A well de­signed store is ex­pe­ri­enced and not just seen


Mridula Manu, presently the Head of Store de­vel­op­ment & VM of In­dus league Cloth­ing Ltd, joined NID look­ing to get into the field of ex­hi­bi­tion de­sign. Her first project with the hand­i­crafts depart­ment of Orissa helped her get a taste of the pos­si­bil­i­ties of prac­tis­ing de­sign in the field of re­tail. Ti­tan was her start­ing block as a visual mer­chan­diser, fol­lowed by Re­liance Re­tail which aug­mented her skills with an op­por­tu­nity to try hands on store de­sign and store plan­ning apart from VM. This was fur­ther strength­ened in her ten­ure with Mahin­dra Re­tail. Mridula be­lieves, “Re­tail de­sign is in­com­plete with­out Visual mer­chan­dis­ing and Visual com­mu­ni­ca­tion.” She shared more about her ex­pe­ri­ences and achieve­ments in a chat with VM&RD.

Are you a re­tail de­signer by qual­i­fi­ca­tion? If not, what in­spired you to get into this pro­fes­sion?

I am a grad­u­ate from NID (Na­tional In­sti­tute of De­sign), spe­cial­iz­ing in a 4 year pro­gram in Ex­hi­bi­tion de­sign. As ex­hi­bi­tion de­sign­ers we learn Ar­chi­tec­tural and spa­tial de­sign skills along with ma­te­rial and lighting ap­pli­ca­tions. Al­though most of the ex­hi­bi­tion de­sign­ers choose other ar­eas of work such as set de­sign and mu­seum and theme parks and var­i­ous other ex­pe­ri­ence or ex­hi­bi­tion de­sign work, what in­spired me to work in Re­tail was my fi­nal project where I worked with NID and the hand­i­crafts depart­ment of the Orissa gov­ern­ment. I was as­signed to de­sign a

14 18800 sqft hand­i­crafts emporium for the state. Dur­ing this 9 month long project I grew im­mensely fond of the art of mer­chan­dise dis­play and re­al­ized that VM was the area where I wanted to work.

What has been your ap­proach to the use of store de­sign as a busi­ness tool? Any real ex­pe­ri­ence you can cite?

De­sign is my strong­est busi­ness tool and I use my de­sign skills ev­ery­day to re­solve var­i­ous dif­fer­ent kinds of busi­ness ob­sta­cles. In re­tail the goal is not just to make an im­pres­sion on the cus­tomer but to also de­liver an ex­pe­ri­ence that they would want to re-live. For ex­am­ple in one of the re­cent projects for Manch­ester United brand the store de­sign had to ap­peal the most to its ex­ist­ing large fan base and not just to po­ten­tial cus­tomers. Hence to make sure that a Manch­ester United fan feels at home, the color im­agery and lighting were in­fused in such a way that the true essence of the club is gen­er­ated. What has been your big­gest chal­lenge in the In­dian re­tail mar­ket as a prac­ti­tioner of store de­sign in terms of sat­is­fy­ing in­ter­nal cus­tomers?

In In­dia we are at the most ex­cit­ing place as far as Re­tail and store de­sign is con­cerned. Store de­sign, Visual mer­chan­dis­ing and in-store com­mu­ni­ca­tion is now be­ing rec­og­nized as the dif­fer­en­tia­tor and as the most im­por­tant tool to beat the fast grow­ing in­tense com­pe­ti­tion. As a de­signer I have evolved a lot in my thought process as well to adapt and suit the needs of the busi­ness and the re­quire­ment of my in­ter­nal cus­tomers. At In­dus League my team and I work to achieve a seam­less flow be­tween the re­tail op­er­a­tions teams and the brand teams, giv­ing life in the form of stores with win­dows and dis­plays that bring out what the brand own­ers en­vis­age for their brands. I think our shop­pers to­day are rest­less and al­ways look­ing for fresh­ness. There is lot more aware­ness due to the mul­ti­ple sources of in­for­ma­tion. Our cus­tomers look for this in our stores as well and this is where the chal­lenge lies. To bring all the in­for­ma­tion into the store with­out caus­ing clut­ter or tak­ing away space re­quired for the mer­chan­dise. Ef­fec­tive and pro­duc­tive use of space is most cru­cial in to­day’s re­tail stores

How have you been able to get ex­po­sure to global store de­sign trends and prac­tice?

