Retail shopping should be an experience these days, says designer Tara Miller.
Online shopping continues to grow, driving people away from physical stores. Miller, owner of The Heartland Interior Design, says many business owners want to associate their online presence with a unique experience at their premises.
“Sights, sounds, scents and touch,” Miller said. “All of these things take it to the next level like a click can’t.”
This can involve showcasing Lulubee Artisanal Chocolates’ products as miniature works of art or creating the “get sconed” message at Sweet Magnolias Bakery, known for British delicacy.
“We did it on the tile floor and people love stepping on it and posting it on social media,” Miller said. “We put a bold accent wall at the back of the space with their logo in the middle. This helps establish the brand as soon as you enter the space.
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Miller says she could write a novel about all the touches involved in chocolate making, from the custom-made acrylic trays with lightly frosted bottoms to the hand-painted candies on the counter. The storefront is a beautiful green, with lots of natural elements.
She won the International Interior Design Association Honor Award for her work at Lulubee.
“Tara took my brand and brought it to life as a storefront. Every detail was done with complete attention and intention,” said owner Gaylene Steinbach. “From our candy bar wall to the swirling counter from caramel, to showcasing our candies in the best possible light, his intention from the start was not only to showcase our brand, but to let our product be the star of the show.
Creating an in-store experience is not a quick process. This involves many discussions with the owners to understand their objectives.
Miller, a professional member of IIDA and certified by the National Interior Design Council, said his first step is to transform a store’s 3D environment into an experience that incorporates brand colors, logo and core brand values.
The second is to design a space that showcases the product and generates sales. The third is to create an experience that sets the brand apart from competitors and builds customer loyalty.
“It’s really a win-win-win situation,” she said. “I think people like to take photos of neat places they’re having fun in. You can create a space to feel exciting or engaging or calm and inviting.”
Sometimes it’s just a matter of spotlighting a store. Hardy’s Coffee Company’s downtown location only had windows in the front of the store, leaving it dark and dreary at the back of the space.
Miller helped them select high-gloss finishes that would reflect light in the space. Owner Autumn Pruitt said she was happy to be able to trust Miller’s decisions instead of questioning everything. Her husband, family, employees and friends helped her do the work herself while the lounge area was closed in the spring of 2020.
“This store is located in a very large historical building which has been renovated several times. The overall ambience of the cafe was dated and a bit pieced together as we’ve made a few upgrades over the years. It really needed an overhaul and the timing of the COVID restrictions made that possible,” Pruitt said. “We had a few ideas of what we hoped to accomplish, but Tara helped discuss our ideas and bring her expertise in a way that made the space feel open, fresh, and intentional.”
Miller also designs home interiors. But as a small business owner herself, Miller said she enjoys helping others in the same situation achieve their goals.
“I feel like each of our spaces is so one-of-a-kind,” she said.