Promoting the Use of Lesser-Known Timber Species

Tropical Rainforest Thailand --- Image by © Corbis

Tropical Rainforest Thailand — Image by © Corbis

Yesterday I read an interesting article in ‘International Wood’, an International Wood Products Association (IWPA) trade publication, about a topic I didn’t previously know about: the use of lesser-known timber species. I found the information to be well worth passing along to our readers. Here’s my summary, followed by some helpful resources on the topic.

Exotic, often times tropical, woods are much in vogue these days. As such there is high commercial demand for, or regulations regarding the use of, several species such ipe, mahogany, and ebony, which in turn drives up price and reduces available inventory. More importantly, there’s a chance many tropical woods, not just the ones mentioned, are not forested or harvested sustainably.

The wood industry is looking to promote lesser-known species (LKS) for several reasons, and designers would be remiss if they didn’t check out the various options and think about using them in future projects.

Reasons to Consider Lesser-Known Timber Species:

  • Large Selection – The IWPA lists nine LKS’s that have great potential for the US market, including garapa which is an attractive option for building exteriors and lattice-work. The World Wildlife Fund list over two dozen species to consider in their ‘Guide to Lesser Known Species’ (click here).
  • Design – Using LKS makes your design project standout. Many of these woods look great with no need for color altering stain. And because you don’t see them that often used at retail, they look fresher than the typical wood finishes you see in store interiors. Also LKS broaden your material palette. Garapa, tigerwood, and morado are all good species to consider.
  • Cost Savings – Because they are not utilized as often, the cost is often less than high-demand wood such as mahogany, while still providing excellent durability, color, and performance. All at a fraction of the cost.
  • Sustainability – Specifying LKS of wood promotes diverse forest eco-systems, reducing the pressure on forests that provide only high demand timber. Managed correctly, wood is a renewable resource that works well in retail environments. Always make sure the lumber you specify and use is FSC certified. No exceptions.

Here are some links for more information:

World Wildlife Fund’s Global Forest & Trade Network has a ton of info on sustainable forestry:

International Wood Products Association’s LKS page:

The UK Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) page on LKS:

The Amazon Alternative LKS page:

The World Wildlife Fund has a comprehensive guide to lesser-known species, get it here:

The U.S. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) page:

Have you used any lesser-known species of timber in your retail projects?

What are your favorites?

Join the discussion below in the comments.

Chris Weigand Design, LLC is committed to sharing our passion for a sustainable environment with our clients, our industry and our community. We encourage the use of sustainable materials and processes in retail design solutions. For more information on our commitment to the environment or to find out how we can develop innovative, sustainable solutions for your next retail design project, visit or call 330.858.8926

Sustainable Ideas For Your Store

Reusable bags in lieu of plastic bags is a good step to make your store more sustainable.  Photo courtesy of

Reusable bags in lieu of plastic bags is a good step to make your store more sustainable.
Photo courtesy of

With Earth Day yesterday I thought I’d take the liberty to share with you my personal ideas of what you can do to make your retail space more environmentally sustainable. Working in retail design really drove my interest in sustainability. Considering what we were designing, and ultimately manufacturing wasn’t the actual product – everything we were responsible for lived at retail anywhere from a few weeks to only a few years. Then it all ended up in a landfill quite frankly, at least in the early days. I didn’t, couldn’t let that me my legacy. At times I wished people would just buy products out of cardboard boxes on the floor of stores.

Fortunately it hasn’t come to abandoning all things retail, there are things we can do as designers, and merchants, to make store more sustainable. And in reality, this is as much about effectiveness and efficiency as well. Selling products in a delightful, engaging way, while minimizing excess costs and materials. It’s also about making intelligent design, manufacturing, and implementation decisions.

And as with anything, some retailers – chain and independent alike – do a great job already, and are leading the way. For others it’s not even on their radar, even in this day and age. But that’s okay, it’s never too late to start reaping the rewards, or taking it to the next level.

So without further ado, here are my quick thoughts on making your retail experience more responsible, smarter and earth friendly.

LED Lighting – I’ve been keeping tabs on LED lighting at retail for over ten years, and finally the technology is mainstream…ready for your store, regardless of who you are. The capabilities in terms of working hours, color rendering, and color temperature exist to meet all of your needs: from lighting jewelry, to food, from sporting goods to greeting cards. LED lighting will save you money not only via your electric bill, but also your maintenance costs because the LED “bulbs” last so much longer than incandescent light bulbs. Plus your retail presentation won’t suffer from burnt out bulbs hiding behind egg crate grills. Get rid of the ugly light diffusers and grills and let your lights shine. LED solutions are available in a variety of form factors from light strips to ceiling fixtures to individual bulbs.

