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Six ways to design stores like the cool kids


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River Street Sweets has always worked to create a candy-making show, and is incorporating those same elements into its newly launched franchise model.

1. Expanding outdoors

Consumers are exhibiting a bigger appetite for outdoor dining. “I think people are stuck inside looking at their gizmos all day long that they want to spend time outdoors and they want to socialize,” says John Neitzel, CEO of Bar Louie. And setting out a few metal tables with bright umbrellas doesn’t quite go the distance these days. Restaurants are stepping up their game to design outdoor spaces with ambiance, flexible seating, fireplaces and landscaping.

Bar Louie tries to incorporate outdoor dining at all of its restaurants wherever possible from patios to rooftop decks. The restaurant design also includes large, roll-up garage-style glass doors that can be opened to help indoor guests feel like they are outside. “We believe that exterior seating is a big part of the Bar Louie experience,” says Neitzel.

Outdoor dining also gives franchisees the opportunity to leverage their available space because it can add a lot of value to a restaurant for very little extra cost. A 6,000-square-foot restaurant might be able to expand the footprint considerably with a 2,000- or 3,000-square-foot patio. For example, the Bar Louie in Fort Worth has a rooftop deck that can seat about 150 people.

2. Shopper-tainment

Retailers are doing more than just providing a storefront where customers can buy products or services; they are also looking to entice shoppers with an experience they can’t find online. That experience is translating to vibrant, fun store designs. Creating a “show” for the customers has been a long-standing tradition for River Street Sweets•Savannah's Candy Kitchen that the firm is now incorporating into its newly launched franchise model. The candy company opened its first franchise location at Tanger Outlets in Pooler, Georgia, last July with a goal to grow to 100 franchise locations within the next five years.

One of the secrets to success for River Street Sweets has been providing a fun experience for guests. “We have always thought it was important to make our candy right in front of people. That’s what makes us different,” says Jennifer Strickland, vice president and co-founder of River Street Sweets in Savannah, Georgia. Stores have an open kitchen where customers can watch candy makers at work, interact and ask questions. River Street makes products such as pralines, caramel popcorn, chocolates, taffy and ice cream within its stores.

3. Smaller footprints

Reducing store footprints is a big focus for franchisors today as it impacts the real estate costs, as well as the ongoing operating efficiency of the business. Saladworks recently updated its store design to give it a fresh look and create added efficiencies for operators. “In order to mitigate some of the increased rents that our franchisees are seeing, we have tried to shrink the footprint to keep the percentage that rent represents on their P&L the same or less,” says Saladworks President and CEO Patrick Sugrue, referring to the profit and loss statement.

Saladworks has reduced its prototype from as large as 2,500-3,500 square feet down to 1,800-2,000 square feet. The smaller size coupled with other changes to the store design have helped reduce the overall turnkey cost from a roughly $650,000 build-out to between $494,459 and $509,314, according to the company’s franchise disclosure document.

In order to shrink the footprint, Saladworks took out some equipment in the back of the house that wasn’t necessary and also reconfigured and reduced its seating.

“Consumers are buying their food differently than they have done before,” says Sugrue. There has been a significant uptick in take-out and catering, which has lessened demand for seating.

For example, the new Saladworks design has reduced the in-store seating from about 75 to 55 on average, and the company also is adding outdoor seating options outside of the store footprint.

4. Catering to millennials

Just about every business these days is trying to figure out how to appeal to the millennial customer. One of the key elements that resonates with millennials—and increasingly the rest of the population—is tech-enabled space and access to Wi-Fi.

“A few years ago WiFi was a novelty and now it is a mandatory feature, because it becomes an expectation of customers,” says Eric Lavanger, vice president of design, architecture and construction at International Dairy Queen.

Despite those mobile devices, millennials also are a social bunch. Restaurants in particular are adding more comfortable seating and different types of seating options so people can choose between private tables or community seating areas.

Millennials have embraced the practicality of a sharing society and spurred the popularity of the likes of Uber and Airbnb. That same sentiment is driving popularity in the repurposing and reuse of building materials that are being used for practical purposes, such as recycled flooring, as well as creative décor items such as lighting fixtures, benches and tabletops.

5. There’s an app for that

The lines between physical space and the digital world are continuing to blur. A growing number of franchisors have launched apps that can be used for loyalty programs, promotions and coupons and online ordering. “Increasingly, it is about adding technologies that help customers interface with us outside of the four walls of the restaurant,” says Lavanger. The DQ app is currently used for its loyalty program, but the company is testing the ability to expand that to include mobile ordering.

“I think everyone is into technology, where it is going and how it can work better in fast casual and the fast food industry,” says Angie Odom, principal architect at Odom Architects P.C. in Mobile, Alabama.

Some restaurants are experimenting with apps that will allow them to track customers when they are on site. So, the restaurant knows where that person is in the store or in line to pick up an order that they submitted online or via the mobile app.

Other restaurants have introduced tablets tableside or interactive kiosks that allow customers to enter in their own dine-in or to-go orders.

6. Green technologies

Companies are continuing to keep an eye on the latest green technologies, as well as watching for declining costs that make sustainable solutions more cost-effective.

International Dairy Queen is continuing to evaluate the latest technologies such as solar power, high capacity AC units and energy management systems that allow for scheduled use of utilities to lower costs. “Some of that has borne fruit, and some, at the time, did not yet generate a return on investment that made sense for franchisees to consider as an investment,” says Lavanger.

LED lighting used to be very expensive and cost prohibitive. Now prices have come down and International Dairy Queen is putting LED lights in all of its restaurants for both interior and exterior lighting use.

“That is a great example of how over time technology improves and the cost to apply makes it a wonderful opportunity for energy savings, as well as reduced costs for ongoing maintenance,” says Lavanger.

The emphasis on energy efficiency also has yielded a variety of new products that allows for more creative design. For example, there are ceiling grids and ceiling tiles where lights can be clipped in versus the old school method of hard-wiring electrical fixtures, says Odom. That tech creates more flexibility in design and how lighting is used within stores. “So, you can do all sorts of new things with lighting,” she says.

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