Making an entrance

Published:  29 September, 2014

It’s important to put shoppers in a positive state of mind from the moment they step over the threshold, and as the gateway to their experience shopping centre entrances must be aesthetically pleasing, clean, light and welcoming. 

The look and feel of entrances plays a big part in enticing potential shoppers from the high street or town centre and there are a number of elements that need to be considered for entrances to be impactful, namely architecture and design, lighting, doors and barrier matting. 

“When people have a choice about where to shop, entrances are massively important – first impressions count and the entrances are as much a part of the mix as the tenants inside,” says James Cons, managing director at Leslie Jones Architecture. “Remodeling an entrance often creates a marked difference in perception and can lead to a significant uplift in performance.” 

With a high proportion of shopping centre stock approaching 30th anniversaries, many original entrances are looking tired and old-fashioned and the industry has seen a spate of entrances redeveloped in recent years, with more in the planning stages. 

Waterside in Lincoln is one such example. According to owner Capital & Regional, entrances are crucial given they are the first point of contact with shoppers and should be both welcoming and noticeable to have a visual impact and attract people in. They should have anchor brands represented at the entrance so that customers know what to expect inside, and should be contemporary as a reflection on the shopping centre as a brand; with sales often driven by impulse purchasing, so a visual and welcoming entrance and façade help divert footfall to the centre. 

With this in mind, Waterside’s entrances will be updated as part of a significant refurbishment. The project includes opening up the entrance as much as possible (given that it is a historical building governed by planning restrictions), the introduction of flags with the anchor tenants’ logos, the installation of large scale graphics to maximise visual impact, and a new logo born out of a repositioning exercise to reflect a new, more fashion-orientated tenant mix.  

“When we bought the centre, the plan was to significantly reshape and reposition it,” says Martin Macwhinnie, Capital & Regional’s national operations manager. “We’re at the end of the second stage of that and have created two large fashion anchors and a more attractive centre for tenants. What we need to do now is make sure the outside mirrors what’s happening inside and improving the main of two entrances - which opens out on to the high street and through which 75 per cent of our visitors enter the centre - is a big part of that.

“The entrance was a mock Tudor pastiche, dark brown in colour and it didn’t reflect the new image of the shopping centre as a key fashion destination in Lincoln,” he explains. 

The lower part of the entrance and its dark wood frame was ripped out, replaced with glass and a marble product and painted a much brighter colour. 

“It’s rectangular in shape for a cleaner look and reflects what we’re done in the rest of the centre,” says Macwhinnie. “The centre is home to 25 units and every one is either brand new or has been refitted in the last two years; we wanted the new entrance to reflect that.” 

Macwhinnie believes entrances sometimes underestimate the customer’s intelligence with every single retailer plastered across the frontage, but he says it is unnecessary, leading to “clutter and confusion.”

“The look and feel should give potential shoppers an idea of the retail mix they’ll find inside so you don’t need to hit people over the head with too much information,” he says. 

“Buildings often look tired and dated quickly,” he adds. “Ten years ago people might have thought the old entrance looked fantastic but it was old fashioned and it didn’t look good on screen - it didn’t work on social media or the web so we needed to recreate it to make it look sharper and crisper.”

“People had a habit of walking past the centre before but the entrance is a point of difference now and has been successful in encouraging people to come in.” 

In Woking too, a new and improved entrance has made a big difference as Jacqui Allen, partner at property and construction consultancy, Tuffin Ferraby Taylor, explains: “At Woking Shopping, M&G bought the centre and the town square, revamped the square and created wow factor entrances with glazed façades. It’s phenomenal the  tenants they’ve got in there now and it’s a great example of what can be achieved.” 

“It’s amazing how a new façade can change perceptions, especially at secondary centres,” she adds. “Modernising the entrance is one of the main ways to bring people in and attract new tenants.” 

Intu Eldon Square is another example. Leslie Jones Architecture has recently redeveloped the centre’s Northumberland Street entrance, replacing what Cons describes as an “oppressive and squat 1970s entrance” with an entrance which promotes visibility into the shopping centre beyond, provides a dominant frontage with double height retailer presence on the high street and enables the centre’s signage to be seen effectively. 

“Eldon Square’s Northumberland Street entrance was originally dark brown and the proportions of a letterbox, it was set back off the street and you couldn’t see the retailers,” says Cons. “It was everything you don’t want a shopping centre entrance to be so we brought it from a 1970s entrance to one of this era.

“We rebuilt and renovated the entrance creating double height frontage, making it wider and more suitable to carry the centre’s signage and branding and put in new lighting to allow people to see the mall behind. We fitted a sailing canopy to ensure customers are protected from the weather, and took account of the seasonal event programme, building in flexibility with power and support access.” 

