We talk with Mónica Morales and Alejandro Mora about Grup Idea’s work for leading sportswear companies and the growth of the sneaker segment in the retail sector
The trainer sales channel soared in the year of the pandemic and in 2021 it continues with very high growth rates after the return to offices and the return of social activity. Both own brand shops and multi-brand commercial spaces are implementing their retail strategies with expansion plans marked by greater specialisation in certain segments and strategic collaborations to attract shoppers to the physical shop.
In a scenario of growth and high competitiveness, we talked to Monica Morales, head of projects for sports retail clients at Grup Idea in Spain, France and Portugal, and Alejandro Mora, director of Project Management at Grup Idea, about the trajectory of project management for the brand and trends in sneaker shops and shops in Spain.
EXPERIENCE AS PROJECT MANAGER IN THE SPORTS RETAIL SEGMENT
- Mónica Morales has been an architect and project manager at Grup Idea for a major American sports retail brand in Spain and Portugal for more than 10 years. To begin with, can you explain your professional background and how your relationship with the brand began?
MM: I graduated as an architect in 2001 and started working in an architecture office where I learned a lot about tendering, interior design and project management, among other subjects. With Grup Idea I started as support for corporate and banking office projects. Eventually, Alejandro proposed me to make the leap to the retail sector with the design and management of shops and commercial premises for international clients.
It was at the end of 2011 when we started working with this top American brand. By then, we were already working with other leading brands in the retail sector and this new client was looking for good teams to work in our area. At first, we carried out the Project Management as the brand already had a local architect. After the first openings, we also carried out the work of Local Architect and, although the functions have varied, we have managed more than 50 projects between Spain, France and Portugal.
One of the most recent was the Flagship Store in Plaza Catalunya in Barcelona, inaugurated last May. Adapting the initial design to the store is a delicate and complex process and a local architect knows the regulations and technical requirements in detail. In the Plaça Catalunya works we were given the experience of carrying out both works and the result was very good.
- You say that the fact of having worked with this and other retail brands for so many years has allowed us to learn about the evolution of their shop concepts and to have a sense of how they work internally. What is the key to success in customer relations?
AM: First of all, it is very important to have a single brand manager within the company like Monica for customer and project management. This gives our clients security and the management processes are greatly simplified.
This aspect allows us to coordinate all work and project phases more quickly and easily for both us and the client. The contact person is also an expert and masters all aspects of the project.If the client is attending a meeting and needs to validate, for example, whether or not he can place a piece of furniture on a wall, he calls his Grup Idea contact and knows that he will have an answer.
Moreover, we are companies but also people and establishing a link with brand managers allows us to better face challenges and meet time and cost objectives. After many years, we go through all kinds of moments, but our clients always emphasise that we solve their problems quickly and efficiently. At the end of the day, the feedback is always good.
PROJECT MANAGEMENT PROCESS AND NEGOTIATION WORK
- Can you explain a bit more in depth what our project management services are for the sportswear and footwear brands we work with?
MM: In general, it depends on each project as we adjust our architectural and engineering services to what the brand really needs. As in this case, once the premises have been chosen by Real Estate, the brand commissions Grup Idea as local architect with a feasibility study, i.e. an initial implementation of the design of the premises with the basic plan provided by the landlord.
At this point, we take into account the distribution of spaces, the sales area, the staff and warehouse area and all the adaptation to local regulations. This implementation is fundamental for the client to internally assess whether or not this surface area is profitable.
Also for the viability study of the Flagship Store we study the consumer routes inside the shop, the interactive elements such as screens, merchandising points or light boxes provided by the client. Thus, we take into account the power and data outlets in different strategically designed points.
We carried out this first implementation of the store design taking into account many aspects within the shop. It should not be forgotten that retail projects are alive until the last day of construction and that, even after the opening, they are still alive.
- In addition to this first implementation of the store, how are the works that involve Grup Idea, the brand and the landlord in a second stage?
MM: Once the choice of premises has been approved, the brand’s design department focuses on seeing what aspects can be improved. At this point, we check whether or not a specific action can be taken in accordance with local regulations or the owner’s requirements.
Another important aspect is precisely the management of the works. We carry out not only the monitoring of our own works, but also the adaptation works of the building on the part of the owner. In order to do this, we need to know all the building’s pre-existences and installations. There is a lot of negotiation and understanding with the landlord to know what is going to be done, how and in what time frame. It takes a lot of hand-holding, but we get all the changes that the brand asks for almost always.
- I understand that it is a lot of negotiation work, intense and at the same time delicate, in which there are many actors involved from different departments of the brand and we have to move forward to meet the opening times. What is Grup Idea’s role at this point?
MM: It is a very intense work of discussions and modifications because, as you say, the brand involves people from different departments. Marketing, visual merchandising or the commercial department participate in the discussions and a consensus must be found that pleases all parties. Decision-making is very slow but execution has to be very fast.
At Grup Idea we have adapted to the client’s changes in concept and strategy. Even so, we have maintained our own criteria but always for the benefit of the project. If something is not going to be approved, they have to know about it.
CHANGES IN SHOP CONCEPT AND EXPANSION STRATEGY
- Today’s flagship stores have evolved towards models that take into account a greater proximity to the community with the launch of an omnichannel strategy, the use of in-store technology and gamification proposals and association with local artists in the commercial space as well as the adoption of sustainability criteria for the manufacture of the products but also the design of the spaces. What does this new change of strategy imply for your work?
AM: First of all, you have to realise that the concepts and launch strategies of retail brands change a lot over time. Once we finish, in other words, the ‘packaging’ of the shop, a visual merchandiser can come in and change it on the spot. And that’s precisely the idea. Our mission as architects is to make the shops as adaptable as possible so that later the internal departments of the company can adjust them on the spot, according to the commercial actions that are developed.
In the management of the Flagship of an important sportswear brand in Paseo de Gracia, for example, we faced precisely this challenge of adaptability on the very day of the inauguration. On that day an exclusive model of sneakers was launched, so at first there was only one exhibition space on the ground floor. However, on the same day you have to foresee that they are going to be sold out and the space has to be replaced by another display element. As an architect, you should consider that the same area should be changeable during the course of the same day.
- Spain is one of the five priority investment markets for some retail brands in Europe, even though it was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. What growth prospects do you see for the sports retail sector and, in particular, the sports shoe retail sector in the country?
AM: Of course, Spain has great prospects for growth because the market has not evolved like other countries where there is a greater sneaker culture and there are many more own-brand or multi-brand shops per thousand inhabitants.
Own-brand shops are strengthening their presence, they want to sell their brand and are positioning themselves in front of the multi-brand stores. We also see that the customer is more attracted to the brand rather than just the sneakers.
MM: That is why brands are increasingly looking for street locations, to connect with the public and attract the customer to the shop. They are also striving to weave strategic partnerships with other brands in order to differentiate themselves.