Interstore | Schweitzer is a company that has one ongoing mission, to design and build successful stores in partnership with their clients. Here, RLI speaks with CEO and Owner Bernhard Schweitzer and London-based Creative Director Nathan Watts to discuss how the family-owned business has evolved during the pandemic and how it plans to move forward in these unique times.
The Interstore | Schweitzer history can be traced back to 1927 with the foundation of Schweitzer Mercantile by the grandfather of today’s CEO Bernhard Schweitzer. The company’s original operations revolved around shopfitting before Bernhard’s father founded the retail agency Interstore in 1987, initially headquartered in Zurich, now with five locations around Europe and operating independently under the roof of the Schweitzer Group.
Today, Schweitzer Group totals about 800 employees and is headquartered in South Tyrol, Northern Italy. As a business, it offers a one-of-a-kind approach to design and build, operating across three banners: Interstore, Schweitzer Project and Schweitzer Industries.
Interstore is a full-service design agency offering strategy, retail design, communication & visual merchandising. Schweitzer Project builds the store by translating the Interstore design into reality. Lastly is Schweitzer Industries, creating tailor-made retail rollouts, from the process design to serial production and worldwide delivery.
In the last 12 to 18 months, the company has been focusing on the development of what they call the Flexstore™, an innovative bespoke solution to enable food retailers to adapt and change the layout of complex food service environments with greater speed
“We have also made important investments in recent months, one of them being the purchase of a renowned design agency to help develop our services and our presence in the market as well as to expand our offer in the food market industry,” explains Bernhard Schweitzer, CEO and Owner of Interstore | Schweitzer. “In addition, an office has been launched in London to provide us with greater access to design talent and so we can be closer to UK clients in the future. We are also set to open North American offices in Toronto for Interstore as well as for Schweitzer as we view the North American market as a key location for us in the coming years.”
One of the business’s more recent completions was for Migros, the number one retailer in Switzerland where they designed and delivered BRIDGE, a unique and never-before-seen concept in the country. Spanning 2,000sq m, the space has been conceived as a connector between a diverse fresh food market, creative local start-ups and store events. The store motto is “Meet Food, Meet Market, Meet People” positioning Bridge as the No1 meeting place for food lovers in Zurich.
“Migros has over 800 stores in Switzerland and they now use BRIDGE as a sort of laboratory where they can try new assortments, new kinds of services and utilise our Flexstore™ system. They can use BRIDGE as a testing ground before rolling new ideas and concepts out to their wider store portfolio,” Schweitzer says.
“More than ever, retailers need to identify the elements of experience that can separate them from competition. The best examples of ‘iconic’ attention-grabbing experience design is when the emphasis is placed on the part that represents the key brand/touchpoint of difference that relates to the place, the offer/product and the customer in that location. BRIDGE is an excellence example of this,” adds Nathan Watts, Creative Director for Interstore | Schweitzer and Founder of the London studio.
Other recent projects include the opening of the Central Food Hall Ladprao in Bangkok for Central Group as well as the launch of a large hypermarket for EDEKA in Bremen in Northern Germany, where the offer is made up of 70 per cent retail and 30 per cent gastronomic and food services. The next store in this partnership will be opened in September in Berlin and it will operate on a more 50/50 level between retail and food services.
In the coming months they will launch a new store in Hawaii for Foodland along with a big department store in Dublin, Ireland for a famous retailer and a new Coop site in Italy. An important move for the business as they look to grow in the North American market is a partnership with Sobeys, the number two food retailer in Canada and they will be launching a site near Toronto towards the end of the year.
When discussing the blurring of the line between digital and physical shopping, Watts explains that shoppers today have so much at their fingertips that stores need to focus on two things.
“Firstly, to offer an experience that is fully compatible with supporting an excellent overall shopper journey across multiple channels and secondly, stores must embrace their unique characteristics as ‘real world’ assets in order to compliment growing digital demands. Retailers need to offer more ‘desire moments’ and reasons for customers to make the journey.”
While they have incredibly strong roots in the food industry, around 30 to 35 per cent of the total turnover of the group comes from non-food retail, particularly in the fashion and technology sectors. Their newest avenue is working with banks, which has brought them great success and has quickly become a very interesting segment for the company.
Building and maintaining long lasting and strong partnerships with their clients is the key for the group’s success on an international level along with their unique approach which keeps them ahead of their competition in the fit-out industry. “It is our clients that continually push us constantly to new frontiers because they know we can come up with innovative and creative ideas.” Also, another important contributing factor to the company’s success are its employees which are the driving force behind all their projects.
The retail landscape is undergoing a radical change. Looking to the future, Schweitzer and Watts both state that online will be one of the huge change drivers over the next couple of years, especially for the investment of their clients who need to adapt to the rapidly evolving shopper needs and to the way they experience and look at stores. “There is a lot of work for the industry and for us in the future and I am positive about the fundamental role that retail will continue to play in society. We are ready.”, says Schweitzer.