Graphics – I’m a big fan of letting graphics, printed with environmentally friendly inks on sustainable substrates, do a lot of your retail experience heavy lifting at retail. Graphics afford the retailer flexibility at a lower cost as opposed to being stuck with burdensome displays that may go out of style or function. Try to stick with printing on paper based materials. There no need to print on styrene or other plastics unless the you’re planning on keeping the signs for a year or 500 years. If you do use these petroleum-based substrates, have a recycling plan in place – find a recycler before you burden the public landfills with that much material.

Temp Displays – Use temporary displays. They’re made from corrugated board which contains a lot of recycled material, or virgin material made from trees, which are renewable. The displays are recyclable so make sure you are recycling your displays, often times as simple as throwing them in the bailer. Make sure your displays aren’t contaminated with too many plastic components which can ruin a batch of recyclable board. Resist the temptation to use styrene shelves for show, even if you’re in the cosmetic industry. Just don’t do it. If you thought temp displays were too low brow for your store, look again. They are available with a variety of high-end finishes that make them look fantastic. Or better yet, look at direct printing them to get a chic eco feel for your product or store.

Think Modular – Modular systems, if done right can be the saving grace for your retail store. I’ve designed several of these systems and they are a good way to get a comprehensive solution at a lower cost, with better use of materials. Components can often be shipped K/D (knocked down) to save on cost and fuel usage. The flexibility of the system means you won’t need a new display every time something changes in your retail business. Made from durable materials they’ll last for years. And they can be updated without remaking the entire system – think accent panels, graphics, accessories.

Keep It Simple – Product and your brand should be the main attraction. Don’t embellish just for the sake of embellishing things. Too often I see random materials and complexities added to a retail design project for seemingly non-brand enhancing reasons. These things add complexity, cost and material. Know your brand and let that guide your decisions. Less is more.

Paint – Use zero-VOC paint to spice up your space. Paint is flexible in that it’s easy to change the feel of a space without a lot of cost, or environmental impact. And don’t be afraid to mix it up a bit – paint different walls different tones and have fun with it.

Use Materials Wisely – Plastic lasts forever, yet at retail what doesn’t change in the blink of an eye. If you use plastics, make sure there is a good reason, and make sure you can, and will recycle them when their life in your store is through. Metal is an awesome material with intrinsic value. Even if you throw it out, someone will garbage pick it and sell it for scrap. Just be mindful of shipping weight which equates to fuel usage. Wood is a great renewable material. Strive to use water based finishes and avoid too many contaminants such as laminates that can make the wood likely to end up in a landfill. Wheatboard, or clear coated MDF are interesting options to look into; though MDF is so-so from an environmental standpoint. There are even countertops made from paper.

Okay, there are just a few ideas. Regardless of what you do, do something. As I said, in the end you may find it’s not only good for the planet but also for your bottom line.

-Chris Weigand

President, Chris Weigand Design, LLC

Chris Weigand Design is a design consultancy specializing in helping independent retailers and entrepreneurial brands excel at retail. Check out to find out more. Contact us today to learn how we can help make your retail experience more sustainable and engaging.



What Retailers Can Learn From Aldi

The facade is modern and simple; devoid of plants and random sale items.

The facade is modern and simple; devoid of plants and random sale items.

While working on a research project I figured I finally had a reason to stop in and check out our relatively new local Aldi store. For whatever reason I hadn’t found the time to stop previously, despite the fact I live and breathe retail as a designer and consumer. I will say, I was pleasantly surprised and found the store to not be quite what I expected. While I only had time to do a cursory walk though, I came away with a strong positive impression and noticed several things Aldi does well.

Fixture Free Merchandising

As a designer I always (half heatedly) joked that consumers would buy anything from a card board box cut open on the floor if the price was right. Turns out my first impression as I stepped through the doors of Aldi was of exactly that. Wide aisles are flanked by products essentially sitting in the boxes they were shipped in. A warehouse store for food. While this form of merchandising may be how they do retail in Europe (Aldi is a German based company), it’s not as common on this side of the Atlantic. And those that try over here usually provide a middling shopping experience at best. In Aldi I observed some fixed and wheeled racks, and even climate controlled cases, but it was not unusual to see product neatly organized on the floor or by the unadorned checkout. The look screams efficiency, good prices on products and no-frills.

I make my living designing retail displays, fixtures and environments and I’m telling you: you don’t always need it.

