Beyond the Core

On the supplier side of the retail design equation, it’s anything but business as usual.
Posted June 1, 2009

As always, June is our annual fixture issue. But this year, after the successful meeting-of-minds we coordinated for our Design Firm Roundtable in the February issue of VMSD (see  “Tracking the Storm”), we decided to try a similar approach with fixture manufacturers. We weren’t completely sure what to expect with this group – would they be tight-lipped? Too concerned about tipping their hand to the competition, or about painting too bleak a picture?

Nope. The six participating representatives from some of the larger fixture companies had plenty to say about trends, worries and opportunities in this most difficult of years. I won’t get into the details here (click  here  for that story), but here’s one interesting theme that emerged.

Everyone agreed that retailers are relying on their suppliers more and more as partners through the entire process of implementing a fixture program. But partnership and collaboration are taking on more importance among suppliers, as well. Fleetwood Fixtures’ much-talked-about booth at GlobalShop, which was presented in cooperation with Portland Color, Transformit and Architectural Systems, was a big visual clue to this trend. As Stacey Santoro, director of new business development for Fleetwood, explained during the roundtable: “In the past, retailers handled graphics on their own. But even before this real downturn happened, we had more and more clients say to us, ‘Could you provide graphics?’ or ‘Could you tell us who you would use?’ Fleetwood makes frames, but we’ve never done images and graphics. So we reached out to companies that do, and we found that clients were asking them if they could recommend someone to do frames.”

Robert Frackleton, president of the Association for Retail Environments (A.R.E.) and vp of Reeve Store Equipment, concurred, adding, “There have been a lot of us fixture manufacturers and POP people talking about how we can help each other during these times.”

The convivial conversation between these six competitors would appear to support that sentiment. Frackleton also offered a bit of historical perspective. “Thirty years ago, most fixture companies were craftsmen in a certain area: wood, metal, acrylic or whatever. And then we all decided that we had to become everything to everybody. So maybe we’re going back to a little bit of a hybrid,” he suggests, “where we each have a core competency, but we also work with one another to take care of the retailer.”

Not a bad idea. Retailers can use all the care and support they can get right now.