Explorations, Archaeology, Design Integrations
Puck REI, main floor — Image above, shot 12.3.2010
My family has history with the Recreational Equipment cooperative. Earlier in our explorations of the outdoors, we’d travel to REI for camping equipment in Seattle. Back then, Dad supervised the shopping — meanwhile, it was my job to explore the store and get lost [from the family.] And during the 60s, REI was a warehouse — it was dirty, dry and musty with the scents of creosote and industrial timber, canvas and hardy alpinist gear. Tents were parked, sleeping bags hung and climbing gear dangling for the experienced mountaineer. That wasn’t for us — we were strictly campers — camping 101. The idea of the store is founded on a collaborative — the more members, the more discounting possibilities for purchasers. The proposition then, and now, still works — REI is located all over the US; and the newest installation is in NYC.
I met with Elizabeth Dowd, a co-juror on the Retail Design Institute awards in 2010 — that got us to chatting about our mutual histories in merchandising, design, storytelling brand in retail placemaking. In the past, we’d both worked at/for SurLaTable — earlier for Girvin, the 80s as brand consultants to Shirley Collins, the original foundress of the brand. We talked about several ideas — exploring the brand REI and the systems for expressing the newly discovered proposition of how to get New York urbanites to understand the nature of the brand. These were chats, talking strategically, discussing the big picture of retail — I was a colleague, not a hired gun on the project. The store was designed and brand managed by the Kent, Washington-based retail design team for REI, as well as the architectural group, Callison / NYC.
Some of the theoretical ideals that Elizabeth and I’d talked about relate to constant explorations in work that we do [indeed all of us do, in retail strategy.] Anything at REI of course was managed by her, and the REI retail design team, and finally the on-stage, on site management of Callison’s NYC team. While we’d talked about working together — and surely I’d hoped, early on — we weren’t hired by REI. But, some ideas that we’d discussed:
Ideations: NYC | REI discussions
Scale of messaging — build big messages for the interiors; help customers get the brand fast.
Integration of materials — from retail, to signing and messaging the story.
Bringing the history forward — the legacy of the brand, and the integrations of their new site: the Puck Building — a heritage building in the city, with a history of powering printing in the city.
Populating the messaging — geographically localizing the sense of place and the offerings of the brand in proximity.
Telling the story from the street — any great retail links to the idea of experience from afar, walkers and drivers sense the concept from the windows. As Leslie Wexner intones — “the store has to tell a story from the windows.”
Excavate the brand archaeology — for brand storytelling, to the history of not only REI but as well, the Puck Building.
Some of these theories and installations came from exploring the site just after our opening tour at the Puck Building — as well as a followup at Girvin | Seattle — with the brand and retail leadership team. I made notes, we talked. But REI had many of these ideas in planning anyway — the foundations of good retail processional thinking — as part of their visioning for the store and the story. As part of that opening discussion, Elizabeth and I walked the store site and then journeyed down to the lower levels.
A gallery of REI | Puck Building archaeology
Here are a series of images from the sub levels of the property.
Mostly, these are remnants of the Puck Building’s printing legacy — large subterranean press turbines, centrifugal governors, master drive wheels and supporting equipment. For my telling, it’s the materiality of the equipment that is the most compelling — rust, distressed metals, old woods, the patterning of overpainted brickwork, piping and old heating boilers.
Roughly, this is one year before the opening of the store, and the story — shot December 3rd, 2010, 7.30am.
the centrifugal governor
the main printing press wheel
the masonry wall, Layfayette street
ribbed coving, the subbasement ceiling
one of the steam drives
old wall painted wood treatments
painted and bricked pillar support
And the new REI, now in place.
The REI and Callison team assure that the sense of material character is preserved — and the spirit of the old, mixed with the hardy new character of the gear, is a happy balance. There’s another key component — and this speaks to knowledge; it’s one thing about the place, it’s another that the people that work there connect with the culture — they know it, they get it. Exploring the nature of personality of brand, and the experience of staff, if they’re aligned, it’s a powerful presence — the sense of expertise is arrayed not only in the context of what the place feels like, but more so, the quality of how people are treated, and what might be learned and shared with the staff.
See the article on team training in the NY Times
Upfront, in speaking with Ms. Dowd, that idea was discussed, the foundations of how brands are told — and the stories that go with them, as well as the products that are being sold. The REI team thoroughly integrated that set of principles. Brand ambassadors, that turn two ways — one to the principles of the store; and another to the principles of the product. Aligning them, the win is big. In speaking about relationships to brand — the sync between the classical etymology of relate, and the extension to relationships, lies in brand ambassadorship and the relaying of content. To relate, as in the story — is relatus. And that is “to carry.”
Exploring the idea of brand, product and place, you can see the beginnings of the telling that REI offers, from the initiation of contact at street, to the layering of the space. Ask someone a question about the nature of a product, and see what answer you get.
A gallery of REI | Puck Building present archaeology
geographical marketing — the localized storytelling
store signing — rubbed brass
messages from community — adventuring, gear in use
iron pillars — and the REI trademark overhead bike displays
the main floor, incised (see the image at the top of the blog)
cold-rolled steel signing
old Puck Building lithographic stones
hung stones, from the Puck pressworks
iron, steel, recycled timber risers to the main floor
the subbasement press wheels, emerging on the lower floor, second level
the axel from above, seen through the incised flooring — now polished
a photo of a photo — recycled flooring reused in the store
the ultimate mission, 1st floor signing, distressed cold steel
There is a journey — for many — in the discovering of what can be done in the outdoors; REI celebrates that journey; and, in a way, the idea of that journey could be a built journal in placemaking. REI, in their experienced wisdom, have built that sensing of place. We’ve called that brand patterning — the text and built character and brand language. To define the visual language of REI — brand patterning: sandblasted maps, aligning the brand code of their site, with the spirit of the street advertising, coupled with internal graphical alignments. It clicks up, locked up like the perfected return clasp on a well oiled carabiner. Nice job — REI, Callison.
In my mind, and memory, I still hold the scents and experiences of my opening days, a kid in the REI court, the perfume of old gear, canvas and creosote, old woods and cold steel. The adventure moves forward.