Kinnersley Kent Design celebrates its 21st anniversary this year and is bringing the first House of Fraser department store to Abu Dhabi in 2012.
Mick Kent founded Kinnersley Kent Design with Glenn Kinnersley in September 1990.
The client base grew from new concepts and roll-outs for the fashion chains Topshop and Dorothy Perkins and the company today is a creative design consultancy focusing on the retail and leisure market through concepts for interiors, graphics, branding, name generation and corporate identity.
Projects include Bateel, Waitrose, House of Fraser department store, Mercedes Benz and World of Food. It has offices in London and Dubai and Kent is the driving force behind the Middle East division. Paul McElroy became a third partner in 2005.
Kent’s expertise, particularly in food hall, department store and automotive retailing, means clients benefit from an understanding that lies in creating, evolving and repositioning retail and leisure brands to help them perform better.
Kent remains at the helm of the organisation, nurturing client relationships across the Middle East.
You are the co-founder of Kinnersley Kent Design, how did you meet your partner?
I first met Glenn (Kinnersley) at University. We were both studying for our MAs at Central School of Art & Design in London. Glenn’s MA was in Industrial Design, mine in Product Design.
Ironically we both found salvation in retail design. A few years later our paths crossed again. We both worked for the Burton Group creating new design concepts and roll-outs for fashion chains Topshop and Dorothy Perkins.
We were both passionate about retail design and decided to set up our own company in 1990 and Kinnersley Kent Design was born. The rest, as they say, is history.
What changes have you seen in the industry since you started out?
Our industry has undergone major changes over the past 20 years. Design companies with the ability to adapt and innovate have survived and thrived in this ever-changing industry.
It is exciting to be a part of the evolution. The most obvious is that the internet changed everything. Before the internet came along, purchasing decisions and the way we shopped, were simple. The price sensitive shopper compared prices based on going from shop to shop or via consumer magazines.
You now no longer need to visit a bricks and mortar store in order to make a purchase.
There is still a big place for bricks and mortar stores in the world. Only difference is that now it’s much more about the shopping experience and levels of service offered rather than the product, because the product can almost always be bought online, more conveniently, and for less money.
That’s where innovation comes in. For House of Fraser for example, it’s all about the shopper experience, service and convenience. In addition to online shopping, their new ‘click and collect’ service allows shoppers to order items from the internet and collect it in-store.
The advantage of course is that the shopper can try the garment on before taking it home, so no postal return hassles if the size is wrong. We see the future as a combination of brick and click, that is, a seamless brand experience across all channels.
It is important for us to remain aligned with organisations that have a shared interest in redefining the retail landscape and provide solutions that positively impact the industry.
What is the biggest challenge retail interior designers face today?
Worldwide, the retail industry is emerging from a difficult time. We have witnessed an increase in refurbishments whilst new commissions are on the down.
As a result, developers and mall owners are looking to refurbish and revamp their existing sites or parts thereof, instead of investing in new constructions. Although opportunities in Dubai have obviously decreased with a more cautious/conservative stance by clients, they aren’t non-existent.
Specific opportunities do exist for retail design in the Middle East. Other markets like Abu Dhabi are continuing their large scale master planning that is much greater than the recent recession could impact on. Our Dubai office serves as a hub for the wider GCC region, we have live projects in KSA, Beirut and Bahrain.
Good ideas, well implemented, can overcome most challenges we face.
We are an ‘ideas lab’ in the truest sense. We want to share our experience and creativity with our clients. When you work with clients who are passionate about design in their business, it is very exciting. As we expand, the challenge is to find partners who feel the same, and want to share in our vision.
What financial hardships do commercial interior designers face today?
Clients expect more for less money. High levels of consolidation in big business, and a lack in the design sector, means that more design consultancies are chasing fewer clients. This often leads to consultancies pitching for free to win new business.
We have also witnessed an increased expectation by some firms for free creative pitching of ideas prior to being appointed. As ambassadors of creative design, and as a matter of principle, we never part with our thinking for free.
It is derogatory to the creative industry as a whole. The thinking that brings value to design is not something that is easily delivered in a free pitch.
Getting to it requires an investment on the part of the client, and a willingness to let the consultant lead the engagement. I believe that when a potential client requests free creative ideas, he does so knowing that the very best agencies are most likely not to participate in that line of operating.
You have judged numerous design awards in the UK. What’s your opinion of the emerging talent?
Different design and retail categories demand different judging criteria. I look for suitability of the design to the brand and its appeal to the customer. In particular, I look for the following in a good store design: Is there a personal connection between the retailer and the customer?
Is the store beautiful and enticing? Would the target audience want to shop there? How easy is the store to navigate, can customers easily find what they’re looking for? What levels of service do they offer? What in store experiences entice the shopper?
Is it profitable? What reasons are there to choose that particular store over that of the competition?
In short, a good store design has to be aesthetically pleasing, practical and commercially viable. Above all, it needs to provide some form of tangible that cuts through the noise and makes it stand out from the competition.
We’re great believers in investing in emerging design talent. Our London studio has a link with Kingston University and we offer talented students the opportunity of paid work experience in our practice.
As responsible retail designers, we see it as our duty to invest in the next generation of designers. The benefits are two-fold: the student gains valuable work experience and our design teams benefit from fresh thinking/perspectives.
We hope to do the same in our Dubai studio and are currently exploring different initiatives with like-minded businesses, such as creating a student design award scheme, or guest lecturing at a local university, or both.
What sets Kinnersley Kent Design apart from the crowd?
