With a new graphics package, revamped display cases and higher ceilings, Great American Cookies' new prototype is far from a chip off the old block. According to president David Barr, the store design had begun to appear dated and needed to make new customer connections.

"I think we realized that, over time, our store had somewhat of an institutional feel to it," he says, adding that the company refocused its message back to its core product. "With the new prototype, we're now more of a reflection of how fun the cookie purchase can be in the mall."

The new store is nearly a complete design departure, eliminating red neon signage and darker color hues for a more contemporary, airy feel. A new logo, a larger and more inviting display case design, and higher ceilings - adorned with oversized cookies - all contribute to the new store's overall customer impact.

"Our research showed that, if customers become aware that there are cookies in the mall, cookies are that mall's No. 1 snack food," he says, adding that increased brand recognition through redesign could bump those sales even higher. "We wanted our customers to be able to just glance in our direction and have them say, 'That's a cookie store.' It should have sophistication, but it should be fun as well."

An outgrowth of the in-line store effort is the company's implementation of a new non-baking kiosk. Instead of a Great American Cookies in-line location servicing a separate kiosk with fresh cookies, the kiosk is stocked from a nearby kitchen. At Cumberland Mall in Atlanta, for example, the kitchen measures 300 sq. ft. and is staffed with a manager, while the overall kiosk size was increased. Sales have responded in kind, says Barr.

"We're actually talking to other centers about duplicating that arrangement," he says, adding that the company already enjoys high volume with that operation at Lenox Square in Atlanta.

With the new design in hand, the company plans to open approximately 15 new stores this year. The complete changeover from the old design to the updated one for the company's 365 locations will occur as leases are renewed, Barr says. "We're compiling a transition plan right now," he explains. "We have some stores that we'll try and push for early renewal on - and we might come in and do some signage and other improvements - but unfortunately it does not make economic sense until we do a lease renewal."

Barr notes that he anticipates expanding Great American Cookies' gift-related offerings, which already include cookie cakes, travel mugs and gift tins. "That's part of our future, to have more gift-related items associated with cookie purchases," he says, adding that a boost in transactions will lead to a fatter corporate bottom line.

"When our customers get to the store and they see a variety of items to buy, and they can buy more than just one cookie, that's a direct increase in volume. And if we accomplish both, then we're a success.