1-We aren’t (just) in Kansas anymore
Located in malls, shopping strips/power centres and street-facing addresses, Payless ShoeSource stores are common across the nation. The undisputed “specialty family footwear retailer” in the Western Hemisphere, Payless eclipses other national footwear/shoe retail chains, doubling or tripling rivals such as Famous Footwear, Footlocker, Journey’s, Shoe Show or The Shoe Dept in number of locations (source: paylesscorporate.com, famousfootwear.com, epsteen.com).
Now counting approximately 4500 stores, spread across over 30 countries, Payless has long since outgrown its Topeka, Kansas, home base (source: paylesscorporate.com, shopswindows.com, fastco.com).
Pioneering the self-serve shoe sales model in 1956, Payless has built a reputation for selling affordable, quality shoes, for the entire family (source: paylesscorporate.com). The brand caters to the widest market possible, serving a broad spectrum of socio-economic classes, with an array of footwear options at attainable price points.
The vast number of stores, each within a relatively short distance from another, equates to stores that encompass and overlap the same trade areas. As such, stores tend to be relatively small, averaging between 2,000 sq. ft. to 4,000 sq. ft. (source: icsc.org, epsteen.com, callison.com, vmsd.com). Alternatively, some larger locations can hover in 7,500 sq. ft. range (source: callison.com, bbrarch.com).
Inclusive, reserved, and definitely not ostentatious, Payless ShoeSource built its reputation and business on affording its customers the luxury of browsing, selecting and trying on their wares in a relaxed, comfortable, and low-pressure environment.
The end of summer vacation and the start of a new school year fast approaching, many families will once again be piling into shopping malls to stock up on back-to-school essentials. And chief among those essentials will be new clothes, and shoes.
Sandwiched between other retail tenants, and afforded only one elevation that can be modified by the leaseholder (tenant), a typical mall store must create its own unique persona amongst its immediate neighbours. A basic tenet of mall design, which seeks to carve up and divide the floor space into smaller, mostly rectilinear leasable spaces, often results in a series of long narrow boxes ganged together.
Martinsburg Mall leasing plan, Payless store, Unit 719, 800 Foxcroft Avenue, Martinsburg, West Virginia (source: shopmartinsburgmall.com)
Usually framed on 3 sides by tenant demising partitions (side walls and rear wall), or by a combination of tenant spaces and/or mall common areas such service/exit corridors, loading areas/zones, mechanical/support spaces, mall admin spaces, or other ancillary spaces, standard commercial retail units (CRUs) become largely similar to their immediate neighbours.
As such, a typical Payless mall store must invariably invest much, if not all, of its built-design capital into a single facade.
Front glazing is typically expansive, therefore maximizing the views into store, and providing a transparency to the storefront. Doors are commonly non-existent. A common design substitution sees a framed doorway/access point by which to control the circulation flows into, and out of the store.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front view, St-Laurent Centre, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Alternatively, the storefront may be absent altogether. Retractable panellized storefront systems, which open up the facade, create a free-flowing space that allows for shoppers to wander into and out of the store from the mall corridor. Nonetheless, structural columns may break up the facade, and inherently limit ingress/egress at certain points along the front elevation.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front 3/4 view, Place Alexis Nihon, Montréal, Québec, Canada
Amplifying the available window/storefront display area is essential when dealing with narrow but deep spaces. As such, additional structural elements such as built-up headwalls, window sills, or column furr-outs, that would otherwise constrict the storefront views, are generally rather limited.
Payless store signage is usually located above the entrance/doorway, or stretched across the upper banding element, from end to end of the storefront.
Although commercial retail units (CRUs) have a propensity to be long narrow boxes, many irregularly shaped spaces challenge that notion. Corner units, end units, angled units, units without right angles, corridor island units, and the like, constitute mall leaseable areas (MLA) of irregular, or undefined shapes. Not necessarily conducive to Payless’s rows of shoe racks layout, these irregular shaped spaces are less obviously less practical than rectilinear spaces. However, incidences of mall-based locations with slanted, truncated, diagonal, recessed, projected, or irregular storefronts can be found in the Payless store portfolio.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front 3/4 view, Eaton Centre, Montréal, Québec, Canada
Storefronts with obtuse angles result in a longer, more expansive facade, when calculated on a linear basis. Whether forming an inside, or outside corner, the end result for Payless often resemble a basic rectangular grid/store layout forced into a parallelogram.
