Case Study: The Store at Grant Design Collaborative
Ed. note: This case study is a selection from the 2011 “Making the Case” competition, in which an esteemed jury identified submissions that demonstrate the value of design in a clear, compelling and accessible way. It serves as an example of how to explain design thinking to clients, students, peers and the public in general, based on specific metrics.
The objective was to establish a “street-level,” retail-based arm of our design firm, Grant Design Collaborative, located in Canton, Georgia (about 40 miles north of Atlanta), to introduce the general public to Grant Design Collaborative and to showcase our design thinking, services and capabilities. Additionally, we wanted to make design a more accessible, tangible concept to those not fully immersed in the design industry; to create an open forum for the team, a design laboratory where we can test out new ideas and new product and get an immediate reaction; and to take the concepts of recycling and sustainable design one step further with an ongoing series of custom handmade paper goods that incorporate repurposed paper and other raw materials from past projects or junk mail that would otherwise be thrown away. This imaginative collection showcases how design thinking and ingenuity can transform trash to treasure.
When a storefront space became available in the same building as our studio, we saw it as a perfect opportunity to interface with the public in a more direct way—an opportunity to introduce ourselves, our services, our products (and design in general) in a more tangible way. It was also an opportunity to showcase and distribute our product designs, such as Grant area rugs and wall coverings.
Prior to opening the Store at Grant Design Collaborative, the team accessed the surrounding retail ventures in Downtown Canton. Since Grant Design Collaborative worked with the City of Canton to design a new identity and brand strategy for the town's Main Street program and Historic Downtown Loop, the team was keenly aware of the fact that the community desired a local retailer of creative and original, yet affordable, gifts and home decor. While designing and fabricating the retail space and products, Grant Design Collaborative posted a list of potential products on the door to the space along with suggestion forms for other items the public wanted to purchase. The potential patrons entered their suggestions and submitted through the mail slot in the front door. Many suggestions influenced the range of handmade, sustainable products offered at the Store. In addition to this informal research, the Grant team also studied other traits of other retailers in small, Main Street cities to determine a formula for success. Grant also surveyed influential consumers in Canton, GA, to design a retail experience that met with their approval. This created excellent word-of-mouth publicity among connectors and mavens.
Grant Design Collaborative employed an “all systems go” approach to the design and implementation of the Store. We aimed to get the Store up and running as quickly, efficiently and inexpensively as possible. While the whole team took part in the initiative, team members tended to gravitate toward their area of expertise. For instance, designers handled new product and signage, those specializing in interiors led window displays, and our VP of Operations established the financial infrastructure and processes. We were only limited by our imagination. By fostering an inclusive atmosphere there was a tremendous amount of collaboration, cross-pollination and enthusiasm.
After opening, we noticed that foot traffic during the weekday tends to ebb and flow. For this reason, we adjusted our store hours to coincide with lunch and dinner breaks while closing for a period in the mid-afternoon. Local events such as Fourth Friday Art Walks and Farmer's Markets bring more people in and foster a party atmosphere. These events offer an opportunity to meet and greet, and to launch new products. Through our PR efforts, we noticed that national interest and attention outweighed day-to-day local traffic. Because of this we have focused more energy on our online presence, opening an online store (available 24 hours a day to anyone in the world) and using social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter, all of which will vastly expand our reach and influence.
After a slower summer due to the recession, Grant Design Collaborative has landed several new clients. We will be challenged to continue to grow the Store and develop new products while also meeting the demands of our commercial design business.
Many in the community acknowledge The Store at Grant Design Collaborative as a source for original cards, notebooks, paper goods, area rugs and home accessories. Some have expressed their excitement about a source of “cool,” “interesting” things so close to home, and that they don't need to “travel all the way into Atlanta to get cool stuff.” Many have inquired about custom card and custom design projects, indicating that people are beginning to connect the dots, understanding that design is an active process of creation, and a dialogue between client and designer. Other interest has been generated for Grant's brand and interior design business as well. In addition to local response, we were also invited to discuss the Store on two design podcasts, and Metropolis magazine is featuring the Store in its October 2009 issue.
When the economy hands you lemons, simply put, make lemonade! This was an effort to take control of our destiny. It was an effort that required the whole team to implement, but in the process became a rallying point for everyone involved, instilling a sense of ownership and pride in the company and optimism for the future. The unofficial Store motto—A retail stream-of-consciousness for cockeyed optimists—became our mantra. Great brands have the power to engage the public, create movements and alter the course of local communities. Such grassroots efforts can be ignited by emotional and intellectually compelling design. Even with minuscule budgets and unrelenting economic conditions, great design can move people, create change and advance causes.