Baby, it’s cold inside

How cool is this: Ruscio Studio, the Montreal-based design studio, has made history by creating Canada’s premier retail walk-in freezer. Working closely with the marketing team at Mark’s Work Warehouse in Edmonton, Ruscio developed the T-Max Freezer for the apparel store’s location in the city’s South Edmonton Common retail centre (the first of Mark’s new Clothes That Work concept stores). It allows users to simulate extreme cold temperatures in order to test winter garments for sale in the store.

“Our product developers and buyers have designed some innovative technologies into our outerwear,” says Mark’s president Tom Ranieri. “We wanted a way for the customer to test how these innovations work, in-store, hopefully helping them to make an informed purchase decision.” (To that end, they also installed a footwear test ramp, covered with different kinds of flooring and roofing materials.) Says Ruscio Studio president Robert Ruscio. “We strive in our designs to provide a way for the customer to have a really authentic experience in a tactile environment. Since Mark’s slogan is Clothes That Work, this was the perfect opportunity for customers to test how well the clothes work in extreme temperatures.”

Straight-forward instructions are posted on the outside of the state-of-the-art, 7.8-by-7.8-foot freezer. Once inside, the customer sees an adjustable temperature gauge, which he or she can set to whatever sub-zero temperature he or she needs to withstand. A pair of fans blow icy cold air to simulate conditions up to -40 degrees Celcius, while an ice-block step allows the customer to test a pair of serious winter boots. An interior camera allows the customer to view his or her own frosty image via a live feed to an LCD screen positioned in front of him or her.

Simple buttons and dials make the experience an uncomplicated one, while clever design elements (a frosted-glass acrylic wall and self-frosting mirror) add a touch of engaging realism. A vertical grab bar, located adjacent to the ice block, assures the retailer that the customer’s safety is top priority.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Ranieri. “The freezer is being used as expected by all types of customers. We will be retrofitting a number of existing stores across Canada with this new concept and other innovation-testing features. Adds Ruscio, “If retail design is about creating a shopping experience, this one is certainly engaging and memorable, as customers have a story to tell that goes along with their purchased items.” CI