This speaks to one of my fundamental goals as a designer: don’t design, and subsequently produce, displays and fixtures unless you need them. Far too often salesmen and marketers focus on displays and fixtures to salvage products and brands. I make my money by designing retail displays, fixtures and environments and I’m telling you, you don’t always need it. Ask yourself, would people purchase my product if I just laid it out in a cardboard box on the floor? What is my brand, and how do I want guests to experience it? How do my displays and fixtures complete or enhance the experience? While just throwing stuff on the floor is an extreme example, don’t be afraid to really question what you do and don’t need to win at retail. Start with your brand, product, packaging and then yes if you need to finish the deal, take a look at the display.

Product is simply placed in PDQ's on wheeled metal racks. It doesn't get more simple than this.

Product is simply placed in PDQ’s on wheeled metal racks. It doesn’t get more simple than this.

The lack of gondolas makes for great sight lines and a straightforward shopping experience.

The lack of gondolas makes for great sight lines and a straightforward shopping experience.

Simple Signage

The simple, less is more, European-inspired theme carries over to the signage throughout the store, inside and out. A simple multi-level metal C-channel holds product information and pricing in quick to read black and yellow print. Unobtrusive right angle flags (RAF’s) provide category information.

As subtle as the aisle signage is, the large format graphics above the freezer and dairy cases command attention in a clear manner. Giant letters communicate the brand message to guests, and large photos of produce delight. The images and copy can be seen from anywhere in the store. It’s one of the first things guests notice when they walk in the door. Ultimately if you don’t know what to do from a retail environment standpoint then fall back on large format graphics with great art, copy or photography. You really cannot go wrong.

The produce aisle features attractive LED down lighting.

The produce aisle features attractive LED down lighting.

The Aldi brand message is readily communicated with large format graphics and copy above climate controlled cases.

The Aldi brand message is readily communicated with large format graphics and copy above climate controlled cases.

Small Footprint

Aldi is a really small store, especially for being a grocer. I’m not sure there is much depth of product offering, but that probably doesn’t matter to the consumers who visit time and time again. I could easily see every corner of the store from the entrance. Overall it is an open and airy feel that you never get in other grocery stores. The aisles are wide and very orderly. Despite the store’s small size, I never felt cramped walking along. Most stores with that small a footprint would feel compelled to jam as much product (signs, departments, fixtures, etc.) in the store to ruin the experience. Aldi understands why it exists.

The produce aisle features attractive LED down lighting.

The produce aisle features attractive LED down lighting.


Which leads to my last point, Aldi knows their brand and it plays out in all the details from parking lot to check out. This is the true test of a good retailer. “Simply Smarter Shopping” defines the Aldi brand and experience. Am I going there for everything? Probably not, but what I do buy there will be, presumably, at a good price and decent quality without any fuss.

While the feel is decidedly warehouse there’s nothing overtly cheap. Packaging art does all of the heavy lifting which saves a lot of money. This saves cost by eliminating the need to produce a lot of random signage and displays; these lead to clutter which in turn undermines their existence in the first place. Aldi breaks that cycle which allows it to stay on brand and reduce expenses.

I’m not the only one who’s impressed. The retailer has been picking up good press both here and on the other side of the pond. I for one was skeptical, or at the very least unsure, but I was delighted to see what a great looking, and functioning store it is. I will gladly use these, and other examples of best practices I discovered at Aldi, in the future. It would be worth your while to consider doing the same.


No frills check lanes make for a quick check out experience.

No frills check lanes make for a quick check out experience.

Design Tips For Sustainable Retail Displays

I get asked all the time, how can we make our retail displays more environmentally sustainable? It’s a rather open-ended question, as typically the display is just one piece of the puzzle. There aren’t any “silver bullets” or quick fixes that result in “Poof! Our display is ‘green’ and so are we”.  Real social and environmental responsibility needs to be evident throughout an organization. Typically the answer to sustainable retail displays starts with taking a good hard look at an organization’s mission vision and values.

So let’s assume your brand or organization does embrace a triple bottom line mindset, or worst case scenario you’re under the gun with a customer asking you to provide sustainable retail solutions for their stores. Here are some of my tips when it comes to making your retail displays more environmentally friendly.

1) Understand why sustainability is important and let your customers know you understand why.

In the old days you just had to worry about one bottom line: profit. Now there are all these people talking, and demanding, retail solutions that are socially and environmentally responsible resulting in the need to balance profit with people and the planet. Where do you start? We’re all busy and it’s overwhelming. Well the good news is it’s a lot easier to find information now than it was just a decade or two ago. There are a lot of people and organizations arriving at new responsible design solutions every day it seems. Do an online search, ask around, talk to someone who specializes in sustainable design solutions, read a book. My personal bible on sustainability is Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.

