Retail Design for Specialty Stores - Basic Principles

How to configure a speciality store for successful trading

The following schematic indicates the percentage of sales that is typically created in each area of the standard speciality store.

The design of a store has the single objective of maximising sales.  In order to achieve that objective, a well-designed store will meet a number of criteria:

  • Functional and practical
  • Aesthetically pleasing décor which improves morale of staff
  • Meets the needs/requirements/expectations of the target market
  • Cost-effective
  • Complements the merchandise
  • Supports the store's strategic direction, positioning and brand
  • Minimises shrinkage and opportunities for theft
  • Avoids the 'sameness syndrome' by retaining a unique image.


Store design begins before the customer enters the store. And what the store looks like before the customer enters it is crucial to the performance of the store.

The image to the right is of a newsagent in FNQ (AU).

Note the following:

  • Flexible fixtures
  • Clear, simple sign/ name/logo
  • Ceiling treatments that draw the eye in
  • Ability to see through the store right to the back
  • Lack of clutter = good landing zone for customers
  • Legible, simple signage (e.g. ‘new fiction’) AND it is the right type of merchandise for this particular zone
  • Graphic treatments of back wall draws the eye in
  • Rhythm & harmony in the merchandise (stacks of books) to make a strong statement.
  • Textures & floor covering
  • Effective (bright) lighting without creating a ‘warehouse’ look
  • Graduating heights: low in the front of the store to high at the back.

Landing Zone

The landing zone (or ‘decompression zone’) is that area immediately inside the entrance of the store. Its size may vary from several square meters in department stores, to something much smaller (almost non-existent) for some specialty stores.

Window displays must have sufficient ‘wow’ factor to stop passers-by in their tracks. Once you have grabbed their attention and they decide to enter the store, they must undergo a physical and psychological transformation. (Watch carefully and you will see how they slow down, fold away the umbrella, pat their pockets, settle the child, adapt to the lighting etc.)

It feels counter-intuitive to leave some of your (potentially) must productive space empty but one should view it as an investment in space required for customers to mentally and psychologically transition from passer-by to browser. This transition is necessary in most stores before you can convert browsers into buyers.

If you are going to break the landing zone rule, then break it properly (wow like a window display) in order to (figuratively speaking) punch the customer between the eyes. If you are going to do this, then do it infrequently in order to retain the ‘surprise’ element.

Gold Zone

This is the primary retailing zone – the most productive space that must managed accordingly. (Front third of the store.)

Types of products to display:

  • Core merchandise (signature lines, higher margins)
  • Introduction of new lines
  • Major promotions
  • Price Leader
  • Brand Leader

Best practice merchandising:

  • Change weekly – even daily.
  • WOW creative impact
  • Strong Signage

A special plea to indie retailers: this is NOT where you put your counter! Please refer to the first diagram again and think about how much that piece of real estate ‘owes’ you and think about whether your counter actually generates any sales.

Silver Zone

This is the secondary retailing zone that must managed accordingly.

Types of products to display:

  • Secondary merchandise (A and B lines)
  • Support stock introduction of new lines

Best practice merchandising:

  • Clear sightlines from front of store
  • Change fortnightly/ monthly

Bronze Zone

This is the tertiary retailing zone – the least productive space that must managed accordingly.

Types of products to display:

  • Bulk of stock
  • Staples
  • Lower margin
  • Comparison

Best practice merchandising:

  • Change quarterly (refresh)
  • Priority is housekeeping & ease of shopping (not wow!)

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