For years, the 2,100 Foot Locker retail stores in locations across the country have helped support a consistent image: a customer-oriented chain where sales staffers in referee uniforms offer expert advice on footwear and other athletic gear within compact, locker room-like settings. Recently the chain's parent company, the Woolworth Corporation, launched a plan to update the Foot Locker image, and a new look is afoot at its new and retrofitted stores.
To make a customer's trip to Foot Locker more than simply a trek to try on sneakers, the footwear giant has focused on enhancing the entertainment appeal of its outlets as part of the repositioning. Collaborating with Boston-based Elkus/Manfredi Architects, a design team from the recently established firm RH Productions has created a series of dynamic prototype stores that will serve as models for locations rolling out across the country. The theatrical mix of lighting, audio, and video elements in each prototype creates an interactive environment to engage customers, with scenes and ambient effects programmed to change frequently throughout the day.
"Woolworth was looking to update the brand image of Foot Locker, which hadn't been updated in 20 years," says RH Productions partner and principal lighting designer Tim Hunter. "We were hired to develop a look as well as a multimedia position for the company. Rather than a small step, Foot Locker wanted to take a giant leap in changing its image, reaffirming its position as the number-one retailer in its market."
A full-service design and production firm, New York-based RH Productions was established last summer to provide concept design, design development, and implementation for a range of retail, restaurant, and architectural projects. Hunter, a veteran theatrical lighting designer (Broadway's Smokey Joe's Cafe, The Wizard of Oz at Madison Square Garden, productions at Universal Studios Florida, and a long list of regional and touring credits) has teamed with partner Robin Reardon, a former Universal Studios Florida vice president of attraction development, to serve the increasingly hybrid "entertainment" sector of the design marketplace.
"The concept of entertainment has expanded tremendously over the last few years," Reardon affirms. "Five years ago it would have meant working for Paramount Parks or Universal or Disney, and now it could be IBM or Foot Locker or any restaurant as a client. The catalyst behind our company's growth in just our first year is the experience we bring of building permanent, large-scale, heavily themed, highly technical installations, combined with a theatrical approach and sense of art direction."
One of the first Foot Locker prototype stores made its debut last winter at the Arsenal Mall in Watertown, MA, a Boston suburb. The 4,500-sq.-ft. (405 sq. m) facility--a new space that takes the place of three separate existing Foot Locker locations at the mall--falls within the medium-size range of the new prototypes, which can run up to 20,000 sq. ft. (1,800 sq. m). The location's interior architecture features color-saturated concrete and a display fixture system of interchangeable wood, metal,and glass panels, orchestrating a decidedly edgier look for the retailer.
The main multimedia attraction is a central "arena" containing a 24-screen videowall, augmented by a fully integrated lighting and sound system. "The idea was to create an urban playground environment," Hunter says, "a place that would be highly textured, both physically and from a lighting standpoint. The lighting is focused to create a tremendous amount of patterns--in the way it illuminates product, or chooses not to. The lighting also helps to reinforce the stories being told within the video presentations."
For the main "show" element, RH Productions produced four individual video presentations--each two minutes and 20 seconds long--which are played in rotation every half hour on the main videowall, with additional elements appearing on monitors throughout the store. Concentric circles of trussing fan out from the arena, supporting an array of lighting instruments including Electronic Theatre Controls Source Four and Source Four jr luminaires, as well as High End Systems Cyberlights(R), Studio Colors(R), and Dataflash(R) AF1000 automated luminaires. Equipment and custom-manufactured truss was supplied by BASH Lighting. Don Stern of BASH has worked with Hunter for many years on various theatrical projects.
"The lighting is highly interactive with the shows, changing color, texture, and position constantly in support of the video images," Hunter points out. "The audio system is also highly articulated. A video image might start on the main videowall, and shift to a bank of monitors behind customers facing the main cube. As the video image travels back there, the sound travels with it, and in some cases the lighting follows as well."
Each of the four shows--titled Hands, Feet, Heartbeat, and Balls--stakes out a different emotional territory, according to Hunter. "We wanted to see how successful we could be with a variety of storytelling formats in this environment.
"Hands begins as you start to hear giggling and children clapping their hands, playing a game," Hunter says. "In a moment the lighting comes down in the entire store environment and the gobos come up, then an image appears on the videowall and the lighting settles down. The image is of schoolgirls playing patty-cake in a playground. The scenes unfold gently into a very warm, embracing show." The imagery features quick cuts of various hands at work: a tennis player, musician, boxer, swimmer, and so on. "As you move through it, the narrative for the most part is quiet and peaceful," Hunter says. "Then there is a swelling of the music soundtrack and all the imagery is taken to a gold patina. At that moment the Studio Colors sweep through the air, gold striplights come up, and the whole environment takes on a warm, golden sunset look. We take you through this soaring, angelic moment and then settle back down, returning to the girls in the playfield again. As the images begin to fade, the lighting gently comes back up and the audio fades out under it." The segment features more than 64 lighting cues.
