Can the architects and design specialists who developed glittering, glamorous settings for Warner Bros., Rainforest Cafe, Fossil and Audi Park Avenue find fulfillment in designing a high-tech retail store? Absolutely, says the team at JGA.

Southfield, Mich.-based JGA Inc. was among several firms interviewed by AirTouch Cellular in 1996 when it was seeking a fresh, customer-friendly approach for its stores. The Walnut Creek, Calif.-based retailer sells products ranging from pre-packaged wireless phones to battery recharging units.

AirTouch envisioned a total design that would attract cellular communications customers, both new and veteran. It sought a store that would draw people in off the sidewalk and give them the information and service they desired in a non-threatening yet efficient manner.

"AirTouch wanted to create a store design to make shopping easier for our customers, and one that would be very cost-effective," says Mark Perini, director of retail store strategy for AirTouch. "It had to be easy to build and easy to replicate across our retail network."

AirTouch challenged JGA to develop a store paradigm designed around customer segments and capable of promoting interactions between customers and sales associates.

Designed for customer needs Retail design specialist JGA was on the same wavelength. Its team, headed by Tony Camilletti, vice president of visual communications, created a purposeful design that serves to attract customers to an AirTouch facility.

AirTouch stipulated it wanted a look that would communicate how cellular products are a part of everyday life. It envisioned a store with small retail interest areas, or segments, to meet the needs of three types of buyers: those interested in the security features of wireless; those who see wireless as a tool to maximize their personal and business time; and traditional users who are familiar with basic wireless and want to upgrade or accessorize existing equipment.

The final JGA concept was transferred from the paper and electronic designs of the studio to the bricks and mortar of a narrow, one-story space in Birmingham, Mich. Completed in late 1997, the 2,250 sq. ft. store serves as a template for some 40 of the 150-plus AirTouch retail centers around the country.

Tucked away in a popular, upward-trending shopping district that includes jewelers, small restaurants, investment offices and women's apparel stores, the shop features a blue and gold AirTouch Cellular sign above the door that's modern and inviting. Immediately inside and to the right is a graduated wood-facade column with five screens of different sizes encircling it at varying heights. The screens show an orientation/information video for newcomers to this type of store.

"This is a kind of zone in which to compose yourself," says Kathi McWilliams, JGA creative designer. "We thought about putting chairs here but decided people might not want to sit in the window of the store."

The entry is part of the "wow" element, she says. It creates excitement and immediately establishes brand awareness.

Stepping across the large AirTouch Cellular logo on the light-colored floor, the customer proceeds toward a ceiling-mounted blue arc and on to the product segments. Each segment is identified by oversize graphics: color photos of people spending time with family and friends, conducting business, and enjoying themselves. These visual soundbites plant messages about ease of use, convenience and a sense of security. Each graphic suggests how wireless communication can make the user's life safer, more efficient and more productive.

"We integrated the graphics with modular pole systems, storage cases on casters and vertical product display boards," Camilletti says. "Cellular phones are not necessarily the focal point everywhere. The idea is to have the store not so much product-driven as lifestyle-driven."

Because AirTouch is a cellular carrier as opposed to a phone manufacturer, Perini explains, the store is designed to promote AirTouch as a brand that customers can bond with and one that reflects their lifestyles.

How great retailers do it When AirTouch decided to update basic designs, the point was to make it easier for customers to shop the store. As it turns out, the modular design allows each store to accommodate a changing market through versatile product displays and service areas.

"We looked at what other wireless carriers were doing," Perini says. "We really studied how great retailers do business. This gave us the opportunity to improve the way our stores would be laid out, how merchandise would be presented and how marketing communications would be directed from the standpoint of customers."

Each product area invites the customer to stop, review the products, pick up some literature and talk with a sales associate. There are no permanent fixtures: no floor or wall-mounted glass-paneled display cases, no counters to lean on, no physical separation of staff and consumers.

The interest areas are designed so that customers can do as much self-shopping as they wish. Basic equipment and relevant accessories, along with brochures and rate information, are clustered.

"The merchandising is simpler until you get to the back of the store," says Camilletti. "In the back, it is more intensive, designed for the experienced user."

Also in the blue-carpeted rear of the long, narrow space is a partially hidden desk-like station where customers can place calls to check on service and billing. A larger service desk is dedicated to customer care, order processing and accounts receivable.

Nearby sits a cluster of casual, blond wood armchairs with blue upholstery. While AirTouch wants customers to be comfortable, it avoids the impression that there might be a long wait for service. Thus, there are only a few chairs, Perini says.

Simple and secure The JGA team is especially satisfied with the light-colored wood cabinets, which serve both as secure storage and as counters on which to place brochures and products.

"Inventory is locked inside the cabinets, which are mounted on casters for easy moving," says McWilliams. "One of the benefits is that the sales associate doesn't have to leave the customer and go into a storeroom to retrieve merchandise. It's right there in the cabinet."

Long-necked, low-voltage, plug-in lights project from the wall and illuminate product throughout the store. JGA blended cool fluorescent with warm incandescent lights to show off merchandise without overloading customer senses.

When it comes to designing on a budget, Perini reports, JGA did a terrific job.

While the AirTouch product is all about technology, he adds, the company wanted its stores to blend technology with a sense that AirTouch has a warm, fun side as well. "Folks new to wireless should feel as comfortable in our stores as engineers would."

When AirTouch Cellular embarked on a new store design, its priority was creating an educational, customer-friendly and cost-effective environment. The design team from JGA met these goals with a store that appeals to both veteran and new cellular users. The 2,250 sq. ft. store prototype includes informational videos, color graphics and a large customer service desk, all of which help inform customers and create a non-threatening environment for those new to cellular service.