1-Waxing nostalgic

In recent years, many of the national burger chains have expanded their menus to the point of bursting by trying to chase several trends and adapting to changing consumer tastes and expectations. Today’s quick serve restaurant (QSR) customer is inundated with more choices, LTOs (limited time offerings) and order personalization options than ever before.

The more complex menus have led to unintended consequences, such as longer wait times, increased order fulfillment errors, poor or inconsistent execution, spiraling input costs and rising frustrations from consumers and franchisees/ operators.

The simple 1950s-era menu of burgers, fries and shakes that once defined the old-fashioned burger joints (McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, A&W) has been relegated to the history books for most.

However, Pal’s Sudden Service, a Tennessee-based regional fast food restaurant chain, thrives on maintaining the simplicity ethos/hallmark of the mid-century burger joints.

2-A new service model

Largely unknown nationally, Pal’s Sudden Service commands a cult-like reverence in its Tennessee/Virginia territory.

Nonetheless, the chain can trace its roots back to 1952, when founder Fred “Pal” Barger, stationed in Austin, Texas, observed a quick service carryout-only restaurant named 2-J’s (source: palsbei.com). A fortuitous encounter with McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc in 1955, who shared a similar quick service restaurant vision, served to further galvanize Fred Barger’s restaurant concept (source: palsbei.com, wikipedia.org).

In 1956, the first Pal’s Sudden Service, normally called Pal’s for short, opened at 327 Revere Street in downtown Kingsport, TN (source: palsbei.com, wikipedia.org, bloomberg.com). At a time when car hops and sit-down restaurants were the norm, the Pal’s business model challenged preconceived ideals.

Pals 01 327 Revere Street Kingsport TN 2 https___maps.google

Pal’s 01, front 3/4 view, 327 Revere Street, Kingsport, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Customers would walk to the front of the building, placed their order, and moved along the front counter to drink and food pick-up points (source: palsbei.com, wikipedia.org). The original location consisted of a small and squat building, with a forward cantilevered roof that doubled as a functional awning over the recessed counter. Clad in red and white subway tiles, the front portion has since been retrofitted to enclose the front portion with glazing.

Pals 01 327 Revere Street Kingsport TN 3 https___maps.google

Pal’s 01, front 3/4 view, 327 Revere Street, Kingsport, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

In the early days, the menu was simple, Sauceburgers, Frenchie Fries, Milk Shakes, and Soft Drinks (source: palsbei.com). The limited menu, combined with a simple operational procedure, almost universally assured fast service speeds.

In 1958, in a bid to expand Pal’s Sudden Service, Fred Barger purchased an existing ice cream (Arctic) operation. (source: bloomberg.com, palsbei.com). Briefly operated under the Arctic banner, the Lynn Garden Drive location in Kingsport, Tennessee was later converted into a Pal’s Sudden Service (source: bloomberg.com, palsbei.com).

Pals 02 1315 Lynn Garden Drive Kingsport TN 2 https___maps.google

Pal’s 02, front 3/4 view, 1315 Lynn Garden Drive, Kingsport, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Sporting bold colours, Pal’s no. 2 also featured a 50’s-style lighted sign, which was removed in 2009 due to high operating costs (source: palsbei.com, wikipedia.org).

Pals 02 1315 Lynn Garden Drive Kingsport TN 5 https___maps.google

Pal’s 02, side 3/4 view, 1315 Lynn Garden Drive, Kingsport, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Additionally, in 1962, a large fiberglass “Muffler Man” called Big Pal holding a large hamburger was added on the roof (source: palsbei.com, wikipedia.org). It was a stroke of advertising/marketing genius that generated restaurant traffic and buzz, and helped Pal’s stand out from the competition.

3-The napkin sketch

Decades later, a napkin sketch by artists/designers Karen and Tony Barone, would become the launching off point for what would be a larger-than-life, branded aesthetic (source: palsbei.com).

Pals 03 4224 Fort Henry Drive Kingsport TN 1 https___maps.google

Pal’s 03, front 3/4 view, 4224 Fort Henry Drive, Kingsport, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

In 1985, Pal’s opened the first drive-thru location, adorned by a Big Pal (Hamburger), Hot Dog, an Order of Frenchie Fries and drink cup, in Colonial Heights (source: palsbei.com, wikipedia.org). The new restaurant design would mark the first iteration of the unique, attention generating box/tiered drive-thru building concept.

Pals 03 4224 Fort Henry Drive Kingsport TN 3 https___maps.google

Pal’s 03, right side view, 4224 Fort Henry Drive, Kingsport, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Also in 1985, a second location featuring the new design language would open on Stone Drive (source: palsbei.com). Focused on a limited menu, the core of the predominantly drive-thru, quick service hamburger and hot dog operation is pretty much displayed on the front facade.

Pals 04 1120 East Stone Drive Kingsport TN 4 https___maps.google

Pal’s 04, front 3/4 view, 1120 East Stone Drive, Kingsport, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

This new design would give rise to a repeatable form factor that would come to define the architectural identity of the Pal’s brand. Testing and refining the restaurant format and formula, Pal’s Sudden Service would abstain from adding new stores for the remainder of the decade.

4-Validate. Replicate.

Although the restaurant chain grew slowly in its first quarter century, from a single store to four, its growth rate would accelerate dramatically in its second quarter century. From 1990 into present day, Pal’s more or less averaged one new store opening per year.

The fifth Pal’s, featuring the box/tiered drive-thru building design, opened in January 1990 to a warm reception (source: palsbei.com, wikipedia.org).

Pals 05 1200 West State of Franklin Johnson City TN 5 https___maps.google

Pal’s 05, front view, 1200 West State of Franklin, Johnson City, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Location no. 6, the first strip mall location, would follow in 1991 (source: palsbei.com, wikipedia.org). Unsurprisingly, the new locale presented limited potential to adopt any of the defining design and aesthetic characteristics of the drive-thru locations. However, the additional space did afford the possibility of incorporating a dining room area.

Pals 06 1357 Tusculum Blvd Greeneville TN 3 https___maps.google

Pal’s 06, front view, 1357 Tusculum Boulevard, Greeneville, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Located in Virginia, Pal’s no. 7, which also featured the inimitable box/tiered drive-thru design, opened in 1991 (source: palsbei.com, wikipedia.org).

Pals 07 527 Kane Street Gate City VA 1 https___maps.google

Pal’s 07, left side view, 527 Kane Street, Gate City, Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

The Mall at Johnson City would become home to Pal’s no. 8 in 1992. Located in the mall food court, the overall design maximized the use of bold colours and shapes to communicate the Pal’s persona and fun atmosphere (source: palsbei.com, wikipedia.org).

Pals 08 Directory Map The Mall at Johnson City

Pal’s 08, food court at The Mall at Johnson City, 2011 North Roan Street, Johnson City, Tennessee (source: mallatjohnsoncity.com)

In the same year, Pal’s no. 9, adopting the distinct box/tiered drive-thru building design, opened in Elizabethton, TN (source: palsbei.com, wikipedia.org).

Pals 09 413 West Elk Avenue Elizabethton TN 2 https___maps.google

Pal’s 09, front 3/4 view, 413 West Elk Avenue, Elizabethton, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Pals 09 413 West Elk Avenue Elizabethton TN 3 https___maps.google

Pal’s 09, rear 3/4 view, 413 West Elk Avenue, Elizabethton, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Over the next 20-plus years, another dozen and a half additional Pal’s would replicate and propagate the box/tiered drive-thru building design across the Tennessee/Virginia region.

Pals 12 1735 Fort Henry Drive Kingsport TN 3 https___maps.google

Pal’s 12, front 3/4 view, 1735 Fort Henry Drive, Kingsport, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Starting off with a basic rectangular shape, the front façade is lopped off in staggered steps, creating a form reminiscent of a tiered wedding cake. Long and narrow, thin and tall, the small volume with barren side and rear walls seems overly minute and miniscule.

Pals 25 104 Mossy Creek Drive Jefferson City TN 3 https___maps.google

Pal’s 25 (under construction), left side 3/4 view, 104 Mossy Creek Drive, Jefferson City, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Pals 24 2866 Boones Creek Road Johnson City TN 3 https___maps.google

Pal’s 24 (under construction), front 3/4 view, 2866 Boones Creek Road, Johnson City, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Pals 15 437 Richmond Street Church Hill TN 2 https___maps.google

Pal’s 15, front 3/4 view, 437 Richmond Street, Church Hill, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Combining a series of well defined elevations, front, rear, and sides, ingress and egress points are however less discernible. Matching in colour to the surrounding wall plane, doors are dissimulated and concealed into the adjacent exterior wall surface.

Pals 18 257 Old Gray Station Rd Gray TN 4 https___maps.google

Pal’s 18, left side 3/4 view, 257 Old Gray Station Road, Gray, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Pals 19 3277 Highway 126 Blountville TN 4 https___maps.google

Pal’s 19, rear 3/4 view, 3277 Highway 126, Blountville, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Exhibiting a dramatic lack of windows, the light blue coloured building commands outsized attention relative to its actual volume/footprint. Effectively suggesting a disdain for transparency, the opaque building purports a level of purposeful and functional concealment that quite literally borders on being uninviting.

Pals 19 3277 Highway 126 Blountville TN 6 https___maps.google

Pal’s 19, right side 3/4 view, 3277 Highway 126, Blountville, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Pals 25 104 Mossy Creek Drive Jefferson City TN 1 https___maps.google

Pal’s 25, left side 3/4 view, 104 Mossy Creek Drive, Jefferson City, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Drive-thru windows, one on each side, are further accentuated by the significant lack of ornamentation and visual clutter at the base of the building. Of note, order taking is done through face-to-face interactions at Pal’s as the company systematically shuns speaker systems (source: incmag.com, burgerbusiness.com). Tacked-on, the punched window type/style of drive-thru order window detail breaks up the monotony of the linear sides.

Pals 12 1735 Fort Henry Drive Kingsport TN 5 https___maps.google

Pal’s 12, right side view, 1735 Fort Henry Drive, Kingsport, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Pals 16 101 Alexis Drive Bristol VA 3 https___maps.google

Pal’s 16, front view, 101 Alexis Drive, Bristol, Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

Pals 15 437 Richmond Street Church Hill TN 1 https___maps.google

Pal’s 15, left side view, 437 Richmond Street, Church Hill, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Although quite colourful, the overall building proposes minimal visual enhancements. Red coloured ornamental gooseneck-type downlights (exterior light fixtures), lined near the roof line in a uniform pattern, spruce up the elevations and add a splash of alternate colour.

Pals 16 101 Alexis Drive Bristol VA 1 https___maps.google

Pal’s 16, right side view, 101 Alexis Drive, Bristol, Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

Pals 14 2301 West Andrew Johnson Highway Morristown TN 3 https___maps.google

Pal’s 14, front 3/4 view, 2301 West Andrew Johnson Highway, Morristown, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Pals 10 960 Volunteer Parkway Bristol TN 2 https___maps.google

Pal’s 10, right side 3/4 view, 960 Volunteer Parkway, Bristol, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Additionally, many locations have modest awnings that provide cover from the elements above the drive-thru windows, as well as add some design relief to the side elevations.

