The Keds white canvas shoe, with its bright blue logo on the heel, has long skipped across the landscape of American comfort-wear. To create a modern expression of the brand without undermining this heritage, Chute Gerdeman (the Columbus, Ohio, design firm) developed a store prototype that takes inspiration right from Keds'familiar sneaker.
"For its first rollout of Keds-only stores," explains Lee Peterson, formerly executive vp of brand strategy at Chute Gerdeman, "Keds wanted an environment that communicated the brand's sophisticated side, as well as loyalty to its original shoe. The premise of the new design is summed up in four words: fresh, clean, honest and simple, like the product itself."
The Town Center at Cobb location (Kennesaw, Ga.), like all of Keds'new mall stores, bears white canvas awnings over its storefront, a reference to the old favorite. The light blue façade sports both backlit white Keds signage and a vulcanized rubber Keds logo near the floor.
The 979-square-foot size of the Kennesaw store, Peterson says, will be typical, creating a challenge for designers. "The square footage of the stores will always be around 1000 to 1500," he explains, "so we have to make the brand elements very apparent in a small area."
Nickel shelving in the storefront windows is backless, so customers can see the entire store as they walk by.
Inside, ash tables and shelves were chosen to display the sneakers, a complement to the soft, blonde maple flooring. Blue canvas covers the modular customer seating, arranged in the middle of the store.
"By circling the sit-down area in the center, we created a core part of the store that tells what the brand is all about," says Peterson. Once seated, the shoppers have a full view of the Keds'line, including the dressier and more professional shoes that Keds also wants to be known for.
Nickel-encased lifestyle graphics, borrowed from the corporation's advertising campaign, punctuate the walls, depicting colorful Keds shoes in action. "The graphics are meant to be flexible," Peterson notes. "They hang over the wall and can be taken apart or moved easily." Photos include Keds-shod feet on a bicycle and on a stepladder, both scenes backed by a brilliant blue sky.
In keeping with the fresh, simple brand image, Keds'new store prototype is not overrun with visuals. Single lifestyle graphics of carefree Keds-wearers illuminate the space, while a spectrum of color is offered by the merchandise itself.
The Keds concept is full-service except for the back wall, where customers can peruse the original canvas shoes and fit themselves. This section, marked "Keds to go," is highlighted by the store's main graphic, a nickel-framed photograph of a navy Keds shoe heel. The graphic and its frame slide to allow access to stock. "This powerful image keeps the open-sell from looking like a bunch of boxes," Peterson says.
But the Keds blue and red boxes actually add to the bright color scheme. Because the store's palette is pale and sleek, the shoes and graphics create a visual punch, pulled together by art-glass pendant lights. Besides the incandescent and track lighting, these illuminated blue, red and orange light fixtures hang in rainbow clusters over the nexus seating area and in the front windows.
The Keds stores cater to women, with small niches for children. But Peterson believes that, because the stores have accurately hit their target demographic, mothers coming to buy shoes for themselves end up outfitting their tots, as well. The rollout is still in the tweaking stages, and future stores may incorporate an even larger area for kids.
Keds Corp. and its parent company, Stride Rite (Lexington, Mass.), ultimately wanted to gain more control over how their product was displayed and depicted in retail. "We've successfully taken over the Keds presentation from the department stores," says Peterson. Though the concept is doing well enough to continue the rollout, "there's always the economic reality to consider," he notes. "If this were 1999, we probably would have opened 50 of these stores."
Five new-format stores have opened in Georgia, Florida and Ohio, with an optimistic Keds promising more.
"The client is excited with the way the design has turned out," Peterson says. "These stores are a much more contemporary version of the Keds brand."
Client Team: Keds Corp., Lexington, Mass. - Kevin Burke, vp, retail stores; Dan Friedman, president; Terri Rawson, vp, marketing
Design Team: Chute Gerdeman, Columbus, Ohio - Lee Peterson, executive vp, brand strategy; Jennifer Linn, senior designer, brand strategy; Grace Koo, senior program manager; Scot Townley, senior designer; Andy Dehus, designer; Heidi Brandewie, senior visual merchandiser; Nicole Vachow, visual merchandiser; Mary Rowland, senior graphic designer; Tina Burnham, graphic implementation coordinator; Ric Wolff, project coordinator
General Contractor: Space Design, Schenectady, N.Y.
Architect: Chameleon Architecture, Cincinnati
Outside Design Consultant: M Retail Engineering Inc., Columbus, Ohio
Suppliers: Space Design, Schenectady, N.Y., Cross Street Fixtures, Boston (fixturing); Triangle Sign & Service, Baltimore (awnings and storefront signage); Tork Industrial Artifacts, Columbus, Ohio (custom logos); Villa Lighting, St. Louis (lighting); Cowtan & Tout, Chicago, Maharam, New York (textiles); Atlas Carpet, Los Angeles, Architectural Systems, New York (flooring); VenTec, Chicago, Wilsonart Intl., Temple, Texas (laminates); Sherwin Williams, Cleveland, Duron Paints & Wallcoverings, Beltsville, Md., Triarch Industries, Houston (paint)