These days, retail shopping must be an experience, designer Tara Miller says.
Online shopping is continuing to grow, drawing people away from brick and mortar stores. Miller, the owner of The Heartland Interior Design, says many business owners want to match their online presence with a unique experience at their physical locations.
“The sights, the sounds, the scents and the touch,” Miller said. “All these things bring it to the next level like a click can’t.”
It might involve presenting the products at Lulubee Artisanal Chocolates as miniature works of art or the creation of the “get sconed” message at Sweet Magnolias Bakery, which is known for the British delicacy.
“We did it on the floor in tile and people love putting their feet near it and posting that on social media,” Miller said. “We put a bold accent wall at the back of the space with their logo in the middle. It helps establish the brand as soon as you enter the space.”
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Miller says she could write a novel about all the touches involved at the chocolate store, from custom-made acrylic trays with slightly frosted bottoms to the hand-painted bonbons on the counter. The front of the store is a beautiful green, with a lot of natural elements.
She won the honor award from the International Interior Design Association for her work at Lulubee.
“Tara took my brand and brought it to life as a store front. Every detail was done with complete attention and intention,” owner Gaylene Steinbach said. “From our chocolate bar wall, to the caramel-swirled countertop, to featuring our bonbons in the best possible light. Her intention of her all along was to not only highlight our brand, but to let our product be the star of the show. ”
Creating a store experience isn’t a quick process. It involves lots of discussion with the owners to understand their goals.
Miller, a professional member of the IIDA and who is certified by the National Council for Interior Design, said her first step is turning the 3D environment of a store into an experience that incorporates the brand colors, the logo and the brand’s core values.
The second is to design a space that highlights the product and results in sales. The third is to create an experience that sets the brand apart from its competitors and keeps customers returning.
“It’s really a win-win-win,” she said “I think people like to take pictures of neat places they have fun in. You can create a space to feel exciting or engaging or calm and inviting.”
Sometimes it’s just bringing a store into the light. Hardy’s Coffee Company’s downtown location only had windows at the front of the store, leaving it dark and dreary at the back of the space.
Miller helped them select high-gloss finishes that would reflect light back into the space. Owner Autumn Pruitt said she was glad to be able to trust Miller’s decisions instead of second-guessing everything. Her husband, family, employees and friends of her helped her do the work themselves while the seating area was closed in the spring of 2020.
“This shop is located in a very large, historic building that has been renovated several times. The overall feel of the cafe was dated and a bit pieced together as we made some improvements over the years. It really needed an overhaul and the timeline of COVID restrictions made that possible,” Pruitt said. “We had some ideas of what we were hoping to accomplish, but Tara helped to talk through our ideas and bring her expertise to her in a way that made the space feel open, fresh, and intentional.”
Miller also designs home interiors. But as a small-business owner herself, Miller said she loves helping other people in the same situation achieve their goals.
“I feel like each one of our spaces is so one of a kind,” she said.