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DDI Magazine

An artist's escape

By Lauren Mitchell, Associate Editor
March 01, 2013

Photo: Mark A. Steele Photography Inc., Columbus, Ohio
For 60 years, Aaron Brothers has been a hub for artists, offering supplies, wall décor, framing solutions and ideas. A subsidiary of Irving, Texas-based craft retailer Michaels Stores Inc., the Coppell, Texas-based chain operates some 140 locations mainly in California, Texas and the western United States. Building on its heritage of cultivating creativity, the retailer recently introduced a new store design at two California locations in West
Hollywood and Woodland Hills. At these new prototype stores, Aaron Brothers not only provides artists with the necessary tools, but also aims to inspire, inviting customers into a loft-style space designed to celebrate the creative process.

When Aaron Brothers decided to update its look, the retailer enlisted Columbus, Ohio-based Chute Gerdeman to enhance its retail image. Challenged with the task of re-evaluating the brand in terms of business, product offering and retail environment, the firm set out to gain a better understanding of the retailer’s core customer. To do so, the team distributed an online survey, gathering information that it would later use to create a fresh face for the national retail art and framing brand.

“Through the research, we found that anyone who ‘creates’ feels like an artist, so we wanted to appeal to everyone—from the novice artist up to the professional,” says Elaine Evans, creative director for Chute Gerdeman. With an opportunity to expand and appeal to a wider customer base, the team looked for insight into what these artists, no matter their age, skill level or influence, had in common. “A trend was that [customers] had very active roles in art, whether it was home decorating or celebrating life events in a personal way, like scrapbooking,” Evans explains. “There was a need for creating a community for these creative people to get together.”

The Aaron Brothers store, the team decided, would be a space in which both experienced and amateur artists would feel at ease, and that would encourage a newer generation of creative-types to share their ideas. “Social networks, such as Instagram and Pinterest, are thriving based on the idea of sharing inspiration and capturing moments in time,” says Nicole Faccinto, Chute Gerdeman’s senior designer, visual strategy. “So, we wanted to create a community, a space where people could come in and actively express their ideas.”

Equipped with extensive research, Chute Gerdeman hit the ground running and developed a prototype design that is both inviting and inspiring, with a laid-back, industrial vibe and a uniquely collaborative shopping environment. With polished concrete floors, raw wood textures, fixtures on industrial-style castors and faux skylights, the space has the air of an urban artist’s loft—where customers are welcome to stay, explore and craft.

“The new design focuses on the customer’s in-store experience,” says Jim King, president of Aaron Brothers. “Every facet of the store’s design is centered on an interactive, innovative
customer experience.”

The customer journey begins in a central space dubbed the “inspiration alley,” which includes pivoting wall panels that highlight the variety of display and framing options available, with merchandise showcased below. “It’s really where you get the overall breadth of the space, with the loft-like cues and natural materials,” Faccinto says. There also are pallet-like fixtures that were created for promotional pieces and key items that lend a “just arrived” feel, she adds.

From there, three distinct store zones define and strengthen the brand’s core merchandise categories: art supplies, custom framing and do-it-yourself framing. A large, Southern California-inspired wall mural draws customers back into the space toward the Art District. The mural, which reinforces the sense of community that the design team hoped to establish, serves as a lively backdrop for the area’s Brush Bar, which features brushes that are merchandised according to paint type for ease of shopping.

This section of the store also houses the Art Bar, where brushes, tablets and paper are displayed, so that customers can explore different types of paint and painting techniques, as well as a Demo Bar, where local artists come in and share their talents. In addition, a Kids area is designated with large marquee-light letters and features fun details, such as little mannequin dolls scattered throughout the space. “There are a lot of energetic surprises within the space that really celebrate our concept of ‘the artist’s spirit’ and bring in some personality,” Faccinto says.

Encouraging a hands-on shopping experience, a second store zone dedicated to do-it-yourself framing features a Framing Workshop, where customers can bring in their artwork, select a mat and frame, and then assemble everything in-store.

A standout within this area is the “Use Our Wall” display, which features frames that Velcro on to a carpet wall, allowing customers to imagine and experiment with frame groupings. Worktables with industrial stools create an immersive, showroom ambience as well. “The idea is to allow people to explore how they would want to display their items back at home within this interactive workshop,” Faccinto says.

For customers looking for more guidance, a third store zone offers a Custom Framing Studio, which provides private consultation areas and a view of the framing experts at work. “Where there used to be a closed-off area for employees to go and do the professional framing, we’ve now put a window, so that you can actually see what they’re doing,” Evans says. This area also offers a
selection of ready-made frames displayed on a unique sliding panel system designed by Chute Gerdeman, which organizes frames by finish and size, and cleverly conceals inventory with its
innovative “shoulder-out” design.

Technology plays a key role in this section of the store as well, with video screens on the frame corner walls that offer inspiration, and areas where customers can take a picture of their artwork and see what it would look like with different color mats and various frame styles in real time. While waiting or digitally browsing the retailer’s selection of frames, customers can relax in a nearby lounge. This artfully designed space features white frames hung on the surrounding walls, creating a white-on-white textural effect.

“There was a lot of inspiration that we wanted to bring into the space, so that it always feels like something new when you come into the store,” Evans says. Aaron Brothers plans to continue to roll out this new store design, engaging artists of all kinds with its innovative environment.