Jos de Vries The Retail Company: "Building a bridge between commerce and professional design

In 1986 Jos de Vries decided to start a professional agency for concept development and design focused exclusively on the retail trade. Prior to that date, no such agency had existed. Creating a store layout had been a task of the shopkeepers themselves, with technical support from interior designers and shop fitters. The retail trade was too humble for the likes of the established design
community, because shops mean trade, something no respected designer would want to be associated with.

Commerce and design, two extremely different areas. One of the few exceptions to this was the start of the department store. From their very start in the 19th century, department stores formed bridges between these two areas. For instance, the well-known Paris department store Printemps engaged architects to create its interior design from the start. And the Dutch Bijenkorf was praised for its specially styled interior and its much talked-about window displays.

Chain stores need to be recognisable
Change came gradually around 1980. The retail trade was booming as a result of the creation of chain stores. Successful stores began to open multiple branch stores, first nationally, but soon also internationally. As of that time they also began to dominate the city centre scene. When chain stores were founded, the importance of a uniformly recognisable image was acknowledged: the consumer should be able to recognise immediately a particular shop in any town. This much sought-after familiarity and the accompanying distinctiveness thus constituted the first steps towards the creation of the store brand. And the people who accomplished this were specialised designers.

The power of marketing
At the same time, marketing was first introduced on a limited scale in the development of store formulas. Looking at the success of well-known product brands, shops at the forefront saw that familiarity and distinctiveness were not just determined by product range and prices. They saw that the identity of a store was at least as important. This view not only grew in non-food and
department stores: some supermarkets were also trend-setters in this respect. More than that: many of them were at the forefront of this development! It was the founder of the most noted Dutch grocery chain, Albert Heijn himself, who said: "In the end, we only sell one product and its name is Albert Heijn." This shows that he understood that the brand value of the store formula would eventually surpass that of product brands. Together with chains such as Tesco in England and Migros in Switzerland they were pioneers in this area. What foresight! Now we all know that this vision eventually caused a revolution in retailing at the end of the 1980s. Chains understood that it was less important what you sold and more important how you sold it.

Jumping on the bandwagon
This corresponded exactly with the vision of Jos de Vries, on the basis of which he had started up his agency. As a result, the agency experienced a huge growth within a short period of time.
Combining a commercial, marketing-oriented attitude with creativity and design proved highly successful. And, thanks to chain stores such as Albert Heijn and Tesco, the entire industry experienced rapid professionalisation. Jos de Vries’ agency was one of the few independent
agencies able to meet market demand. So it is not surprising that the agency expanded far beyond the borders of the Netherlands. And, moreover, was able to stretch beyond the boundaries of the food industry. As a result, the agency is today's uncontested authority in the entire spectrum of modern retailing. In addition to extensive know-how of the food-industry, an enormous amount of expertise has also been acquired in non-food, services, department stores and shopping centres. Moreover, the agency has built up unique expertise in Europe, in an industry where all of this comes together: the hypermarket. Jos de Vries' agency’s expertise goes beyond store design. A team of the agency’s own marketing specialists contributes ideas towards strategy and positioning issues. And RBM, the agency's own project management office, provides professional supervisory services from the first sketch until the opening.

A pioneer's vision
As he passed away in 2002, Jos de Vries himself has not been able to experience the latest developments in his agency, but he would have been proud. Proud that his vision has now been widely acknowledged and forms the basis of an entire, comprehensive field of expertise. Proud that the link between design and commerce he envisaged has now grown into a firm bridge. And proud
that his agency, first as pioneer and later as authority in the field, has played and will continue to play such an important role.

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