Amid the hustle and bustle of the holidays last month, I began to think of my year-end tasks:  Have I prepared for my tax return, taking full advantage of everything my accountant suggests?

Does your store draw plenty of customers? Want to draw even more? Consider a redesign for the New Year.

This may help explain why I suddenly find myself looking at the dates stamped on food, pharmaceuticals, makeup containers and even bottles and cans of soda-and just about everything else that has a date that tells you when the contents will become obsolete. A recent article in TheNew York Timesdebated the point, asking:  “Are expiration dates necessary?”

The article pointed out that things have gotten out of hand. Now, car tires, bike helmets and even children’s car seats all carry dates indicating they have past their usefulness. Granted, most food items do spoil over time and some medicines lose their potency or even become harmful if kept too long. If you have ever tasted a bottle of water that has been stored on the shelf for too long you know what I mean. Of course when it comes to car seats and bike helmets, I’m not so clear on how such durable items can expire but I guess, basically, nothing lasts forever.

So why does everything suddenly come with an expiration date?  Clearly, some items need to be safeguarded for health and well-being.  But some things make me wonder if all this planned obsolescence might benefit the producers more than the purchasers.

The story in theTimesarticle got me thinking. Maybe designers should start putting expiration dates on their design work! And why is it that retailers expect their store design to last so long? Placing an expiration date on design work could accomplish two things: They would help store owners keep track of when it’s time to remodel or even bring in a whole new concept.  They would also make designers think about the longevity of their work - or lack thereof.

The retail universe is packed with tired-looking stores that are long overdue for a redesign. Case in point: I often visit an area not far from my home and it seems that Ialwaysget stuck at a traffic light in front of a kitchen and bath showroom. By my rough estimate they have been at this location at least 10 years. Would you believe that they still have the same window display? Also, the tile used in the bath is a product that has a repetitive design (i.e. every tile is alike). How long has it been since we had products like that?  At least 10 years, if not longer. I’d love to ask them what is the problem?  Is business so busy you haven’t had time to remodel in over a decade?  Or is business so slow you can’t afford to remodel? (My guess would be the latter.)

Other retail showrooms I visit are even worse. They have worn carpeting or shopworn fixturing. Products are damaged, dowdy or just simply out-of-step with today’s trends. What message does that send to your customer?  If you don’t think customers can’t spot out-of-date products when they see them-think again! Today’s customers are savvy shoppers who can research products via the Internet and know what is the latest and greatest in the marketplace. If you watched the HGTV cable network for just one week, you would be up to speed with the latest trends.  So why, then, is it so hard for some store owners to remodel their stores?

In my book on showroom management, I urge retailers to update their showrooms on a continuing basis. My advice is to divide the space into four areas, rotating the remodeling every six months.  In that way, you can have an entire new look every two years. Just to check my theory, I called a number of other designers to get their opinions. The consensus is that the most fashion or trend-driven stores need renovation every two or three years. These days, that is an eon in terms of fashion trends.

For discount and commodity-based stores the time span can be as much as five years. According to Russell Sway, international president of the Institute of Store Planners (ISP), “after five years, a retailer that does not renovate loses competitive advantage.”  That says it all for me, Russ.  Isn’t it tough enough to stay competitive on pricing? Why up the ante by allowing your store to be dowdy, damaged and out of date?

My colleagues came up with a few thoughts on how they try to lengthen the expiration date on store design. I am proud to say they had the same ideas that I had. For example;
  • Work with retailers to identify ways to build in freshening strategies.
  • Consider that certain elements, including graphics, colors and merchandising vehicles, can be easily changed to provide an update. These can be planned in advance.
  • Discuss the life expectancy of the store design with clients when beginning a project. How long do they expect it to stay current.
  • Stress the need for retailers to “mutate continuously.” In other words, they should be encouraged to tweak their displays so they don’t become outdated as quickly.

I firmly believe that something as simple as changing around the accessories in a showroom every few months is the easiest way to keep things looking fresh. Keep the paintbrush handy and you’re well on your way to a great showroom.

Remember, the expiration date for store design may be a matter of opinion, but stores that become out-of-date are inviting customers to shop elsewhere.  Are you ready to expire on December 31st?  Or are you planning for your business to be ringing in the New Year and many more to come?