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Overview of the design:retail Forum

For years, the design:retail Forum has covered topics and discussions of the issues that concern the leaders in the retail design community. This event is the longest-running of its kind, and it brings together retail design industry leaders, from store designers to visual merchandising retail executives and anyone else who is ready to build relationships and discuss the latest trends with leading minds in the retail design industry.

Enter Brooklyn September 2016, thanks to the design: retail Forum. These events always appeal to me not for the standardized networking that’s obviously built into the event, but for the locale-specific immersion it offers for a few days coupled with unknown retail design and a vast array of opinions offered by my industry peers. The format was quite appealing; sessions for a day and a half, followed by networking dinners at stylish local destinations of note, then into tours of local retail establishments that best define the flavor of the area.

The sessions were memorable in several ways, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple of my favorites.

Humanizing Retail: Purposeful Store Experiences for People, Not Product was led by Alison Embrey Medina, who has to have the coolest job in the industry. She travels around the world gathering unique retail insights and passes them back to scores of design:retail readers and event attendees, and somehow does it between the mass of responsibilities she has as an executive editor. Her material is always interesting, and I always wind up taking copious notes with plans to investigate her findings further. This session focused on rewarding shoppers for being involved with retailers and served as a reminder of how important anthropology is as related to the shopping experience.

Telling Your Story: Using the Craft of Storytelling to Connect with Your Brand was an enthralling hands-on workshop by Kate Tellers, Senior Producer of The Moth, a storytelling podcast. This session reminded me that being an effective storyteller can move you from being relatable to being memorable, and how effective that can be in the age of experimental design!


The later portion of the Forum took place on the stylish fringe as well as smack-dab in the heart of Brooklyn retail. That’s the stuff that really fuels the creative fire; I absolutely love hands-on research and observation-specific store walks. Industry City is a massive campus of warehouses being repurposed for boutique and specific interest-centered major retail. It’s out if its infancy, in terms of development, but it hasn’t quite reached maturity; it served to represent the future state of growth in Brooklyn, making it a perfect destination for a bunch of thrill-seeking retail creatives.


That unique Brooklyn appeal went over the top on Saturday for the retail tours, where the remaining group of attendees were bused to Brooklyn Flea then the Williamsburg neighborhood. Brooklyn Flea served up the standard flea market flair injected with local creative coolness, and topped off with an overall urban-homegrown sensation that brought the culture down to earth. It was a good reminder that this section of New York wasn’t all bleeding edge sensibilities and lofty artistry.


Williamsburg was touted throughout the event as the hub of defining Brooklyn retail and delivered exactly that. Any big brands haunting the neighborhood were thickly disguised in like-minded architectural features and a highly selective product mix that delivered a “right at home” sensation to shoppers. I had the feeling that anyone not choosing that path would be outcast in Williamsburg, the inhabitants demanding a certain feel to gain acceptance. This drove the point home more than any other part of the Forum; experiential retail isn’t just about giving the shopper something interesting, it’s about gaining trust in the market all over again and moving into the dorm room with the shopper. Their trust = your reward.


The major takeaway was MORE, PLEASE! – not just of design:retail annual forums, but regular walk research to see practical examples.


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Nov 28, 2016 |

Topics: design, News, Events & Exhibits, Retail

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