Modular Design: Can Great Design Be Modular or Is Bespoke the Only Way to Go?

8th Nov 2017

In this post, our Account Director Ben explores the negative perceptions versus the benefits of modular design in retail.

Is modular design just for high volume supermarket fixture systems? Can high-end boutiques use modular designs to create highly refined, premium retail interiors? *Spoiler alert* It's a trick question; modular design can be beneficial to an array of retail environments, however, in Q4 fashion there are of course some fundamental questions.

The top hot questions:

Why are some brands and retailers against or resistant to producing modular designs in the search for the ultimate shop fit?

Is it poor planning that stops them from venturing down this route?

Is it perhaps the seeming quality and flexibility compromises?

The perception around the absence of quality and the lack of look and feel within modular design is often exaggerated. Now, you know we hate to point any fingers as we have many friends across all areas of the industry, however, this is often exaggerated by manufacturers who want to sell high-margin bespoke interiors that are built and installed for a specific retail space. A one-off product will always be expensive as you don't get any volume benefits from a production environment.

To understand the bigger picture, we've recently engaged in conversations with several brands within the high street, who have hundreds if not thousands of retail locations globally - but they make everything as a one-off due to these perceptions. I'm sure we've all heard or experienced the painful cost of this!

Modularity doesn't mean you end up with a Meccano aesthetic (all the pre-80's kids will get this reference). It can be beautiful and unique with a few clever tricks, whilst delivering great cost benefit. This could be the ideal 'win' for the beauty, high-end fashion and hospitality industries who are traditionally the most resistant.

If brands and retailers are willing to underwrite stock and they can commit to volume, there are big savings to be achieved. For smaller retailers, it makes projects more affordable if you can introduce modularity into smaller scale programs, because can you do it in a controlled factory environment rather than on site. We have done a one-off trial store utilising a modular philosophy achieving the client's budget.

As we know, retail environment is perfectly square 100% of the time and works on centres devisable by 100mm, but to get around this you can cut and carve certain elements on site, with a good shop fitter.

So I'm not presenting an argument for totally removing shop fitters, but finding good, available ones can be an issue. Limiting the factors which impact the successful installation of interiors has significant benefit in all areas of the supply chain.

All this itself demands a great set of drawings but that's another blog, which you can find here.

Fitting out stores is often expensive due to site and skilled labour costs, so the more this can be planned for and executed in a controlled environment such as a factory, the better. The more you do in the factory the better control of your cost base due to location of production (such as Central Europe or East Asia). The cost of your shop fitting resource is completely controlled by the location of where the shop is, so you may want to limit time spent on site with skilled labour too.

Of course, when you're prototyping, testing and trialling, the one-off approach is completely justifiable - but when it comes to volume rollout, modular design certainly has its benefits!

Working with the brand Outsiders and supporting the launch of their first store in Liverpool made clear their environment and budget would not have been achieved without modularity. This shows it's not just for volume; we save time and money due to the majority of the work being done in the factory and minimising shop fitting time and cost on site.

So, if a new brand is making this work with one shop, can a coffee chain, fashion retailer, luxury brand or cosmetics brand make it work across their multiple global locations?

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