Aesthetics is not enough to win awards in retail and leisure design these days. You have to deliver tangible results: increased consumer spend, higher footfall figures, exceptional brand awareness.
We do this by understanding the commercial benefits that creative design should bring. Design must be driven by collective instinct and insight and should be measured in terms of its effectiveness.
We always aim to provide the very best retail experience in every market we work in, by listening and reacting to local needs, and delivering inspirational environments with theatre. We have also invested heavily in our people, environment, process, materials and image libraries.
We aim to stay at the forefront of the latest trends and developments and our clients value that. Our reputation is of the utmost importance to us. I’m a great believer that we’re only as good as our last project.
Therefore complacency is not an option. That’s why we believe in forming long-term partnerships with our clients. We involve them in every step of the design process, and encourage our clients to share the same level of information with us as they do with their own marketing team. This allows us to be a seamless extension of their team.
What new projects are you working on and how are you finding them?
We have been extremely fortunate in that all of our new Middle Eastern clients came in through word-of-mouth referrals. Two of the biggest hurdles we’re facing are finding good staff and good materials locally.
We have seen this improve over the past two years and there has been an influx of new and diverse materials in the region. Another problem we’re facing, is design buyers’ infatuation with turnkey solutions.
Some of our new clients chose to work with us to rectify an existing design. They complained they invested heavily in commissioning a design in the past, only to be left disappointed with what’s been built, because it commissioned a single company to do everything.
We always educate our prospective clients to the benefits of using specialists: a professional design consultancy to design and a professional shopfitter or contractor to build it, instead of appointing a single company claiming to be a specialist in design and build.
We work through the design process; from the initial research, concept design and development stages, to overseeing the detail design and implementation.
Our designs are implemented by shopfitters. The benefit of using designers to design and contractors to bring it to life, (working in close collaboration) ensure the true intent and integrity of the brand and design is upheld during implementation to site, without compromise.
This method does not just benefit the design industry but also the client, as the end result is what they bought into, and it is financially more viable.
What is your most successful Middle East project and why?
Waitrose Dubai Mall was a successful project on many levels. Introducing a quintessentially English brand in a meaningful way to the region was a challenge we relished.
The adaptation and ‘Arabization’ of the brand worked well, the store caters for both locals as well as the ex-pat community.
It was awarded Best International Food & Supermarket Design of the Year at The Retail Interior Awards, amongst tough competition.
It was a great accolade and source of pride for the talented Fine Fare Food Market team. This project was designed and delivered by our London studio (a good year before our Dubai studio opened).
It certainly highlighted the importance of having a design team on the ground.
This then became the driving factor in opening our Dubai studio (during the height of the recession), to better serve our clients on the ground, rather than flying our staff halfway around the world to ensure the implementation remains true to the design. Our latest project for Waitrose was The Lagoons, Bahrain.
However, Bateel is arguably our most successful Middle East project to date.
Our working relationship started back in 2005 when Bateel appointed us to create a flagship store on London’s Bond Street as part of its international growth plans.
The store experience conveyed authentic Arabic hospitality, set in luxury and modern surroundings, while at the same time allowed consumers to appreciate its gourmet confectionery and striking product range.
Kinnersley Kent has also redesigned the luxury packaging to reflect the evolved brand.
You’re bringing the first House of Fraser abroad, to Abu Dhabi in 2012. How will you deliver that?
We have worked with the House of Fraser Executive Team for many years in the UK. Together we have delivered many projects, from new built stores like Westfield London and Victoria Square in Belfast, to refurbishments of iconic stores such as Frasers in Glasgow.
On new build sites we typically get involved four years before the store opens and deliver everything from feasibility studies and master planning, through to designing every department, advise on specialist materials and overseeing the shopfitters work during implementation to site.
When the licensing deal was finalised with Retail Arabia, Nabil Daud and his team saw the value we can add through our knowledge of the brand.
This, coupled with having an office in Dubai, made us ideally suited to bring the first House of Fraser to the Middle East. Central Market is an exciting new development to be part of and we’ve a good working relationship with Aldar, the developer responsible for the Central Market scheme.
Our brief was to create a House of Fraser department store to anchor the Emporium Central Market Development. The look and feel of the new store is based on our latest concept design at Westfield London.
Our task is to position the brand in the Middle East and establish the store as a blueprint for future growth across the GCC.
ME Projects since the Dubai office opened
• Designing the first overseas Waitrose at Dubai Mall
• Style Guide for Waitrose MENA
• A new Waitrose design at The Lagoons, Bahrain
• Retail Concept Design for Kidz Inc, Dubai
• Bateel Identity, Date Boutique Design, Café Bateel Identity, Packaging & Interior Design, Concession & Duty Free design, Brand Guidelines, Art Direction, Implementation across the GCC.
• Spinneys Canteen Design
• Spirit of Arabia Identity Evolution
12 ME projects launching in the next 18 months
• ABC Achrafieh department store refurbishment, Beirut
• Al Nusl Hotel refurbishment, Al Jouf
• Al-Sudairy Foundation (corporate identity redesign), KSA
• Bateel flagship store design, Riyadh
• Bateel kiosk design, Riyadh Airport
• Eyat Ltd, womenswear boutique concept design, Riyadh
• House of Fraser, Central Market, Abu Dhabi
• London Dairy, ice cream parlour interior, Dubai
• Mohamed Aaly Maghrabi office design, Dubai
• Masmoudi, Tunisian confectionary boutique design, Jeddah
• Nayomi, lingerie chain identity & interior redesign, GCC-wide
• Paris Group, restaurant identity & interior design, Dubai