Pals 11 3206 Bristol Highway Johnson City TN 2 https___maps.google

Pal’s 11, right side 3/4 view, 3206 Bristol Highway, Johnson City, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Pals 17 3012 North John B Dennis Highway Kingsport TN 2 https___maps.google

Pal’s 17, front 3/4 view, 3012 North John B Dennis Highway, Kingsport, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Capped by a flat roof devoid of any overhangs, the slab-sided exterior facades serve only to amplify the smallish building footprint/size.

Pals 19 3277 Highway 126 Blountville TN 2 https___maps.google

Pal’s 19, front view, 3277 Highway 126, Blountville, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Pals 14 2301 West Andrew Johnson Highway Morristown TN 4 https___maps.google

Pal’s 14, front view, 2301 West Andrew Johnson Highway, Morristown, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Pals 20 1200 East Jackson Blvd Jonesborough TN 4 https___maps.google

Pal’s 20, front 3/4 view, 1200 East Jackson Boulevard, Jonesborough, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Although already distinct in shape and configuration, Pal’s prototypical restaurant format is further differentiated with the addition of the oversized Big Pal (Hamburger), Hot Dog, order of Frenchie Fries and drink cup tacked onto the front façade.

5-Benchmarking

From the outset, the blue coloured, tiered, boxy, drive-thru restaurants should alert even the casual observer that Pal’s Sudden Service is a slightly eccentric and offbeat Quick Service Restaurant (QSR). However, its growth history and brand evolution clearly reveals staid, methodical, deliberate, and rational overtones.

Striving for continuous improvements, the Pal’s approach rests on being the best, not the biggest. Even with its limited menu, the quirky regional fast food restaurant chain generates nearly $2 million average unit sales, exceeding every QSR in its territory except McDonald’s (source: burgerbusiness.com). Flooded with franchising inquiries annually, Pal’s Sudden Service is undeniably a “sought after brand”.

Pals 13 4308 Highway 66 South Rogersville TN 2 https___maps.google

Pal’s 13, front view, 4308 Highway 66 South, Rogersville, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

However, each Pal’s location is company-owned, “and operated through a unique agreement with Pal’s store operators who have successfully completed Pal’s leadership training.” (source: palsweb.com, burgerbusiness.com, qsrmagazine.com) As such, franchising opportunities at Pal’s are non-existent.

The first and only restaurant brand/company to win the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 2001, Pal’s was putting the competition on notice (source: palsweb.com, palsbei.com, burgerbusiness.com, wikipedia.org). In the same year, Pal’s created the Business Excellence Institute, which attempts to share best business practices with other organizations and individuals (source:palsbei.com, burgerbusiness.com). Oddly though, the abundant level of openness and over-sharing exhibited through the BEI initiative seems at odds with the brand’s almost fortress-like stores that afford few reveals of the benchmark-worthy/best practice processes and procedures at hand.

Pals 21 370 Overlook Drive Lebanon VA 1 https___maps.google

Pal’s 21, left side view, 370 Overlook Drive, Lebanon, Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

Employee turnover at half the industry average, order accuracy and speed, respectively 10 times and 4 times faster than their competitors, Pal’s is benchmarked within the industry (source: bloomberg.com, qsrmagazine.com). Combining the slow, systematic, strategic growth and cult-like fervour the brand commands amongst its customers, Pal’s will undoubtedly outgrow its Tri-Cities regional base, and their blue-hued box/tiered drive-thru restaurants will surely begin to populate locales across the country.

 

Disclosure:

All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.

1-Inventory management system

In the 1970s, major department stores were the principal retail source for books for the avid reader and book club members. Bookstores at the time had a tendency to be local in market reach, and small in physical size.

Focusing on selling used books, brothers Tom and Louis Borders opened the original Border’s Books in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1971 (source: CBSNews.com, wikipedia.org, npr.org). By the mid-1970s, the store had relocated a few times, finally settling into a larger 10,000 square-foot location (source: cnn.com). Additionally, the company focus had shifted away from used books towards new books, and onto expansion.

Borders SA 3750 University Avenue Madison WI 6 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front 3/4 view), 3750 University Avenue, Madison, Wisconsin (source: maps.google.com)

Prior to the proliferation of personal computers, Borders had developed a system to catalogue and curate their vast book inventory on three-inch-square punch cards (source: cnn.com). Tailoring the store offerings to the community through the Borders brother’s inventory system was at the core of the brand. The novel inventory approach led to the formation of Book Inventory Systems (BIS), a separate business supplying to other independent booksellers (source: cnn.com, wikipedia.org).

Borders SA 4545 Kenny Road Columbus OH 1 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front 3/4 view), 4545 Kenny Road, Columbus, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Along with NY-based Barnes & Noble, Inc., Borders Books helped pioneer the big-box bookseller concept. The new 20,000-40,000 sq. ft superstores, proposing between 100,000 and 200,000 titles in large, bright, well-lit stores where lingering was encouraged ran counter to the smaller, 2,000-3,000 sq. ft., 20,000 to 50,000 titles, mall-based chains such as B. Dalton and Waldenbooks (source: CBSNews.com). In the 20 years following the opening of the Ann Arbor store, the Borders brothers would go on to open several additional stores.

DSC13745 Borders - Borders Rewards card

Borders Rewards card

2-Age of superstores

By the late 1980s, the big-box bookstore phenomenon seemed to have been visibly embraced by the book buying public at large. However, smaller mall-based chains, which excelled at selling high-velocity commercial bestsellers, were declining in numbers and suffering marked sales declines.

Borders SA 151 Andover Street Peabody MA 3 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front 3/4 view), 151 Andover Street, Peabody, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

In 1992, mall-based book chain Waldenbooks owner Kmart, acquired the 21-store Borders chain from brothers Louis and Tom (source: cnn.com, wikipedia.org). Kmart merged the struggling Waldenbooks chain with Borders in the hopes of forming a successful book unit (source: cnn.com, wikipedia.org, CBSNews.com). However, realizing synergies and efficiencies would prove difficult.

Borders SA 1100 East Dimond Boulevard Anchorage AK 4 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front 3/4 view), 1100 East Dimond Boulevard, Anchorage, Alaska (source: maps.google.com)

In 1995, Kmart spun off the book unit as a separate company.

Ignoring the budding competitive implications at the time, Borders-Walden Group, later renamed Borders Group, began operations the same year that Amazon started selling books online (source: CBSNews.com, wikipedia.org).

Borders SM 2323 South Decatur Boulevard Las Vegas NV 6 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Side 3/4 view), 2323 South Decatur Boulevard, Las Vegas, Nevada (source: maps.google.com)

For much of the 1990s, the future looked promising for Borders. Second only to Barnes & Noble, Borders grew rapidly. At its peak, there were in excess of 1,200 Borders and Waldenbooks stores (source: cnn.com). Additionally, Borders had a huge U.S. and international presence with stores in Singapore, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. (source: cnn.com, businessinsurance.org, wikipedia.org).

Borders SA 1501 Plymouth Road Minnetonka MN 4 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (side 3/4 view), 1501 Plymouth Road, Minnetonka, Minnesota (source: maps.google.com)

Wreaking havoc on the smaller competitors, category-killers such as Borders acted like other mass-market retailers, pressing the local independent book stores when they entered new markets and flooding the area with lower prices and vast quantities.

3-Retail space for lease

Seemingly applying a space-first approach, building stand-alone superstores, opening locations in strip malls and enclosed malls, popping up in urban and suburban locales, Borders was in a race for space to grow in lockstep with Barnes & Noble.

DSC09363 Borders - B&N 3956 State Highway 31 Clay NY

Barnes & Noble (Front 3/4 view), 3956 State Highway 31, Clay, New York

Seeking to establish a national presence, Borders was opening stores in large, medium and smaller cities across the United States. Matching Barnes & Noble superstore for superstore, Borders invested heavily in new stores, which contributed to a glut of bookstores (source: businessinsurance.org, time.com). Interestingly, Borders had a tendency to locate their stores in close proximity to Barnes & Noble stores.

Borders SA 4230 Grape Road Mishawaka IN 5 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front 3/4 view), 4230 Grape Road, Mishawaka, Indiana (source: maps.google.com)

Borders became unwieldy large, with many of its stores (an estimated 70 percent) competing with a local Barnes & Noble (source: time.com). Furthermore, in some cities, Borders ended up competing with itself by operating several stores within a five-mile radius.

Borders SA 9750 West Broad Street Glen Allen VA 5 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front view), 9750 West Broad Street, Glen Allen, Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

While Barnes & Noble earned a reputation for paying close attention to site selection during the superstore boom of the 1990s, Borders did not garner as much industry praise. Borders had a policy of trying to make “A locations” out of “B location” (source: businessweek.com). Although many centrally located stores were profitable, the company maintained a tendency to locate in lower-cost, less than prime, sites.

Borders SA 12171 West Sunrise Boulevard Plantation FL 3 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Side view), 12171 West Sunrise Boulevard, Plantation, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

Then, in the early 2000s, the economy started moving farther away from brick-and-mortar to click-and-mortar web-based/internet-based “e-tailing”. As consumers were shifting to online shopping, Borders found itself with too many stores for too few customers. Borders was saddled with a number of unprofitable and under-performing stores (source: businessinsurance.org). Brick-and-mortar bookstores have suffered heavily from competition, low margins, changing reading habits, disruptive technology (electronic readers and e-books), as well as the internet’s ability to instantaneously deliver content.

Borders SA East 53rd Street Davenport Iowa North Ridge Shopping Center 2 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front 3/4 view), East 53rd Street, Davenport, Iowa (source: maps.google.com)

Borders SA East 53rd Street Davenport Iowa North Ridge Shopping Center 4 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Side 3/4 view), East 53rd Street, Davenport, Iowa (source: maps.google.com)

Additionally, the Great Recession in the latter half of the 2000s hit the retail sector very hard. Borders precarious number two big-box market position, along with its slow technology adoption rate, left it more exposed during the economic downturn.

Borders SM 6751 Strip Avenue Northwest North Canton OH 6 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front view), 6751 Strip Avenue Northwest, North Canton, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Furthermore, having extensively encouraged lounging and browsing, the big-box bookstores were beginning to discover some of the unintended consequences of their decisions.

Borders SA Lake Street at Boston Turnpike Shrewsbury MA 2 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front 3/4 view), Lake Street at Boston Turnpike, Shrewsbury, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

Many Borders locations featured cafés, which resulted in large numbers of customers simply browsing, hanging out, drinking coffee, perusing the merchandise and leaving without a purchase. Effectively transformed into de facto libraries, showrooming would effectively begin to erode Borders sales as customers could examine the books in-store, and buy them online from a lower-cost internet provider.

Borders SM 915 Hartford Turnpike Waterford Commons Waterford CT 2 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front view), 915 Hartford Turnpike, Waterford, Connecticut (source: maps.google.com)

The demise of Borders hardly spells the end for books, or book superstores. However, the Borders rise and fall story should serve as a warning sign to other big-box book retailers.

