Nanoq may be the Nordic word for polar bear, but in retail terms, it has quickly become synonymous with successful brand imaging for Reykjavik's Kringlan Mall. Many believe Nanoq, the only store of its kind in Iceland, is largely responsible for the mall's status as Reykjavik's top shopping destination.

Since its opening in October 1999, the 25,000 sq. ft. flagship store has drawn record crowds and made sales well above projections. In a relatively small and isolated country - where major-brand retailers are reluctant to test uncharted waters - more than 110,000 Icelanders, nearly 40% of the country's total population, have visited the store each week since it opened.

Boston-based Arrowstreet Inc.'s charge to create a new retail concept for the store included providing the name, logo, graphics and full interior programming and design services. For Arrowstreet's senior interior designer, David T. Schowalter, the project involved a total immersion into the history and culture of the Icelandic people.

"Our objective was to create a retail environment that embraces Iceland's stark natural and rich cultural heritages," Schowalter says. "Everything about the store is designed to captivate and entertain the shopper through engaging visuals and activities that speak to the Icelandic lifestyle."

The greatest challenge of the project, Schowalter says, was starting from ground zero to create a theme and integrate it with a merchandising approach that would befit the store's outdoor product and apparel lines. Working with mall developer Kringlan Holdings, and Icelandic Outdoors, the company that manages Nanoq, Arrowstreet's team of interior and graphic designers responded with a lifestyle environment that educates and entertains shoppers while introducing a wide array of outdoor merchandise, apparel and services.

The store uses a color and materials palette that takes its cues from Iceland's most vivid images: rocks, sky and water. Numerous cultural references include a rope bridge, an angling lodge, a map library modeled on a mountain cabin, and an elevator that resembles an old water tower. Merchandise is displayed on pedestals of copper and wood, with display shelves and backgrounds including an environmentally-friendly composite of sunflower dust or wheat dust.

In addition to offering a high-quality, high-fashion line of outdoor sports apparel for adults and children, Nanoq's departments include fishing, hunting, golf, running, walking, bicycling, climbing, skiing and snowboarding as well as repair shops for guns, skis and bicycles.

"This store reinvents traditional merchandising in several ways," Schowalter says, citing as one example the store's holographic river that defines traffic flow and serves as a point of reference for shoppers. Whereas traditional retail designs incorporate a clearly-defined, standard 5-to-6-foot path to direct and encourage traffic flow, Nanoq features a virtual river walking path that has become - particularly for children who enjoy stepping on and jumping over the river - part of the store's fun, interactive appeal.

The river, composed of 1/2-inch-thick glass, is outlined in natural Icelandic river rocks that are embedded within the cement floor to define the shoreline. Underneath the glass are two pieces of etched hologram vinyl that are cut in slightly different sizes to produce the shimmering effect of water in motion.

The store's focal element, a 17-meter (56-foot) high climbing wall composed of native Icelandic basalt rock that spans the two-story store entrance, is the embodiment of destination retail, Schowalter says. "The wall is such a powerful image that, just as some would associate the Mall of America with its amusement park, the majority of shoppers now associate Kringlan Mall with the Nanoq climbing wall."

Not only does the wall attract spectators, he adds, it also has become a profit center for the store. Nearly 4,000 customers, mostly children, paid a fee of 200 Kronas (approximately $3 U.S. currency) each to climb the wall within the first two months of operation. At that rate, Schowalter says the wall could pay for itself in as little as three years.