The fast-paced editing and strobe lighting effects of Feet create a more aggressive ambience. "We used the term 'warfare' to describe it when we were plotting the narrative," Hunter says. The piece begins with an explosion of sound, as the lighting drops out and then flashes and strobes throughout the store. "This piece features very aggressive strokes of light and intensity," says the LD. "It's harsh, cold, edgy, and gritty." As the show--with 168 lighting cues--comes to an end, a woman in the video appears to kick the camera, bringing the screen to black. The lighting echoes the abrupt change, by immediately shifting to the ambient state of the store's lighting.
A quiet and introspective mood characterizes the Heartbeat segment, which begins with the sound of a human heartbeat as the lighting slowly comes down in the space. "Next the lighting gently pulses with the sound of the heartbeat, and that's really the only thing that happens with the lighting in that show," Hunter says. "Yet customers are drawn into the rhythm of it. Toward the end of the piece an image of a boxer fills the screen. The Studio Colors downlight the arena with very white light, giving it the feeling of a professional boxing ring. The piece ends with a sudden loud ring of the boxing bell and an abrupt, harsh flash of bright light. Then the space returns to its ambient state. Customers seem to get caught up in the mood of the show."
The final presentation, Balls, is a whimsical montage of vintage slapstick film clips, cartoons, and colorful footage of balls on the move from various sports--tennis, soccer, basketball, and golf among them. At times the balls appear to be coming toward viewers, and in one instance a soccer ball is kicked over the store's arena and caught in an image appearing on the satellite monitors behind viewers. "As the ball flies overhead, the Studio Colors visually follow its trajectory, with the colorful illumination tracking in sequence from blue to purple." Balls features 130 lighting cues.
For all four shows, RH Productions collaborated with New York-based Spark Video to produce the multimedia imagery. Lighting cues for the presentations were programmed on an ETC Expression 2X board, and downloaded onto an ETC Lighting Playback Controller, which in turn is controlled by a proprietary show controller.
To further underscore the role of the arena as the major playing field in the store, the design team employed backlighting for dramatic effect. "Because the arena display fixtures are textured glass, we created a white glow behind them with L&E MR-16 Mini-Strips, so the merchandise pops out from the background," Hunter says. Vertically mounted on the back side of the fixture supports are Great American Market StarStrobes which reflect off the glass. "We also used the Cyberlights and Studio Colors to spotlight different elements in the center of the arena so it remains a very strong focal point," Hunter says.
The perimeter walls of the store are also lit with L&E MR-16 Mini-Strips, which accentuate the wall treatments of quilted metal in four colors. "Using the perimeter striplights during the show completely changes the environment," Hunter says. "The arena lighting comes down, the striplights along the perimeter come up, and gobo patterns move all through the space. We leave some highlights on certain product areas, but really shift the focus of the shopping experience for the few minutes of the show onto the arena."
To add interest to the store's ambient state--the periods between the multimedia shows--RH Productions designed a variety of Foot Locker screen savers, trivia teasers, and product promotions to appear on the video monitors, at times accompanied by lighting effects. For example, an animated referee appears on a video monitor directing shoppers to specific products. Then a whistle blows and all the automated luminaires sweep over to mark the spot.
The multimedia elements of the store are programmed for every period of the day, and RH Productions continues to create updated media packages for the revamped Foot Locker stores. "We almost think of it as a television station in terms of programming," Reardon says.
Orlando-based ITEC Productions assisted the design team with technological support for the project, notes Hunter, "helping us to engineer how the lighting, audio, and video systems communicate with each other and to map out how we will be able to update the system every day." Woolworth also is developing proprietary plans to update the media in all its stores remotely from one central location.
Client Woolworth Corporation
Architect and Interior Designer Elkus/Manfredi Architects, David Manfredi
Show and Media Production, Lighting Design RH Productions Tim Hunter, Robin Reardon, partners; Charlie Morrison, associate lighting designer; Michael Burgoyne, assistant lighting designer; Ron Fogel, Jason Friedman, engineers
Show Control and Video System Design ITEC Productions, Marc Plogstedt, Jeff Hartlieb
Audio System Design ADI, Steve Shull
Audio Equipment Supplier SPL
Lighting Equipment Supplier BASH Lighting Services
Media Production Associates Roaring Title Films, Rocky Botts, director
Post-production Design Spark Design Inc., Kevin Goddess
Original Music Composition Ruggieri Music, Robbie Ruggieri
Partial Equipment List (1) ETC Lighting Playback Controller with Expression 2X software (96) ETC Sensor 2.4kW dimmers (48) ETC Sensor 1.4kW dimmers (17) ETC Source Four ellipsoidals (60) ETC Source Four jrs (26-degree, 36-degree, 50-degree) (4) ETC Source Four VNSP PARs (12) ETC Source Four WFL PARs (3) High End Systems Cyberlight SVs with custom patterns (6) High End Systems Studio Colors (8) High End Systems Dataflash AF1000 strobe units (16) Lighting & Electronics 3-circuit, 30-lamp MR-16 Mini-Strips (6) Lighting & Electronics 4-circuit, 40-lamp MR-16 Mini-Strips (28) Hubbell QL505s (67) Modular Nomad PAR-30s with Osram Sylvania lamps (404) Times Square Lighting PAR-30 spots and floodlights with Osram Sylvania lamps (90) Great American Market StarStrobes (24) Lighting & Electronics PAR-46s (442) Special FX Lighting glass filters