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    Turning a Strip Mall Space Into a Destination

    Let’s face it, a strip mall location may not be the easiest space to design, and even harder to visualize as a go-to beautiful top destination. But the location definitely has appealing benefits. Great visibility, ample parking, easy access loading dock and maybe you’ve got special neighbors who enhance your traffic. (I once had a Design Map Session with a client where they said their favorite locations were always strip malls next to pizza places.) So yes, the location that seems less than ideal can actually be a cross-marketing prize.

    But how do you work past the cosmetic ‘uglies’ to make the space uniquely yours, function and flow like a dream and still stay compliant? What do designers do when faced with a windowless box? How do you stop your traffic flow throughout the space so they aren’t just zipping to the cash wrap and out again, missing all those products and impulse items along the way?

    My first fix isn’t even inside the shop, it’s outside. Another blog in more detail on exteriors is currently brewing and on its way, but here are four simple ways I recommend to smash the meh exterior strip mall vibe. Trust me, this is money well spent.

    • INVEST IN SIGNAGE. I mean custom signage, not the flimsy flags and temporary lettered signs you find online. Real branding that looks professional, speaks to what you do and enhances your exterior. Lit signs with a contemporary and clean font go a long way.
    • INVEST IN LIGHTING. Decorative lighting that happens to also be functional. We are huge fans of outdoor sconces that give a sense of warmth and permanency to the space. It draws your customer in and sets the tone for their journey in your store.
    • INVEST IN PLANTS. Kind of ironic here since you’re selling a plant, but having some architectural planters with live, mature plants really make the exterior look inviting and natural. Try something drought resistant and relatively maintenance free.
    • INVEST IN YOUR WINDOW. To be more specific, care about what someone sees when they’re outside and looking in. If they are not seeing the best version of you, then it’s definitely time for a facelift. This can mean spending a little money with custom graphics, lighting and maybe even some creative merchandising. We know not all locations can have a line of sight into the dispensary due to laws. Sometimes a polished logo on an obscured, backlit glass is all it takes to make your first impression pop.

    OK, now lets move inside and address the long, boring rectangle. And how to keep the space from becoming a racetrack pattern of traffic.

    Ever been to an IKEA?

    I use the same principles that IKEA does when designing, and especially so when the space is a windowless rectangle. The first thing to make sure you’re doing is creating actual stop blocks (these can be physical or visual) along the customers natural path of traffic. Not an annoying maze like IKEA exactly, but stops nonetheless. The first “stop” area is usually right after they walk in. This is a natural space to pause. Employee greets, checks an ID or starts a conversation about what brought them in. It is also a great opportunity to do a little brand connection through adding your logo, motto or pop of your color scheme. This can be anything from a dividing half wall to a custom two sided fountain. Or maybe it’s a two sided bookcase style fixture that holds low theft items. Whatever it is, it’s a deliberate stop to make the customer go either left or right. We repeat this method over and over through our space creating a definite flow pattern and deliberate stops (right in front of your displays with the highest profit margin items.)

    As for the all too common drop ceiling, we have a solution. Maybe you have to have it to hide all the mechanicals, want it to help control the noise factor but really dislike the 80’s office ceiling vibe. I have been sourcing replacement panels that retrofit into the existing grid and actually look great. They range in design from coffered panels, tin or even beadboard. They’re engineered to be light, replaceable and significantly better looking. Most can be painted to match your decor. Add in your pendant lights, cans and chandeliers and you’ll never think about that outdated ceiling again.