KKD redesigns iconic ABC Achrafieh department store in Beirut

ABC is one of the oldest retailers in Lebanon and among the first ones to provide fixed prices in a country where bargaining was a tradition, the first to employ women in its sales force, the first company to advertise in Lebanon, and first department store to open its doors in the Middle East. Today, ABC is changing from being more of a classic brand to a business more representative of the latest trends and fashion labels.

Located in the heart of Beirut, ABC Achrafieh department store originally opened in 2003. In anticipation of new competitors to the market, ABC appointed Kinnersley Kent Design (KKD) to refresh and elevate the brand in the consumer’s mind and connect with new as well as existing customers.

“The previous store lacked a strong ABC identity and ‘ownable’ interior architecture,” explains Amyas Wade, director at KKD Dubai office. “We were appointed to redesign the store and its overall architectural envelope, review the brand mix, layout, flow, adjacencies and circulation, and create brand guidelines to set the standard and control the branded concessions in-store.”

Wade tells CID that a key aim of the project was to create an identifiable and memorable in-store visual identity to strengthen ABC’s offer as a true destination shopping experience.

“As a department store carrying international brands, it was important that its own voice was still heard in the midst of them,” he says.

Challenges included a tight budget and a big operational challenge of ensuring that the store could remain open throughout the refurbishment. With this in mind, Wade says, the store was redesigned in phases, with only one floor closing at a time so it could continue trading.

DESIGN CONCEPT

According to Wade, the city of Beirut has been often described as a city of contrasts – beautiful and ugly, pockmarked and damaged, and glamorous and exciting.

“Our design concept is based on these juxtapositions, taking inspiration from the distinctive personality of this unique city,” adds Wade.

“The concept celebrates ABC’s heritage, referencing the innovation of Lebanese architecture and design and the inherent sense of style of its people. As such, the store design DNA is based on energy and theatre – a vibrant mix of glamour, elegance and sophistication with an urban edge.”

Working closely with ABC, the design team reviewed the overall store layout and department adjacencies to create a more compelling proposition for the long-term future of the store, and enabling growth in key areas such as beauty and accessories.

“As such, we moved this department to the ground floor,” Wade continues. “ABC’s team reworked the brand mix and brought new brands to the store.”

INTERIORS PALETTE

The material palette combines elegant materials with edgier ones, contrasting brass against concrete and decorative details against contemporary forms.

Wade comments: “The overall colour palette is muted with accents such as gold-bronze or ‘ABC purple’ that vary by department. The muted palette increases the premium feel of the store, enhancing rather than competing with the brands and products on offer. Core materials include white and grey ceramic tiles, with white appearing around concessions and ‘concrete’ grey delineating walkways; metal merchandising framework in white, black and brass; bronze-tone, linear-veined marble versus concrete around the elevators, and polished white marble on some key areas.”

As each department has its own personality, the mix of these materials changes from floor to floor.

“To strengthen ABC’s identity we developed distinctive design elements based on the brand that appear subtly throughout the store,” he says. “These are most prominent at service areas such as the cash desks and the fitting rooms, and ABC-owned spaces, which include fragrance, multi-brand womenswear, women’s shoes and active wear, kids wear, kids’ shoes and toys, home, and men’s shoes and underwear.”

KKD’s team animated the space around the escalators to create a focal point on each floor. As such, ABC-operated visual merchandising plinths, pop-up zones and cash desks appear in this zone, creating visual ‘pause points’ that break up the branded concessions.

As Wade explains, the key design feature across these areas is the statement pattern floor, which anchors the escalators on each level, comprising white, light and dark grey ceramic tiles.

“The aesthetic references traditional Lebanese tiles, but with a thoroughly contemporary approach that is fitting for one of the country’s top retailers,” he says. “We developed an ownable pattern based on the shape of ABC’s logo which appears as in brass detailing throughout the store such as behind cash taking areas. The pattern is subtly different on each floor, further differentiating the visual identity of various departments and strengthening ABC’s own brand identity.”

As with any department store, the ground floor of ABC Achrafieh experiences the highest footfall. Given that this floor has the greatest level of customer exposure, Wade says it was especially important to create a strong sense of identity and a sense of place that ensures customers know they are at ABC store.

On this level the colour palette is airy and light with a glamorous yet understated feel. The area around the escalators is highlighted as a focal point, with gold-painted brass framework around the columns and ABC-pattern fretwork behind the cash desk. The cash desk itself is white, with back-painted glass providing slick high-gloss finish.

The brand canopies above the concessions are primarily black to ensure consistency. KKD developed all of the brand guidelines for the concessions, ensuring the right balance between a unified fit out and providing individual brands the freedom and flexibility they need. The light materials palette with gold-painted brass accents continues on Level 1.

The shoes and active wear departments have their own distinct look and feel. The shoes department, running down almost an entire perimeter wall, is differentiated by carpet in ABC’s brand purple. Gold-brass metal is used as a framework, from the legs of mid-floor units to vertical display shelves that act both as both merchandising framework and screens that divide up the space. Floating shelving is in white, tying in with the wider colour palette of the store.

As Wade explains, the materials palette on Level 2 is similar to that of levels 0 and 1, but features more ply and light oak in place of gold-brass accents.

A key part of KKD’s work has been collaborating with the executive and the visual team.

“We feel that without this approach the strength of the final design would not have been as commercially successful as it has – the end result would merely have been a beautiful interior, whereas our collaboration means we have reinvented the store and increased venue. Now 94% of customers are now satisfied with the store design (ABC in store survey based on 1,103 customer respondents), and the extensive remodelling has maximised the retail space and increased the fashion offer by around 20%,” he says.

Tania Ezzedine, head of Real Estate at ABC, says that sales have increased thanks to the new layout.

“We are very happy with the newly refurbished store, which has now a clear identity and a much easier flow. Our customers and tenants feel the same, and feedback has been very positive,” says Ezzedine. “The new design is much more in line with the store positioning, targeting the upper middle segment, and the overall mood and feel with the choice of colours and material is consistent with ABC’s brand positioning and identity. We hope that the new ABC department store in Verdun will follow the same path and be equally successful.”

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