Borders SM 281 Daniel Webster Highway Nashua NH 2 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front view), 281 Daniel Webster Highway, Nashua, New Hampshire (source: maps.google.com)

Barnes & Noble, the number one book superstore, will need to address and resolve issues such as excessive, duplicate and under-performing stores, technological shifts, low margins and discounting, and fierce competition that plagued Borders. Perhaps a sign that some seismic shifts are afoot, few Borders locations have drawn interest from competitors.

DSC13336 Borders - B&N 600 Pine Street Seattle WA

Barnes & Noble, 600 Pine Street, Seattle, Washington

Closing outlets as leases expire, pushing deeper into e-books, and reworking the product mix to focus on higher profit margin non-book items, such as home goods, educational toys and games, could dramatically reshape the future of big-box bookstores.

4-Unconcerned with uniformity

In many business endeavours, building a national, or global, brand demands repeated impressions of a coordinated, cohesive message. However, Borders Books and Music, in its national retail build-out campaign glossed over this particular chapter, and bewilderingly rarely attempted to apply one singular over-arching universal design language to its store design.

Borders SM 3309 Esperanza Crossing Austin TX 1 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front 3/4 view), 3309 Esperanza Crossing, Austin, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

Fortunately for its remaining competitors, many of Borders former stores can easily be converted and re-utilized by other retailers with minimal improvements or modifications.

Borders SA 8015 South Yale Avenue Tulsa OK 1 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front 3/4 view), 8015 South Yale Avenue, Tulsa, Oklahoma (source: maps.google.com)

Borders SA 8015 South Yale Avenue Tulsa OK 3 THE FRESH MARKET https___maps.google

The Fresh Market (Front 3/4 view), 8015 South Yale Avenue, Tulsa, Oklahoma (source: maps.google.com)

Borders SM 1751 Walnut Street Cary NC 3 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front view), 1751 Walnut Street, Cary, North Carolina (source: maps.google.com)

Borders SM 1751 Walnut Street Cary NC 1 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Side 3/4 view), 1751 Walnut Street, Cary, North Carolina (source: maps.google.com)

Borders SM 1751 Walnut Street Cary NC 4 REI https___maps.google

REI (Side 3/4 view), 1751 Walnut Street, Cary, North Carolina (source: maps.google.com)

Borders SM 6 Wayside Road Burlington MA 1 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front 3/4 view), 6 Wayside Road, Burlington, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

Borders SM 6 Wayside Road Burlington MA 2 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front view), 6 Wayside Road, Burlington, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

Borders SM 6 Wayside Road Burlington MA 5 ETHAN ALLEN https___maps.google

Ethan Allen (Front 3/4 view), 6 Wayside Road, Burlington, Massachusetts (source: maps.google.com)

Unfazed by vertical or horizontal separations, Borders Books and Music stores could occupy single floor locations as easily as multi-storey buildings. In one instance, parting the floorplan into different sections, in the other, dedicating entire floors to particular genres.

Borders SA 2210 West 95th Street Chicago IL 1 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front 3/4 view), 2210 West 95th Street, Chicago, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)

Some Borders stores featured circular turret towers that would jut out of the corner of the façade, physically embodying some of the idyllic romance and innocence of children’s books filled with dragons, castles and fairy tale happily-ever-after endings.

Borders SM 931 Capital Centre Boulevard Upper Marlboro MD 6 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front 3/4 view), 931 Capital Centre Boulevard, Upper Marlboro, Maryland (source: maps.google.com)

Alternatively, a curved arch parapet wall might adorn the front façade. However, this particular design element can be seen ad nauseam across numerous malls across the country, and could hardly be considered distinct or instantly assignable to Borders.

Borders SM 6601 Edwardsville Crossing Drive Edwardsville IL 1 BAM https___maps.google

Books-A-Million (BAM) – FORMER Borders (Front 3/4 view), 6601 Edwardsville Crossing Drive, Edwardsville, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)

At times, sedate and more traditional aesthetics were in order.

Borders MS 5333 Wisconsin Avenue Northwest Washington DC 1 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front view), 5333 Wisconsin Avenue Northwest, Washington, District of Columbia (source: maps.google.com)

At other times, Borders stores embraced modern and current architectural trends with slick, seamless, and high-tech metal and glass exteriors.

Borders MS 1700 Maple Avenue Evanston IL 1 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front 3/4 view), 1700 Maple Avenue, Evanston, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)

It was not be uncommon to have a Borders Books and Music store located in a strip mall, enclosed mall, on a busy thoroughfare, on a traditional main street, or within a dedicated freestanding building.

Borders MS 1144 West Lake Street Oak Park IL 1

FORMER Borders (Front 3/4 view), 1144 West Lake Street, Oak Park, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)

Operating out of smaller buildings near residential areas, large suburban malls, or another building type, the individual stores seemed to accentuate a unique, divergent, non-repetitive, non-conformist brand message.

Borders SM 6151 Columbia Crossing Circle Columbia MD 3 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front view), 6151 Columbia Crossing Circle, Columbia, Maryland (source: maps.google.com)

However, multiple Borders stores remained indistinguishable from other retailers, often blending into the retail landscape amongst various other retailers. Nonetheless, the main/principal store entrance generally featured some form of architectural accent, awning, entrance canopy, colonnade, or arcade.

Borders SM 6151 Columbia Crossing Circle Columbia MD 2 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front view), 6151 Columbia Crossing Circle, Columbia, Maryland (source: maps.google.com)

Little adherence to a specified materials list resulted in Borders Books and Music stores clad in brick, stone, EIFS, metal siding, or a combination of materials. Additionally, Borders Books and Music seemed to lack a uniform colour scheme, or colour palette.

Borders MS 17141 Kercheval Avenue Grosse Pointe MI 1 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front view), 17141 Kercheval Avenue, Grosse Pointe, Michigan (source: maps.google.com)

The variations on the retail “vanilla box” would adopt the window allocation and design, strip, or punched, as dictated by the particular retail development. As a result, stores exhibited a greater or lesser degree of visibility, transparency, luminosity and opacity depending on the glazing quantity and distribution pattern.

Borders SM 76 Fort Eddy Road Concord NH Eddy Plaza Shopping Center 1 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front 3/4 view), 76 Fort Eddy Road, Concord, New Hampshire (source: maps.google.com)

Furthermore, another design element, window light shelves and awnings, were intimately tied to the window type, placement and apportionment.

Borders MS 700 New Hampshire Street Lawrence KS 3 https___maps.google

FORMER Borders (Front 3/4 view), 700 New Hampshire Street, Lawrence, Kansas (source: maps.google.com)

Even though, by chance or by design, the Borders Books and Music stores illustrated a proclivity towards locale-skewed design tendencies, it remains difficult to argue that a systemic absence of a reliable architectural identity, lacking a single repetitive design element, other than signage and typeface, could have enhanced or reinforced the Borders brand message.

5-A social role for bookstores

Some 40 years ago, Borders began as a small, personalized, independent bookstore in a Midwestern college town. Over its existence, the brand expanded from books into music and entertainment, and eventually retrenched back to books. Subsequently, the chain would retreat completely from its original business.

Management missteps, massive debt, long-term retail leases, ignoring the decline in music and DVD sales, outsourcing their website to Amazon.com, falling behind on technology, dismissing the emergence of electronic books, accrued to spectacularly damage the company’s sales, market position and business model (source: time.com, businessinsurance.org).

DSC13750 Borders - Mini Kobo reader

Mini Kobo e-Reader

In February 2011, Borders Group filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. By September 2011, Borders had shuttered all remaining stores, and ceased operations (source: businessinsurance.org, wikipedia.org, npr.org).

DSC13614 Borders - Powell's 1005 Burnside Street Portland OR

Powell’s Books (Partial Front 3/4 view), 1005 Burnside Street, Portland, Oregon

DSC13615 Borders - Powell's 1005 Burnside Street Portland OR

Powell’s Books (Partial Side 3/4 view), 1005 Burnside Street, Portland, Oregon

From humble beginnings, it had grown into an unmanageable, sprawling, commoditized, impersonal experience. The love, care, and attention for books that defined the Borders brand in the early years had been jettisoned along the way.

DSC13330 Borders - B&N 600 Pine Street Seattle WA

Book display shelves (seen from upper level), Barnes & Noble, 600 Pine Street, Seattle, Washington

In a serendipitous bit of irony, the demise of Borders may allow for the proliferation of smaller, independent, community-focused, local bookstores that can produce retail alchemy. Capturing the ephemeral and intangible qualities of the bookstores of yore by being that special place that can fulfill a social purpose that allows for discovery, escapism and discourse, whilst profitably selling books.

DSC13618 Borders - Powell's 1005 Burnside Street Portland OR

Book display shelves (First floor), Powell’s Books, 1005 Burnside Street, Portland, Oregon

One can imagine, new tales of eager readers, sitting on the floor, surrounded by stacks of books, nestled in cramped musty bookstores full of character and idiosyncrasies, could emerge from the downfall of one of the book superstore pioneers.

 

Disclosure:

All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.

1-Back to nature

As we enter into the later half of the summer, scores of adventurous, and not-so adventurous individuals and families alike will be venturing out into the great outdoors to rough it, head up to the cottage, commune with nature, and generally enjoy outdoor activities such as camping, fishing, hiking, backpacking, hunting, canoeing, and the like.

DSC01177 Outdoor Store Cottage on Lac Noir near Chemin des Faucons Nominingue QC

Cottage on Lac Noir near Chemin des Faucons, Nominingue, Québec

For some, finding a momentary refuge of down-time from the hustle and bustle of city life is a welcome and necessary break from the daily routine.

DSC11497 Outdoor Store Central Park viewed from Rockefeller Observation Deck NYC NY

Central Park viewed from Rockefeller Center Observation Deck, New York City, New York

Inversely, being in the great outdoors, in any and all season and climates, is simply a year-round way of life for others.

DSC08162 Outdoor Store Ice Fishing on Outaouais River near Hawkesbury ON

Ice Fishing on the Outaouais River near Hawkesbury, Ontario

As such, there is an ever-growing retail presence of stores that offer wares for those that wish to reconnect with, and enjoy nature.

2-Small, naturally

Once the domain of smaller local-focused stores and “pourvoiries”, the outdoor supply store marketplace was geared towards a core group that consisted of what one could sum up as rugged individualists, sportsmen, fishermen, outdoor enthusiasts and survivalists.

Catering to defined consumer groups, small communities and distinct geographical regions, the traditional outdoor supply stores typically offered a selection of hunting, fishing, and other outdoor gear. In order to prosper, these smaller stores had to develop a dedicated following of regular customers, often by stressing the value of knowledgeable experienced staff, as much if not more so, than providing the right equipment at the right price point at the right place.

DSC12634 Outdoor Store Depot du plein air 8267 Boulevard St-Laurent Montreal QC

Dépot du plein air, 8267 Boulevard St-Laurent, Montreal, Québec

Restricted by physical size, and limited in scope, the traditional outdoor supply stores had several markings of a small and limited industry. Difficulty in scaling, multiple small market players, no obvious market leader, and a narrow consumer retail market segment resulted in an industry dominated primarily by small, independent businesses.

Additionally, few of the retailers managed to develop a truly unique built-environment design presence.

