New decor, ‘slab theater’ treat ice-cream chain to image revamp

New decor, ‘slab theater’ treat ice-cream chain to image revamp – News

Lori Lohmeyer

CALGARY, ALBERTA — Marble Slab Creamery, sporting a new design that highlights its upscale ice-cream offerings and theater-style production techniques, is aiming to scoop the competition with the opening of its first international location here.

The 214-unit Houston-based chain, which reports average-unit sales of approximately $253,000, plans to use its revamped decor package at all of its new units, company officials said. Marble Slab currently has about 97 ice-cream shops under development, about 30 of which are slated to open by year-end. The new prototype, which costs about $220,000 to develop, showcases its ice-cream offerings in an upscale interior by incorporating softer colors, graphic imagery and enhanced lighting.

Marble Slab Creamery is operated by a subsidiary of Atlas Develop-ment Inc., called 4037651 Canada Inc. Atlas specializes in the real estate and development of shopping centers. And 4037651 Canada Inc., which has the master franchise rights in Canada, said it plans to open as many as 70 units there. Mexico and Korea also are being targeted for international expansion, officials said.

Although designers developed a remodeling kit for existing restaurants, the company does not have plans to require current franchisees to remodel their stores, said Richard Hankamer, vice president of operations. However, Marble Slab is remodeling its one company-owned restaurant in Houston.

“We’ve been very brand-conscious in making changes,” said Chris Dull, vice president of franchise development. “[We] tried to instill a presence in the store that we make ice cream in-store daily.”

At Marble Slab the ice cream is house-made and features “mixins,” which allow customers to first choose their favorite flavor and then select additional ingredients from a variety of candies, nuts and fruits. The concoction is folded together on a frozen marble of granite slab and served in a waffle cone of cup. The chain, which has an average check of about $3.25, also serves frozen yogurt, sorbet, cookies, brownies and coffee.

According to Lee Peterson of WD Partners, the Columbus, Ohio-based design firm charged with creating the chain’s new look, “The quality of the product was unsurpassed, but the environment, overall, didn’t give that message. It didn’t look like it was broken; it just didn’t match the product.”

WD Partners, in an effort to help Marble Slab’s atmosphere match the flavor of its ice cream, concentrated on delivering a consumer-focused environment accenting the chain’s strengths. The team focused on the signature “mixins” and created a “slab theater” at the front of the restaurant to entice busy shoppers into the store, Peterson said. Designers also added–about 5 feet above the counter–an open shelf, which is filled with jars containing the chain’s signature mixins ingredients. Although the shelf serves as a purely decorative element, it helps alert customers to the wide variety of mixins available, Peterson noted. Adding marble paneling to the front of the ice-cream counter helped accent the store’s slab theater effect, he said.

Highlighting the marble slab-element of the restaurant also helped designers improve traffic. The colors on the floor lead customers to one end of the counter, and new menu boards serve as a guide through the ordering experience, Peterson said. And special lighting in the ordering station helps lead customers in the right direction.

“The customer flow going to the dipping cabinet and then to the slabs is something we have always [tried] to improve,” Hankamer said. “The design, with its new flooring and decor, should help draw the customer in the right direction without [our] having to put up ropes,” Hankamer said.

Although focusing on the product was key to the new decor package, the designers also wanted to upscale the interior in order to appeal to women–Marble Slab’s primary customer base. Peterson said the designers chose softer colors, including light green, blue and yellow highlighted by bold accents in primary colors. The upscale atmosphere also was achieved by incorporating such materials as marble, maple wood and brushed metal into the space. Comfortable furniture added warmth to the 1,200-square-foot store’s interior, Peterson added.

Wall vinyl also was designed to emphasize the restaurant’s ice-cream fare in a tasteful, upscale manner, Hankamer said. The graphic pictures illustrate the various products that the restaurant serves.

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