IRDC 2009 Recap: Designers Do Dallas

Forty-plus speakers shared retail strategies and design ideas with an international audience.
Posted October 12, 2009
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The ninth annual International Retail Design Conference (IRDC), presented by VMSD, brought together hundreds of the industry’s most intrepid hunters (not hibernators) despite the downturn. Held at the venerable Adolphus Hotel in Dallas September 23-25, IRDC drew store designers, planners and visual merchandisers from across North America, as well as countries including Argentina, Australia, Italy, Switzerland and the Philippines.

Burt Tansky, president and ceo of The Neiman Marcus Group, kicked things off with a candid assessment of his market (“We are not trading down; once you acquire a taste for luxury, it remains”), followed by a lively, insightful – and surprisingly funny – Q&A session. The straight-talking dialogue set the tone for all three days of the event, during which 40-plus speakers traded retail strategies and ideas freely with attendees.

A special focus on international initiatives defined the Thursday morning program, beginning with the information-packed panel “Around the World in 60 Minutes,” in which experienced designers provided a snapshot of four key regions: Asia and India, Mexico and South America, Europe and Russia, and the Middle East. This general session was followed by breakout sessions that detailed exciting retail case studies in each of these regions.

Other program highlights:

• Jim Crawford, executive director of the Global Retail Executive Council, had attendees riveted with his presentation on “Tech Ideas for the Next Phase of Retail.” His dynamic session (which was repeated by popular demand) included examples of technological innovations already in use by retailers in other parts of the world. One takeaway lesson: “Everyone is a consumer segment of one,” Crawford said. “Retail environments need to address everyone as individuals.”

• Architects Robin Osler and Ron Pompei delivered a fascinating co-presentation on the design strategies that define Urban Outfitters Inc., winner of VMSD’s 2009 Peter Glen Retailer of the Year Award. Osler, Pompei and Anthropologie’s director of store design, James Smith, then fielded questions from the audience, offering a rare glimpse into the visual merchandising and design psyche of Urban and its widely respected brands.

• IRDC’s unique, topic-driven roundtable discussions over lunch were once again lauded by participants. VMSD advisory board members, comprising high-level executives in retail design across all sectors, led the intimate conversations on such topics as proving ROI for design, fixture trends, best practices in visual merchandising and more.

• Attendees were able to sample Dallas’ shopping and entertainment offerings through a walking tour of the Dallas Arts District (led by Callison RYA Studio’s local office), a trip to the historic Highland Park Village and IRDC’s Thursday night party at the downtown restaurant Iron Cactus. The Neiman Marcus flagship, two blocks from the event hotel, welcomed IRDC via its window displays and hosted our Wednesday night sponsor dinner at its gorgeous Zodiac restaurant.

This year’s Iron Merchant Challenge was all about “doing more with less,” and our four teams managed to create stunning mannequin displays in under an hour with little more than a glue gun, paint, tape and the contents of their “mystery boxes” – which, in one case, contained thousands of popsicle sticks. Timberland’s Bevan Bloemendaal regained the title of Iron Merchant with his team’s interpretation, which made great use of the team’s mystery material (one bolt of fabric) and the secret ingredient all teams were required to use (fresh yellow roses).

Overall, says Christian Davies, vp, creative director, for FRCH Design Worldwide, IRDC 2009 was notable for its candor, engaging content and spirit. “There was such an incredible sense of camaraderie,” he says. “This was the best thing I’ve done all year.”

For photos, speaker bios, copies of session presentations and first-look details about next year’s IRDC in Toronto (Oct. 13-15, 2010), sign up to become an IRDC Insider at

For one sponsor's recap of the event, click here