The simple one elevation design approach of enclosed malls is mostly replicated when Payless takes their design language outdoors to street facing locations on arterial main streets/commercial streets/busy thoroughfare, and strip malls.
The basic, rectilinear, mall-derived, deep body with narrow facade format, is slightly reinterpreted.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front 3/4 view, 54 S 4th Avenue, Mount Vernon, New York (source: maps.google.com)
Neatly integrating into the landscape, many street facing stores propose a similar approach of large glass areas, glass doors, and signage across the window header.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front view, 730 Canal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana
Other locations benefit from supplemental exterior modifications, such as the addition of awnings to dress up the window areas.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front 3/4 view, Flatbush Avenue at E 32nd Street, Brooklyn, New York (source: maps.google.com)
Moreover, recessed doorways, window seats, and exposed columns add other dimensions of visual interest to a standard Payless facade.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front 3/4 view, 1529 3rd Avenue, Seattle, Washington
Each additional layer of detail and design interest moves the posts further away from the basic one-facade mall CRU. Yet, Payless stores in strip malls mostly revert back to the one elevation mantra.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, side 3/4 view, 4707 S Kedzie, Chicago, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)
Generally located in close proximity to larger retailers/mall anchors, such as JC Penney, Target, Kohls, Walmart, and apparel stores (women’s and children’s), such as Lane Bryant, and The Children’s Place, Payless exhibits a symbiotic, yet complementary relationship with its neighbours.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front view, 6714 Peach Street, Erie, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)
Lacking personalization or distinction, Payless stores blend into their surroundings, often adopting mall colours and design language.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front 3/4 view, Cortlandville Mall, 854 NY-13, Cortland, New York
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front 3/4 view, 3771 Oakwood Blvd, Hollywood, Florida (source: maps.google.com)
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front 3/4 view, 21868 Town Center Drive, Watertown, New York
Unfortunately, the blending in strategy leaves Payless ShoeSource largely dependent on signage alone to differentiate their stores.
4-Sidewalls? Who knew?
Due to circumstances, physical and lease constraints of mall based locations, Payless’s limited approach to built design might be easily excused or explained. However, even when afforded locations with opportunities for architectural embellishment or personalization beyond the front facade, Payless seems to forgo this potential and remain in its simple, forward facing wheelhouse.
Photo: Payless, front 3/4 view, 7301 E Admiral Place, Tulsa, Oklahoma (source: maps.google.com)
Steadfastly maintaining the front facade is everything approach, the side elevations are largely ignored, forgotten, or simply not even considered.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front 3/4 view, 850 Chancellor Park Drive, Charlotte, North Carolina (source: maps.google.com)
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, rear 3/4 view, 850 Chancellor Park Drive, Charlotte, North Carolina (source: maps.google.com)
In several instances, Payless seems to willingly strive to meld into the background, largely adhering to the design of the adjacent tenants. As though creating an integral whole, tableau or balanced composition, Payless proves largely ineffective in utilizing additional building faces to maximize its opportunities to differentiate and extend its design language to the sides or rear of the building.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, side 3/4 view, 2814 S 108th Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (source: maps.google.com)
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front view, 2814 S 108th Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (source: maps.google.com)
Although Payless dwarfs other national competitors in store numbers, it seems reticent to demonstrate its top standing among footwear retailers, as even its freestanding stores lack refinement, and visual interest. Most simply apply the limited front-facade design approach and ignore the rest of the elevations.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front view, 3215 SW Topeka Blvd, Topeka, Kansas (source: maps.google.com)
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, side 3/4 view, 3215 SW Topeka Blvd, Topeka, Kansas (source: maps.google.com)
Blockish, rectilinear, blunt, squat, Payless free-standing stores clearly highlight the narrow width and long side with very sharp, very deliberate, vertical edges. Depending on the orientation, the skinny front, exacerbated by the depth, often seems ill-proportioned and out of scale.
