Top 50 Retail Design Firms

11th annual VM+SD survey reflects bullish outlook
Posted April 11, 2005

Looking for the most up-to-date list of top retail design firms? Check out VMSD's 2017 Retail Design Firm Resource Guide.

WD Partners had quite a year in 2004 -- and it's looking to have another one in 2005. The Columbus, Ohio-based design and development consultancy reported $54 million in retail design fees last year, a whopping 50 percent increase over its 2003 billings.

That result catapulted WD into a tie for first place on the 11th annual VM+SD Top 50 Retail Design Firm rankings, up from fourth place a year ago. (Perennial retail design powerhouse Callison Architecture Inc. [Seattle], which has nabbed the survey's No. 1 spot on five previous occasions, also reported $54 million in retail design fees for 2004. But for Callison, that figure represents a more incremental growth figure, of just over $4 million from a year earlier.)

Lee Peterson, executive director of WD's design group, credits his company's business model - which involves providing national retailers and restaurant chains that are rolling out large numbers of stores with what he calls a "one-stop services supply chain" that includes design and branding, operations and architecture - for its impressive growth. "The comprehensive range of services we've put together during the past several years makes it easier for our clients to manage large, complex development programs with one partner and one point of contact," he explains.

A diversified client base has also helped fuel WD's growth. The company works in three main markets - retail, restaurants and petroleum/c-stores - and counts Organized Living, Home Depot, Wendy's, Starbucks, TravelCenters of America and BP among its clients. "We're positioned to feed on the ongoing expansion of businesses like those," says Peterson.

Is the retail development slump finally coming to an end? WD thinks so. It's bullish about the coming year, projecting design fees of $72 million in 05.

And it has lots of company in that regard, according to responses that participants to the survey gave to a series of questions we asked on trends and forecasts for the industry. When it comes to their outlook for the coming year, 97 percent of the survey participants said they expect it to be better than 2004. Why? Several respondents said the relatively stronger economy of the past year or so has lead to increased expansion and construction commitments by retailers, along with a renewed confidence on the part of developers to go ahead with new projects.

Survey respondents also expect their renovation business to be a bit more active than new construction activity during 2005, because of saturated retail markets in many parts of the country and ongoing mergers (such as Sears and Kmart) within the retail sector, both of which constrain the need for new construction.

New Services, Challenges

What new services are retail design firms offering to lure in added clients? Like WD Partners, several survey respondents said they are seeking to become a "one-stop shop" for retail clients' expansion programs, by branching into such areas as construction management and engineering services.

Little Diversified Architectural Consulting (Charlotte, N.C.) recently created a branded communications team that works with the firm's existing store design and supermarket design unit to create environmental graphics for retail clients. Bruce Barteldt Jr., Little's national studio principal - retail, said his firm started that team as part of its ongoing efforts to become a one-stop center for creating "branded environments that sell."

"Accomplishing that for retailers involves weaving a tapestry of visual elements together within a store to create an attractive environment that will keep the targeted customers coming back," says Barteldt, whose firm ranked No. 7 on the survey. "This goes way beyond just picking fonts and colors. The branded communications team, consisting of our experts in 2-D and 3-D graphic design, works with our architects and designers to create a visual texture of signs, materials and messages that are absolutely consistent with the retailer's brand image."

Other new services respondents say they are offering include market research, energy conservation and facility management, business-strategy consulting, packaging and point-of-sale design, fixture design and prototyping, and 3-D modeling/rendering.

But 70 percent of the respondents continue to be challenged by "budget considerations." Many are rising to the challenge.

"With the increasing emphasis that many retailers are putting on bringing their store expansion programs in at budget," says James Matthews, senior corporate vp at Miller Zell (Atlanta), "it's up to the people in the retail design profession to act as a catalyst in that process and make sure that all cost issues are on the table before they start. That means bringing in representatives from the financial and operations side of the business, not just the merchandising and design departments."

VM+SD conducts its Retail Design Firm Survey annually to provide an overall picture of the retail design industry and to highlight the achievements of the individual firms. The respondents were ranked according to their reported design fees for retail projects in 2004. The following rankings provide comprehensive contact information for the 61 firms (including ties) that made the Top 50 list.

Design firms that were not contacted but wish to participate in next year's Top 50 survey should e-mail Matthew Hall, managing editor of VM+SD, at

Callison tied for No. 1 on this year's VM+SD Top 50 Retail Design Firm survey. The company's recent designs include this Soma by Chico's prototype in Fort Myers, Fla., which sells intimate apparel for women over 35.

For a complete listing of the survey, purchase a VM+SD March issue here.