DSC12643 Outdoor Store Le Baron 8601 Boulevard St-Laurent Montreal QC

Le Baron, 8601 Boulevard St-Laurent, Montreal, Québec

Uninspired, nondescript and indistinguishable from other retailers, outdoor supply stores routinely blend into the retail landscape amongst numerous similar storefronts. Inconceivably, it seems illogical that stores selling adventure-inspired goods and products could adopt such a tepid and muted aesthetic.

3-Logarithmic growth

However, changes were afoot as the small local market fixated stores began to experience the ascent of the destination-type outdoor supply “lifestyle” stores.

Growing out of smaller operations, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s Incorporated and Gander Mountain Company, Inc., now find themselves at the forefront of the large-format outdoor supply store phenomenon. Individually, each retailer generates in excess of a US$1.0 billion annually (source: wikipedia.org). Comprising three of the most popular large-format retailers specializing in hunting, fishing, camping, shooting, and related outdoor recreation merchandise in the United States, they collectively exert a dominance on the outdoor equipment supply marketplace.

Bass Pro Shops 1 Bass Pro Mills Drive Vaughan ON 1 https___maps.google

Bass Pro Shops (Front view), 1 Bass Pro Mills Drive, Vaughan, Ontario (source: maps.google.com)

Bass Pro Shops 1 Bass Pro Mills Drive Vaughan ON 2 https___maps.google

Bass Pro Shops (Side 3/4 view), 1 Bass Pro Mills Drive, Vaughan, Ontario (source: maps.google.com)

Cabelas 4550 King Avenue East Billings MT 1 https___maps.google

Cabela’s (Front view), 4550 King Avenue East, Billings, Montana (source: maps.google.com)

Cabelas 4550 King Avenue East Billings MT 2 https___maps.google

Cabela’s (Side 3/4 view), 4550 King Avenue East, Billings, Montana (source: maps.google.com)

DSC06268 Outdoor Store - Gander Mountain 5864 Carmenica Drive Cicero NY

Gander Mountain (Partial front view), 5864 Carmenica Drive, Cicero, New York

This market dominance also affords these retailers an opportunity to directly, and indirectly, influence and even dictate the marketplace.

Bass Pro Shops 18001 Bass Pro Drive Independence MO 1 https___maps.google

Bass Pro Shops, 18001 Bass Pro Drive, Independence, Missouri (source: maps.google.com)

Proposing grand, cavernous, massive stores, these retailers are aptly bringing the outdoors to the masses. Operating stores with building footprints in excess of 100,000 sq. ft, 200,000 sq. ft, and up to 300,000 sq. ft, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s Incorporated and Gander Mountain Company, Inc., cast long shadows on their competitors (source: wikipedia.org). The overwhelming scale of these stores simply dwarfs that of the traditional stores in size, as well as depth, and breadth of product offerings.

Bass Pro Shops 3629 Outdoor Sportsman Place Kodak TN 1 https___maps.google

Bass Pro Shops (Front 3/4 view),  3629 Outdoor Sportsman Place, Kodak, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Bass Pro Shops 3629 Outdoor Sportsman Place Kodak TN 3 https___maps.google

Bass Pro Shops (Rear 3/4 view),  3629 Outdoor Sportsman Place, Kodak, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Sited on large tracts of land, many large-format stores include earth berms, ponds and water features on site. When sited at mall locations, the stores tend to have anchor positions, exterior frontage and reasonably high visibility.

Bass Pro Shops 300 Cincinnati Mills Drive Cincinnati OH 2 https___maps.google

Bass Pro Shops (sire 3/4 view), 300 Cincinnati Mills Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Bass Pro Shops 3501 Paxton Street Harrisburg PA 2 https___maps.google

Bass Pro Shops (Front 3/4 view), 3501 Paxton Street, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google)

Additionally, having to accommodate trailers, boats, and the larger/heavier vehicles needed to tow them, parking spaces, turning radii and drive lanes generally tend to be on the larger and more generous end of the allowable vehicular circulation/traffic design spectrum.

Rather misplaced in the dense urban environment, these mega-stores populate the suburbs/exurbs, and the outer fringes of larger, denser cities.

Bass Pro Shops 7777 Victoria Gardens Lane Rancho Cucamonga CA 2 https___maps.google

Bass Pro Shops (Front 3/4 view), 7777 Victoria Gardens Lane, Rancho Cucamonga, California (source: maps.google.com)

Located within practical driving distances, these stores attract customers in from outlying areas, often times drawing in from denser and larger surrounding population poles.

4-Dramatic and thematic

All three large-format outdoor supply retailers share a similar theme to their building design, liberally applying wilderness/frontier design cues drawn from rugged/harsh, untamed, natural landscapes.

Influences are culled mainly from traditional log construction, log joinery details and frontier-era log houses/cabins and modern-era grandiose and luxurious log/timber-frame mountain vacation retreat lodge.

Bass Pro Shops 1356 Bass Pro Drive Manteca CA 2 https___maps.google

Bass Pro Shops (Front view), 1356 Bass Pro Drive, Manteca, California (source: maps.google.com)

Bass Pro Shops 1356 Bass Pro Drive Manteca CA 3 https___maps.google

Bass Pro Shops (Side 3/4 view), 1356 Bass Pro Drive, Manteca, California (source: maps.google.com)

Capitalizing on the imagery and majesty of the great outdoors, Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World and Cabela’s Incorporated’s large-format destination-type stores mimic expansive and opulent log lodges.

Cabelas 1 Cabela Drive Allen TX 1 https___maps.google

Cabela’s (Front 3/4 view), 1 Cabela Drive, Allen, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

Rich in texture and imparting iconic wilderness charm and symbolism, the heavily adorned front-facing log cabin replicas often include ornate wood detailing, rough sawn lumber, covered entries, dramatic roof lines, dormers and gables.

Bass Pro Shops 6112 West Grand Avenue Gurnee IL 1 https___maps.google

Bass Pro Shops (Front 3/4 view), 6112 West Grand Avenue, Gurnee, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)

Bass Pro Shops 6112 West Grand Avenue Gurnee IL 2 https___maps.google

Bass Pro Shops (Side 3/4 view), 6112 West Grand Avenue, Gurnee, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)

Cabelas 101 North Cabela Way Post Falls ID 1 https___maps.google

Cabela’s (Front view), 101 North Cabela Way, Post Falls, Idaho (source: maps.google.com)

Cabelas 101 North Cabela Way Post Falls ID 2 https___maps.google

Cabela’s (Side 3/4 view), 101 North Cabela Way, Post Falls, Idaho (source: maps.google.com)

Conversely, Gander Mountain Company, Inc. stores are a bit more subdued, proposing a simpler facade consisting of a lean-to roof structure with small gable. Exterior columns, wrapped to resemble large wooden columns, evocative of traditional post-and-beam construction, enhance the main entrance egress point.

DSC07168 Outdoor Store - Gander Mountain Salmon Run Mall Watertown NY

Gander Mountain (Front view), Salmon Run Mall, Watertown, New York

DSC07171 Outdoor Store - Gander Mountain Salmon Run Mall Watertown NY

Gander Mountain (Front close-up view), Salmon Run Mall, Watertown, New York

Generally, the bulk of the effort is concentrated on the front facade of the building, with the remaining sides rather bland in décor and enhancements.

Bass Pro Shops 323 Opry Mills Drive Nashville TN 1 https___maps.google

Bass Pro Shops (Front view), 323 Opry Mills Drive, Nashville, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Bass Pro Shops 323 Opry Mills Drive Nashville TN 2 https___maps.google

Bass Pro Shops (Side view), 323 Opry Mills Drive, Nashville, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Impressive in scale, the stores often also features other warm, natural and earthy materials such as brick and stone accents, woods, metal and glass in neutral tones and colours consistent with the wilderness theme.

Built as stand-alone buildings, or as an anchor tenant in a mall development project, the large-format outdoor supply stores convey an unmistakable design language that sets them clearly apart from other more pedestrian retail stores.

Bass Pro Shops 11550 Lakeridge Parkway Ashland VA 1 https___maps.google

Bass Pro Shops (Front 3/4 view), 11550 Lakeridge Parkway, Ashland, Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

Bass Pro Shops 11550 Lakeridge Parkway Ashland VA 2 https___maps.google

Bass Pro Shops (Rear 3/4 view), 11550 Lakeridge Parkway, Ashland, Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

Bass Pro Shops 20000 Bass Pro Drive Spanish Fort AL 3 https___maps.google

Bass Pro Shops (Front view), 20000 Bass Pro Drive, Spanish Fort, Alabama (source: maps.google)

Bass Pro Shops 20000 Bass Pro Drive Spanish Fort AL 2 https___maps.google

Bass Pro Shops (Front view), 20000 Bass Pro Drive, Spanish Fort, Alabama (source: maps.google)

Of note, as the natural landscapes vary from region to region, there exists some willingness to explore and expand the framework of the “wilderness/outdoors” design vocabulary. Not being overzealous in the application of a preset design ethos allows for some level of localization, while still achieving the desired brand look and feel.

Bass Pro Shops 4301 Legendary Drive Destin FL 1 https___maps.google

Bass Pro Shops (Front 3/4 view), 4301 Legendary Drive, Destin, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

Although the three outdoor supply store brands have elementally different built-environment design approaches, they all follow a similar “wilderness/outdoors” design direction.

5-Into the great wild open

From outside to inside, the obvious outdoors overtones continue through to the indoor décor. The displays combine an amalgam of colossal log and rock works, taxidermy mounts, museum-worthy wilderness/wildlife scenes, indoor water features, archery ranges, gun libraries and shooting ranges. Additionally, several Bass Pro Shops stores even include restaurants and bowling alleys.

DSC12655 Outdoor Store Bass Pro Shops gift cards

Bass Pro Shops gift cards with outdoors/wilderness inspired graphics

Authentic, realistic wildlife scenes/exhibits can be observed throughout the stores, recreating the outdoors, and presenting them in an approachable and immersive manner. The mystique of the outdoors on display, the store interiors quite successfully double as educational showcases and experiential living natural history pseudo-museums.

DSC00672 Outdoor Store Rest Area along State Route 37 Ogdensburg NY

View onto the St Lawrence River, Rest Area along State Route 37, Ogdensburg, New York

In an effort to localize the stores, honour the region’s great outdoor heritage and tie into to the specific ecosystem, taxidermy mounts and fish species are typically native and/or indigenous to the local area. Additionally, some indoor aquariums are so generous in size that they can be used to perform educational demonstrations in the proper use of baits.

Creatively transforming their stores into pseudo-museums that also act as tourist magnets, these brands have expanded their potential sphere of influence beyond their traditional market sub-sets of fishing, hunting, boating, atv, camping, hiking, backpacking, and outdoors enthusiasts, to a broader and more mainstream consumer retail market.

DSC00546 Outdoor Store Rest Area along Interstate 81 near Watertown NY

Fall foliage, Rest Area along Interstate 81 near Watertown, New York

Merging retailing, outdoor/wilderness education, conservation and entertainment, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s Incorporated and Gander Mountain Company, Inc., have grown from their humble small-scale beginnings to dramatically revolutionize the very essence of the outdoor supply store.

