Virgin Megastore has had a huge success with its Yas Mall store. It’s cultivated a loyal and local customer base and the innovative design concept makes it the envy of stores worldwide. We caught up with Nisreen Shocair, President of Virgin Megastores Middle East and North Africa, to find out how they went about designing the store...
What were the biggest considerations when designing both the offices and concept store?
Virgin Megastore is a successful retail concept in the Middle East that has evolved over the years from a CD and DVD store into THE destination for all things entertaining and fun. Both the office and concept store were designed around the same time and carry the same effortless, comfortable and engaging themes. We brought a lot of the outside elements into the office and the concept store, like street art, natural light, concrete flooring and repurposed materials.
We spend an unhealthy amount of time indoors. It is nice to feel we are part of the world outside while still at our desks. The open space in the office is not just the physical design but also a ‘come in anytime’ attitude. We encourage frequent interaction, short and focused meetings, rather than a culture built around meetings. The concept store is a double height store that has a warehouse feel, a bit of organised chaos, that contrasts with the perfectly merchandised chain stores on the high street; a generic trend many of our customers are walking away from in favour of Virgin Megastore’s easy, effortless and non-conformist style and culture.
Was it important to have similar themes running throughout both the offices and stores?
I can’t imagine them not being an extension of one another. That would apply to the warehouse, the transport trucks and any other physical or digital part of our business. We are one team and need to walk through our multiple environments seamlessly. The physical space is obviously very important: the red colour, the Virgin Megastore logo, the font and the overall messaging. However, what I feel is more important is the seamless culture between office and stores. We are a young, vibrant, creative and positive brand. We attract employees and customers who want to be associated with that. And the started point is going to be consistency of the brand message and brand culture.
What do you think the design aspects say about the company culture at Virgin Megastores MENA?
Virgin Megastore is a flat organisation and communication can flow in any direction. We advocate a ‘straight up’ style of communication, where issues are managed on time and head on. We like more frequent engagement in smaller groups were decisions are made on the spot rather than large drawn-out meetings to build consensus. Our design space echoes that through an open design, well-lit space, small break-out spaces and a fun and engaging meeting area. Our office building is in the Media One hotel, a hub for start-up events as well as many fun venues that are great for group activities. We are also located in media city, surrounded by our industry peers, which allows the team to interact and network with like-minded colleagues all the time, keeping them in the know on what’s happening in the city we live in.
The concept store has received a fantastic reaction - are you surprised that other companies haven’t put similar effort into the layout of their stores?
Multi-brand boutique shops have been on the rise in Dubai for the past few years but concept stores are still somewhat of a novelty in the retail space. More importantly, few cater to the young demographic we are loyal to, who are slowly moving away from traditional one-size-fits-all retail environments. We wanted to leverage our strong brand name, the customer relationship and the know-how we have across different product categories to create a massive space that brings so much fun excitement through the product and the experience. I believe that many will experiment with similar elements, but they would always prefer a simpler more tested route.
Why did you decide to incorporate work from local artists and designers?
Even though we are an international brand, we have always been very close to the local culture and local business. Including work from local artists and street artists was an important part of our vision. Local artists have a very limited space where they can openly express themselves. We wanted to give these artists that space and freedom and in return benefited from their beautiful art that they have created for the store.
What’s your favourite design feature across any of the Virgin Megastore workspaces?
I love our warm and inviting cash counters that make you feel like you are checking into your favorite hotel. The graffiti on the walls of the YAS store and the offices, because we know the artists behind them and saw them work on them so relentlessly. I love the red slide in our YAS store. It stands out and is red, fun and fearless.
We also caught up with Jackie, who works in the store to find out more about how it’s changed retail for the staff and customers…
How do you find working in the concept store?
Working in the concept store for me is exciting and a new challenge. I find it extremely entertaining because we’re always looking for innovative ways to attract customers. The key is to have great product knowledge so you can provide customers with information while keeping them satisfied and fascinated at the same time.
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How does the experience differ from more traditional stores?
I don’t have prior experience in working in the traditional stores, however, from what I’ve heard and observed, I feel that the concept store is simply more advanced with the product collection, display and merchandising as well as the branding.
Have you found the unusual design aspects have had an impact on the behaviour of the customers?
Most definitely! The unusual design aspects tie in well with the overall brand as it gives a sense of entertainment while people shop. In addition, we focus on customer experience. We want to make sure every customer walks out with a more-than-pleasant shopping experience and hope that they would recommend and share it with other people in their lives.
The big slide we have in the middle of our store is an excellent design feature. This is something unique and something you’re not able to find anywhere in the region. It really attracts a lot of positive attention. Another design element that’s really attractive is the unfinished wood feel of the display tables and the walls; it gives the store a raw and natural feel.
What’s the most common reaction to the design of the store?
It’s almost always related to the slide. Comments such as “REALLLY?”, “OMG HOW COOL!”, and “Can I please try it?” are an everyday norm. I feel that people are amazed when they walk into the store, there is that special “WOW” factor, you can see it on their faces.
What’s the best aspect of the store and what one improvement would you make?
One of my favourite places in the store is the books section. I just love the design of the section. The book tables double as seating spaces that allow people to just grab a book and have a read of a chapter or two before they purchase the book, while being surrounded by books. But our customers still don’t feel comfortable sitting on these tables. So we’ll be introducing regular chairs shortly.