A leading broadband communications company and the fourth-largest cable provider in the United States, Charter Communications employs more than 21,000 people and provides services to over 5.7 million customers in 29 states. Founded in 1993, the Fortune 500 company is known for integrating high-quality customer service with leading-edge entertainment and communications products.
As a longtime, on-call consultant to Charter, GS&P originally created a prototype design for its retail stores that has since been developed into numerous schematic plans. When Charter was ready to develop the brand for its new retail locations, the communications leader called upon GS&P to craft a design prototype that not only integrated an improved customer support model and services, but also adapted to the various sizes and configurations for a multi-store rollout.
“Charter was in the midst of going all-digital and was ready to revamp how they delivered their services,” explains senior interior designer Julie Roquemore. “We had previously partnered with them to create test-fit schematics—or their initial design prototype—for store sites across the country, and it made perfect sense for them to enlist GS&P to execute another transformation of the original prototype.”
To develop and implement the new archetype, Charter selected a 5,200-square-foot space in Greenville, South Carolina. GS&P was given 18 weeks to complete the fast-tracked project, from the beginning of concept design to the opening of the new Greenville store—Charter’s largest to date. The strategy to meet this aggressive timetable focused on a number of key guiding principles including: improving the current store design to align with Charter’s customer-focused model; collaboration between the owner, designer, contractor and vendors to deliver the project on time; and expressing the Charter brand and image with contemporary yet enduring finishes.
Development of GS&P’s new prototype concept started out with the floor plan, concentrating on open views and curving forms translated from Charter’s branding. With the goal of reinforcing interaction between the customer and customer service representative (CSR), as well as conducting live technology demonstrations, GS&P’s new plan aimed to focus on those points while providing accessibility to functional support areas.
“The previous retail store prototype was more sharp-edged and regimented,” says project designer Anne-Marie Gianoudis. “It was also separated into different service areas. For example, there was a place where you could get your wireless Internet setup, and another designated area where you could return your cable box. With this new model, Charter didn’t want visual separation between those services because all of their CSR agents were going to serve every customer—no matter what services they required. They wanted to blend these areas so there were open views and the CSRs had visual contact with the entire store.
“The central focus we kept hearing from the client was that their representatives needed to be more approachable. So we designed a work counter that was lower and not as much a buffer between the customer and the CSRs. We wanted it to be more welcoming so customers didn’t feel like they were approaching a clerk behind a high counter.”
In the new retail store prototype, 12 CSR stations (separated into three groups) are positioned to provide ease of access to equipment and to the sales floor for interaction with customers. Televisions, interactive areas and a customer consultation room are located to give customers hands-on experience as well as facilitate “how-to” lessons. At the entry of the store, a queue station welcomes patrons while a TV monitor displays the customer’s position in line. The new design also provides agents with clear sight lines throughout the store, and the convenient location of equipment storage and multiple interactive areas gives CSRs efficient access to the tools they require to work with customers.
“We went through several iterations when we were studying this new store prototype,” says Roquemore. “Charter knew they were ready for a change and were on the cusp of making the decision of how the CSRs were going to interact with the customer. So while we were developing the new design model, they were deciding what functions were going to take place. By collaborating with the client, we were ultimately able to help stretch their thought process and spur some of the decisions that were made.”
Another pivotal element in improving the current store design to align with the customer-focused model was enhanced lighting. Selections were made to meet Charter’s key lighting goals which included: the use of lighting to enhance visual displays, create zones of interest and provide adequate work area illumination; improved light levels and low glare on TVs and equipment; and readily available fixtures that were both affordable and easy to maintain.
“The earlier retail store prototype was a little more dimly lit and very focused in certain places to highlight the separate service areas,” says Roquemore. “With this new model, they wanted it more open, welcoming and light, making it easy for customers to find what they actually came for.”
“A large part of this project involved taking what Charter wanted and then showing them what it could be in the end,” adds Gianoudis. “This was especially true when it came to lighting. One of the key objectives was brighter lighting that highlighted the technology. And our goal was to give them the interior design fully developed with a new lighting concept that easily transformed from one store to the next.
“Based on a sketch of what we wanted the floor plan to develop into, our lighting team was able to create a plan and photometric layout that clearly demonstrated to the client how we could improve the lighting levels. That lighting package is now being used as a prototype element that goes out to all new contractors that Charter brings on board.”
Expressing the Brand
In contrast to the original prototype which tied components such as carpet, millwork and ceilings to the brand color scheme, Charter desired a new store model that expressed the organization’s brand in a more contemporary yet enduring fashion.
“The brand image in the old prototype, with its vibrant graphics and finish elements, is in contrast to what we were asked to achieve with this new design,” says Gianoudis. “Previously, the floor coloring featured a lot of branding colors, and the walls and laminates also incorporated the colors in their brand.
“Charter wanted their new stores to be more elegant and sophisticated. They desired a space that was warm, simple, relatable and monochrome. By achieving this, it helped put the focus on technology such as tablets, laptops and smartphones. Those products became the center of attention as opposed to bright, flashy coloration in the finishes.”
Reinforcing Charter’s corporate identity via a more subtle design approach, a contemporary color palette of grays and white—offset by accents of woodgrain laminate on the casework—bring a bright and inviting appeal to the store. The creative use of curves in the millwork surfaces unifies the concept and creates approachable interactive zones for both customers and CSRs. Dominant walls emphasize brand impact and lead to open views of the entire store. A neutral color scheme was used for the store’s carpet, millwork and ceilings, and branding colors were reserved for logo elements and accent paint only.
Clean ceiling planes and general illumination from thin, recessed strip fixtures add a touch of style while drawing the eye to technology displays. Floating ceiling elements above the CSR areas accent the stations without visual clutter, while the integration of a curved wall form featuring tall storage cabinets (located behind the CSRs) creates a dynamic framework surrounding the sales floor.
A Collaborative Effort
To meet the aggressive 18-week schedule, GS&P and Charter prioritized each team member’s efforts, allowing critical path items such as lighting to be designed, approved and released for construction at an accelerated pace. This required close collaboration as well as daily communication between GS&P, Charter, vendors, contractors and subcontractors.
“Immediately after the lighting concept design and fixture types were approved by Charter, GS&P released these details to the contractor for order placement,” says Roquemore. “This quick release of information allowed the contractor and subcontractor to get lighting costs approved and orders placed.
“Another component that helped speed things along was the procurement of carpet. Charter always orders their own carpet, and for years they’ve had a national contract with a specific vendor. Knowing about this existing contract, we quickly found the collections that were right for both the budget and the design. So before we knew who was going to carry out the installation, they had the carpet ready. This particular carpet will now be standard in all the new stores.”
Open, bright and engaging, GS&P’s revised prototype design creates a new signature model for Charter Communications that not only propels its brand into the future, but also delivers an exciting new retail environment designed expressly with the customer in mind.
“Charter has trusted GS&P for a long time, and I believe it’s because we serve them quickly and in a way that’s appropriate to what they need,” says Gianoudis. “They don’t need overthinking. They need fast studies that get the projects in the pipeline.”
“Since the Greenville location opened, we’ve executed multiple test fits across the country that demonstrate how easily the details can be adapted from one store to another,” adds Roquemore. “The finishes translate to any store size, the module of the CSR desk and their support storage units are a standard size that can be used at every site, and technology and the display of those elements is also scalable to every location.
“In the end, all this translates into a new genre of retail store for Charter Communications that brings to life their overarching vision. And it’s extremely gratifying to know that we were able to bring value to the project by helping them implement that vision.”