 

Disclosure:

All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.

1-Growth model

Although some debate still exists as to the exact details of the company founding, there is no debating that the Burger King brand has grown from its South Florida roots into a global presence.

As of December 31, 2013, Burger King was ranked as the second largest global fast food hamburger restaurant (FFHR) chain, with over 13,500 restaurants in over 95 countries and U.S. territories (source: bk.com).

DSC07939 - BK - Burger King Weston Road and Rowntree Dairy Road Vaughan ON

Burger King (custom design), front 3/4 view, Weston Road and Rowntree Dairy Road, Vaughan, Ontario

Ultimately, the company can trace its early days to the Jacksonville, Florida-based Insta-Burger King restaurant chain that began in 1953. When financial difficulties struck the Insta-Burger King chain, its two Miami-based franchisees purchased the company, tweaked components of the concept, focused on the flame-broiling process, and renamed the company to the shorter Burger King moniker (source: wikipedia.org, bk.com).

In those early days as today, Burger King has grown principally through the franchise model.

DSC10936 - BK - Burger King Rue Jean Talon Ouest and Boulevard Décarie Montreal QC

Burger King (custom design), side 3/4 view, Rue Jean Talon Ouest and Boulevard Décarie, Montréal, Québec

However, unlike other restaurant competitors, Burger King maintains a small and decreasing number of corporate-owned stores, having accelerated the shedding and re-franchising of stores in recent years.

2-Designed for suburbia

Massive growth of the fast-food burger restaurants in the United States followed in lockstep with the growth of the automobile and suburbia.

DSC06184 - BK - Burger King - 104 Elwood Davis Road  North Syracuse NY

Burger King, front 3/4 view, 104 Elwood Davis Road, North Syracuse, New York

As such, Burger King locations consist in large measure of suburban-set freestanding single-storey full service restaurant with seating, drive-thru window and adjacent parking area. Alternatively, the restaurant might be sited within a field of parking, surrounded on all sides by vehicle drive lanes, parking stalls, or queuing space.

DSC03930 - BK - Burger King Ogilvie Road and Blair Road Gloucester ON

Burger King (now closed), side 3/4 view, Ogilvie Road and Blair Road, Gloucester, Ontario

Adopting a basic rectilinear (square or rectangle) shape, visual interest and attention is focused on the ingress point, with the entry component generally projecting from the building plane, as a singular mass or bulge in the overall footprint.

DSC05915 - BK - Burger King Boulevard St-Joseph Gatineau QC

Burger King (now closed), front 3/4 view, Boulevard St-Joseph, Gatineau, Québec

The building is commonly flat, squat, and short. Additionally, the simple mansard roof capping off the building only accentuates the diminutive height. Generous roof overhangs extend on multiple sides, serving to conceal rooftop equipment from view and adding a traditional touch to the elevations.

DSC07600 - BK - Burger King 293 Britain Street Santee SC

Burger King, front 3/4 view, 293 Britain Street, Santee, South Carolina

Quite commonly, the entry component projects both in footprint and elevation, thus breaking the roof trend line by rising above the principal roof, and proposing a change in the general roof geometry. The double-height entry appendage, often finished off with a scalloped roof, adds some visual interest to uniformity of the main roof.

DSC06071 - BK - Burger King 314 Main Street East Hawkesbury ON

Burger King, front 3/4 view, 314 Main Street East, Hawkesbury, Ontario

DSC06073 - BK - Burger King 314 Main Street East Hawkesbury ON

Burger King, rear 3/4 view, 314 Main Street East, Hawkesbury, Ontario

Although the prototypical freestanding Burger King restaurant format is of the suburban variety, multiple urban and non-traditional locations examples can be found within the chain.

DSC05603 - BK - Burger King Rue Ste Catherine and Phillips Square Montreal QC

Burger King, front 3/4 view, Rue Ste Catherine and Phillips Square, Montréal, Québec

DSC10289 - BK - Burger King Rue Cremazie Est and Boulevard St-Laurent Montreal QC

Burger King, front 3/4 view, Rue Crémazie Est and Boulevard St-Laurent, Montréal, Québec

Nonetheless, the pervasive traditionally suburban freestanding restaurant had come to predominantly epitomize the Burger King brand in the twilight of the last millennium.

3-Green initiatives

After the “Burger Wars” of the early to mid-1980s, a near 20-year period of continued under-investment in the brand followed throughout the ownership by Pillsbury, Grand Metropolitan plc and Diageo plc (source: wikipedia.org, bk.com). As such, many of the restaurants had grown tired and stale.

DSC09566 - BK - FORMER - Oswego Road near Vine Liverpool NY

Burger King (now closed), front 3/4 view, Oswego Road near Vine, Liverpool, New York

In 2002, a group of investment firms led by TPG Capital purchased the Burger King brand from Diageo plc, and quickly moved to revitalize and reorganize the company (source: wikipedia.org, bk.com).

New, smaller restaurant designs that sought to reduce average building costs were introduced in April 2005 (source: morganstanley.com). As a follow-up, around fiscal 2008, Burger King launched the “ROC” (Return On Capital) prototype, which was then hailed as both energy efficient and a lower cost remodel effort (source: online.barrons.com). The “ROC” prototype proposed a smaller footprint, reduced material and utility costs, increased labour efficiencies, along with a more efficient flexible batch broiler (FBB) and new refrigeration equipment (source: qsrweb.com, Burger King CR Report).

Over the years, many franchisees had put off remodels to existing stores due to their expense and perceived marginal increase in store profitability. Not surprisingly, more than 15% of franchise stores were over 20 years old when the “ROC” initiative launched in 2008 (source: online.barrons.com). As such, Burger King had hoped that the “ROC” design would encourage franchisees to take the leap and remodel their restaurants.

BK - Burger King 762 West Coshocton Street Johnston OH 1 https___maps.google

Burger King, front 3/4 view, 762 West Coshocton Street, Johnston, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

The ROC design added height and grandeur to previously short and stout buildings with tower elements at doors and drive-thru windows.

BK - Burger King State Route 161 and Karl Road Columbus OH 5 https___maps.google

Burger King, side 3/4 view, State Route 161 and Karl Road, Columbus, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

The exterior cladding consisted of a combination of brick, two-tone/multi-coloured brick, stone veneers, along with stucco, EIFS, red tile and pre-finished metal elements.

BK - Burger King 840 West Army Trail Carol Stream IL 4 https___maps.google

Burger King, side 3/4 view, 840 West Army Trail, Carol Stream, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)

Parapet towers, punched window openings with individualized metal awnings, interrupted/segmented canopy overhangs, metal coping, and red-coloured LED illuminated parapet bands increased visual interest by adding rhythm and articulation to the elevations and facade.

The “ROC” prototype spawned multiple variations, which themselves were further refined, modified and augmented. As individual franchisees selected in an à-la-carte fashion which “ROC” elements to integrate into their particular re-image project, the Burger King restaurants progressively began to shed their traditional look for a modern interpretation.

4-Upscale intentions

On the heels of the “ROC” reception, Burger King would go one step further and attempt to build upon the improvements that the “ROC” concepts brought forward.

DSC07350 - BK - Burger King 5556 North Federal Highway Fort Lauderdale FL

Burger King, side 3/4 view, 5556 North Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

In October 2009, then Burger King CEO John Chidsey, unveiled a massive global plan to remodel all Burger King restaurants to the “20/20” design (source: burgerbusiness.com, qsrweb.com, boston.com, huffingtonpost.com, can-restaurantnews.com). In development since October 2007, and tested in Europe, Latin America, Canada and in some U.S. locations, the contemporary and edgy “20/20” concept was the vision of the restaurant of the future (source: qsrweb.com, burgerbusiness.com, interbranddesignforum.com ). Scalable and adaptable to any type of building footprint, “20/20” was going to lead the way forward.

BK - Burger King 8523 Spring Cypress Road Spring TX 2 https___maps.google

Burger King, front 3/4 view, 8523 Spring Cypress Road, Spring, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

Utilizing warm and welcoming elements, the “grill-centric” design draws inspiration from Burger King’s signature flame-broiling, cooking process and brings it “to life through bold colors, textures, imagery and text.” (source: qsrweb.com).

Interior materials, such as corrugated metal finishes, exposed brick walls, black accents, ceramic tile, hardwood-like floors, exposed concrete, results in a modern industrial-inspired aesthetic (source: qsrweb.com, can-restaurantnews.com). Fixtures and equipment include modern hanging lamps, rotating red flame chandeliers, a large flat-screen television, table-side touchscreen ordering menus, saucer shaped ceiling element, and new liquid crystal display (LCD) menu boards (source: qsrweb.com, gizmodo.com, abcnews.com). Refreshed seating options now include bar-seating, booths and chairs. Furthermore, the interior décor leans towards earthy colours, such as deep red and beige.

The contemporary, industrial-inspired, theme carries through from the interior to the exterior. However, a black, red and tan colour scheme punctuates the exterior.

DSC09528 - BK - Burger King 4035 Route 31 Clay NY

Burger King, front 3/4 view, 4035 Route 31, Clay, New York

DSC09530 - BK - Burger King 4035 Route 31 Clay NY

Burger King, partial side 3/4 view, 4035 Route 31, Clay, New York

Revised exterior design includes brick cladding, bold black towers, “window” eyebrow elements and pre-finished metal awnings with sloped roofs or cable tie-backs.

DSC11261 - BK - Burger King 290 Main Street Binghamton NY

Burger King, front entrance view, 290 Main Street, Binghamton, New York

The drive-thru component is accentuated by surround bump and “archons” to add articulation to the building footprint and extend the new branded experience to drive-thru customers.

DSC11270 - BK - Burger King 290 Main Street Binghamton NY

Burger King, drive-thru 3/4 view, 290 Main Street, Binghamton, New York

The design favours a flat roof with high parapet configuration with metal copings clad with a lighted red LED parapet edge trim. Conceptually mimicking grill flames, the illuminated parapets are meant to allude to the flame broiled process (source: qsrweb.com, justiceholdingsltd.com).

Striving to make Burger King a more inviting place to sit down, rather than just a drive-thru or quick meal option, the “20/20” design attempts to merge an upscale casual dining experience with the speed and convenience of a fast-food hamburger restaurant (FFHR).

5-“20/20″ vision blurred

Anticipating strong adopting and implementation of the “20/20” design worldwide, Burger King had forecasted more than 200 re-imaged restaurants by the end of June 2010 (source: qsrweb.com). However, at a cost of $500,000 for “20/20” remodels, many franchisees hesitated.

Lack of uptake by franchisees for the expensive remodel has led Burger King to scale back its rollout plan. In fact, with only 52 corporate-owned stores, Burger King is effectively 100% franchise owned, and dependent on selling franchisees on the merits of the design concept (source: bk.com, morganstanley.com). A stated goal of 40% re-imaged restaurants by 2015, North American adoption of the “20/20” design stood at roughly 30% as of December 31, 2013 (source: bk.com). Even though the rollout has been slow, corporate commitment to the “20/20” image remains.

