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