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Highlights and lowlights of optical refurbs: Client interview

Stratford-up-Avon family run opticians, Vision + Eyecare embarked on a store re-design and re-fit to celebrate 25 years in Stratford-upon-Avon, and to further cement their continued collaboration and commitment with ZEISS.

After being introduced at 100% optical, Vision + Eyecare asked Retail Experience Design to lead on their new rebrand, store design, and re-fit.

Naturally, the new store design needed to emulate the ZEISS brand; yet it was crucial the practice design achieved balance and avoided overwhelming the space with an excessive bias towards the clinical and technology feel associated with the ZEISS brand. The design approach needed to attract a wider and diverse range of customers to the practice, and not only those familiar with the brand. With that in mind the design was inspired by the heritage and exquisite location of Stratford-upon-Avon; and so, materials and finishes were sourced to specifically complement the unique character and landscape of Stratford-up-Avon.

The existing practice layout felt unconsidered – customers and patients were unable to circulate around the space, and the practice featured display rods, and off the shelf display units, with no visual merchandising or visual ques; creating a bland environment with no clear customer/patient messaging or targeting.

However, the new store design and re-brand achieved balance and proportion by skilfully contrasting the clinical ZEISS optical experience with the newly branded Vision + Eyecare retail environment. The juxtaposition ensured the space connected with patients expecting the ZEISS experience, whilst avoiding alienating those looking for the warmth and comfort of an independent optical retailer.

The final design and refurb looked superb. But just as the re-fit completed, Vision + Eyecare like the rest of the UK went into lockdown. Here we talk to Vision + Eyecare about some of the highlights and lowlights of their store design and refurbishment…

Closing 2 days after the shop refurbishment was completed was bittersweet… but we knew when we re-opened our doors, we would be able to offer our patients a safe, hygienic environment whilst still providing an enjoyable customer experience.

Vision + Eyecare

Vision + Eyecare refit

Tell us why you decided to re-fit practice?

In the run up to our 25th year in Stratford upon Avon, we decided to re-fit the shop to celebrate this milestone. We were getting busier, testing more than ever, and recognised that in order to offer the same level of service to our patients, we needed a better flow throughout the practice.  We approached Dean at 100% optical exhibition with our initial thoughts and after speaking in more detail we decided to embark on an entire shop refurbishment. This would hopefully future proof us for the next 25 years, but most importantly provide a renewed customer experience.

What were your key objectives?

To achieve better workflow, more efficient workstations with a future proof mind-set.

The key objective was the have retail-orientated area in the front of the shop with a more clinical/technical area at the back. The other key driver was not to lose the heritage of the building and brand.

Why did you choose Retail Experience Design?

We chose Retail Experience Design as we felt they already had a particularly good understanding of the optical retail market.   In the run up to 100% in 2019 we knew Retail Experience Design were exhibiting and we had researched a couple of practices they had refurbished. We were able to see how Retail Experience Design were different from an ordinary optical shop fitter, comprising more bespoke design and individual thought in the overall process.

How did you find the process?

As my first major shop refurbishment in my 7 years at the Opticians I found the process very enlightening. We thought the initial designs were 80% accurate from our criteria. Once we had decided on the layout, lighting, electrics and frame units, we were able to get down to the detail in order to give the practice the appropriate look and feel. The Retail Experience Design team provided creative and functional ideas if something needed to be altered, even something small. An example, we were not sure on the traditional white “butcher blocks” in the main shop. As soon this was identified, one of the Retail Design team members turned them into a herringbone pattern which transformed the entire look of the practice for the better.

What were the highlights?

There were many, many highlights. The bespoke hidden storage throughout the practice is an eye catcher as it offers that “WOW” factor every day that it is revealed to a new patient. We love the way the mirrors are hidden cupboards, the front feature door houses accessories, plug points, lights and even our disability ramp. And not forgetting the hidden door in the back showroom which is brilliant if you’re over 5’11 tall… again bespoke for our personal height requirements.

What were the most challenging elements of the project?

Lighting and colour of the units. We have always had soft to dull lighting throughout the practice as we thought it made it feel cosy and warm. Looking back, our “true daylight” lighting allows the frames to be showcased in all their detail. We were apprehensive on changing the lightening as we did not want it to be too overwhelming for our current patients who were used to a warm cosy atmosphere.  The colour on the units was also in hot debate. We eventually chose to carry the Cotswold green from the outside of the practice through to the back. These two aspects complement each other tremendously well, offering an enjoyable retail experience at the front of the store with a more clinical & technical room at the back.

What advice would you give to an optical practice considering a re-fit?

To put your initial ideas down on paper, brainstorm with Dean then let the Retail Experience Design team do their thing. I think having a team of designers as creative and motivated as Retail Experience Design gives confidence and trust in the decision-making process.

Retail Experience Design are a brilliant blend of quality designers who offer fresh/new ideas whilst providing an engaging approach to the optical industry. For too long the retail side of our industry has been unimaginative and unchallenged in offering functional design. Working with Retail Experience Design and the team from start to finish was a pleasure and a joy.

How would you describe the finished result?

WORLD CLASS! We knew from the CAD drawings that it was going to “tick all the boxes”. The goal of having a functional practice for all members of staff, could not have worked any better.

What are the advantages of working with a retail design agency?

It was most beneficial having Retail Experience Design previously worked experience in the optical market. In such a small industry Retail Experience Design brought a fresh approach to the retail side of our opticians. This was fundamental in designing a practice unique to our requirements. There are not many opticians located in a 347-year-old building containing a modernised workflow, with unique design features throughout.

Have you received customer feedback?

All positive feedback. Many of our patients have remarked on the old photographs of Chapel Street. Keeping the buildings heritage visible whilst modernising the layout, lighting and dispensing pods has all been greatly received. Early indicators that the project had begun to demonstrate ROI?

How has the pandemic impacted?

Since opening after lockdown, it has been extremely difficult to predict whether the shop refurbishment has had an impact on the return in investment

Having closed 2 days after the shop refurbishment was completed, the overall feeling was bittersweet. We knew that when we re-opened our doors, we would be able to offer our patients a safe, hygienic environment whilst still providing an enjoyable customer experience.

The new layout is extremely adaptable, we can see patients whilst adhering to social distancing. We feel better equipped now we have our individual fully wipeable dispensing pods. This allows any team member to orchestrate any job without leaving their position or the patient… it’s fantastic. In time we anticipate a good return on our investment, however this will not be as fast as expected.

I would highly recommend Dean and the Retail Experience Design team. As opticians, if your main goal is to progress in the retail environment you need to have Retail Experience Design by your side. Their experience, attention to detail and versatility is second to none. If you are reading this and your practice needs more than a lick of paint, then get in contact with Dean and you will never look back.

Vision + Eyecare

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