The North Face, San Leandro, Calif.

The new North Face store brings the adrenaline rush of the brand’s website to its bricks and mortar setting
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Posted September 28, 2011
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The website for The North Face (San Leandro, Calif.) reveals a compelling brand story, full of action graphics and videos and exhortations to “Get Outside,” “Explore” and “Find Your Endurance.”

So when Gensler (San Francisco) was invited to participate in a blind competition to redesign The North Face retail program, designers first looked at its stores – “the usual sea of fixtures,” according to principal and design director Michael Bodziner – and then went to thenorthface.com.

“There was a rich expression of the brand online that wasn’t coming through in the stores,” says Alison Carr, senior retail designer at Gensler. “The site features the athletes that The North Face sponsors, these amazing stories of human achievement about real people. The website had videos of people climbing, jumping, taking risks thousands of feet in the air. That energy and force – the adrenaline rush – was lacking in the stores.”

The visual translation of that “adrenaline rush” is on display in the new Gensler-designed store at The Fashion Mall at Keystone in Indianapolis. Here, a large, exciting, lifestyle graphics program shows The North Face’s athletes in motion. Video screens share the same breathtaking activities of the climbers, skiers, runners and snowboarders that can be found on the website.

Gensler took the brand tagline “Never Stop Exploring” and made it a literal interpretation for the store. “The materials and textures create a backdrop for product displays and reinforce the metaphor of customer journey as a path of discovery,” says Bodziner.

The journey begins at the mall store’s exterior entrance, topped with an angular metal sculpture meant to mimic mountain peaks and rock formations. A vertical red metal sign band references ski boot scrapers.

Guiding the journey inside the store are three towering “cairns,” which in the hiking vernacular are man-made piles of stones that serve as trail markers. These three towers – one made of wood, another of stone and a third of metal – create dynamic focal points for the store’s three core product categories: Outdoor, Action Sports and Performance.

Each cairn contains a flat-panel monitor displaying the video footage that makes The North Face website so compelling.

The use of natural and outdoor-related materials enhances the story, such as a granite-clad wall and service counter made of reclaimed wood. Even the fitting room in the center of the store is clad with a tent nylon fabric.

Mannequins are used extensively as another expression of The North Face personality. Strewn around the space, they model the brand’s gear and apparel in various positions, such as climbing, running and skiing.
One mannequin stands triumphantly on a platform above the selling floor, its arms raised in accomplishment. “It’s saying, ‘I’ll scale anything that’s not moving,’ ” says Bodziner, “ ‘and you can do it, too.’ ”

Project Suppliers

Retailer: The North Face, San Leandro, Calif. – Eli Petricka, brand experience director; Peggy Marcenaro, retail visual merchandise manager; Joni Jew, facilities & construction manager

Design and Architecture: Gensler, San Francisco – Michael Bodziner, principal, project director; Jeff Henry, principal, project design director; Alison Carr, senior designer; Shirley Lam, project architect; Maureen Boyer, construction manager

General Contractor: MacKenzie Keck Construction, Rockaway, N.J.

Outside Design Consultants: KPFF Consulting Engineers, San Francisco – Blake Dilsworth, structural engineer, principal; Glumac, San Francisco – Guil Orihuela, MEP engineer, project manager

Audio/Visual: Cisco, San Jose, Calif.; Touchbase, San Francisco; Muzak, Chicago; TNF, San Leandro, Calif.

Fixtures: Carlson Group, Chicago; Visplay, Allentown, Pa.

Flooring: Flor Modular Carpet Tiles, LaGrange, Ga.

Furniture: Smarin, Nice, France; Nelson Platform Bench in Shoe, Northbrook, Ill.

Environmental Graphics: Imagine Visual Service, Seattle

Mannequins/Forms: Mondo Mannequins, Hicksville, N.Y.

Props and Decoratives: Petzl America, Clearfield, Utah; Unit Five Deisgn, Toronto; San Francisco Millwork, San Francisco; American Soil, San Francisco; Sensitile Systems, Ypsilanti, Mich.

Signage and Graphics: Imagine Visual Service, Seattle; Brite Lite Neon Corporation, North Hollywood, Calif.

Lighting: Con-Tech Lighting, Northbrook, Ill.; Amerlux Global Lighting Solutions, Fairfield, N.J.; Lighting Management Inc., Sloatsburg, N.Y.

Wallcoverings and Materials: Kroll Furniture Inc., San Francisco; TNF, San Leandro, Calif.; ASN Natural Stone Inc., San Francisco