From a distance, the enormous 712,000-square-foot Nebraska Furniture Mart looks almost like a mall amidst the new Village West development in Kansas City, Kan. Moving in with neighbors like Cabela's, the Kansas Speedway and a minor league baseball stadium, the retailer's second location has made itself right at home.
Nebraska Furniture Mart (Omaha, Neb.) began in 1937 in the basement of a second-hand clothing shop with a $500 investment by Russian immigrant Rose Blumkin. The company has grown to become the largest single-location home furnishings store in North America. The new store is the company's second.
While the original Omaha store is a 77-acre campus environment comprised of multiple buildings for different categories, the retailer wanted the Kansas City location to offer its furniture, flooring, electronics and appliance selections all under one roof. Nebraska Furniture Mart (NFM) partnered with Design Forum (Dayton, Ohio) to achieve this goal, allowing for cross-merchandising and the ability to showcase trends and styles.
"With everything under one roof, NFM could achieve the synergy of being able to sell all the items that make up the landscape of a home," says Scott Smith, Design Forum's senior vp, design and planning.
This message starts as shoppers enter the parking lot, where red-bricked pathways and background music guide visitors to one of three entrances. Light towers wrapped in vendor signage emphasize some of the brands offered inside, while a dancing water fountain adds drama to the main entrance.
Design Forum created a grand architectural presence to communicate the bigger-than-life experience. To bring down the scale so shoppers aren't overwhelmed, banding and canopies are used, while light sconces and window mullions establish residential cues.
"The exterior details give shoppers a sense of excitement about the Nebraska Furniture Mart experience," says Smith. "The architecture communicates that you're going to have unbelievable selection. And, at the pedestrian level, the landscaping, music, fountains and lifestyle graphics begin to set the stage for the in-store experience."
The glass-fronted main entrance opens into a 65-foot rotunda, which allows customers to stop for a moment and notice the three two-story Dream Houses - Dream Bedroom, Dream Living Room and Dream Dining/Kitchen - each anchored by a massive skylight. "The Dream Houses bring together merchandise from all departments like electronics, accessories, appliances, furniture and flooring and set the stage for how NFM understands the latest trends," says Smith. "They also serve as circulation to get customers to their furniture category on the second floor by way of dramatic spiral staircases at the heart of each Dream House."
According to Smith, the strategic placement of skylights was essential to making the customer feel comfortable in the space. "Natural light is dominant in the middle of the store," he says. "Because of NFM's size, it's important that the shopper always has some context as to where she is, and can easily move from one area to the next."
Located near the main entrance on the first level are roughly 15,000 square feet of decorator accessories, such as lamps, artwork, frames and pottery. This high-impulse, traffic-driving merchandise is strategically placed so customers can get in and out if that's the only area they want to shop.
While some shoppers come to make a day out of shopping, others may have a specific department destination. For the latter group, exterior signage points customers to the other two side entrances.
"Because the scale of NFM is so significant, we provided destination entrances into electronics and appliances," says Smith. "This allows the customer easy access to these categories of business, especially if she just wants to pop in and purchase a DVD or small appliance."
The electronics entrance leads into a dynamic presentation of media - movies, music, games and software. "We wanted to use color finishes and graphics as a way to create zones and boundaries between departments," says Smith. "In electronics, the whole personality and tone of graphics is youthful, colorful and energetic. The signage is more sculptural and dimensional than in other areas, to create personality. Informational graphics also play a big role in helping shoppers understand all the latest technology."
Each of the department's categories has its own set of focal graphics, like the "Reel Attractions" movie area, the "Load it Up" software section and the "Let's Play" video game area. In addition, flat screens and interactive end-caps lead shoppers to explore the latest plasma screen TVs and car stereo options.
The Dream Houses correspond with the type of furniture customers can expect to find on the second floor. So, if a shopper comes up the stairs through the Dream Bedroom, there's a dominant shop presentation of different types and brands of bedroom furniture. The rest of the furniture is organized in living room and dining room/kitchen categories. Each is coded with a fashion color that is used throughout that specific department and reinforced through sophisticated graphics.
"At the very front of the second level, a concept shop called Metro Living showcases all the latest contemporary, entry-level furniture targeting the Gen-X demographic," says Smith.
A leather gallery at the back of the store transitions into the high-end design gallery, where the most premium brands are displayed in vignette rooms with architectural details, accessorization, window treatments and flooring. Customers are also offered the opportunity to consult with a design expert and tour the various rooms.
To reinforce the top brands NFM carries, designers worked with key vendors to showcase their products within special zones. La-Z-Boy, Microsoft and Flexsteel have concept shops with special presentations that communicate the manufacturer's brand position, while complementing the store atmosphere.
Designers realized that shoppers often see accessories they like within special furniture presentations. "We created 'grab and go' capacity fixtures throughout the store," says Smith. "That way, if she's shopping in furniture and sees a lamp she likes, she doesn't have to go all the way downstairs to the accessories shop. Adjacent to the vignettes, fixturing presentations feature items like artwork, frames and lamps."
So that shoppers can make a day of visiting Nebraska Furniture Mart, designers created a casual dining restaurant called Courtyard Café, featuring indoor and outdoor seating. The exterior courtyard gives diners a view of the 75-foot-tall pavilion area used for demonstrations and events.
"In Omaha, NFM partnered with a fast food restaurant," says Smith. "The café in this store is a nice alternative. We felt a fast casual dining option better aligned with the new store experience."
Client: Nebraska Furniture Mart (NFM), Omaha, Neb. - Jeff Lind, Kansas City store director; Michelle Evers, project director
Design and Architect: Design Forum, Dayton, Ohio - Scott Smith, senior vp, design and planning; Don Rethman, senior vp, architecture; Diane Borton, senior account manager; Brady Harding, vp, architecture; Dan Hauser, vp, procurement
Construction: Turner Construction, Kansas City, Mo.
Suppliers: Gammapar, Forest, Va. (wood flooring); Caesar Ceramics, Swindon, U.K., DalTile, Dallas, Fritz Tile, Mesquite, Texas, Mannington, Calhoun, Ga. (ceramic tile); Art Guild, Thorofare, N.J., Architectural Arts, Des Moines, Iowa, Module 21, Dayton, Ohio, Store Contract Mgmt., Richmond Hill, Ont., Lozier, Omaha, Neb., Winntech, Kansas City, Mo. (fixtures); Design Fabrications, Madison Heights, Mich., Dimensional Innovations, Overland Park, Kan., Heartland Scenic and Costume, Omaha, Neb., LSI, North Canton, Ohio (graphics); Benjamin Moore, Montvale, N.J. (paint finishes); Sherwin-Williams, Cleveland (wood stain); Wilsonart, Temple, Texas (plastic laminates)