Together with Vizona Francis Kéré developed a multifunctional wall element for the shops of fashion brand Betty Barclay.

In future you pay at the central table

Vizona is back! The shop-fitting section at Vitra was fully integrated into the Vitra Group some time ago and since March of this year has been back operating as an independent corporation. Matthias Hummel was appointed the new Vizona CEO in July 2017. Robert Volhard and Fabian Peters spoke with him about the company.

Fabian Peters: What led to the decision to spin-off Vizona again and run it as an independent brand? 

Matthias Hummel: Prior to full integration into the Vitra Group there were three brands operating under the Vitrashop umbrella: Ansorg, Visplay and Vizona. We had hoped that the integration would bring synergies, above all as regards distribution, as we have many mutual clients. However, the respective contacts, managers and decision-makers tended to be different in each case. Now Vizona does not sell a product and the priorities were different. We realized this relatively early on and then switched things back; we used Euroshop 2017 to communicate this. Incidentally, we and the staff continue to be located on the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein. 

Robert Volhard: What’s the link between Vizona and Vitra Retail, meaning with the modular shop-fitting systems in the new constellation? 

Matthias Hummel: We’re the guys who do the projects. In the process we work with external designers and architects and in the final instance we solve the problems, as we deliver turn-key stores. Of course, one topic here is light. And we naturally are only too happy to use products from our sister company Ansorg and, if it makes sense, we also deploy the Vitra Retail system. Neither is mandatory, even if we might prefer such a combination. After all, we’re convinced of the qualities of the Ansorg and Vitra products. 

RV: Is there actually a minimum lot size for Vizona projects? 

Matthias Hummel: Our great strength is no doubt the fact that we operate internationally. Now, the project may be a single large store area, but our core business is definitely international rollouts. As a rule we don’t do one boutique on its own. 

With Francis Kéré's system several forms of fashion presentation are possible. It's the most innovative element of Betty Barclay's new shop design.

FP: You teamed up with Francis Kéré, who is anything but a classic shop interior architect, to develop a store concept for Betty Barclay. Is it an advantage for clients to know that they can collaborate with an avant-garde architect and that a company such as Vizona is perfectly able to manage the process?

Matthias Hummel: Exactly that was the approach we took. Betty Barclay offers essentially classic womenswear. For that reason, initially a very classic shop concept was developed for them. However, the executives at Betty Barclay were not taken by it. Which is why we then proposed Francis Kéré be commissioned as the architect, albeit also with the rider that then both sides would need to be involved more – the company with its experience and Vizona as regards the presentations and technical requirements. Betty Barclay made a bold move accepting that, but it was worth it. Indeed, the concept is extremely innovative. It consists of a wall of lamellae, which is very flexible in terms of function and also novel as far as appearance goes. It is all very clever – the client is 100% satisfied. But there are no two ways about it – it involved extra effort. 

FP: Are such experiments worth it?

Matthias Hummel: Yes, of course. The retail sector downright craves innovations, things that are different. Our customers are desperately looking for ways to present themselves differently. A good example of this is the Würth Family Store in Stuttgart, even though the approach is entirely different to that taken for Betty Barclay. When we began with the planning, the patriarch of the company, Reinhold Würth, even wanted to hang pictures from his famous art collection in the store. I believe these are the concepts that pave the way to the future. The consumer wants to be inspired, wants to be addressed on an emotional level, wants to be entertained; otherwise he/she will stay at home. 

RV: You seek to offer established retailers ways to counter the online shopping trend. To this end you have, for instance, developed a changing cubicle in which an integrated screen offers the customer entirely new interactive options. Is this product already in use?

Matthias Hummel: Staff are currently testing the product with various clients. It isn’t yet properly on the sales floor. But there is huge interest in it.

Berlin based studio Gonzalez Haase designed areas of Munichs luxury department store Oberpollinger with black cement tiles ans sheer supply lines.

RV: Do you consider yourself a forward thinker in many retail sectors? What form does research take at Vizona?

Matthias Hummel: To give an example, in 2015 we set up a pop-up store for the shoe brand “Camper” here in Weil am Rhein in the Buckminster Fuller Dome. We experimented a lot for this project and came across numerous things that work as well as others that perhaps don’t work so well. Moreover we often do workshops on certain topics – also with the help of external agencies – where we ask ourselves where individual developments could lead. What is important for whom?

RV: Where do you see the most important challenges in terms of retail concepts? Which potential solutions stand out in your eyes?

