VM Daily & Foko Presents: The 11 Best Store Designs of 2018

The phrase “in-store experience” is an eye-rollingly common buzzword in the retail space this year, with practically every industry conference and headline referencing it. (The phrase is to 2018 what “omnichannel” was to 2017.)

Its sheer ubiquity is not without reason.

Today’s top businesses—from discount retailers and online giants to savvy young startups—know that the in-store experience really is everything, and the best way to make your brand stand out from the crowd is with show-stopping brick-and-mortar locations that continually push the limits of physical retail.

Whether you’re looking for store-level inspiration or just planning your next shopping spree, look below to find the 11 best new store designs of 2018, as chosen by online visual merchandising community VM Daily and Foko Retail.


VM Daily and Foko Retail Present: The Best Store Designs of 2018



Outdoor outfitter Filson continues to bring outback style to big city life with its new flagship in NYC’s Union Square, which offers men’s and women’s apparel, handcrafted specialty products, luggage, and accessories. But it’s their interior that’s the real salute to the outdoors, with a reclaimed 1890s-era Douglas Fir barn acting as a trellis centerpiece, and unique art from the Pacific Northwest, including a chainsaw-carved wolf sculpture and Indigenous carvings, adding to the overall atmosphere.

“Filson New York Flagship stands for so much beyond a brick and mortar retail store; this represents a new space for people to discover what the Pacific Northwest and the great outdoors means to them,” said Alex Carleton, Chief Creative Officer of Filson. “Our products and merchandise simply exist to further that exploration.”


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Start-up beauty brand Glossier initially made a name for itself with their Instagram-friendly products, showrooms, and pop-ups shops. So it should come as no surprise that their first permanent location—located at the same site as their company was founded—is equally inviting to would-be Millennial makeup connoisseurs.

Customers are encouraged to try everything on in a space founder Emily Weiss describes as “an adult Disneyland,” with a winding staircase, wet bar, and washes of pale pinks and reds adorning much of the interior, and staff in hand-dyed mechanic’s jumpsuits providing information to shoppers while fostering a sense of community.

“We’re not focused on selling you stuff,” Weiss recently told the New York Times. “We don’t have people working on commission. When you’re in such a transactional time — a time of Amazon having engineers working on cross-selling and upselling and better and better algorithms to get you to buy stuff — it’s really important to create spaces and experiences that help you feel things.”


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Modern-day department store Nordstrom continued to merge old-school cool with new technology at their first-ever men’s store this year.

Located in Manhattan, the store (part of a 367,000 square-foot flagship, planned for 2019) offers traditional services (like onsite alterations and custom embroidery) along with forward-thinking offerings tailored towards more convenience-conscious customers (such as a 3D made-to-order suit visualizer tool, digital style board with handpicked fashion recommendations that can be sent to a shopper’s phone, and three-hour same-day delivery for customers who may not want to cart around clothing at the end of a busy work day). And the floor plan is flexible, with the company planning to alter fixtures and product offerings depending on customer demand and interest going forward.

“The level of transparency you have for fashion — where you can buy it, where you return it — has never been greater. You’re really in control as the customer,” Blake Nordstrom, co-president of Nordstrom, told Business Insider at the store’s opening earlier this year. “As merchants, we need to have that functionality, that capability, otherwise, literally in seconds you can go somewhere else.”


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Guitar Center

Rock’n’roll may have been born in the back alleys of Memphis, but it’s the streets of Los Angeles where the genre lives on. It fits then that Guitar Center’s recently redesigned 30,000 square-foot flagship in the heart of Hollywood would pay respect to rock’s past, present, and future.

“We have transformed this store into 30,000-plus square feet of retail, immersive, musical instruments experience,” Michael Amkreutz, Guitar Center’s Executive VP of Sales, told Billboard earlier this year. “We don’t have anything [else] like this in our chain today.

A massive mural of the legendary Jimi Hendrix adorns the store, while the retailer offers intimate and interactive displays inside, including a 15 ft. long effects pedal display, a 24 ft. wide snare drum wall, and plug-and-play installations throughout (not to mention classic memorabilia from artists like Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash, and Eddie Van Halen).

On top of that, its experiential offerings hit all the right notes, with the store providing on-site music lessons for everyone from novices to experienced six-string shredders.


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The Seattle-based online mega-retailer continued its push into brick-and-mortar this year, popping up in everything from Alexa-enabled model homes that allowed house hunters to test out voice recognition while perusing real estate, to concept shops that only sell items with four star-and-above ratings (along with bestsellers and trending products) on their website.

But it was Amazon Go—the company’s cashierless, impeccably stocked convenience store—that caught most people’s attention. With a third store already in the works, it’s clear that Amazon’s interest in physical retail isn’t a fad.


