Authority Magazine | June 15, 2023 by Ben Ari
As part of our series about the future of retail, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dimple Manghani.
As a Principal overseeing MBH Architects’ Retail and Restaurant Studio, Dimple Manghani works closely with clients to strategically align store design with brand growth initiatives and has formed many longstanding relationships with some of the world’s top retail brands. Having cultivated strong technical skills as an Architect over the course of her career, Dimple formed a luxury retail subset of her studio, which has seen tremendous growth under her leadership for the last decade. Despite the complexity of her work, she has stimulated the firm’s growth by establishing MBH’s Denver office and continues to nurture teams in both California and Colorado. Prior to joining MBH in 2003, Dimple obtained a high level of expertise in designing retail stores and other tenant improvement projects while working in the United States, Canada, and India.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have been involved with retail design since early in my career. The pace of retail allows for growth early in your career as the project timelines are fairly short. This allows you to experience a full project lifecycle within a year or two. The fact that you are touching many projects within a short span of time also exposes you to a variety of challenges that further enables growth and learning.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Stories are all tied to projects, and there are many! An interesting one is for a project I worked on in San Francisco which was deemed of “historical value” by the neighborhood. As part of the planning approval process, although we were bringing down the building, we were required to maintain the roof tiles of the existing building and reuse them in the new structure. Careful details and specifications were laid out on the drawings towards this end. When I arrived on site on one of my visits, I saw one of the general contractor’s subs standing at the top of a ladder removing these tiles and throwing them down to another guy standing 15 feet below, and thankfully he had good catching skills. Site visits can surely teach you a lot about how work really gets done!
Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
There are several, however, a lot of the projects we work on are confidential. One of the projects that is about to start construction is a 12,000-square-foot marketplace/restaurant at the Denver airport for the concessionaire Mission Yogurt. It has been a design-intensive project and involves three unique concepts coming together in a single space. Working with each of the concepts, maintaining their branding while tying the space together, and dealing with the nuances of obtaining airport authorities’ approvals have been both challenging and fun. Besides the interior design, we’ve also been able to involve our environmental graphic design (EGD) team in the graphics. The team is looking forward to seeing it executed.
Another interesting retail rollout project is for an existing brand looking to freshen its look. We started with a couple of stores that we visited with the client’s team. While at the store, the design team went through all the elements of store design in real-time. Each element was assessed — storefront, lighting, finishes, signage, fixtures, and fitting rooms. The team had a great discussion on the elements that were working and made sense to keep and others that needed to be revised. The design team then went through an iterative process of re-designing the store elements through design charrettes and presentations. We are now working on a nationwide rollout across all their stores using the revised design.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I am grateful to a multitude of people. I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by a village! From supervisors who supported my growth in leadership and allowed my mistakes, to mentors and coaches who worked closely with me to expand my technical knowledge, to family taking care of my child while I had to be on a job site or travel elsewhere.
I was once on a job site with my principal in charge of a project that I was managing for the first time, and he was clearly more experienced than me but had not been closely involved with the project. While on-site, it was clear that the superintendent was gravitating toward him, asking him construction-related questions, and barely acknowledging my presence. Instead of answering the questions to which he knew the responses, my principal in charge pointed to me and told the superintendent, “She is in charge. You need to make sure she’s satisfied, not me.”
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The most direct impact I can make on a regular basis is coaching the individuals that I work with. I pay special attention to how women, especially those earlier in their careers, present and advocate for themselves and I make it a point to provide any feedback that I think will help them showcase themselves boldly or with more confidence. Additionally, I lead our firm’s JEDI task force which has initiated programs like the ACE mentorship and implemented unconscious bias training for all staff.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
Over the past 10 years, physical retail was already being challenged by the emerging behaviors of millennial shoppers and global competition. The technological acceleration pushed retailers to invest heavily in their online presence and e-commerce offerings. Many consumers gravitated to buy online, pick-up in-store (BOPIS), and curbside pick-up services, and now they enjoy the convenience of these purchasing options and intend to use them long-term. These services have led to a change in store layout and operations. Many retailers have altered their store designs to accommodate BOPIS.
The supply chain crisis is another outgrowth of the pandemic. Can you share a few examples of what retailers are doing to pivot because of the bottlenecks caused by the supply chain crisis?
Now, more than ever, retailers are prioritizing essential products based on demand. Additionally, they are diversifying their suppliers and investing more in local production.
How do you think we should reimagine our supply chain to prevent this from happening again in the future?
Technology will be key in reimagining and managing the supply chain. Retailers will need to implement more advanced inventory management techniques to optimize their stock levels. This will include leveraging AI, machine learning, and data analytics to accurately forecast demand and streamline inventory replenishment across the entire supply chain network.
In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?
The human connection remains at the very heart of the shopping experience. Humans crave interaction and connection. Just as people build personal relationships and communities, they gravitate towards brands that align with their lifestyle, values, and expression. Consumers will likely gravitate toward more open and fresh spaces that are capable of providing room to browse. Retail and malls are no longer limited to shops selling products. Instead, the “retail model” has permeated into the way we work, live, bank, eat, exercise, and more. Malls are also evolving into mixed-use spaces anchored by grocery tenants and with a good mix of services, such as medical lite and pet care facilities balanced with restaurant and retail.
