By Peter Saunders
In the competitive field of global retail design, downtown Toronto is currently home to a tiny store that has reportedly earned the most industry accolades per square foot: the Penguin Shop. This unique store came about after book publishers Penguin and Random House, previously direct competitors, decided to merge in 2013.
In Toronto, the combined operations of Penguin Random House (PRH) Canada moved into several floors of office space at 320 Front Street West. As it turned out, the lease for this space also included a 14.7-m2 (158-sf) shoe repair shop on the building’s ground floor, accessible from the main foyer.
“Our workplace studio was assigned to design the new PRH offices and the client was very happy with the results,” explains Mardi Najafi, director of the retail team for Figure3, a Toronto-based independent interior design studio. “About eight months later, they reached out to my team to discuss how they might transform the old shoe repair store into an extension of their brand.”
By this point, the publisher envisioned setting up a gift shop to sell branded merchandise and possibly a limited, specially curated selection of its books. Najafi expanded on this concept with large-format point-of-purchase (POP) graphics that would turn the space into a customized backdrop for book launches and other special events, perfect for sharing via social media.
“Compared to a typical gift shop, I wanted to give this tiny space some more flexibility,” he says, “so I came up with the concept of pulling out shelving units on rails that would resemble large-format books, displaying interchangeable graphics of Penguin book spines.”
One key factor that made this concept feasible was ready access to the necessary creative materials within PRH’s archives. Each time a publisher releases a new book, after all, it creates the graphic for that book’s spine.
“The client loved the idea of these large-scale books, which could be changed throughout the year,” says Najafi, “and they could pull out the different shelving units at different times.”
Bringing dynamism to static graphics
To transform the concept into reality, display graphics provider Icon Digital Productions in nearby Markham, Ont., worked closely
with Figure3 to ensure physical prints could adequately convey the design scheme. This process involved two months of colour testing and prototype production before finalizing and installing all of the graphics for the store’s launch in the summer of 2016.
In the end, Figure3 and Icon decided to use a changeable graphics system from Visual Magnetics. Classic Penguin book spines were printed onto magnetic-receptive paper, using a four-colour ultraviolet-curing (UV-curing) press, while magnetic sheets were permanently adhered to the sliding shelf fixtures. This way, new graphics could be printed as needed, transported inexpensively—due to their low weight—and easily installed on-site by PRH’s own staff, without any risk of damage to the shelves.
“The entire store can be changed over in less than an hour,” says Will Boake, Icon’s vice-president (VP) of sales. “It’s very do-it-yourself (DIY) and the old graphics can be reused. You can even apply layers on top of each other. If you just wanted to change the titles on the book spines, for example, you could do that with partial overlays. It’s a cost-effective way to incorporate frequent updates.”
For the back wall, meanwhile, Icon printed the Penguin logo onto Ultraflex’s stretchable and washable Vortex woven poly-blend fabric, using a Mimaki dye sublimation printer and a Monti Antonio heat press, and fit it into a silicone edge graphic (SEG) aluminum frame.
“That main graphic can also be changed out by people at the store level,” says Boake. “This can be done for special events or seasonally throughout the year.”