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How to build a retail store yourself!

Posted on July 22 2019

Shop Design on a budget..

We always wanted Bon Tot to be a bricks and mortar store. Many people told us (and continue to tell us!) that it's much easier and safer to be a webshop, but Kristina and I both felt really strongly that we wanted to be a 'place', not just a website. If you've been in to the shop and chatted with Kristina, or sat and cuddled with Frisco, hopefully you'll agree with this choice!

Bon Tot Store, Edinburgh

I've been an architect for almost 20 years now and have worked on many projects of different scales and sizes across the UK, so doing a shop fit out wasn't a daunting task. However, when you're working with a teeny tiny budget, it's certainly a challenge! We've always taken the approach with Bon Tot to grow slowly and steadily and in many ways I'd say that working with small budgets often leads to even more creative solutions.

As many of you will know, our very first shop was intended originally as a pop up, although we stayed for almost 2 years! We moved in to St Stephen Street with our good pal Hedgerow Florist.

We weren't allow to drill in to the walls, so I came up with the idea of using cardboard. We wrote a little blog about it a while back, which you can read HERE.

There were no fixings, no nails.. just packing tape and cardboard. The idea was to design something that could be removed and fully recycled and produced no waste. As with any bit of design, the success is in the planning stage. We needed to be open and trading as quickly as possible, as rent for a small business is a pretty big outlay, so we gave ourselves 3 days and a budget of £200!

I used Sketchup to plan out the main unit, so I could order the size of sheet that would need the least amount of cutting.

Bon Tot Store, Edinburgh - Sketch up model
3d Modelling - Shop Design

I planned out the design so the base was exactly half the height of the upper levels, and the flat shelf was the depth of the cardboard sheet width.

The other side of the shop was a slightly different challenge. We couldn't fix in to the stone walls, but there were a few existing fixings there. So I came up with an idea to fix sheets of OSB to the wall, using the existing fixing holes. This meant we could fix hanging grids on to the OSB as we needed, without touching the walls.

The result, as you can see below, was a super simple interior, that cost less than £200. The most pleasing part for me came a couple years later, when we were offered the chance to move along the street to our current home. A friend of ours was looking for crafting material for her kid's school, so we literally folded up the cardboard shop and handed it over to her!

One of the most exciting days of Bon Tot so far, was the day we moved down the road to the space that had previously housed the awesome Kestin Hare store.

Kestin's unit was just a few doors down the road from ours, which actually resulted in an even more ambitious fit out programme - this time we decided to try and move and re-open the same day!

Again, with any move like this the key is planning. Also, Kris and I have always taken the view with Bon Tot that it's a work in progress... it's really easy to be super hard on yourself, and think that you have to do it all at once. But we've always taken the view that the shop, and life generally, will evolve over time and sometimes I think in design terms that makes sense. The design decisions you make will be much different once you've lived with a space for a few months.

So... with that in mind, and with the help of our amazing street neighbours, Catalog Interiors, Those Were The Days Vintage, The Method and Golden Hare (not to mention, celebratory pizza from Civerinos!), we walked our shop down the road!

As you can see, we reused pretty much every last piece of our original shop. In fact, the initial move cost us less than £100 and we managed to complete it in a day! Before the day had ended we had our first customer in the door as you can see below. It's support like this from customers, friends and family that make running a bricks and mortar store possible, and enjoyable!

The first few weeks, we enjoyed the space of our new store, and the daylight! And set about planning for how we wanted the space to develop.

We've always found it hard to define exactly what Bon Tot is. Many businesses like to have a one line definition, but Bon Tot has never felt like that for us. Kristina says herself that she has more than one style, and our customers certainly come from a wide variety of backgrounds, styles, lifestyles, budgets..... We see ourselves as a Modern Kids Store for modern families. A couple of weeks in to our new space and we were really pleased to be shortlisted by I-ON magazine for their "breakout - best newcomer award", and then described by Eimear Varian Barry as "the most beautiful kids store I've ever seen". That made the move feel good!

And so.. back to Sketchup. As I suggested above, living in the space for a while helped us to understand the customer flow, to know where the best light was, to decide where checkout, packing stations etc should go.  We wanted the back of our shop to house our toys and gifts, and checkout, so we wanted it to be more fun. We designed and commissioned a besoke neon piece, and got a local Edinburgh sign writer - Charleys Chalk - to come in and do some graphics for us - FRESH defines how we feel about our collections and our style.

We also wanted to continue the themes from our previous shop and show what you can do with some cardboard and a little creativity! This time I took some industrial cardboard packing tubes and a hacksaw and you can see the result below!

I drew up in our logo in CAD, and we emailed it to a friend who CNC cut it in to a sheet of formica faced mdf. We used the sheets to make a checkout desk and a sign for out front of our shop. Again, this was a really cost effective way of making these items, as the material cost was only around £100, but the result (I think anyway!) looks much more expensive.

The front of the shop we wanted to keep primarily for clothing, and we wanted the space to feel bright, welcoming and simple. To keep a link with the more fun, industrial feel of the back of the shop, we used spray painted scaffold poles for the clothing rails, and a flat LED panel for the lighting - again, both really cost effective if you can find a good source!

scaffold pole clothing rails - bon tot

I've been lucky enough in my career to work on some great projects for fantastic clients like Time Out Market, Apex Hotels and the Kings Head Theatre... working across the UK on multi million pound developments. Working on Bon Tot, with Kristina and the team we've developed over the years is arguably more pleasing, but the principles are the same no matter the scale - know your budget and design to it and make sure your design can be delivered in the time you have available.

Working on a small budget, with local trades people, and developing slowly but surely is a good model I think for growing sustainably, and one we hope to follow for years to come!

Bon Tot is a family business


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  • Shammy Peterson: December 16, 2021

    I loved that you said that the space of the front shop must feel welcoming, bright, and simple. This is something that retail shop owners must consider in order to easily attract their target customers. I could imagine how helpful it would be for them to find a reliable retail fit-out designer.

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