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Creating an effective and engaging optical environment

Dean Waugh, Owner and Creative Director at Retail Experience Design, gave Optometry Today an overview of the design agency’s recent projects, trends on the High Street, and creating effective environments.

Optometry Today: For anyone who is not aware, could you introduce Retail Experience Design and tell us what makes your offering unique?

We are a creative retail design agency – this means we design engaging, original physical spaces and environments for retailers or businesses that sell products, services or experiences.

We provide a complete design service from initial concepts right through to the management of the manufacture and shop-fit.

A successful design agency needs experience across a broad range of sectors – it’s what keeps them creatively fresh, knowledgeable, and responsive to the continually changing world of retail design. At Retail Experience Design, our diverse range of experience has been pivotal to our success and spans a broad range of sectors including retail, food, salon, clinic, workplaces, showroom and education spaces.

But, we’re exceptionally proud of our work and specialism in the health and wellbeing sectors, and none more so than in the optical industry, which has grown organically, and off the back of our success stories right across the industry. I believe it’s our ability to combine creative design with a strategic understanding of what opticians need to deliver from a customer and patient perspective that sets us apart and positions us as leaders in retail design for opticians.

Our recent projects for Fullwood Opticians, House of Hearing, Noville Opticians and exclusive salon and hair business Vixen & Blush are great examples of the diversity of our work and different design challenges we’re presented with.

With House of Hearing our challenge was to transform a Grade A listed building into a new audiology flagship clinic, yet without the indulgence of a restoration project budget. For this reason, we worked with the existing building architecture and features to make the budget work harder and further. With clever design we were able to conceal the buildings imperfections and inherent structural issues, whilst creating a world leading interior design for an audiology environment.

For Norville opticians it was crucial we maintained the heritage of the historic practice, whilst delivering and unique concept design. The final concept isn’t just aesthetically advanced and enriched, the new design allows the practice environment to deliver on retail practicality and drastically improve the effectiveness of space, whilst improving the overall patient/customer journey. Our brief for Fullwood Opticians was design driven, the practice aspired to transform the space – from a tired and traditional looking practice – to a boutique inspired space that provided customers with a fashion led experience.

Finally, our desin for Hair Salon Vixen & Blush achieved a striking, contemporary space that firmly positions Vixen & Blush at the forefront of exclusivity. Yet the space is more than just aesthetically striking, the multi-faceted design delivers on both salon and retail practicality.

What is a key achievement the company has celebrated in the past year?

The pandemic hit the retail design industry hard – sadly we saw iconic store closures; brands diminish and all sorts of retailers and businesses scaling back. But at the beginning of 2021 and amid the turbulence of anther lockdown, retailers and businesses gained confidence. The narrative started to change – it moved from uncertainty and fragility – to transformation and innovation – ultimately businesses wanted to be in the strongest possible position coming out of lockdown.

This was particularly true across the optical industry, who of course had mainly remained open during lockdowns.  And whilst some opticians in city locations were battling for survival, we saw local opticians taking advantaging of a local resurgence. With this change, many opticians realized the opportunity to attract audiences. And, and in doing so, recognized to stand the best chance of winning potential new customers and patients, they had to ensure their practice appealed to different and wider demographics compared to pre pandemic, as well as stand out from their competitors.

Given this local resurgence, and with retail showing more determination than ever, 2021 was our most successful year yet. We won a record number of clients and delivered our highest number of projects to date, across all sectors.

What are the company’s main ambitions for the next 12 months?

When I started Retail Experience Design, and we began working within the optical sector –  it was clear the industry lagged behind mainstream retail.

Opticians just didn’t think like retailers! The industry was mainly driven by traditional shop fit outs, which often resulted in generic, traditional, off the shelf designs, with little, or no consideration given to the principles of retail design. From very early on, we identified that the potential to help this industry move forward was wide open for the right design agency.

Fast forward 10 years with a completely different retail landscape. Opticians now understand that their physical environment is the key to helping them stand out from their competitors, by creating a unique customer experience and customer loyalty.

Our approach and designs in the optical industry stood out – and today we’re recognized for our expertise in delivering optical environments that not only look good but deliver.

We believe we’ve helped the industry understand the importance and impact of good retail design, and we’re hugely flattered to see our competitors inspired by our unique design approach and following our lead. However, our ambition for the next 12 months, will be to continue to push the boundaries of creative retail design within the optical industry and further cement our position as the leading retail design agency across optics.

Are there any new projects in development you can tell us about, or updates as a business you’d like to share with readers?

My ambition as a retail designer, and the concept behind starting retail experience design was to make good retail design possible for independents and multiples.  Coming from a global design agency and working with some of the largest UK high street retailers, I wanted the creative freedom to personally make a difference in high street retail.

My commitment and ambition to working with independents remains, the design agency is structured to balance cost effectiveness, but without compromising on good design – all of which makes good retail design possible for independents.

However, our work is being recognized by larger brands and retailers, who are reaching out to us because they’ve seen our work – this is particularly within the optics and wider healthcare industries. I believe this is a testament to our design philosophy, creative ability, and strategic approach to retail design

What do you predict top retail design trends will be in 2022 (either broadly on the High Street or specific to health settings like optometry)?

  • Sustainability – Sustainability is the hot topic in retail design as consumers are no longer just attracted by sustainable products – they want to buy from retailers and businesses who show their approach to sustainability and respective for environmental issues within in their physical stores.
  • The physical experience – whilst the growth of online shopping has of course skyrocketed because of the pandemic, the desire for some consumers to view, touch, and interact physically with products has now been amplified – even the most basic instore experience has been missed. Consumers want to escape their screens and be provided with an instore experience – its this desire which driving consumers back to physical retail. So, creating a positive, memorable, and unique instore experience has never been so important for businesses with a physical environment.
  • A love for local –Many consumers have continued with their mission of supporting independent or small local businesses, and whilst the high street is undeniably fragile and looks very different across the UK – the deep-rooted affection for shopping local continues to be a focus for retail.

How do you think effective design can support practices in engaging patient loyalty and increasing revenue?

There’s  no secret formula to retail design in optics – creating an effective optical environment is achieved by applying the core principles of good retail design. Regardless of the size of practice, location, audience, demographics, services, product ranges, the principles remain the same.

We combine strategic, creative, and technical skill to ensure retail spaces deliver on several levels – these include, achieving a compelling interior design, delivering on retail practicality, creating a unique customer experience, all with the aim of helping opticians improve client loyalty, sell more and ultimately increase profitability.

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