Photo: Payless, side 3/4 view, 1918 S Buckner Blvd, Dallas, Texas (source: maps.google.com)
Photo: Payless, front 3/4 view, 1918 S Buckner Blvd, Dallas, Texas (source: maps.google.com)
Some locations feature wrap around glazing that extends to the sides. However, the sides remain overwhelmingly blank, without windows, doors, reveals or noteworthy architectural features.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, side 3/4 view, 9368 US 49, Gulfport, Mississippi (source: maps.google.com)
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front 3/4 view, 9368 US 49, Gulfport, Mississippi (source: maps.google.com)
Attempts to add some flair along the roof line are created by a thick roof parapet/marquee which wraps the front façade with chamfered corners returning towards the side elevations.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front view, 2353 N Cherry Rd, Rock Hill, South Carolina (source: maps.google.com)
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, rear 3/4 view, 2353 N Cherry Rd, Rock Hill, South Carolina (source: maps.google.com)
Quite literally turning the convention on itself, several locations challenge the narrow yet deep configuration.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front 3/4 view, 1960 Barataria Blvd, Marrero, Louisiana (source: maps.google.com)
Rotating the floor plate, the long axis is utilised for the front and rear. Glazing is stretched across the facade, while the other sides remain largely ignored.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front 3/4 view, 3401 Aramingo Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, rear 3/4 view, 3401 Aramingo Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)
Even with all four sides with which to work, the one side mentality remains. Arguably, leaving large expanses of side walls blank and unadorned heightens the visual impact of the front facade, as all design and visual interest is then super concentrated on this elevation.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, side 3/4 view, 750 Hallandale Beach, Hallandale Beach, Florida (source: maps.google.com)
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front 3/4 view, 750 Hallandale Beach, Hallandale Beach, Florida (source: maps.google.com)
However, it is not as though the Payless design language does not translate well into multi-sided interpretations. Detrimental to the brand, the ingrained front facade focused design approach seems overly rigid, and falls short on maximizing the opportunities offered by a multiplicity of facades.
As disparate as the stores are from one another, it is difficult to decipher any semblance of brand standards at Payless. Arguably, the palette of brand colours is the glue that holds them all together.
Nonetheless, the palette of colours is expansive, and has evolved over the brand’s 50-plus year history.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource (circa 2007), side 3/4 view, 750 Hallandale Beach, Hallandale Beach, Florida (source: maps.google.com)
Photo: Payless ShoeSource (circa 2011), side 3/4 view, 750 Hallandale Beach, Hallandale Beach, Florida (source: maps.google.com)
Photo: Payless ShoeSource (circa 2014), side 3/4 view, 750 Hallandale Beach, Hallandale Beach, Florida (source: maps.google.com)
Colours used by Payless include their signature bold orange, gold, blue and black. These particular colours can commonly be found in use in the logo, awnings, and marquees. Gold, tan, brown, beige, white, and various shades of grey typically adorn the building elevations.
Nevertheless, Payless stores tend to integrate into their surroundings, generally coalescing amongst their retail neighbours. Largely indistinguishable when ganged together with other retailers, whether it be in malls, on commercial streets, at strip malls, and even at power centres, the brand is overwhelmingly dependent on its signage and array of colours to help it stand out from the crowd.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front 3/4 view, 2326 Industrial Road, Emporia, Kansas (source: maps.google.com)
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front 3/4 view, 1331 West Chester Pike, Havertown, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)
In recent years, Payless has embarked on a mission to move upscale and recast itself away from its lower-market, price-driven model into more of a value proposition. A brand reinvention, which coincided with the brand’s 50th anniversary, reviewed overall design, merchandising and graphics (source: paylesscorporate.com, callison.com, bbrarch.com, rebrand.com, vmsd.com). In doing so, the brand undertook to redesign their much of their logo, branding message and promotional materials, streamline their in-store communications, as well as rework store lighting, finishes and much of the furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E) (source: paylesscorporate.com, callison.com, bbrarch.com, rebrand.com, vmsd.com, underconsideration.com, fastco.com). Nonetheless, a progressive or phased roll-out of the redesign package has already resulted in a patchwork of older, and newer stores.
Photo: Payless ShoeSource, front 3/4 view, 3890 Innes Road, Unit 1, Orleans, Ontario, Canada
Reconciling this matter will likely remain a major thorn for Payless ShoeSource as their different formats have widely divergent architectural identities, with few design elements that can be referenced as truly brand specific. Limited in its ability to modify the immutable geometry or general shape of their stores, the shoestring approach to design of filling the void with brand colours will undoubtably be further stressed.
Disclaimer: All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.