In fact, patchwork designs that bring in some of the key elements of the “20/20” design into the existing building vocabulary can be observed. Changes such as mansard roofs interrupted by high parapets, grey coloured standing seam metal roofing, drive-thru headwall bump outs, new black and tan colour scheme, new signage, and the illuminated light bar denote attempts to integrate the primary components of the “20/20” design into existing locations at a lower cost.

DSC09574 - BK- Burger King - 732 Canton Street Ogdensburg NY

Burger King, drive-thru 3/4 view, 732 Canton Street, Ogdensburg, New York

DSC09575 - BK- Burger King - 732 Canton Street Ogdensburg NY

Burger King, entrance side view, 732 Canton Street, Ogdensburg, New York

However, ad hoc, uneven application, in a bid to save face and salvage the “20/20” design, will potentially serve to further dilute the potential value and benefits that might result from a consistent, cohesive design execution.

Already, the retail landscape is littered with numerous buildings whose form factors make them instantly recognizable as former Burger King locations.

DSC09251 - BK - FORMER - Snap Fitness 2901 Rue Laurier Rockland ON

Snap Fitness, front 3/4 view, 2901 Rue Laurier, Rockland, Ontario

DSC07153 - BK - FORMER - Bartel Road and Route 11 Brewerton NY

Burger King (now closed), side 3/4 view, Bartel Road and Route 11, Brewerton, New York

DSC07515 - BK - FORMER - Burger Fi 4343 North Ocean Drive Lauderdale-by-the-Sea FL

BurgerFi, side 3/4 view, 4343 North Ocean Drive, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida

DSC08461 - BK - FORMER - Malibu Restaurant West 662 Wonderland Road London ON

Malibu Restaurant, side 3/4 view, West 662 Wonderland Road, London, Ontario

Notwithstanding, Burger King needs a momentous jolt to revive sagging sales, and regain its number two position in the U.S. market. After numerous years of top-down neglect as the competition actively updated their brands, the perennial second place to category leader McDonald’s, Burger King now trails behind Wendy’s in terms of same store sales (source: wikipedia.org). Ironically, as it attempts to re-launch its image and store design, Burger King must contend with its self-inflicted wounds that have caused significant reticence and apprehension from its most ardent fans, its own franchisees.

 

Disclosure:

All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.

1-Organizing system needed

One of the axioms of vehicle ownership is that, no matter the model, make or vintage, servicing, maintenance work and component replacement will eventually be required to keep it performing optimally. For many retail consumers, such servicing work is the extent of their relationship and exposure to NAPA brand.

DSC12436 NAPA NAPA AutoPro 103 Rue St-Jean Baptiste Est Rigaud QC CA

NAPA AutoPro service center, right 3/4 view, Rue St-Jean Baptiste Est, Rigaud, Québec, Canada

Unlike more consumer-oriented automotive aftermarket supply brands such as AutoZone or Advance Auto Parts that focus mainly on the Do-It-Yourself market, NAPA Auto Parts focuses on both retail and commercial markets, having built a premier supplier status with professional repair shops across the United States and abroad.

DSC07124 NAPA Autozone West Taft Road Syracuse NY

AutoZone, front 3/4 view,  West Taft Road, Syracuse, New York

DSC09394 NAPA Advance Auto Parts Route 11 Mattydale NY

Advance Auto Parts, right 3/4 view, Route 11, Mattydale, New York

The automotive aftermarket parts space is a wide field of various large and small, simple and complex products, with inventories that consist of everything from tail lights to transmissions.

Seeking to address the growing need for an automotive parts distribution system in the United Stated, NAPA (National Automotive Parts Association), a voluntary trade association, was founded in 1925 (source: NAPA Annual Report 2013). In order to continue to respond to this ever-growing demand, NAPA Auto Parts keeps tabs on over 400,000 parts, supplied through approximately 6000 stores across 46 States, of which approximately 1100 are corporate controlled, and 64 distribution centers in the United States (source: mynapa.com/NAPA Annual Report 2013). As SKUs (Stock Keeping Units) turn over at varying rates, and new vehicles and parts become available, having the right parts in stock and getting them to professional customers quickly is becoming an infinitely more difficult and demanding task.

2-Organic growth

Nearing the century mark is a testament to the NAPA brand and the marketplace reputation that it has secured. The marketplace for auto parts has grown dramatically with the widespread adoption of the personal automobile as the primary means of mobility for the masses. As automobile sales proliferated, so did the need for replacement parts.

NAPA NAPA 12 West Howard Street Colfax IA 2 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, West Howard Street, Colfax, Iowa (source: maps.google.com)

The brand grew organically with the burgeoning auto industry, habitually adding partner retailers to the NAPA system. A consequence of this uneven growth resulted in a patchwork of stores that bore little resemblance to one another, and more to their surroundings.

NAPA NAPA 108 Bennett Avenue Webster Springs WV 2 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, rear 3/4 view, Bennett Avenue, Webster Springs, West Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

The architecture was more vernacular/local than national/global. The stores served their local community and integrated into their neighbourhoods.

However, some initial retail outposts show signs of age. Small, rustic, homely, and inefficient (space and energy), some of these smaller “local” stores adopted an aesthetic similar to the traditional neighbourhood main street country/general stores.

NAPA NAPA 51 South Main Street Nephi UT 3 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front view, South Main Street, Nephi, Utah (source: maps.google.com)

Stores located in the densely populated areas of cities and towns meant a more convenient location, expedient response time for parts deliveries, better and more frequent exposure to the brand and top-of-mind recognition.

NAPA NAPA 7025 Webster Road Cowen WV 2 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, left 3/4 view, Webster Road, Cowen, West Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

As the nation, counties and cities expanded over time, the population poles, those with higher densities ebbed, and relocated further away from traditional town centers into more urban, suburban, and exurban areas.

NAPA NAPA 98 West Main Street Sutton WV 2 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view West Main Street, Sutton, West Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

Additionally, retailing being a fickle thing, tastes can change rapidly.

Laden with stores several decades old in some cases, the NAPA brand does has a significant number of these types of legacy stores that would not, and could not, adhere to modern-day NAPA standards.

3-Sporting the team colours

The motley collection of NAPA Auto Parts stores of disparate shapes and configurations share one thing in common, they all root for the same team.

DSC12454 2885 Chamberland Street Rockland ON CA

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, Chamberland Street, Rockland, Ontario, Canada

Exterior and interior signage promotes the NAPA brand. Many stores are awash in the core NAPA brand colors, PANTONE Reflex Blue, 123 Yellow, and 186 Red (source: NAPA product sales training manual). These core colours are present in the logo and brand signage.

NAPA NAPA 10100 West 49th Avenue Wheat Ridge CO 6 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, West 49th Avenue, Wheat Ridge, Colorado (source: maps.google.com)

In many cases, the Reflex Blue is liberally applied to all exterior walls.

DSC12450 NAPA NAPA 514 Main Street Hawkesbury ON CA

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, Main Street, Hawkesbury, Ontario, Canada

In other cases, it is significantly more subdued, or barely registers. Instances where integrating into the surrounding character or design fabric is perceived as desirable, brand elements are often much less ostentatious.

NAPA NAPA 6802 Post Road North Kingston RI 1 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, Post Road North, Kingston, Rhode Island (source: maps.google.com)

NAPA NAPA 265 South Main Street Springville UT 2 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, South Main Street, Springville, Utah (source: maps.google.com)

Additionally, there exist several examples of building exteriors finished in a so-called “NAPA Grey”. Notwithstanding, only the blue, yellow and red are considered core NAPA colours.

DSC12498 NAPA NAPA 845 Industrial Road Ottawa ON CA

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, Industrial Road, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

NAPA NAPA 5117 E Independence Avenue Kansas MO 3 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, Eeat Independence Avenue, Kansas, Missouri (source: maps.google.com)

This somewhat clandestine and improvised approach to design is unique as the NAPA brand has less of a command-and-control, top-down all-encompassing uniform design directive. Unlike franchise or corporate owned stores, an overwhelming number of NAPA locations are independently-owned and operated stores, of which the proprietors participate within the NAPA system, sporting some or all of the team colours/insignia.

NAPA NAPA 303 South Main Street Coventry RI 2 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, South Main Street, Coventry, Rhode Island (source: maps.google.com)

NAPA NAPA 1321 Main Street West Warwick RI 4 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, left 3/4 view, Main Street West, Warwick, Rhode Island (source: maps.google.com)

Enjoying a heady 94% brand recognition, NAPA Auto Parts is one of top brands in the wholesale market (source: napaonline.com). Evidently, gaining the marketing muscle of a national brand and top of mind awareness is a boon to those participating within the NAPA system.

NAPA NAPA 29 North Locust Street Buckhannon WV 1 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, right side 3/4 view, North Locust Street, Buckhannon, West Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

Although faced with a more challenging task of regulating store design than other competitors within the industry, NAPA does strongly suggest preferred or idealized size, layout and general parameters when in comes to new from-the-ground-up stores.

4-Micro-warehousing

In more recent years, more standardization to leverage and maximize the value of the NAPA brand has crept into the system. Consequently, the store design has veered away from inconsistent and eccentric towards slightly more rigid and repetitive.

Guidelines suggest ideal stores have a minimum of 60′ of frontage, range from 5,000 S.F. to 7,000 S.F. including sales area and stockroom, be located on the main/ground floor, and also provide on-site parking for a minimum of 25 cars (source: mynapa.com). Although these guidelines establish a working outline, they do not however dictate design in any thorough manner, as numerous items such as building shape, height, depth, width, floor count, site access, entry/egress, building orientation, to name just a few are left to the individual operator and their design team.

NAPA NAPA 15 Valley Road Middletown RI 4 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, Valley Road, Middletown, Rhode Island (source: maps.google.com)

Nonetheless, the auto parts supply business does place some constraints on certain building formats. A list of favourable criteria would certainly include items such as main floor/single floor building/retail space, access to a loading dock/receiving area, ample parking for customers, distinct/separate parking spaces for delivery vehicles, easy street access, high visibility sites and main/arterial street access to rapidly expedite parts to commercial clients.

NAPA NAPA 201 East 1st Street Ankeny IA 2 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, East 1st Street, Ankeny, Iowa (source: maps.google.com)

Unsurprisingly, NAPA Auto Parts stores have a predilection for small footprint, squat, low-rise, uncomplicated, unadorned, windowless buildings with simple/basic linear geometries.

NAPA NAPA 240 West Agate Avenue Granby CO 2 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, West Agate Avenue, Granby, Colorado (source: maps.google.com)

Acting as micro-warehouses, the stores benefit heavily from square or rectangular geometries that function best with linear rows of high-density racking. Divided between retail and warehousing functions, freestanding buildings tend to have a demonstrated gradient of opaqueness moving from the retail to warehouse portions.

DSC09470 NAPA NAPA Route 11 Syracuse NY

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view,  Route 11, Syracuse, New York

The front portion of the store, which serves the retail component, typically has a high incidence of glass and two-way visibility, emblematic of countless retail operations. Additionally, the vast majority of NAPA signage is located towards the front of the store.

NAPA NAPA 190 East 100 North Payson UT 3 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front view, East 100 North, Payson, Utah (source: maps.google.com)

The back of the store, which accommodates the warehouse and office/support spaces, has a tendency to be devoid of windows, surface relief, or memorable design features.