These days there are so many sources of in­for­ma­tion and tech­nol­ogy that has ex­posed us to a lot that hap­pens in­ter­na­tion­ally. In­dus League has brought to In­dia, two cel­e­brated and ap­pre­ci­ated In­ter­na­tional brands, One is Daniel Hechter a French Men's de­signer wear brand known for its rich clas­sic French ap­peal. This brand is a win­dow to true Paris fash­ion in In­dia and work­ing with this brand has ex­posed me to their stan­dard in store de­sign and visual mer­chan­dis­ing that are very pre­cise.

How im­por­tant is the need for re­tail de­sign­ers to in­te­grate with visual mer­chan­dis­ing and visual com­mu­ni­ca­tion?

While de­sign­ing a store one needs to en­sure that we pro­vide for ar­eas where VM can ef­fec­tively com­mu­ni­cate with the cus­tomer. Since VM evolves at a faster pace than the store de­sign and re­tail iden­tity of a store, it is very im­por­tant to an­tic­i­pate the re­quire­ments and try and in­cor­po­rate them at the de­sign stage of a project. This kind of plan­ning dur­ing the de­sign stages of a project helps to com­plete the per­for­mance.

Have you worked with In­dian and In­ter­na­tional re­tail de­sign­ers and if so what has been your ex­pe­ri­ence with them?

I have worked with re­tail­ers such as Re­liance Re­tail, Mahin­dra Re­tail and my cur­rent em­ployer In­dus League and at all these jobs I have had the op­por­tu­nity to work with dif­fer­ent re­tail de­sign firms both In­dian as well as in­ter­na­tional. I find that there are strengths that can­not be com­pared with In­ter­na­tional firms or other In­dian firms but what we look for as a re­tailer is a com­plete and com­pre­hen­sive thought through de­sign. Al­though rea­son­able, flex­i­ble and cre­ative, In­dian firms some­times still fail to tie loose ends leav­ing the project with lot of gaps that need to be filled.

What do you think of the tal­ent, re­sources for train­ing and learn­ing avail­able in In­dia for Re­tail de­sign?

With re­tail grow­ing at the rapid pace store de­sign and visual mer­chan­dis­ing are slowly be­com­ing cho­sen ca­reer paths. Yet there is still a de­mand for pas­sion­ate and tal­ented peo­ple to ful­fill the needs.

What as per you is the im­pact of glob­al­iza­tion on In­dian re­tail de­sign? Please share your ex­pe­ri­ence in this.

Now the sce­nario is such that there are im­por­tant ba­sics we have all in the In­dian re­tail and de­sign in­dus­tries learnt through glob­al­iza­tion and we are on the way to craft our own in­no­va­tive type of re­tail de­sign cul­ture that is very adap­tive and unique to In­dia. Here sen­si­tiv­ity I think is a very im­por­tant key to suc­cess. A lot of things that are ef­fec­tive glob­ally do not nec­es­sar­ily have the same re­sults in the In­dian con­text. VM for ex­am­ple has to fo­cus en­er­gies on the long list of re­gional and cul­tur­ally dif­fer­ent fes­ti­vals we have and be ex­tremely guarded in us­ing the color black due to its in­aus­pi­cious con­no­ta­tions. Re­tail in In­dia is very dif­fer­ent from its global counter parts and there­fore its de­sign also has to be so

Mridula Manu Head Store de­vel­op­ment & VM

In­dus league Cloth­ing Ltd

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