Photography: BERT SPANGEMACHER
Interview: ANN FORD
Glasses: MAKELLOS ME 9004
Ansgar Schmidt was born in Borken, Germany in 1971. He acquired a diploma in architecture in Cologne and he has been running a successful design shop, “s1 Architecture “ in Berlin, for the past 15 years together with his partner Henning Ziepke. His firm’s focus is on retail development and their works include the “14 oz.” stores in Berlin. They have won the Trade Association Germany’s “Store of the Year” HDE Award three times. 4SEE asked Ansgar about what makes good eyewear frames and store designs and his view on trends.
Let’s get started with an obvious question. What do you prefer, glasses or contact lenses?
With glasses you can shape your face. Glasses used to be considered like medicine, but nowadays they are more like a fashion statement to express own personality. Some people prefer wearing contact lenses because they are convenient, but there should be one perfect pair of glasses for each face, assuming they have a good consulting service. In the past few years, eyewear has become more and more important in the fashion world. For example, there is a new eyewear concept store in Berlin that offers only vintage eyewear. When buying furniture, it is important to find out the year it was made, and its origin and designer. Some people like to own an original piece. The same thing applies to glasses.
What do you think makes good eyewear design?
That is a difficult question! There is no such thing as one good eyewear design. There is only a good design that fits best to each individual. But whether glasses are a perfect match depends on what the market offers. That’s why it is important for customers to find a store where she or he can actually find something and try, or just browse.
Do customers still shop in store?
Competition with online stores is constantly growing, but the market protects itself. Glasses must first be tried on your own face. Buying glasses is still something very personal. Again, it is also a matter of what the market offers. If selections are reasonable and have enough appeal to customers, they will come into a store and come back again.
How should a store create an inviting and customer friendly atmosphere?
Clients and their well-being must come at the forefront – corresponding to their respectable environment, or it has to be hip. Optical stores used to look like doctors’ office, so it is relatively easy to find something that makes customers feel good.
But in what setting a client could feel pleasant and comfortable?
There are different types of people. Some feel comfortable in an industrial loft, while others prefer a cozy, warm atmosphere. It depends on the products I present and also on customers I’d like to reach – they could be anyone from young to old people or could be very specific and targeted customers.
Does it make any difference between big and small cities?
Small towns like Bocholt or Münster, or rural areas in Bavaria – they would require three completely different approaches. What is important is to analyze each optical store independently, who their customers are and what they are selling. I don’t want to apply a one-size fit all type of approach. People from rural communities might need more consulting while customers in Berlin have already a clear vision of what they want. In other words, opticians have to adjust a design concept depending on what customers want.
That’s why each optician requires different expertise.
Exactly. Some clients want to know more about products. Some of them are also interested in finding out the heritage of specific frames, who the designers are, or whose design they were influenced by. Or some clients want to buy iconic styles. Confident consumers have a totally different approach to fashion. These types of customers are found in rural areas as well as in cities.
And to what degree can architecture support what customers want?
We can offer optical storeowners a platform that helps them sell their spectacles.
How does that platform look like?
It has to correspond to that person. There is no use in designing a hip store if a storeowner doesn’t feel comfortable in it. For us the priority is to build a good surrounding for him or her in which they can present themselves well, but also show them new possibilities which might not have been clear before.
But how do you create such conditions?
First, our work is always to listen. Then we develop proposals reflecting the wishes of our client, the storeowner. The choice of floor, color and material manifests itself from there.
And that’s how a good store design emerges?
Yes, depending on the owner, their clientele and location. In some occasions, it could be useful to showcase certain glasses at the storefront. In back there could be space for fitting – preferably in a pleasant atmosphere. Knowledge about the design and the heritage of spectacles is also part of it. In another location I might need a straightforward design that addresses confident and informed consumers. But most importantly, a blueprint for stores does not exist. The focal point is always service.
According to you, what is trend?
A long-term trend: the store needs its own personality. Customers should feel right when they enter the store. Another trend is the usage of materials; the authenticity and the feel of the materials. This is totally the in thing right now: conscious usage of material and style, tradition in craftsmanship. And if it’s vintage, it has to be real, it can’t be fake vintage.
How about 10 years from now? Do you think retail stores will continue to exist?
I am firmly convinced that they will, because by now online platforms are already looking for physical stores to sell their products. This way dotcom companies can go local. In the long run there is going to be a mix of both. If I have to wear my glasses on a daily bases – for work and pleasure, then I need more than just a cheap pair of glasses I can find on the Internet. So then I need to go into a store and because of this, the concept of partnership has a future.