NAPA NAPA 1142 13th Street Nevada IA 4 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, left 3/4 view, 13th Street, Nevada, Iowa (source: maps.google.com)

The rudimentary approach to store aesthetic understates the complexity and planning underway inside. Excelling at operating a hub-and-spoke network, the NAPA Auto Parts stores are supported by strategically located expansive distribution centers that can supply the stores in a timely manner to respond to immediate client needs.

NAPA NAPA 411 N Midler Ave Syracuse NY 1 https___maps.google

NAPA Distribution Center, right 3/4 view, North Midler Avenue, Syracuse, New York (source: maps.google.com)

NAPA NAPA 201 Shawnee Avenue Kansas City MO 6 https___maps.google

NAPA Distribution Center, front 3/4 view, Shawnee Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri (source: maps.google.com)

Nonetheless, as the Internet has revolutionized other industries, the established NAPA distribution network will likely require continual refinement and improvements to fend off the competition from newer online retailers such as Amazon, Partsgeek and Rockauto. However, with a plethora of well-stoked micro-warehouses supported by distribution centers, the NAPA inventory and distribution system is well suited to deliver on the promise of having the right part in the right place at the right price, right now!

5-Driverless future

Much has been written in the media about the lacklustre appeal of the automobile with the younger generations. Unlike their parents and grandparents, Generation-Y and Millennials are not infatuated with cars, driving less, and many are not bothering to get a driver’s license (source: USAToday.com). Seemingly rejecting car culture en-masse for Internet connected technology; many are choosing to avoid the hassle, cost and environmental impact of car ownership, opting instead for other mobility modes such as walking, cycling, public transportation, and car-sharing programs.

DSC12509 NAPA Car2Go Service

Car2Go vehicle (Car Sharing Service), Montréal, Québec, Canada

DSC12517 NAPA Vrtucar Car Sharing Service

Vrtucar vehicle (Car Sharing Service), Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Additionally, advances in self-driving autonomous cars by Google have made the prospect of a driverless future perhaps much closer than once believed (source: cnbc.com).

The changing landscape for the automobile industry, perhaps more than competitive pressures, will have huge ramifications for businesses such as NAPA, which rely heavily on automobile sales and ownership to keep their business model viable.

NAPA NAPA 2919 South Duff Avenue Ames IA 4 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts,  front 3/4 view, South Duff Avenue, Ames, Iowa (source: maps.google.com)

The widespread acceptance of the automobile and the freedom that it promised lead to the ensuing development of a “car culture” in the United States that once seemed unshakeable, surviving fuel rationing, myriad legislations, environmental demonizing and skyrocketing fuel price spikes. That unflappable resolve may not translate to future generations that have shown more interest towards information technology than the automobile.

Perhaps, the sight of groups of men, clustered together, with their heads under the hood of the newest vehicle on the block might disappear altogether from the neighbourhood visual lexicon. Likewise, the bonding experience between father and son, in garages big and small, performing basic maintenance on the family car, or working together rebuilding a long-term project car.

Then again, the twilight for these oft-repeated scenes of a romanticized past might not be so near.

NAPA NAPA 475 State Fair Blvd Syracuse NY 1 https___maps.google

NAPA Auto Parts, front 3/4 view, State Fair Blvd, Syracuse, New York (source: maps.google.com)

If such were the case, it is likely, that much like back then, NAPA Auto Parts will continue to fulfill the auto parts needs of service professionals and owners, and feeding the passion of gearheads from their diverse and divergent collective of stores.

Happy Father’s Day! I miss you Dad.

 

Disclosure:

All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.

1-Launch 2.0

A new generation of buyers have come into their own in the intervening years since Fiat last sold vehicles in the United States and Canada. Many of these buyers were yet to be born, or far too young to remember the full details as to the travails that the brand, and it’s customers, had endured in the not-so distant past.

Fiat brand vehicle build quality in the 1970s and 80s was abysmal. As Charlie Hughes, former head of marketing at Fiat during that era, stated “We sold 100,000 Fiats in the U.S. in 1975, and we got 99,000 of them back for major problems” (source: tirebusiness.com). Plagued by problems, Fiat eventually pulled up stakes and abandoned the US/Canadian market completely in the early part of the 1980s.

Fiat Group dealership Piazza Riccardo Cattaneo, 9 Turin, Italy

Fiat Group dealership, Piazza Riccardo, Turin, Italy (source: maps.google.com)

Focusing on Europe, as well as strengthening its presence in emerging markets, Fiat’s vehicle quality steadily rose, and became more on par with other full-line automobile manufacturers.

Fiat 231 Colney Hatch Ln London UK

Fiat dealership, 231 Colney Hatch Lane, London, England (United Kingdom) (source: maps.google.com)

Fiat dealership Avenida Brasil, 8685 - Olario Rio de Janeiro Brazil

Fiat dealership, Avenida Brasil, 8685, Olario, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (source: maps.google.com)

In the wake of the global economic meltdown in 2007-2009, and the Federally orchestrated bankruptcies of both General Motors and Chrysler, Fiat would be presented with an opportunity to return to the large US auto market.

DSC11468 Fiat Chrysler Building New York City NY

Chrysler Building, New York City, New York

Acquiring an interest in Chrysler in 2009, by way of the US Federal bankruptcy proceedings, afforded Fiat a broad reaching, established dealer network with which to relaunch the Fiat brand in the United States and Canada. However, rather than pushing Fiat branded vehicles amongst other Chrysler company brands, these particular vehicles would be sold in separate and distinct showrooms.

2-Separate and special

As part of the US/Canada narrative for the re-introduction of the Fiat brand, the plan was to construct unique, stand-alone showrooms (“studios”) that would showcase, sell and service the brand’s unique vehicles.

DSC09499 Fiat Fiat 500s Driver's Circle Cicero NY

Fiat 500s on dealer lot

Establishing a distinct network of single brand studios was considered the ideal approach to appeal to a new type of buyer that was not particularly swayed by the Chrysler vehicle portfolio. Presumably, Chrysler’s pseudo-luxury pretensions, Dodge’s American muscle-car/boy-racer persona, or the rough and tumble Jeep brand did not resonate with Fiat intenders.

Fiat landmark 5765 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard Atlanta GA 3

Fiat dealership, Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, Atlanta, Georgia (source: maps.google.com)

Fiat’s targeted clientele was young, hip, urban, stylish, savvy and connected. Without doubt, these buyers would gravitate to “Italian design and style, with technology at an affordable price” (source: chryslerinthenews.com). As such, creating a “gallery-like” experience, whereby industrial-age pop art, such as the iconic 500, could be admired was part of the re-introduction roadmap. Wrapping the brand in an aura of Italian fashion and flair, the studios would also feature in-store cafés, and a myriad of factory-authorized, dealer-installed customization options.

Fiat 3903 Hecktown Road Easton PA

Fiat dealership (interior views), Hecktown Road, Easton, Pennsylvania (source: fiatusaoflehighvalley.com)

However, selling a single model, in the small car segment, which is notorious for slim profit margins, without the cachet of a luxury brand to command higher transactional price points, had many dealers balking at the prospect of undertaking significant new facility investments.

3-Corporate kinship

The uptake for new from-the-ground-up unique dealer facilities not materializing as quickly as the Fiat brand operatives had hoped, the original plan vis-à-vis stand-alone “studios” would be modified to allow some level of cross-pollination between the Chrysler and Fiat brand products within the same showroom space.

Fiat Capital Ott 2500 Palladium Dr no1200 Ottawa 2 https___maps.google

Fiat-CDJR dealership, Palladium Drive, Kanata, Ontario, Canada (source: maps.google.com)

Although the showroom would house all corporate brands, the Fiat brand would maintain a dedicated, brand-specific space, that would serve to provide the unique Italian-inspired experience. Meanwhile, the other Chrysler brands would be cast aside, sharing and competing for the remaining showroom space.

In some instances, the Fiat studio is grafted onto one of the ends of the existing dealership facade as a completely new space, or existing space is annexed from other brands, and transformed into dedicated Fiat space.

Fiat 2955 Chemin Cote de Liesse Montreal QC 6 https___maps.google

Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge dealership, Chemin Cote de Liesse, Montreal, Québec, Canada (source: maps.google.com)

Fiat 2955 Chemin Cote de Liesse Montreal QC 1 https___maps.google

CJDR-Fiat dealership, Chemin Cote de Liesse, Montreal, Québec, Canada (source: maps.google.com)

And in other cases, the Fiat showroom was simply wedged into where space allowed.

DSC09497 Fiat Fiat Dealership Driver's Circle Cicero NY

Fiat dealership, Driver’s Circle, Cicero, New York

Additionally, some dealerships seized the opportunity for renewal and incorporated the addition of their Fiat studio into the overall long-term dealership facility planning, electing to construct newer state-of-the-art digs to house all their brands.

DSC06508 Fiat Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Fiat Dealership Boul des Sources DDO QC

Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Fiat dealership, Boulevard des Sources, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Québec, Canada

DSC06510 Fiat NB Chrysler-Jeep-RAM-Dodge-Fiat Dealership Boul des Sources DDO QC

Proposed CJRD-Fiat dealership, Boulevard des Sources, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Québec, Canada

In all, the “studio” plan deviated far afield from the unique stand-alone brand mantra resulting in a broad range of built-environments that interpret the brand features and elements of the Fiat brand.

4-Unique brand elements

The nature of the automotive retailing business being intimately linked to easy grade level access, which facilitates access for getting vehicles from the exterior into the showroom, Fiat studios are low in height, boxy, rectilinear, and generally simple and straightforward regarding building footprint geometry.

Fiat 3737 South Memorial Drive Tulsa OK 2

Fiat dealership, South Memorial Drive, Tulsa, Oklahoma (source: maps.google.com)

The building’s primary facade tends to be composed of aluminum and glass storefront glazing systems, dominated by expansive glazing and punctuated with entry doors. Clear anodized aluminum finish is favoured as it is a more subtle finish that is less distracting and seamlessly integrates into the overall composition. Above the glazing, the exterior treatment is achieved by way of fiber cement panels, pre-fabricated elements such as ACP (aluminum composite panels), IMP (insulated metal panels) rendered in a complementary neutral colour.

DSC07946 Fiat Fiat Dealership Auto Park Circle Vaughan ON

Fiat dealership, Auto Park Circle, Vaughan, Ontario, Canada

Of particular note, the facade glazing does not wrap around the corner. Large end columns, at one or both ends of the facade as the case may be, create a rigid vertical break line in the facade. Creating large column corners gives the building a more assertive start/stop point along the horizontal axis, essentially book-ending the glazing, reinforcing a strong edge definition.

The upper portion of the column corners step out and cantilever away from the facade, thus adding visual mass to the upper portion of the columns. The lower portion appears cinched, therefore imbuing a sense of heft and relative girth at the higher strata. Bordered on both sides with column elements, clad red in colour that reprise the Fiat logo and branding material, the facade mimics a funnel, with the view and interest turned inwards towards the body of the building.

