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Prototype celebrates its literary roots



Borders’ roots are as a university bookstore. In fact, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company started as a local bookseller on the campus of the University of Michigan.

But over the years, Borders felt its stores had lost the company’s focus on books as its core offering. Its newer stores had cafés in the front of the store, monopolizing the impression of what Borders was about and what it offered. And the stores featured outdated layouts built around an eclectic, meandering floorplan where customers had to discover their own way around.

But as many retailers know all too well, shoppers no longer have that extra time to wander and discover. They yearn for well-designed layouts, informative directional signage and graphics and a clear product focus.

So Borders coupled its 30 years experience in the business with results from a customer research survey, or what it called a “category management initiative,” to define what shoppers desired in a Borders store. “It gave us an important window into customer needs,” says Padmakar Karve, Border’s manager, architectural services.

Armed with this research, Borders turned to GRID2 (New York) to design a new prototype. Debuting in Louisville, Ky., the result is a store “that celebrates the importance of books in Borders,” says Karve.



From the first step inside, the emphasis on books is evident. A launch pad area, located just inside the front door, highlights new products from each department, before shoppers set off to the right and into the main book area.

While looking to redefine Borders’ focus on books, Grid2 recommended that the company arrange the store according to 10 customer types, including those looking for the latest releases, coffee table books, music or gifts. To appeal to each of these types, as well as to create a logical flow through the store, a racetrack or “yellow brick road” leads shoppers around the store. A state-of-the-art network digital signage system, displaying promotional Borders material, was placed at strategic locations along that track to further draw shoppers along.

“Every piece of this retail puzzle is orchestrated to maximize dwell time in the store, the comfort level of customers and their identification with Borders,” says Grid2 president Martin Roberts.

Bookcases within the department end along the main pathway, the endcaps serving as a sort of “Venus fly trap” for drawing customers to the newest books and products. Impulse-buy tables are strategically located on the path.

Serving as a destination at the end of the first aisle is the relocated café. “By putting it toward the back of the store, we allow a bigger book presentation up front,” says Roberts, “and we create a destination that further pulls people down the main aisle.”

Inside the café, leather sofas and chairs and tables invite customers to linger. This area is also designed to host events, including book readings, author talks and jazz concerts.


Located next to the café is the children’s area, divided into three parts to reflect a child’s age and learning level. A warm palette and 1950s motif, complete with hanging pendant lamps, make the space inviting to young readers, while a storytime amphitheatre with steps and a platform resembling a stack of books is used for hosting children’s events. The information area, located in the far corner across from the entrance, features kiosks where shoppers can look up titles, release dates and other information.

“Customers told us they were confused about whether they were allowed to use the in-store kiosks or if those were only for staff,” says Roberts. “So we painted the area bright red and put up a big information sign to illuminate the area and indicate to customers that it was available for them to use.”

Continuing around the store is the music and movies section, split into two definable areas by the racetrack. DVDs and movies are on the left and music on the right. Blue, gray and iridescent green colors give a slick, sophisticated feel to the area, while a new curved fixturing system allows more face-forward CDs to be displayed. Overhead dome listening stations permit shoppers to hear tunes from the top 10 CDs, without broadcasting music throughout the department.

Bringing the movie area to life are multiple screens showing clips of the latest releases. Illuminated movie posters hang on the walls and a purple proscenium overhead mimics a movie theater marquee.

In an effort to make Borders the place for magazines and newspapers, designers created a stronger presence at the newsstand area, which anchors the front corner of the store adjacent to the checkout area. “We felt Borders had an opportunity to really own the news business,” says Roberts.

Grabbing shoppers’ attention overhead is a gondola displaying posters of magazine covers, while stock quotes and headlines run on an elliptical LED ticker. On the walls, promotional videos and news clips play on plasma screens.


Borders’ Gift & Stationery department occupies the center of the store. “We found that 60 percent of customers were looking for a gift,” says Roberts. “So we put the department in the center and accessible from anywhere in the store.”

White stained oak fixtures with crown molding, sisal-like carpeting, lamp-style lighting fixtures and undulating ceiling hangings with a scripted design motif create a residential feel that stands out inside the store.

Borders’ signature red color is strategically used atop fixtures and along the walls to create a strong branding statement, including a red cantilevered wall clearly marking the cashwrap area.

Grid2 also provided Borders with a library of graphic images of black-and-white shots of books and people reading. Framed prints are displayed in groups atop fixtures, similar to the way shoppers would display them in their homes.

“We were trying to create a vocabulary of visual elements that could add to the brand experience,” says Roberts. “And the brand experience at Borders is the enjoyment of books.”


Also helping to drive Borders’ new store layout and branding statement is a network digital signage system strategically situated at the cashwrap, café and media areas.

“Borders was really focused on differentiation and merchandising its store environment in such a way that it was upscale and leading edge,” says Rick Hutcheson, vp, marketing, Convergent Media Systems Corp. (Atlanta), a provider of broadband video-based networks.

So Convergent installed vertically oriented 42-inch Sony plasma screens to display promotional materials such as new release updates, upcoming store events and seasonal specials.

The system also creates movement and excitement in the store. “We’ve learned from our research that customers enter into a space if there is movement,” says Roberts. “So we put screens at strategic points on the yellow brick road to further draw customers into the store.”

To deliver the content, Convergent receives “assets,” or video and graphical material, from Borders that is programmed and converted into dynamic signs. The programming includes specific playlists indicating on which screen and at what times content will run. It is then loaded into the system and sent to Borders stores via the network. In the store, employees need simply turn on the plasma screens. Borders’ content is updated weekly, with turnaround and lead times depending on the amount of graphical content.

“The content can be updated more quickly and more reasonably on a digital signage network because you don’t have printing and distribution costs,” says Hutcheson.

Karve says the eye-catching messages and graphics have been well-received by customers and allow Borders to present a forward-thinking and engaging store environment.

“It’s a 21st Century bookstore,” says Karve.

Client: Borders, Ann Arbor, Mich. – Tom Robin, director, architecture and construction; Chuck Treber, director, store planning; Padmakar Karve, manager, architectural services; John Newman, manager, store layouts; Dennis Racine, senior manager, store design

Design: Grid2 Intl., New York – Martin Roberts, president; Akka Ma, executive vp, interiors; Betty Chow, vp, graphics; Steven Derwoed, director of projects, interior designer; Lucinda Wait, interior designer; Dimitri Vermès, director, marketing and communications

Architect: URS Corp., Farmington Hills, Mich.

Outside Design Consultant: TES Engineering, Cleveland (mechanical and electrical engineering)

General Contractor: Wheeler Building, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Suppliers: Huck Store Fixtures, Quincy, Ill. (fixtures); Durkan, Kennesaw, Ga., Dal-Tile, Dallas, The Matt Works, Stoughton, Mass. (flooring); Falcon, Dandridge, Tenn. (furniture); Benjamin Moore, Montvale, N.J., Corian, Wilmington, Del., LIRI, Torino, Italy, Hakatai Enterprises Inc., Ashland, Ore., JM Lynne, Ronkonkoma, N.Y. (wallcoverings and materials) Convergent (a unit of Technicolor Network Services), Atlanta (network digital signage system)

Photography: Peter Paige, Upper Saddle River, N.J.

GRID2Hakatai Enterprises Inc.Convergent Media Systems



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