Leroy Merlin – the world’s largest home improvement retailer, and present in 13 countries – has made its first foray into the African market with the opening of a store at Redefine Properties’ Stoneridge Centre in Greenstone, Johannesburg.
Redefine Properties’ development team had to substantially remodel the specification document designed for a European environment to provide a new two level configuration to suit the South African environment and ensure consistency of look and feel across Leroy Merlin’s global stores.
Occupying close to 17 000 m2 and covering two floors – parking and a drive-through building materials yard on the lower level and showrooms, trading floor, storage area, office space as well as a pick up zone on the upper level – Leroy Merlin stores offer a variety of internationally-sourced products with specialised advice and training for customers of any level of DIY expertise. The stores normally carry anywhere between 30 000 to 60 000 products, with Leroy Merlin’s customer focused employees able to offer sound advice on solutions, products and installations.
“We want customers to have an adventure at Leroy Merlin, and the building plays a role in that – using architecture to create an environment where customers will be comfortable,” says Patrycja Pelkowska, Leroy Merlin’s in-house architect along with Thomas Lanier. After five years of research and planning, Leroy Merlin is taking an uncharacteristically aggressive approach to South Africa, opening three further stores in the next year in Roodepoort, Boksburg and in Fourways, alongside the Fourways Mall redevelopment.
Having designed and built 15 Leroy Merlin stores in Russia and redeveloped a further 15 retailers into Leroy Merlin stores in Romania, Pelkowska now heads up the company’s architectural design and construction into new markets.
The site was handed over in April 2017 and the 16 000 m2 store, with additional offices of 700 m2 (including a kitchen, showers, changing rooms, bathrooms, and break areas for staff), opened this September.
With 35 000 different products and 120 members of staff, Leroy Merlin presents a markedly different DIY shopping experience for customers. “It is about the vibe people get when they shop here and the modern, clean, bright interiors of the store reflect this,” says Pelkowska. Lanier, a French architect who has been based in South Africa for almost two decades, notes that the South African context is quite interesting for Leroy Merlin. “Much of the local population, especially in the areas where we are building the stores, is well travelled, educated, sophisticated and open minded. We couldn’t just come with a big box and expect people to react well to that; we needed to deliver something user friendly. This, he explains, is done through a mix of elements, notably quality of light, colour schemes, and materials and textures used, which sets Leroy Merlin apart from the opposition.
“As architects we have to be conscious of rack layouts in the store. The merchandising department has certain rules about rack layouts, how large the alley is, how deep the racks are, how many racks need to be placed, the width of the main passage, etc, – so we are given the general dimensions and forms for the trading area, but then it’s a bit like Lego... you play with it and adapt it,” Pelkowska says.
“This store is similar to Leroy Merlin stores overseas, but we do keep the design open and leave elements for local identification,” says Pelkowska, although the basic technical rule of a crisp, white store which doesn’t interrupt the customer experience is synonymous with the brand worldwide. It is a far cry from the dark and dingy hardware stores of the past, and the interiors are designed with younger generations and female shoppers in mind.
The important role of lighting
“From a lighting perspective, our brief is sleek light lines,” says Pelkowska. “The general lighting layout is LED fixtures at 6 m, with focused lighting for the showroom areas and special exhibitions.” The architects asked for 700 lux in the trading areas, higher and warmer than you would find in similar stores. “There are no accidents in what we specify – every aspect of the requirements is precise, hence the lux and our warm white colour requirement.”
As the height of the in-store racks is not uniform throughout, this meant that the penetration of light was not uniform throughout. “We performed numerous tests because there were places in the store which I felt were a bit dark. The 700 lux level is our minimum, but in zones where racks obstruct the light, or dark products absorb light, we added extra spotlights as we did in areas where we tried to focus the attention of the customers on ‘star’ products,” she says. Pelkowska notes that in certain areas there are almost “theatrical installations” of lighting to highlight items.
A ‘soft’ BMS system is employed, and with numerous skylights providing natural light, the use of interior lighting in the store will be optimised once the tenants get used to the day-to-day running of the building. “With the natural lighting you have here in South Africa, I thought, ‘wow, maybe we can just turn everything off!’ During sunny days, I believe that most of the lighting in store could actually be used for marketing purposes rather than functional lighting needs,” says Pelkowska.
Externally, street lighting is provided in the parking area, but it is the Leroy Merlin signage that catches the eye. “It is actually an optical illusion,” explains Pelkowska. The signage is dark green, although the double printed vinyl banner on light boxes appears black during the day because of the contrast with the exterior’s white cladding and the blue sky.
Once lit at night, the rich corporate green acts as a beacon for the store. Lanier explains that the perfect solution for lighting the large triangle that forms the company’s logo and offers a hint of the scale of the building, would have been to have it backlit, but this was a challenge owing to its size and maintenance needs “Here we concentrated the façade lighting on the triangle without much light loss, as our parking light requirement level is already high, and also projects onto the elevation of the building.”
Looking back on the company’s first store in Africa, Pelkowska is happy with the way local contractors and suppliers worked with the “strange animal from France telling them what to do”. While there were a few struggles with the quality of the execution of the work, the team is positive it can learn from this first experience. “It is not easy to break habits, but we have worked on projects that have been a lot more difficult than this one. On the electrical side, the electrical engineers, Monty Miller Associates, were very hands-on and worked really closely with us, and we are very happy to have them on board at the Boksburg store as well.”
By using as many local suppliers as possible and holding them to exacting European standards, in Greenstone, Leroy Merlin has created a world class retail environment which could signify a shift in South African consumers’ hardware spend, and lighting has proved to be key in the realisation of this store.
From the lighting supplier
Kevin Murphy from the lighting suppliers, Province Lighting, says that for the first Leroy Merlin store in the country, and with so many variables to work around, the project was a resounding success. “We supplied all the lighting for the store – over 2000 base LED fittings for the trading floor as well as all external lighting,” he says.
A unique feature of the lighting is that a 3000 K colour temperature was specified, as opposed to the usual 4000 K for this sort of environment. “This adds lots of warmth to the store, providing a totally different retail experience,” he says. “Leroy Merlin was very specific about the required lux levels on the trading floor, so we carried out a general layout across the board before all the shelves and racking were installed and once they were up we were very close to what was required.
“Despite the usual minor challenges, which are common on a project of this size, Province Lighting is very excited about the overall result of this project and the aggressive rollout from Leroy Merlin, and hopes to be involved in future stores,” says Murphy.
LEROY MERLIN ARCHITECTS: Patrycja Pelkowska and Thomas Lanier: www.leroymerlin.co.za
LANDLORD: Redefine Properties: www.redefine.co.za
ELECTRICAL ENGINEERS: Monty Miller Associates: www.eleceng.co.za
LIGHTING SUPPLIERS: Province Lighting: www.provincelighting.com