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“Ease” and “inspiration” were two words that apparently came to mind when Minnesota-bred department store chain Target approached their latest redesigns, which have already taken shape in nearly 300 of its 1,800+ locations across the U.S.

Drive up parking spaces, online order pickup counters, and self-checkout lanes all make shopping more manageable, but it’s the enhanced merchandising displays that keep customers coming back, with products being displayed in more impactful lifestyle settings so it’s easier to imagine what items would look like in the home.

“We add concrete floors and wood-plank walls to some stores, incorporate materials like steel and glass and a pop of Target red into the décor, and use pendant and circular lighting treatments with energy-saving LED lights,” Target’s VP of Store Design Joe Perdew told RIS News earlier this year. “And those are just a few examples—all to create a warm and inviting experience that’s hip and cool.”


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Seattle-born coffee company Starbucks has over 25,000 stores worldwide, but until recently there was one country the chain dared not enter: Italy—that all changed when Starbucks opened its first Roastery in Milan this year.

A veritable Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory of coffee creation and consumption, the 25,000 square-foot location features small-batch roastings of rare beans from 30 countries, freshly baked and locally sourced artisanal food (including pizza), and a 22-foot tall bronze roasting cask that’s a sight to behold.

With an interior design that pays homage to the city’s architecture and the country as a whole, the store not only represents the company’s continued intention to create quality brews at scale but the importance of city-inspired, locally-flavored experiences in all facets of retail.

“We have spent the past year living and breathing the city of Milan, working closely with dozens of local artisans to bring to life our most beautiful retail experience,” said Liz Muller, chief design officer of Starbucks. “From the palladiana flooring that was chiseled by hand to the bright green clackerboard made by Italian craftsman Solari, everything you see in the Roastery is intentional.”


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FAO Schwarz

FAO Schwarz is capitalizing on the recent bankruptcy of former rival Toys”R”Us (at least in the U.S.) by returning to the Big Apple three years after it shuttered its landmark Fifth Avenue location.

Their new 20,000 square-foot Rockefeller Plaza store, which opened to the public on November 16, features all the signature retail experiences the storied toy retailer has come to be known for, including its iconic piano (famously featured in the movie Big), along with magic shows, a build-your-own RC race car station, and more.

The company plans to open permanent in-store pop-ups at 89 Hudson’s Bay locations in Canada, as well as a 27,000 sq. ft flagship in Beijing, China, in 2019.

“FAO Schwarz was built on in-store experiences, which has made it a global destination over the years,” said David Conn, CEO of ThreeSixty Brands, owners of FAO Schwarz. “In partnering with these amazing companies around the world, we are able to bring back that wonderment of toys and a deep nostalgia for the larger than life experience that FAO Schwarz has offered to parents and children alike for over 150 years.”


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Five Below

Discount retailer Five Below made its Manhattan debut in early November with an 11,000 square-foot store that’s as eye-grabbing as their products.

The store boasts an impressive selection of the $5-or-less items the retailer has become known for—including smartphone accessories, Bluetooth speakers, beauty products, clothing, and candy—as well as an expanded selection of toys (“we have put in place a dedicated program to increase our toy and gifts selection, not just for New York, but across the entire country,” said Joel Anderson, president and CEO of Five Below, in a statement), and a social media-friendly mural in the entryway that’s perfect for posing in front of.

The Fifth Avenue location brings the Pennsylvania-based company’s store count to 746. They plan to add four more locations to their arsenal by the end of the year.


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For its first-ever U.S. store, Canada’s largest bookstore chain created an experience that’s inviting to more than just book lovers, offering toys, home décor, wellness, and other lifestyle products in an open floor plan that’s divided into distinct zones, each with a separate focal point. Meditation and mindfulness books get displayed alongside scent diffusers and candles, and stuffed animals appear prominently next to children’s books.

Described as a “cultural department store,” their Short Hills, NJ location certainly won’t be their last.


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To celebrate over 50 years of product distribution in the U.S., German sandal maker Birkenstock opened its first store in the country this year. Inspired by the kinds of materials used to create their products, the store—located in SoHo, Manhattan—incorporates materials like cork and leather to give the space a natural, cozy feel that stands in stark contrast to the cast-iron-facades and cobblestone streets that line the neighborhood.

“The world does not need another shoe store,” said David Kahan, CEO of Birkenstock Americas, to Highsnobiety. “What we opened is not just a shoe store; it is truly an emotional brand statement. It’s walking into the Birkenstock world, really getting the full brand immersion, and that’s why we get everyone from the grandma who has foot problems to millennial teenagers to the sneakerheads.”


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