When it comes to lighting, Allen suggests installing feature lighting not just at the entrances and inside the centre but leading up to it too: “You don’t want utilitarian street lighting outside ruining the atmosphere you’re trying to create - make a feature of it, perhaps creating a runway like walkway with feature lighting and planting, leading people in. 

“Pop up market-like stalls or similar also work well running in a ‘V’ shape towards the entrance,” she adds.  

And she warns against making entrances over-stylistic and brash. They need to have drama to entice people in and to demonstrate what the shopping centre offers but they should be streamlined and sleek, she says - they don’t necessarily have to have that wow factor, but they should stand out.

“It helps to have as much glazing as possible, helping to bring the retailer’s out, canopy features add elegance and lighting should be dramatic to stick in people’s mind and really make the entrance sing,” adds Cons. “And good proportions always look good no matter how old they are - Georgian buildings still look great today.” 

Looking to the future, Allen thinks there will be more connectivity between shopping centres and town centres and that that new partnership will be reflected in entrance design, as she explains: “Shopping centres used to close themselves off from town centres and the entrance design of older centres often reflects that. Often you’ll go to a town and it looks like the shopping centre has landed from space, but we’re starting to see more connectivity between shopping centres and town centres along with the regeneration of high streets. It’s really important that they open themselves out to entice more customers.” 

High performance doors

Jon Palethorpe, commercial director at architectural aluminium façade specialist, Technal, offers some advice on what to consider when choosing high performance door systems for retail schemes. 

He says key factors to consider are traffic volumes, flows and usage, disabled access – which must be designed in from the outset – and safety options like stickers on glazed doors to prevent collisions and anti-finger trap devices. 

Aesthetics too are key: “Good aesthetic design creates welcoming entrances and encourages the public to enter,” says Palethorpe. “Entrances tend to be highly glazed to minimise artificial lighting and maximise visibility to allow shoppers to see in and encourage footfall. This means the door system will need to integrate seamlessly with the façade and with no compromise on weather performance at the interfaces.”  

“Corporate identity is very key for shopping centres and the door system should have the flexibility to reflect brand colours or complement the design theme,” he adds. “Doors for shopping centres are most commonly specified in silver, grey or white but can be finished in bright corporate colours.”

Other considerations are the type and thickness of glass, which vary according to the weather and thermal performance specifications, security criteria and acoustic and ventilation performance.  

Technal supplied doors from its Soleal range for The Moor in Sheffield, an £18m city centre market designed by Leslie Jones Architecture, which includes 180 market stalls and eight retail units owned by Aberdeen Asset Management, and is the only new purpose-built market hall to be constructed in the UK in the last 30 years.  

“The architect specified space-saving doors and we used a mixture of products on The Moor including Technal’s Soleal range,” says Guy Olsen, commercial manager at NG Developments, the glazing fabricators on the project. “Doors have to be robust for that type of environment, automated and it’s important to maximise opening dimensions.” 

“The entrance is a focal point and it should make an impact but it has to be practical too,” he says. “It’s very important to get the doors right because if you don’t and the automation isn’t quick enough, you risk putting people off.”  

Barrier matting 

Barrier matting is an important consideration at shopping centre entrances, helping to keep the floors beyond clean and dry and preventing slips and trips.  

“Entrance matting forms part of the first impression of a centre, and as one of the first things people see it sculpts their feelings about the rest of the scheme they are entering,” says John Morgan, general manager at Syncros Entrance Matting Systems. “It’s one of those things like judging a book by its cover, people make presumptions whether right or wrong, so the matting and the floors need to be clean and presentable or you risk putting people off.” 

“From a visual perspective, looks portray an image to shoppers,” he adds. “But it’s also about practicality – drying feet and preventing slips and trips. Barrier matting is essential.”

“Of course, matting must be absorbent but very often the matting footwells at shopping centres are too small. If it’s a wet day it usually takes seven strides over matting to take moisture off shoes but most shopping centres don’t take that into account. Having secondary matting is an important consideration. It’s about finding a solution to moisture problems within the client’s budget. You could dig out the floor – which is expensive – or provide surface covers, which is less so.” 

“There are 500-600 different matting systems and there are new products coming out all the time, whether aluminium or PVC. Some are modular and fit together like tiles, there are new textiles and there’s a wide variety of colours that allow for branding and logos - it takes individual consultation to find the most suitable option for the client’s environment.”

When it comes to cleaning, Morgan says most shopping centres clean barrier matting with a tub vacuum but they should be using an upright hoover which agitates the pile. 

“Cleaning should groom the pile and extract dirt and the more often it’s done, the better. It’s about looking after your investment.”  

“If they aren’t cleaned regularly, or not properly, grit can be tracked in over the matting and scratch and damage the floors beyond,” he warns. “If it’s not cleaned and maintained, the matting will become full of dirt which will eventually spill out and the matting will be useless.”

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