Walking into a retail store instantly transports us to a different world replete with opulence, glamour and elegance; something that the online world finds difficult to replicate !

Aditya Lakhotiya, our next pathbreaker, Retail Store Designer at Daniel Wellington, designs retail spaces and stores (partner stores , own stores , travel retail) in countries falling under the IMEA region (India, Middle East & Africa) .

Aditya talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about being drawn to the multi-disciplinary nature of retail design in bringing together different departments to create an exemplary customer experience.

For students, when you enjoy your work, you also enjoy expanding your horizons by taking on more responsibilities above and beyond your role.

Aditya, please tell us about Your background?

I grew up in a small town in the outskirts of Chennai, and did my schooling there. I was mostly interested in gaining practical knowledge rather than theoretical. Also, I indulged in a lot of art & craft competitions and used to paint even in my free time, making models & design patterns.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I did Bachelors in Design (Interiors) degree from SRM University.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

Seeing a lot of people frustrated with their daily work made me think of something that I would enjoy doing and at the same time make money. So, I started researching about fields in arts & crafts and speaking to people who were in those fields. I decided to pursue my interests in design.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

I gathered information about design colleges that were providing degree courses in interior design and applied at a few places. I chose SRM university since it was near my residence and moving to a different city for UG wasn’t an option at that time. In my 2nd year, I started freelancing for different contractors by providing interior design services, mainly for residential spaces. I sometimes got the opportunity to design commercial spaces too, followed by an internship at Monobloc architects in my 3rd year.

Here I learned several details and gathered technical knowledge which helped me in my final year thesis project. 

Monobloc Architects was a great experience where I was given an opportunity to work in all roles including dealing with clients & vendors. I interacted with fellow team members who had their own expertise in architecture, interior design, civil engineering, procurement, drafting. These experiences have helped me a lot in reaching where I am today.

I immediately got a job in Caratlane (a retail jewelry store chain , part of Tanishq) where I started designing retail spaces in malls & high streets. I also involved myself in project management. 

In retail design, people generally have a notion that everything looks the same and that’s how it’s supposed to look since you need to create a brand image and maintain the look and feel to provide customers an experience no matter which city or country they shop from. But that doesn’t mean your work is going to be monotonous, you get different requirements, challenges in different sites which you need to overcome and make the best out of it. Though the process of work differs from brand to brand, the basics remain the same, which is, you get a space, you survey and design it, get approvals from relevant stakeholders, discuss with cross functional teams (visual merchandising, operations, marketing, IT), get approvals from the mall design team or the landlord in highstreet and finally begin the planning, construction & execution which is handled by a Project manager. Residential design, on the other hand, is all about designing spaces that are functionally and aesthetically appealing to the client and his/her family members!

I currently work for Daniel Wellington.

How did you get your first break? 

I prepared my resume & portfolio and started applying to many companies through their career pages, linkedIn and job portals. I was approached by a recruiter and what followed was a series of interviews and i landed my first job in Caratlane. 

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

The most important thing is to make sure your CV stands out and leads to at least a telephonic interview where you give your best, especially when you are a fresher. Your work & experience speaks for yourself in your next break.

Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?

I work as a Retail Project Designer in Daniel Wellington, which is a Swedish watches & accessories brand, for the IMEA (India, Middle East & Africa) region and sometimes other regions as well depending upon the task assigned. Apart from design, I also take care of sourcing furniture & merchandising both locally & overseas. Vendor management & development , negotiation , supply chain logistics/coordination , visual merchandising are some of the key skills that i developed in this role. Work-life balance, and being trusted that Aditya can get the job done is something I love here!

I was hired as a Retail Store Planner for Daniel Wellington in India in the initial expansion phase of the company and was sent to the HQ for a week in Stockholm for training where my main job was to design, have discussions with the global design team, as well as the team in India & the mall and landlords. In a few months I started getting involved in sourcing & project management too which included interactions with vendors for negotiation and global sourcing of furniture. I also started helping with design for other countries too! This led to a promotion next year where I was the go-to person for India, Middle East & Africa region when it came to design. I also got involved in a bit of concept furniture development, detailing, floating tenders, negotiation and sustainability aspects of the company. I managed to get the right quality at right price for it which has resulted in competitive quotes for furniture made in India and other countries. So, plans for exporting furniture that is made in India are also on the table. Since I gained a little bit of experience in terms of sourcing & negotiation from both companies I pitched for a new project of packaging development in India and am currently working on that apart from my usual responsibilities in design.

What are the most important aspects of Retail design?

Caratlane is a jewellery brand & Daniel Wellington has both watches & jewellery; so certain rules of design and engagement are quite similar. Though rules of functionality & aesthetics are to be followed, the most important part is to understand the consumer – their walk path, touchpoints, attention seeking zones and how an attractive design, visual merchandising strategies would make the customer buy the product apart from knowing all its qualities, history, brand and worth. A good customer experience is very important and comes from all the teams of a company working together and bringing out the best!

Why should young students take up this career?

If you were eager to walk into a store, experienced something new inside, talked about that – remember that it was a designer behind that, and that designer could be you one day! You will be able to make connections with a lot of professionals, learn from them who are experts in their domain of Retail industry which would help in advancing your career.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

It’s a difficult question to answer, every project I have done till date is very close to me. I am currently learning more about packaging development & sourcing and am also involved in the process of domestic production in India which is interesting. These new skills that I am learning will definitely help me in future.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Learn as much as you can, be thorough in software & technical knowledge. Keep updating your skills and don’t be afraid to take up new challenges if given an opportunity.

Future Plans? 

Someday I would like to lead/head a project team for an empowering brand and create something fascinating which would last for decades. Pretty ambitious 🙂