Matthias Hummel: It is a very exciting time for the retail sector, extremely challenging. This means that some of our customers are very unsettled. At the moment the question is permanently on the table as to whether the “department store” retail model, which has been in crisis for years, is viable for the future. We are 100% convinced that it is – providing it is done properly. Sadly there are far too many negative examples, but also some very successful ones, such as the department store of the Italian chain “La Rinascente” in Milan, a very successful concept in which the “La Rinascente” brand also truly comes to the fore. 

FP: Are there any other positive examples?

Matthias Hummel: The KaDeWe Group is also doing a very good job at present. Of course everyone is awaiting with bated breath the realization of Rem Koolhaas’ design for the Berlin KaDeWe. Most of the redesign at Oberpollinger in Munich, which also belongs to the KaDeWe Group, is already complete. The architects there were John Pawson and Gonzalez Haase – two studios, both of which take very minimalist approaches. And that is precisely what makes it special. Customers are addressed in new ways, and that is just what we want. 

The new shop concept for fashion brand Cecil gives up the conventional cash point in favor of a central table.

FP: Realizing architecture like that is surely a greater challenge than doing classic shop-fitting. How are they different?

Matthias Hummel: It is more individual. The choice of materials is different, the solutions are different. That said, we are naturally particularly interested in these differences, because we believe that the future of the department store lies in these kinds of individual concepts. Other sectors are also working intensively on store and sales concepts for the future – such as the automobile industry. They are experimenting a lot; take the concept by Rockar and Hyundai in London, which is extremely interactive. In the automobile sector you naturally see what happens in the fashion sector: Sales practices are changing. It may be the case that the classic car salesman in the classic showroom will soon become extinct in that form.

RV: The range at Vizona stretches from Deutsche Telekom, where all stores look the same, to retailers that take an individual approach to the respective locations.

Matthias Hummel: On the one hand we of course are very keen to go for multiplication – ideally worldwide. On the other hand we believe that the future lies in individual concepts. As such the question we face is: How can we achieve a certain standardization where the result does not always look exactly the same? That is not so easy. I think that modules are a good option here, because no-one will be able to or want to afford 100% individualization. It is too expensive and too slow and the major brands want to open 100 new stores a year. You can’t do everything individually in that case, but need to find intelligent solutions. Absolute standardization as is currently the rule today will presumably become less important in future.

RV: What role will electronic payment systems play in future and how will that affect store design?

Matthias Hummel: Such payment systems are already considerably changing shop-fitting. Checkout modules and desks will simply no longer exist, because I pay the salesperson. In the store concept “Retail Laboratories” for the fashion chain “Cecil” we used a “central table”, a communication area where I also pay and in which the technical equipment is integrated and concealed. This replaces the classic store structure.  

The new Würth Family Store in downtown Stuttgart focuses on private shoppers, so it looks total different from the other stores of the brand.

FP: Where do you consider the future of shopping to lie – in the city centers or in shopping malls?

Matthias Hummel: In both. Shopping malls are justified, as are city centers. Incidentally, I can’t make out the oft-cited desertion of downtown areas. Cities’ growth momentum is unchecked and the B locations are tending to develop into A-locations rather than into C locations, and C locations are becoming B locations. The only question is how to best present oneself. We will need other models. We installed the Würth Family Store in Stuttgart in the middle of Königstrasse. That’s a model you probably wouldn’t have thought were possible three years ago. 

FP: Does this store actually need to be profitable or is it first and foremost a representative office of the company with an adjoining sales outlet? 

Matthias Hummel: It is firstly a test by Würth, but it works. The initial target group was private individuals who like to do DIY. Consequently, the goods are also presented very differently. Yet in reality professionals working in the downtown area and who need a part now also go to the store on Königstrasse. In this way the good old hardware store is actually returning through the backdoor. 

RV: Which retail models do you think promise particularly great opportunities for growth?

Matthias Hummel: There is incredible potential precisely in the area of travel retail. After all, none of us have time to shop and are traveling ever more in everyday working life – and unfortunately there are always delays. So we often spend our time hanging around airports. Why else would we have shopping malls at airports? Suddenly we have time, there’s a great offer, maybe even duty free still – and we can have everything sent home. Yet that’s not all: Concepts are being developed that place the focus on different products depending on which plane has just landed. For example, if a jumbo jet has just arrived from Tokyo, products that are popular among the Japanese are advertised. All the product information is electronic and switches to Japanese. Shortly after, a plane arrives from Texas and the shop responds again. But of course, travel retail doesn’t only concern airports. Think of cruise ships, for instance. There, you also have plenty of time – and the oceans are big.

Detail of Francis Kéré's wall mounted presentation system for Betty Barclay.
Products can be shown hanging or laid.
The John Pawson-designed areas of the Oberpollinger department store are expectable minimalistic.
For the Euroshop 2017 fair Vizona realized the booth for the whole Vitra family.