Top 50 Retail Design Firms, Ranked List

1 (tie) Callison Architecture Inc.
1 (tie) WD Partners
2 Carter & Burgess
3 MulvannyG2 Architecture
4 Pavlik Design Team
5 Design Forum
6 Gensler
7 Little Diversified Architectural Consulting
8 MCG Architecture
10 FRCH Design Worldwide
11 Miller Zell
12 Lippincott Mercer
13 RSP Architecture
14 (tie) ACS-Architectural Construction Services
14 (tie) Nicholas Tricarico Architect PC
15 TPG Architecture LLP
16 JGA Inc.
17 Bergmeyer Associates Inc.
18 McCall Design Group
19 spg3
20 Chute Gerdeman
21 (tie) API - ArchitecturePlus Intl.
21 (tie). Big Red Rooster/IDL Merchandising Solutions
22 Architectural Design Guild
23 Perennial Inc.
24 RYA Design Consultancy
25 (tie) Grid2 Intl.
25 (tie) JPV Design Group
26 Bruce and Tom (BAT)
27 Kiku Obata & Co.
28 (tie) Jencen
28 (tie) NBBJ
28 (tie) Point Design
29 Aedifica
30 Silvester + Tafuro
31 Horst Design Intl.
32 Cowan + Associates Inc.
33 (tie) Charles Sparks + Co.
33 (tie) Echeverria Design Group Inc.
34 Haverson Architecture and Design
35 (tie) GroupRed Coleman Brandworx
35 (tie) Louis & Partners Design
36 (tie) Gould Evans
36 (tie) Prochaska & Associates
36 (tie) Twenty Four*Seven Inc.
37 Shikatani Lacroix Brandesign
38 S/M/A Design Group Intl.
39 Winntech
40 Fitzpatrick Intl. Group
41 II BY IV Design Associates
42 MBA Architects Inc.
43 Atlantis
44 Richard M. Cole & Associates
45 Consolidated Design Studios Ltd.
46 CORE architecture + design
47 Cooper Carry Inc.
48 Smart Associates
49 (tie) Avila Design
49 (tie) Shea Inc.
50 Stein LLC

Below is an alphabetized list of all companies that responded to VM+SD's Retail Design Firm Survey:

Company - (Headquarters)

II BY IV Design Associates (Toronto)
Ace Architects (Oakland, Calif.)
ACS-Architectural Construction Services (Atlanta)
Aedifica Inc. (Montreal)
American Showroom Concepts (Dallas)
API-ArchitecturePlus Intl. (Tampa, Fla.)
Architectural Design Guild (St. Louis)
Atlantis (Edwards, Colo.)
Avila Design (Oakland, Calif.)
Bergmeyer Associates Inc. (Boston)
Big Red Rooster/IDL Merchandising Solutions (Pittsburgh)
Bruce and Tom [BAT] (San Francisco)
Callison (Seattle)
Carter & Burgess (Fort Worth, Texas)
Charles Sparks + Co. (Westchester, Ill.)
Chute Gerdeman (Columbus, Ohio)
Consolidated Design Studios Ltd. (New York)
Cooper Carry Inc. (Atlanta)
CORE architecture + design (Washington, D.C.)
Cowan + Associates (Worthington, Ohio)
Design Forum (Dayton, Ohio)
Echeverria Design Group Inc. (Coral Gables, Fla.)
Fitzpatrick Intl. Group (Southampton, N.Y.)
FRCH Design Worldwide (Cincinnati)
Gensler (San Francisco)
GMG Design Inc. (St. Louis)
Gould Evans (Kansas City, Mo.)
Grid2 Intl. (New York)
GroupRed Coleman Brandworx (New York)
Haverson Architecture and Design (Greenwich, Conn.)
Horst Design Intl. (Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.)
Jencen (Cleveland)
JGA Inc. (Southfield, Mich.)
JPV Design Group (New York)
Kiku Obata + Co. (St. Louis)
Lippincott Mercer (New York)
Little Diversified Architectural Consulting (Charlotte, N.C.)
Louis + Partners Design (Akron, Ohio)
MBA Architects Inc. (Holmen, Wis.)
MBH (Alameda, Calif.)
McCall Design Group (San Francisco)
MCG Architecture (Pasadena, Calif.)
McKinney Partnership Architects, The (Norman, Okla.)
Miller Zell (Atlanta)
MulvannyG2 Architecture (Bellevue, Wash.)
NBBJ (Seattle)
Nicholas Tricarico Architect PC (Wayne, N.J.)
Pavlik Design Team (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Perennial Inc. (Toronto)
Planning/Design Associates (Charlotte, N.C.)
Point Design (New York)
Prochaska & Associates (Omaha, Neb.)
Reubens Intl. Design Group, (Elkins Park, Pa.)
Richard M. Cole & Associates (Philadelphia)
RSP Architects (Minneapolis)
RYA Design Consultancy (Dallas)
Shea Inc. (Minneapolis)
Shikatani Lacroix Brandesign (Toronto)
Shremshock Architects Inc. (Westerville, Ohio)
Silvester + Tafuro (South Norwalk, Conn.)
S/M/A Design Group Intl. (Toronto)
Smart Associates (Minneapolis)
spg3 (Philadelphia)
Stein LLC (Minneapolis)
TPG Architecture (New York)
TRIAD Architects Ltd. (Columbus, Ohio)
Twenty Four* Seven (Portland, Ore.)
WD Partners (Columbus, Ohio)
Winntech (Kansas City, Mo.)