Checking Out: Claudia Cerchiara

The BHDP Architecture retail client leader and RDI international president turned an interest in childhood toys into a passion for merchandising and planning
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Posted December 14, 2017

When did you know you wanted to be an architect?
When I was seven or eight in Argentina, I got a set of My Bricks for Christmas – similar to Legos. I found I loved building things.

Anything surprise you once you got into the field?
Yes, that the profession itself was different from My Bricks. I wasn’t an intuitive designer. They gave us rules, and I followed the rules, but the best ideas were from the people who didn’t follow the rules.

When did you come to the U.S.?
I graduated from Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata in 1986 and got married the next year, and we moved to Orlando, Fla., right after. I spent a year with an estimating and painting company. That’s how I learned the system of inches and feet.

Critical for an architect in the U.S., no?
Yes. My first job was with an architect from Puerto Rico. We worked in a sort of ‘Spanglish.’ He would translate all of the architecture terminology from Spanish to English for me.

How did your involvement in retail come about?
In 1994, my then-husband was transferred to Cincinnati, where I found my first job in retail design in the Yellow Pages. I was hired as a project manager, creating construction documents for the designers.

And learning about retail.
They called me ‘the sponge,’ because I was trying to learn as much as I could as fast as I could and fell in love with planning and merchandising. I learned early on that merchandise is architecture [in retail design]. The buildings are not complete until you put in the merchandise. That’s been valuable at BHDP, which I joined in 2014.

And now you’re also the international president of RDI. What’s your vision?
We live in challenging times, and our association is trying to become an important source of information for our members. A lot of that involves integrating new technology, like figuring out a new way of conducting our meetings, using technology to join members from around the world.

What are your members’ challenges?
In the U.S., the major brands have saturated the market. You see the same brand in three different places, competing against itself. But unique brands are growing, because they offer customers something they don’t get online.  

Where did you grow up?
In Mar del Plata, a seaside city in eastern Argentina on the south Atlantic Ocean, about 250 miles south of Buenos Aires.

How big of a city?
We had nearly one million full-time residents, but when the summer came, we’d get two million tourists from throughout South America – mostly Argentinians. They’d come down in December, for the holidays, and stay through February.

That’s right, the seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere.
Yes, for half of my life I spent Christmas at the beach.