The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
Many brands are utilizing hospitality strategies to create spaces that their clients don’t want to leave. With the sheer volume of brands in every category, differentiating yourself from the competition is now a requirement for success and no longer a nice addition. Luxury retailers are borrowing hospitality tricks from high-end restaurants and hotels to create opportunities that engage their customers on a personal level. Many brands are looking to leverage lounge seating, sofas, sectionals, chairs, and coffee tables as a place to interact with customers instead of the typical counter or showcase vitrine. When the client is comfortable, they are more inclined to stay at the boutique longer, which creates more touchpoints for the sales team.
Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Brand recognition is a powerful tool to generate customer loyalty in a highly saturated market. When a customer can identify with a brand’s values and lifestyle, they are more likely to continuously purchase from that retailer. Many retailers have discovered that their built environment is an excellent touchpoint for customers to learn about and connect with the brand by creating a space that they will remember and want to continuously return to.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
Retail has evolved considerably over the last decade and continues to do so. While retailers were focused on servicing millennials — Gen Z grew up. One thing is to keep up with evolving trends, yet another is establishing your brand’s value and communicating that to the consumer. Strong brands such as Nike, Apple, Levi’s, and Patagonia have clear and consistent messaging to their customers through various channels — social media, physical retail, or e-commerce. How best to connect with your customer is what brands need to focus on in order to thrive.
1 . Sustainability: Sustainability is not just a buzzword, it is a need. Many retailers are challenged by how to implement this in their business model and in the built environment. The narrative on sustainability has changed from why to how. Retailers are forced to look at their operations, financial models, and physical locations, to set and achieve sustainability targets that will work for their business. Target Corp. has committed to net zero greenhouse gas emissions across their enterprise by 2040. Their first net zero stores are already underway in California.
Customers are also demanding to be a part of this conversation and they appreciate sustainable choices. Levi’s offers services for mending and patching your jeans at their tailor shops, even transforming them into shorts or wallets. Patagonia has a worn selection of second hand gently used clothing. Retail players should think about how they can best offer their customers the option to choose sustainability and communicate their sustainability initiatives effectively. Brands are using social media to show their commitment to causes that their consumers are passionate about, as well as using celebrities, advocates, and influencers who fight for these causes in their marketing and advertising materials. The retail industry has a unique challenge in that it is constantly evolving to stay abreast of ever-changing trends and needs innovative solutions to adapt without becoming unsustainable.
2. Flexibility: Trends come and go with the increasing connectivity of the internet that spreads images, products, and information with each swipe. Our retail clients, and our retail designers, are constantly looking for ways to adapt — trying new installations, and finding flexible display solutions for a variety of product displays. Using digital displays is increasingly popular; however, retailers need to make sure the content for these displays is also well thought through and curated for the customer.
Retailers have also utilized different format stores to cater to a larger customer base. Target, and now Costco, have penetrated urban markets by creating small format stores with smaller offerings catered to the local customer. The pop-up concept is also popular for testing new markets without too much investment.
3. Technology: The last few years have seen a huge surge in online shopping as it offers the convenience of shopping from your couch without leaving your home. The data captured through these purchases can direct retailers to their target demographics and lead to customized experiences both in-store and online. The seamless integration of these experiences continues to play an important role in customer engagement and sales. Starbucks does an excellent job of providing this integrated user experience. Every time a Starbucks user pays with a Starbucks card, via a physical card or mobile app, that user accumulates reward points. The linked app also allows the coffee drinker to find stores near them, send gifts, order drinks ahead of time for a quicker experience, view new additions to the menu, and, with the recent Spotify integration, consumers can view what songs are playing in that specific store and add them to their playlists.
Machine Learning (ML) and AI are also on the rise in retail applications. Cashless checkouts, tracking dwell time and identifying customer patterns, calculating product demand, and guiding product placement on shelves are some of the analytics that AI can perform. From a customer standpoint, autonomous shopping and delivery is another convenience being driven by AI. Kroger has struck a deal with an autonomous delivery company to deliver products in the Dallas area. The self-driving trucks will operate out of a fulfillment center sending customer orders to various retail locations several times a day, speeding up the rate at which orders are ready and reducing the chances of an item being out of stock.
4. Co-branding: Tiffany + Nike; Nike + Apple; Amazon + Kohl’s; West Elm + Casper, Adidas + Prada. These are just some examples where brands have taken advantage of the synchronous nature of their offerings to partner and reach a wider target audience or introduce a new product to existing customers. With brand loyalty on the rise, co-branding allows each brand to potentially target new customers by penetrating the audience of the partner brand. For consumers, it can provide conveniences that lead to increased brand loyalty.
5. Local Experiences: Consumers love it when retailers, especially national or international brands, design a space with location-specific experiences. They can instantly connect with the space and feel a sense of personalization. This can be tricky, as it calls for less homogenized designs; however, it can increase customer loyalty and therefore increase sales. Environmental graphic design applications are a great way to include local touchpoints into the design at scale because it builds localization into the retail prototype. Artwork, signage, and messaging can be customized to speak to the local audience while the store’s programming and fixtures remain prototypical.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Introduce art and other aspects of creative learning at every school and give it equal importance to math and science. Technology and AI can help us solve the most complex problems, but creativity can’t be replaced by machines. As Angela Ahrendts rightly said with regard to living in today’s AI-powered world, “We are going to be leaning on the creatives to look ahead and to run things. We need to amplify human attributes in an artificial world.”
How can our readers further follow your work?
MBH Website: www.mbharch.com
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Published: Authority Magazine