As a young man I attended a fine arts school for several years and a couple of more years of focused commercial arts training. Following that I started to work in the creative side of the retail business as what we would now call a “visuals trainee” (A “window guy” or mannequin wrestler would be a little closer to the mark) for a well-respected independent display professional in the greater Cincinnati area. We worked in a variety of retail settings, such as various junior and ladies clothing stores, numerous mens stores, and jewelry, gifts, furniture and fabric stores. This experience was intensely creative and perfect for a young guy who liked hands-on challenges, nice clothes and, well, pretty girls.
I eventually took these experiences to Southern California, where I quickly developed my own independent display business, serving a variety of small stores in street, strip malls and, in particular, large regional shopping centers. Suburban malls were just beginning their explosive growth period and I was extremely fortunate to ride the new wave of retail development.
The natural occupational progression of a visual merchant inevitably led to becoming a store designer – which I embraced with a passion. Having an abundance of enthusiasm, ideas and absolutely no shortage of youthful confidence, I was happy to offer my ideas about how the store should look and function. The years of physically working in the stores, presenting merchandise in various ways and learning about the operation of the store had given me a unique insight about how a store should look and work. Amazingly, the advice was well-accepted and actually worked.
David Gerken, “Window Guy”, Charlotte Russe circa 1978.
The lessons learned and experience gained ultimately led to the establishment of David & Company/Store Planning and for the next 20 years our small staff of architects, designers and draftsmen designed literally hundreds of the stores popping up all over the country. Again, the explosive expansion of the regional shopping center across the country gave us the opportunity to work with hundreds of rising merchants filling in the empty spaces in this vast new style of real estate development. A few of the David & Company clients grew to be large chains that you may have heard of: Charlotte Russe, Hot Topic, Z Gallerie, Bebe, Hallmark Cards, and more. Most, however, were smaller locally-owned merchants hoping to have the most viable and productive store possible in the competitive mall environment.
As the phenomenal growth of the Shopping Center began to cool, the reinvented David & Company became smaller, but expanded its interests by creating strategic associations with other retail service providers. Working together, we provided designs for a long list of diverse retail interests. Sports teams, museums, amusement parks and quite a number of highly entrepreneurial retail proposals blended into the mix of traditional store design. The highly successful formula for retailing that Disney had discovered and perfected, other enterprises embraced. The importance of the merchandise supporting the ‘brand’ and the store design supporting the merchandise led to growth of themed retail.
In 1998, we designed our first traveling store to accompany a new exhibition of artifacts recently recovered from the wreck of the Titanic. It was designed to be a traveling exhibition store with ‘Titanic’ themed products at the end of the exhibition. The timing of the exhibition, along with the release of the blockbuster Titanic movie made the whole enterprise an immediate hit. From this foundation, Event Network Inc. grew quickly in the themed retail world and has evolved into the premier retail operator for cultural and iconic attractions all over the world.
The enterprise grew very quickly. Eventually, I became Vice President and Director of Store Design and Development. I had the pleasure and responsibility of designing and/or consulting for hundreds of stores in aquariums, museums, zoos, science centers, and historic and iconic structures in North America, Canada and Western Europe.
Since each project is a one-off, individual design, it is tailored expressly to meet the unique desires and expectations of the attraction’s managers and guests.
Working individually and then with a small staff of draftsman, illustrators and construction managers, the next years became filled with the challenge – and privilege – of designing and producing dozens, then hundreds of stores all over North America and a few in Western Europe.
We participated in dozens of proposals, prepared hundreds of renderings and models, construction scale drawings, selected colors, finishes, prepared budgets, found vendors, contractors and trade sources, reviewed and negotiated bids, managed all aspects of the store construction. We even helped with merchandising.
After 15 highly entrepreneurial years I felt it’s time to move away from the demands of a life of corporate design. Now, I am pleased to offer my experience and skills to a broader audience.