Many fashion brands have their retail stores in China. Commonly, in the cooperation between a Chinese company (the distributor or the licensed producer) and a “foreign company” (the brand owner), the foreign company is responsible for the design of the retail stores, and the Chinese company is responsible for the construction work of the stores.
Both parties agree to do so for two reasons. First of all, the foreign company wants to take control of the image of its brand, and sometimes the brand owners need to unify the images of all their stores around the world. Second, the Chinese company tends to believe the foreign designers have better ideas and more creative designs, so they are willing to let them do the job.
Fashion brands often ask professional design studios to design the shop image. No matter how good the design is, if the Chinese company doesn’t agree, the design proposal may never be put into practice. I used to work for a Chinese fashion company that distributes Italian menswear, and I saw many design proposals from top Italian design studios turned down by the stakeholders of the Chinese company. Because the designers didn’t understand the needs of the stakeholders, some really good and creative designs got rejected.
Besides the design itself, the way of proposing the design also plays an important part in making the decision. The designers should try to avoid the following two mistakes:
1. The designers like to have the clients wait for a long time, and then show them one or two highly rendered designs.
This is risky because if the clients don’t like any of them, much time is wasted doing the render work. Moreover, the clients get impatient after the long waiting.
Instead, in the beginning, the designer should propose the overall tones first. It is very important to know what “feeling” the clients look for. It is not enough to state it by words such as “modern” or “classic” because the Chinese clients may have totally different understandings of these words. For instance, two companies agreed to have a “modern” look for the new stores. Then, the Italian designer proposed a design with very dark background color, stone-like floor and dark metallic furniture. When the Chinese clients saw the design, they denied it immediately. They said, “We prefer bright color and simpler design. The color is so dark that it won’t look nice in a modern department store.”
Assessing the overall tone and suitability for the settings should be done as early as possible to make sure the design is heading towards the right direction. It also makes the clients less anxious if they can really see how the design work is done step by step.
2. The designers often propose one shop window design together with one shop design as a package.
This is risky in that if the Chinese clients don’t like the design of shop window, they may deny the whole proposal without further thinking about the other interior designs of the shop. The shop window image is one of the most important considerations in a store design, and the Chinese clients really expect to see something amazing.
Therefore, the designers should be more flexible in shop window designs. For example, they can try to propose the same dummies with different background scenes to show the flexibility of the design. For example, show the clients how the background can be changed with each season. The clients need something versatile, which can not only be used throughout the years, but also display a distinct image for each season.
The designers can also divide the shop window design into several elements, such as the dummies, the small furniture, and the background. By doing this, there is a better chance to decide on something with each proposal. For example, the Chinese clients may not like the background or the furniture, but they may find the dummies nice, so they can at least decide on the dummies. This makes the proposal more constructive and the clients more confident in the designers.
Then, ask the clients how they feel about the furniture. Is it better to have it round, or square? What apparels do they plan to display on them? It’s much better than just asking the Chinese clients what they like. They are not professional designers, and they may find it difficult to describe what they want, so it’s better to make your questions more specific.
It is also better because the Chinese clients would be able to begin producing the dummies in advance. It takes time to have them customized and delivered.
The same strategy can also be applied in proposing the shop interior design. For instance, after the overall tone of the shop is decided, the designers can propose several designs of the main/fixed furniture, each in different colors and materials. Again, this makes it easier for the clients to choose and decide, and then the Chinese client can begin to produce the main/fixed furniture in advance.
Some background knowledge
Why is it so important to have the Chinese clients decide on something early and produce them in advance? To get the answer, it’s necessary to get some background knowledge about opening a store in China’s department stores:
- It’s not easy to get a location in a good department store. In some top department stores in China, a brand needs to wait for two or three years to get the chance. There is a lot of investment in money and relations. If the sales result is bad, the store will have to be closed to give space to other brands. Shop image is vital in attracting customers and promoting sales, and it has to be good. All these worries make the Chinese clients stressed.
- Time is limited for the store construction. The department store often requires the construction be finished within a month. Dummies and furniture take several weeks to produce and deliver, so the Chinese clients often wish to have them produced in advance. If the design of the dummies and main furniture are decided early, it gives the Chinese clients enough time to have them produced. In contrast, if the design is denied over and over again without agreeing on anything, the Chinese clients will lose confidence in the designers, and they become really worried about meeting the deadline. It is highly possible that they will discard the design totally and choose other ready-to-use designs, for the reason that “there is no time to wait.”
- It takes time for the department stores to examine and approve the design proposals. The Chinese clients want to settle the framework of design early and have the complete design plans finished early, so that they can summit the design plans to the managers in department stores. Early summit results in early approval, and then they will have more time to prepare and build the store.
In short, the Chinese clients want to decide on a good design as early as possible. If the designers can carefully consider their clients’ thoughts and needs and pay attention to the process of proposal, their design ideas will have a better chance to be agreed and accomplished.