DSC07947 Fiat Fiat Dealership Auto Park Circle Vaughan ON

Fiat dealership, Auto Park Circle, Vaughan, Ontario, Canada

In some instances, possibly due to space constraints, conflicts with neighbouring buildings, or zoning/urban design norms, the upper stepped portion is turned inward, abruptly terminating the glazed transparent portion of the elevation.

Fiat 2050 Boston Post Road Larchmont NY 2

Fiat dealership, Boston Post Road, Larchmont, New York (source: maps.google.com)

Prominent seams within the column and headwall portion carve up the elevation of what might otherwise be a slab sided expanse of wall into a patchwork of pre-fabricated metallic panels. Although they provide minimal surface relief, the seams add a rhythmic pattern, symmetry and scale into the elevation.

DSC11779 Fiat Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Fiat Dealership Chemin Cote de Liesse Montreal QC

CJDR-Fiat dealership, Chemin Cote de Liesse, Montreal, Québec, Canada

The side elevations typically carry through the theme developed on the facade, large glass areas capped by neutral headwall areas and strong corner definition. The rear, typically the least adorned side of the building, is likely clad in concrete, CMU (concrete masonry units), cement plaster or some other durable, low-maintenance material.

Recognizable by the prominent red corner column element, the overall design seems to lack any radical or wholesale application of unbridled Italian design and dramatic flair. As a consequence of adhering to the proven built-environment formula, the Fiat studio experience, though recognizable, falls short on revolutionizing the form-follows-function automotive retailing/dealership architectural design landscape.

5-Brand maestro

During the relaunch of the brand in the United States and Canada, accompanied by the unrelenting brand/lifestyle association with the stylish re-incarnated 500, Fiat has managed to imbue the brand with some of their iconic model’s cheap and cheerful personality to go along with its fashionable Italian flair.

Although successfully generating interest with variants and special/limited edition models, the slowing-stabilizing-falling sales figures indicate that much of the initial euphoric early adopter purchasing wave might have passed for 500 aficionados (source: goodcarbadcar.net). In fact, it remains a relative oddity to see the diminutive 500, ideally suited for city driving and urban duties, on American roads dominated by larger vehicles, SUVs and pickup trucks.

DSC06646 Fiat Fiat 500 v Ford Econoline

Ford E-Series van and Fiat 500

Separate sales channels, dedicated “studio” spaces, brand specific environments, and a unique architectural identity can help build and maintain awareness, but may only carry a brand so far. As many who follow the automotive industry would concur, getting the product mix right matters profoundly.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles FCA brands

Various Fiat Chrysler Automobiles brands:

RAM, Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep, SRT (recently discontinued), Mopar,

Fiat, Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Ferrari, Lancia

In short, Fiat will need to continue to follow up with new, innovative models that will keep the brand relevant in the hearts, minds and wallets of the competitive American marketplace, or it is likely destined to become “just another brand” within the vast FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) brand portfolio.

Disclosure:

All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.

1-Cleaning ritual

For many that have migrated to the typified single-detached home suburbia, a trip to the laundromat is a long forgotten chore, replaced with the convenience of in-home washing appliances. However, the laundromat remains a fixture for large segments of the population that reside within the urban core, significant portions of the post-secondary level students, as well as those residing in large-scale housing blocks.

Referred colloquially under several aliases, coin laundry/wash, coin-operated/coin-op laundry, laundromats are self-serve laundry facilities where one washes and dries their clothes and assorted linens.

Laundromats - 24-7 US-LA-Kenner Laundry 3814 Williams Blvd

24-7 Coin Laundry, Williams Boulevard, Kenner, Louisiana (source: maps.google.com)

As the laundromat is not a place at which most customers want to spend an inordinate or excessive amount of their day, efficiency, availability and location convenience have long been important parts of the business.

2-Dictated design

Laundromats are typically located in commercial retail spaces that are conducive to the operation, slotting in amongst other retail enterprises with little more than a box-sign above the doors. Typical stores can range between 1,000sq ft to 5,000sq ft, with average store size settling in at around 2,260sq ft (source: coinlaundry.org). As always, the old real estate tenet of location, location, location rings true for the industry.

The best spaces are those that are located at street/sidewalk level or the first floor, thus limiting the distance customers have to lug their clothes hampers/baskets and cleaning supplies in and out. Furthermore, locations that provide ample parking within close proximity, or that provide relatively easy access to public transportation, are also quite common.

DSC102364 Laundromats - Buanderie CA-QC-Montreal Avenue des Pins and Rue Laval
Buanderie/Laundromat, Avenue des Pins and Rue Laval, Montreal, Québec, Canada

Striving to accommodate various customer schedules, many laundromats stress location and convenience, operating extended business hours, with some having operations 24hours a day. The major caveat to extended hours is the fact that most laundromats are unstaffed operations. Although many laundromats have security cameras, the lack of/limited staff oversight can result in some apprehension and personal safety/security concerns for numerous potential customers.

As such, visibility, from both inside and outside the establishment is primordial.

Thus, requisite large window storefronts, along with clear sightlines deep into the space, allow customers to quickly evaluate the situation at a glance, prior to proceeding with their task. In addition to affording customers the ability to rapidly spot open machines, high visibility and transparency equates to a greater sense of safety.

DSC12347 Laundromats - Spins Laundrymart CA-ON-Ottawa McArthur Road and Lafontaine

Spins Laundrymart, McArthur Road and Lafontaine, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Commonly exhibiting a racetrack-style interior design/layout, with single height top-load/front-load washing machines in the center of the space and higher double-stacked banks of dryers ringing the outer walls, the openness of the space is accentuated.

Equipment laid in rows, lined up back-to-back, results in main aisles and secondary aisles intersecting at right angles, thus reproducing a Cartesian grid system. Generous aisles that can accommodate the traffic flow of customers and carts easily can also augment the perception of openness.

Laundromats - Sea Coin Laundry US-WA-Kent  24437 Russell Rd

Sea Coin Laundry, Russell Road, Kent, Washington (source: maps.google.com)

Folding tables/counters located on the opposite side of washers/dryers moves customers away from the main aisles and frees up the equipment as well as the circulation spaces.

Formal seating areas, set up with tables, and magazine/newspaper racks, allow customers to retreat to a slightly less busy section of the laundromat, in order to wait on their wash/dry. Other amenities such as soda/snack/coffee vending machines, coin machine to change paper bills into quarters, dispensers for laundry soap/fabric softener, may also be located in such spaces. Somewhat more informal spaces, such as window ledges with chairs/stools may also be provided.

Many laundromats also provide cctv televisions, located at various spots within the space, to reduce the perceived wait-times and keep customers entertained and informed.

In sum, laundromat design is largely dictated by the need for an efficient workflow and unobstructed visibility.

3-Branding amongst independents

Lacking a dominant player, the self-serve coin-operated laundry industry is mostly composed of multiple small independent operators. Estimates suggest there are in excess of 35,000 laundries in the United States, with the business sector present and accounted for in numerous communities, large and small (source: coinlaundry.org). Fragmented, and without a singular rigid format, some regional operators, such as Central New York based Colonial Laundromats, have carved out a niche by branding their stores through a distinct and recognizable architectural identity.

DSC09552 Laundromats - Colonial US-NY-Clay Oswego Road near Route 31

Colonial Laundromat, Oswego Road near Route 31, Clay, New York

Applying in large part the ideal operational design layout consisting of a rectangular building footprint, long and narrow, with rows of dryers/washers laid out in a racetrack design, the exterior trade dress extends beyond simply blending into the landscape with the adjacent retail stores. In fact, in some cases, adjacent retail stores adopt the Colonial Laundromat building form factors.

DSC07120 Laundromats - Colonial US-NY-Syracuse Wolf Street

Colonial Laundromat, Wolf Street, Syracuse, New York

Many Colonial Laundromats locations are stand-alone, purpose-built locations, suited particularly to the business needs. Featuring large parking areas with limited travel distance, the façade offers expansive glass areas.

DSC09374 Laundromats - Colonial US-NY-Mattydale Route 11 near Matty Avenue

Colonial Laundromat, Route 11 near Matty Avenue, Mattydale, New York

The brick cladding adds a sense of mass to the small-scale one-storey building, helping to anchor the ends to the ground plane.

The overall design direction is skewed heavily towards Colonial Revival, which is itself an amalgam of Georgian, Federal and Dutch Colonial styles.

The simple geometric building forms, clad in brick, with white-painted wood trim and columns echo principles of both Georgian and Federal Colonial styles. White trimmed windows and casements add a sense of heritage charm. Punctual bay window projections echo a residential character. The steeply raked roof, pronounced gables, front-facing gable and the roof-mounted cupola, serve to further accentuate the residential perception.

DSC09467 Laundromats - Colonial US-NY-Syracuse Route 11 near Watson Road

Colonial Laundromat, Route 11 near Watson Road, Syracuse, New York

Implicit overtones of simplicity and wholesomeness are evident in the overall presentation that evokes several classical colonial design traits, injecting a feel-good blend of farm-house/country charm.

4-Emerging trends

However, other more daring operators are challenging the norms and recasting the mundane chore of domesticity with new design and innovations, rather than offering a serving of old-world charms.

Laundromats - BrainWash US-CA-San Francisco 1122 Folsom Street 2

BrainWash, Folsom Street, San Francisco, California (source: maps.google.com)

 

Laundromats - Laundromat Cafe Copenhagen-Denmark-15 Elmegade

Laundromat Café, 15 Elmegade, Copenhagen, Denmark (source: maps.google.com)

Focusing on delivering more than the regular or anticipated experience through unexpected services and/or design, “boutique laundromats” have emerged as a developing trend (source: complex.com). One area of particular interest is combining laundry with other non-traditional complementary services, such as a café with baristas or full-service bars/night clubs/lounges.

Laundromats - Wash and Coffee Munich Germany

Wash & Coffee, Munich, Germany (source: complexmag.ca)

Another route has been to add extra features such as kids play areas, video games, lounge areas, skylights, extra convenience such dry cleaning, drop-off/pick-up, wash-and-fold, or technology such as free wi-fi or reloadable swipe cards.

Laundromats - Suds Laundrette Melbourne Australia

Suds Laundrette, Melbourne, Australia (source: complexmag.ca)

Moreover, unexpected designs, ranging from colourful and cozy to sleek and modern, are also challenging the very notion of coin-op laundries.

Laundromats - Splash Spain-Barcalona 199 Carrer de la Diputació

Splash Laundry, 199 Carrer de la Diputació, Barcelona, Spain (source: maps.google.com)

An industry not recognized as being at the forefront of retail design innovation, technological advances and customer expectations will continue to drive operators to seek ways in which to meet new market demands.

5-Mature market

Although new designs and services are explored, the marketplace remains one of limited opportunities for growth, combined with significant up-front capital investments. Additionally, workflow patterns, circulation, and utilities (electrical, water, ventilation) requirements will continue to resist and provide push-back to many innovative design options that challenge the traditional yet efficient racetrack design.

As such, branding can become an essential differentiating factor between a thriving enterprise, and one that continues to struggle within a mature market.

As the industry changes, there are greater opportunities to transform the laundromat from some place dingy and drab that customers must endure into some place bright and attractive that they can enjoy, perhaps a little more.

 

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