Question of the month: What are the most important considerations for designing a retailer's first flagship level store? How much input does the retailer usually have in deciding how the flagship store will be designed?Similar to BMW designing and positioning an automobile, the most important considerations for creating a flagship store are brand image, target market, projected budget and design scope.

As retail store designers, we partner with the retailer to create an environment that will be consistent with the brand image as part of the marketing program. What makes the flagship level store different from typical stores, beyond increased space and merchandise, is the opportunity to place more emphasis on communicating brand. The flagship store serves to excite, inform and connect with its audience.

Accordingly, the most important consideration for designing the first flagship level store is achieving a thorough understanding of the brand image and determining the most effective means to communicate it. This requires "discovery" meetings with personnel from various divisions including marketing, product and store planning.

In the course of discovery, another critical consideration is the target market. We look to the retailer's marketing personnel as well as our own resources to gain intimate knowledge of the core customers. We look not only at demographics but also psychographics. A core customer psychographic profile provides characteristics, as well as likes and dislikes right down to color and style preferences - even the type of salesperson they respond to.

During "discovery" for the first Johnston & Murphy flagship prototype, we went through a series of meetings to capture the essence of the brand. Johnston & Murphy men's footwear conveys a quality, handcrafted image that includes corporate and historical brand values. For instance, every U.S. president since Millard Fillmore and Abraham Lincoln has been fitted with Johnston & Murphy shoes.

This is great stuff ... now, to communicate the "discovery" information through store design. To accomplish that, we utilized integrated museum cases and a feature area to emphasize the corporate and historical attributes. To visually communicate the product image, we incorporated rich colors, finishes and styles.

For a flagship store based on an existing prototype, another important consideration is how much the design will change. Available space, budget and customer expectations of a flagship level store are major determining factors.

The final consideration is budget. A flagship store is meant to be not only a brand monument but a profitable operation as well. We work closely with the retailer to meet its budget expectations. Not every retailer has deep pockets, but as part of brand management, the flagship level store is increasingly more important.

The retailers play a vital role in the design process. Their input - from "discovery" to the final design meeting - is important to achieving and communicating brand. As the designer, our role is to make the flagship store an exciting brand experience.