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The Store Environment is the Medium, the Message is the Brand

Stores must embrace change to adapt to the ever-evolving brand message

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Our entire industry is predicated on change. We're in the business of fashion, and, by definition, fashion is change. And it's important to note that there is fashion in everything, not just apparel. Today, there are designer melons and couture cucumbers. There's fashion in tires, there's fashion in refrigerators, and even in technology – what color is your iPod?

Fashion is the heart of the retail industry, and change is its lifeblood. Retail – if you think about it – is naturally the selling stage for new ideas, new concepts and new products. The latest fashions, the newest trends and the hottest products are all very exciting; retail captures that excitement and communicates it through its own unique language. As such, the store environment becomes the theater in which new products are actors on a stage. But today, the actors are delivering their lines in new ways; the language, or the medium, has changed.

Marshall McLuhan, who predicted the worldwide web almost thirty years before it came to be, told us, “The medium is the message.” He opened our eyes to the notion that media of all kinds has a social effect; the internet has allowed consumers to engage with retailers at times and in places that they never could before. But if the medium is indeed the message, shouldn't we bring the message into the physical store? After all, the store is a tool of communication, so why not bring the best of online into the most important touchstone of the brand – your store?

Change isn't the biggest challenge facing retail today: Embracing change is the challenge. And while the persistent march of digital technology offers new modes of delivery, it must be noted that technology is not the message, but simply another medium. It's the smart retailer who will not only embrace evolving technology, but seamlessly integrate it into the store environment. The physical store environment remains a retailer’s greatest asset, and the best place to create and cement long term relationships with the consumer. And while the medium might be the message, in the retail world, even in the face of integrated technology, the most effective medium is a well-branded and well-conceived store environment.

Eric Feigenbaum is a recognized leader in the visual merchandising and store design industries with both domestic and international design experience.  He served as corporate director of visual merchandising for Stern’s Department Store, a division of Federated Department Stores, from 1986 to 1995. After Stern’s, he assumed the position of director of visual merchandising for WalkerGroup/CNI, an architectural design firm in New York City. Feigenbaum was also an adjunct professor of Store Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology and formerly served as the chair of the Visual Merchandising Department at LIM College (New York) from 2000 to 2015. In addition to being the Editorial Advisor/New York Editor of VMSD magazine, Eric is also a founding member of PAVE (A Partnership for Planning and Visual Education). Currently, he is also president and director of creative services for his own retail design company, Embrace Design.

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