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Display and Design Ideas  (www.ddimagazine.com)
July 2007

Less Is More
Energy use is down and sales are up in Aéropostale’s upgraded store environment

By Vilma Barr, New York Editor

Aéropostale turns 21 this year. The mall-based, specialty retailer of casual apparel and accessories targeting 11- to 18-year-old males and females is riding an upward sales curve. Since 1999, when sales tallied $190 million from 151 stores, volume grew in 2006 to $1.4 billion, including 728 stores in 47 states.

At the beginning of 2006, Aéropostale’s CEO, Julian Geiger, set three key goals: 1) balance the merchandise assortment by integrating more fashion-forward looks; 2) improve the planning process; and 3) modify the shopping environment and invest in brand building. To implement the third initiative, a prototype store was constructed at the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Ill., a Chicago suburb. Frederic Schwartz Architects and lighting design consultant Domingo Gonzalez Associates, both from New York, combined efforts to create a brighter, livelier, more contemporary shopping experience for the Aéropostale customer.

The lighting program for the 5,200-sq.-ft. store cuts an estimated 40 percent off the energy expense for lighting systems in use for existing same-size stores, and instituted a simplified, cost-efficient maintenance schedule. “The architecture and lighting worked in tandem as part of Aéropostale’s goal to retool its image by providing a more streamlined interior plan, and adaptable and energy-efficient illumination,” Gonzalez explains. Overall, the store’s lighting utilizes 1.5 watts per sq. ft.

Henry Rollman, senior associate with Frederic Schwartz Architects, recounts that Aéropostale’s early visual motif of theme-oriented props was replaced by an overall brightly lit environment. “They stock a large variety of merchandise, from shoes to bags, accessories and clothing,” Rollman says. The layout and merchandising density of the old prototype often confused customers trying to find their way around the store. For the new design, the store needed an orderly plan that would organize the merchandise in a clean and thoughtful manner. “We spent time to understand how Aéropostale sells to its customers,” Rollman says. “Then, we could develop a universal look that would appeal to both teenage girl and boy shoppers.”

Changing backdrops become a mini-stage setting at the store’s front window. Two layers of motorized scrim-like shades imprinted with graphics [created in collaboration with Alexander Isley Inc.] scroll up and down in sequence. Recessed 39-watt, metal halide PAR 20 floodlights accent the clustered mannequins. Continuous 3,000°K, white, wall-grazing LED strips illuminate the shades. “The dynamics of the moving background and the theatrical quality of the lighting encourage a sense of discovery on the part of the customer,” says Mi Seon Lee, senior designer with Domingo Gonzalez Associates.

 

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For the interior space, 130 ft. long by 40 ft. wide, the architects emphasized an open and coordinated look with engineered wood flooring that was also used for the store fixtures. Powdercoated steel frames and trims add shimmer and contrast to the freestanding and wall-mounted display cases. The center aisle leads to the glass-front illuminated cashwrap, highlighted from behind by a tall, full-width blow-up of Aéropostale-attired models. The cashwrap front is backlit with 3,000°K, 17-watt, 24-in.-long T8 fluorescent sources. Behind it, the photomural is backlit with T8 fluorescent luminaires.

To energize the back of the store behind the cashwrap, a lounge area offers upholstered seating that is framed on two sides by full-height bamboo clusters. Staggered 32-watt, 48-in. T8 fluorescent lamps sleeved in bright blue introduce strong color contrast at the ceiling line. Nearby fitting rooms feature see-through electrified liquid crystal glass doors that become opaque when a customer steps through. Perimeter lighting reinforces the bright, airy view of the store. Continuous fluorescent perimeter wallwash lighting articulates the merchandising panels. Recessed tracks are lamped with 39-watt metal halide PAR 20 flood adjustable accent lights that brighten mannequins, gondolas and moveable racks.

Slim undershelf lighting houses T5, 35-watt lamps, shielded from the customer’s view. T5s, which are currently rated at 36,000 hours, are more compact, save on maintenance and are more energy-efficient than the T12s (rated at 20,000 hours) previously in existing stores. Under the valances spanning the wood-frame wall shelf units are T8 fluorescent strip lights. Track lighting is fitted with 39-watt warm white PAR 20 metal halide flood lamps.

To achieve a minimal energy level for lighting that is architecturally integrated and accents the merchandise, Gonzalez and Lee started with the basic premises of utilizing lower wattage, higher efficacy and the use of longer-life lamps. To lower the wattage in the prototype, 32-watt T8s replaced 40-watt T12s in use in existing stores, saving 20 percent. An electronic ballast brings the savings down to 40 percent. At Aéropostale stores, lamps were changed every four months. Now, thanks to longer-life lamps, they are changed on the average of one-and-a-half to two years in a store with 11-ft.-high ceilings. Also, a 39-watt metal halide outperforms a 90-watt incandescent that averages only a 2,000-hour life. Metal halides are rated with a 9,000-hour life, and reduce maintenance by 400 percent.

CEO Geiger plans to convert 18 existing Aéropostale stores in 2007 to the prototype design and renovate 40 percent of its 728 stores within three years. The goal, he says, is a family of 1,000 stores in the United States. He plans to open the chain’s first 10 stores in Canada in the near future, citing a potential to grow to a total of 80 to 90 there.

© 2007 Nielsen Business Media

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