Checking Out: Declan McCormack

The native of Limerick, Ireland, has worked at design firms based in The Buckeye State for the last 26 years, including his current role as Client Leader at BHDP (Cincinnati) and President of the Ohio chapter of the Retail Design Institute.
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Posted September 30, 2020

You’re from Ireland and began your architecture/design career in London. How did you wind up in southwest Ohio, where you’ve worked (in chronological order) for Design Forum, Interbrand, CR Architecture and now, BHDP?
It’s a long story – but here’s the condensed version: After spending 10 years in London, where I met my wife, we felt it was time for our next big adventure. We initially thought that Australia might be next. But after we honeymooned in New England, we knew that our next home would be the U.S. A year later we vacationed in Cincinnati to visit family some family there. That convinced us that Midwest life was for us. We’ve been here ever since and truly love it.

You’re also president of the Ohio chapter of the Retail Design Institute (RDI). How did your involvement in that group come about?
Retail really excites me. I love to chat with peers and share challenges and ideas. With that, the RDI offers a great forum for me to meet and talk retail with my industry peers. I also love the notion that I can mentor and guide future retail leaders and share my years of learnings and experience. 

Among the things the next generation will have to deal with is the impact of COVID-19 on retail design. How do you see the coronavirus and its associated restrictions/regulations for masks, social distancing, etc. impacting retail design in the coming months?
Clearly, dealing with COVID-19 won’t be an overnight fix for retail. I believe we’re still in the initial solve phase – getting stores back open and removing some of the anxiety shoppers are feeling about returning to them. There will be a mid-term, where we move beyond the band-aid scenario and start to implement some of the learnings from the past several months. But I am more focused on helping retailers plan for the long term (post-pandemic), and how we can look beyond the next several months to implement much-needed new ideas.

How about over the long run?
Retail is a resilient category. Yes, there’ll be some brand casualties – we’ve already seen several. But if there’s ever been a time for the category to innovate – it’s now.

Passion Project

McCormack says his earliest career aspirations were to follow his father’s example and become a musician. “He was a very talented trumpeter and music lover, and I was brought up to appreciate everything from classical to big band to jazz.” In his early high school years, he went through a gear-head phase. “I had a short-term fascination with all things automotive and thought that engineering might be my future path.” But that faded and McCormack entered into a long-term fascination (that’s still with him) for the built environment. 

“I went to college in Limerick and then had to make a tough decision to move to London in pursuit of career opportunities in architecture and design. It was very hard to leave my family! Working at architectural firms in London on office development was my thing. I cut my teeth under the guidance of some great design and architecture mentors.”

That said, retail wasn’t on his radar until he landed a job with Design Forum (Dayton, Ohio) in the mid ’90s. “I quickly realized that the tempo and challenges of retail were for me. That was more than two decades ago, and my passion for the category hasn’t waned.”