Derived from the Australian aboriginal word meaning “place of water,” Bunulu is a new venture for legacy retailer Bealls Inc. (Bradenton, Fla.), whose 101-year-old family-owned company manages namesakes Bealls Department Stores and Bealls Outlet Stores throughout the U.S.
Working closely with Bealls’ internal team, Charlotte, N.C.-based design firm Little Inc. aided in conceptualizing the new brand and its inaugural store’s layout. The completed space exudes a rhythmic, lively energy, nods to coastal living, and found and vintage decor elements.
At the façade, driftwood shutters and an angled entryway add interest. “There’s a sense of disruption as you walk in on a slight angle; not everything is completely symmetrical, because you’re dealing with nature,” says James Farnell, creative director, Little. “Nothing in nature is perfect.”
Inside, custom surfboards designed by local Florida surfer Juan Rodriguez are sprinkled throughout, while fixtures, set at an angle, house curated product. Weathered, whitewashed and multicolored wood planks line the perimeter walls, and vertical driftwood beams differentiate the area toward the center.
Near the customer service area, the rich aqua resin concrete floor resembles water; the remainder of the flooring comprises driftwood, evocative of a boardwalk. The driftwood and concrete flooring meet at an angle, replicating waves hitting the shoreline of a beach, according to Sean Pilon, divisional vp, Bunulu.
“One of the key challenges was creating a sense of familiarity with something that’s completely new. It’s a brand that’s never been in the marketplace before,” says Farnell. Some in-store details helped elevate the sense of authenticity, but forging a presence through social media was also a key strategy.
“It was intriguing to some for us to use this aboriginal word [as the name], and we wanted it to mean something to everybody,” Farnell explains. To start a dialogue among Bunulu customers, the retailer promoted its social media hashtag, #howdoyoubunulu. “It’s been a great way to watch the brand develop, to see how people make it their own, how they make it relevant to them … being able to share [customer] stories was a very important part of it.”
Other in-store elements helped connect the retailer to its surroundings. Meant to be “disruptive in the most positive way,” according to Pilon, the static 8-by-8-foot “Brand Wall” toward the center of the store (also in the brand’s other locations) features an aerial beach image facing the store’s entrance; the back of the wall houses localized art, specific to each Bunulu location. A graphic of the brand’s motto is also displayed: “Land. Water. Style.”
Also behind the wall, a “Deck Lounge” includes a flexible seating area where customers are encouraged to dwell or simply take in the environment. Even the dressing rooms have local beach photography backdrops that customers are encouraged to use for Instagram moments.
Another important section is dubbed the “Sandbar,” providing a flexible space for hosting in-store events and other promotions. “[It] isn’t intended for direct retail space, but rather a space that our customers can make their own,” says Pilon. “It’s equipped with iPads, charging stations; it’s a space that is intended to engage customers on a more personal level and create a sense of community.”
One of the biggest hurdles – not only inclusive to retail – was putting on the users’ shoes and seeing it from outside a design perspective. Luckily, several members of the design team were water enthusiasts, which helped fuel their passion for the project: “It’s kind of like Gonzo journalism, isn’t it?” Farnell says. “Like Hunter S. Thompson – the idea of throwing yourself into the lifestyle to appreciate it from the customers’ point-of-view.”
Bealls, Sarasota, Fla.
Design and Architecture
Little, Charlotte, N.C.; Multiple locations: Daniel Montano, creative director; James Farnell, creative director; Jason Richardson, senior designer, branding & environmental graphics; Jorge Sanclemente, designer, branding & environmental graphics; Nicole Rehfuss, senior retail visual strategist; Michael Magee, project manager
TLC Engineering for Architecture, Orlando, Fla.
McIntyre, Elwell & Strammer, Sarasota, Fla.
Pro-Motion Technology Group, Wixom, Mich.
Superior Building Supplies, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Mondo Mannequins, Hicksville, N.Y.
Nicewood Enterprises Inc., Williamsburg, Va.
Urban Evolutions, Appleton, Wis.
Jeffan International, Chattanooga, Tenn.
Mannington, Calhoun, Ga.
Daltile, Charlotte, N.C.
Surya, Calhoun, Ga.
Palecek, Richmond, Calif.
City Lighting Products Co., Charlotte, N.C.
Solais of PowerSecure Lighting, Stamford, Conn.
One World Surfboards, Sarasota, Fla.
Uttermost, Rocky Mount, Va.
New Growth Designs, Greenville, N.C.
Creative Sign Designs, Tampa
Stikwood, Sacramento, Calif.
Benjamin Moore, Montvale, N.J.
ScentAir, Charlotte, N.C.
Photography: Mark Steele, Columbus, Ohio