It’s no secret that shopping is a recreational sport in North Texas. Everyone from global luxury retailer Neiman Marcus to local shops in Bishop Arts is in the game here. So it makes sense that The Integer Group, a subset of Omnicom Group, would launch Sky Bench last February in Dallas. The retail design consultancy focuses on new store concepts, pop-ups, shopper experiences, and more.
“The key all retailers are grappling with—not only in Dallas but across the globe—is what is the purpose of brick-and-mortar today?” says Ellen Cook, Sky Bench advisor and president with The Integer Group in Dallas and Los Angeles. “Depending on who the retailer is targeting and what the shopper is really looking for, how that retailer comes to life in brick-and-mortar is going to be different.”
Sky Bench, powered by its Integer Group family, is no stranger to creating those experiences. The company has worked with national brands like AT&T to create everything from Game of Thrones-inspired window displays that form a line around the block, to a full remodel of an outpost in New York’s Times Square. Currently, Sky Bench is working on a café/retail hybrid concept for AT&T in Seattle, a yoga/retail/hangout space in Chicago called Forever Ohm, and helping See’s Candy bridge the gap between its longtime consumers and new, millennial customers. It all folds into the team knowledge that helps the company create intentional spaces for retail brands.
“We built Sky Bench as a built-on consultancy that is able to attach to almost any Omnicom agency in the network, so we can easily jump in and partner with an agency in New York or a very small project,” says Kevin Paul, practice lead for Sky Bench and senior vice president of store environments for The Integer Group. “We can very easily expand by tapping into one of those agencies.”
In addition to national brands, Sky Bench is working locally with Dallas-based companies such as menswear retailer Mizzen + Main. The firm designed its West Village prototype and is rolling out the concept nationally. “We really enjoy this idea of online retailers going offline,” Paul says. “They’re fun to work with because they’re open and curious and just by nature of what they’re doing, they’re already future-forward. Mizzen + Main fits beautifully within that pocket.”
Whether it’s a local or national store, Paul says the tenets of good retail are the same. In a world of savvy consumers, retailers must create an in-store experience that is enjoyable for the shopper. “We are about experiential retail. We have to give consumers a reason to get out of their car, park the car, and go into the store,” he says. “Our job at Sky Bench is to make sure that when consumers walk into the space, they’re delivering an experience that they can’t get online—they can live and breathe and smell the brand and hangout with their tribe.”
Digital and Physical
That doesn’t mean digital doesn’t play a role in creating that in-person, tangible experience. “When you think about online behavior and social listening, we have access to that from a digital standpoint,” Cook says. “We are able to track shoppers inside stores, know where they are, and use QR codes and sensors.” The company works with vendors to provide digital tracking such as heat mapping, so retailers can see how long a customer spends in front of an end cap or display and match it up with revenue to analyze its efficiency. That’s just one example of getting digital and physical to work together.
And yet the designers at Sky Bench know that technology has to be used intentionally if it’s going to be effective. “When we become so overpopulated with retail screens all over the place, there’s no way you can keep up—it changes too fast,” says Cook. “You can’t get enamored with the shiny new object. What role will it play in your environment?” She notes that all elements of the store impact what sort of experience a shopper has—down to how the merchandise is laid out in the store and curated. Those tangible elements combine with the digital to create what she calls a “seamless, frictionless experience.” Ultimately, the goal is to create a connected experience from online shopping at home to walking into the store. “It goes back to the fact that we’re all social beings,” Paul says. “Online shopping can be very lonely. When we make the effort to get in our car and go into a store, it’s the retailer’s charge to make that experience as rich as possible.”