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Department Store Offers Shoppers a Calming, Biophilic Space

Published February 08, 2022 By Fernanda Cardoso

The subject of Covid and its seemingly endless variants and resulting changes to protocols elicits groans, eye-rolls and sighs of exhaustion.  The pandemic has changed our lives, our habits, our ways of existence and our ways of thinking. We have gained, and we have lost. How we live and do business may never be the same.

When Covid was declared a global pandemic in March 2020, many projects – in all industries across the world – were paused or postponed. Companies had to make difficult decisions regarding the investments that were scheduled for 2020. Retail was no different.

It was in this context, that we helped launch Cimaco Culiacán in Culiacán, Mexico. Originally scheduled for an October 2020 opening, the seventh location for this family-run department store was caught in the middle of the global predicament – to build or not to build, to cancel or push on?  The need to grow the economy eventually drove this and other projects back online.

Opening any store requires an exact timeline. Each element – from the millwork to the fixtures to the installation to the visual merchandising to the actual procurement of the merchandise – builds on the one before it. Each setback has a domino effect. Opening a department store the size and scope of Cimaco (more than 15,000 square meters) required precise coordination of all elements of building – not just the store itself, but also a restaurant and 42 individual brands represented in 52 shop-in-shops.

With each delay, new challenges arose. When mill-working and manufacturing of the fixtures came back online, they found materials scarce and prices volatile due to transportation challenges and a fractured global economy. Workers would get sick and need time off, affecting other employees, and with them, schedules. With each delay in construction, coordination with each of the brands relating to their individual shop needs had to be revisited.  And with each new conversation, the purchasing of the merchandise had to be re-done. Driven by seasons and fashion trends, the merchandise mix needed to be timed correctly. The wrong clothes and accessories at the wrong time of year could be the nail in the coffin to an already bad year.

Because of all this, we moved our projected opening date four times. In January of 2021, we thought we were on our final four-month march to the new finish line of May 31. During those four months, we had weekly reviews with the fixture manufacturers, often replacing imported materials with local ones as delivery date after delivery date was missed. In short, a manufacturing project that was supposed to take four to five months dragged on for almost a year.

Finally, we were able to implement the installation plan. During this time, we took the opportunity to review and test systems and fixtures, while the visual merchandising team worked to get everything ready for opening on October 20, 2021 – a full year after the originally scheduled launch. It took persistence, patience and a lot of hard-working people! Four different companies handled the millwork with more than 200 supervisors, carpenters, builders and assistants. Seven manufacturers employing 250-plus workers were responsible for the fixtures, and 20 more for the visual merchandising. This does not include the 25-plus Cimaco staff that handle all store openings, and the seven-person team my company brought to coordinate the fixture program and design the in-store gourmet area and restaurant.

When we originally designed the restaurant, long before COVID was even a blip on the radar, the idea was to provide a respite for the shopper, a place where they could unwind and relax, separated from the hustle and pace of the rest of the shopping experience, without leaving the store. The biophilic design was meant to mimic nature and offer a botanical garden type of experience. The need for that space seems more important now than ever before and has confirmed for me that, no matter what we are building, we must remember that we design for humans.

Humans may need to shop and yes, that drives the economy back online, but they also need to breathe. So while I have always designed from a human-centric place, I am even more sure that each and every space we create should consider the user’s needs beyond the main reason for that space. Whether it is a place to shop or dine or work, we need room to leave the stressors of the day or week or year behind. To see and learn more about the Cimaco project, please visit my website.