. The ease of not setting up a new account was enough to pull me away from the brick and mortar store’s site.

To lure shoppers back into their buildings, this issue of retrofit illustrates how stores are updating, evolving and creating experiences for patrons. One way to do that is to adapt historic buildings for retail, as in our “Cover Story”, written by regular retrofit contributor KJ Fields. Centerbrook Architects and Planners, Centerbrook, Conn., created a 110,000-square-foot mixed-use development of retail, entertainment and residential units in the affluent community of Westport, Conn. New buildings were built around and inspired by two existing buildings in the development. These existing buildings’ Tudor style not only was restored, but also extended to the additions, transforming downtown Westport into a beautiful live-work-play area. According to Jefferson B. Riley, principal at Centerbrook Architects and Planners, the redevelopment meets his team’s goal of restoring “the lost art of living closely together” within suburban-oriented Westport.

For retailers, hoteliers, hospital administrators and other commercial and institutional facilities’ managers who want to manage their buildings’ energy use via a continuous-improvement process model, 50001 Ready is the program. It recognizes facilities in the U.S. that self-attest to conformance to the ISO 50001 Energy Management System standard. In “Energy”, Pete Langlois, an engineer and program manager with the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, explains 50001 Ready and how it can help manage energy like other “key expenditures”.

Now that retailers are luring customers back to brick and mortar stores by creating unique customer experiences, as well as striving to be more energy efficient, let’s hope they also figure out the perfect balance of what to carry in stock and what to force their customers to buy online. Then maybe the brick and mortar stores could give Amazon a run for its money.

About the Author

Christina A. Koch
Christina A. Koch is editorial director of retrofit.

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