“…think about the impact your brand is having on the world.”

Ultimately it comes down to the fact that we should leave the world as good, or better, than we found it. Our use of natural resources should not have an ill effect on us, our world and the children of all species, for all time. When it comes to retail, think about the impact your brand is having on the world. Are there ways to use materials that aren’t harmful or wasteful? What really is necessary to sell your product or attract consumers? Is everyone treated fairly within your supply chain? Don’t be afraid to have an open conversation with your customers, let them know what you’re doing and where you know you need to improve. Trust me, they will have the conversation with or without you, so better to be at the table. Also collaborate with your suppliers to embrace the same responsible mindset and action.

The best part is, solutions that are socially and environmentally responsible do not cost more in the long run when you factor in all the costs associated with bad design decisions.  They actually cost less. It’s just that the old ways of accounting value and impact are canted towards passing the burden onto others for bad design. With the transparency that consumers (and regulators) demand, it’s becoming more difficult to pass that burden downstream. Why not reap all the rewards of good design for your organization? Start talking to your customers, let them know who you are.

2) Do you need a display?

I alluded to it previously, and it’s a fairly straight forward question, but I doubt very much it is asked at the beginning of many retail display projects. Typically the only time displays don’t make it to retail is when marketing, retailers or finance departments see how much the displays cost. The most environmentally friendly display I can think of is the one that doesn’t exist. I know first hand: essentially everything I have ever designed as an industrial designer was destined for a landfill, for all intents and purposes. The “system” just isn’t set up to dispose of, repurpose or recycle retail displays. I’m assuming that’s not something your PR team tee’s up as a topic for a Super Bowl commercial.

Unless you can work with your team, your suppliers, and your retailers to control what happens to your display from cradle to grave, or preferably cradle to cradle, be aware that it may end up in a landfill. There are some things we can do though to make this scenario “less bad“, see below.

One last thought on the topic. Look, I’m a designer. I’d love to (need to?) design awesome displays and fixtures for the rest of my life, for every brand I can find. But we need to have the courage to challenge conventional thinking or at least say “why?” a couple of times before charging ahead with something “new“. Too often I’ve seen brands deploy retail displays, signs and fixtures in an effort to mask ill-conceived marketing or product endeavors. Consumers are savvy but they also know it’s ultimately about the product itself. Unless your retail solution is some how experientially enhancing the product or an open blank cardboard box on the floor, ask your self “Do we really need this display?” Don’t forget, that fancy packaging design you paid for…it should be doing the bulk of the work if you’re selling a commodity item by the way. Color and brand-language blocking are your friends.

3) Try a temporary display.

Okay, enough doom and gloom. Let’s design something! This may sound odd but you know what I’d recommend first and foremost for your “sustainable” display?

A corrugated temp display.

Why? Well first off every major retailer (I’ve visited or know of) has a baler in the back. Some stores even have a little note on their retail signs that says something is baler friendly.

Basically all corrugated material at retail gets recycled. So when you make your display out of corrugated guess what? You no longer have to worry about its end of life, the retailer handles that for you. When designing your display don’t include foreign materials like clips or metal bars that can’t be easily removed in under a minute by a store associate, otherwise your display will end up in the trash. You can include other fiber based materials like paper, board and even “honeycomb” board, as long as they don’t have plastic content. Typically recyclers only allow 2-5% foreign material for paper recycling. Source your material from FSC certified resources or from recycled content.

Being made from a renewable resource, Inexpensive tooling and various shipping advantages round out the pluses of temp displays. The craftsmanship, finishes and design possibilities for temp displays has risen quite a bit in the last two decades. I can’t think of a single brand, product or retailer that could not pull off using a temp display at retail.

4) You don’t need exotic materials.

When you get right down to it, there are about five materials that every display can be made out of: paper, plastic, wood, glass or metal. We covered paper above. None of these materials is intrinsically evil or perfect when it comes to sustainable displays.  Finding “new” materials is sexy during design meetings, but how a material is used typically has more environmental impact than the material itself.

In light of the fact that most brands and retailers set their displays and forget them, I like metal for permanent displays. The cost is reasonable, durability is good and the material itself has a high likelihood of being recovered and recycled. Even if a retailer throws out a metal display you can rest assured someone along the way towards the trash pile is going to pick the metal out for resale. Metal has intrinsic value in our society and as such it’s a good material choice. Weight is the primary downside, resulting in high fuel usage to ship.

Glass doesn’t get used too often, but it is an awesome material: it’s infinitely recyclable.

Wood is a great material too because it’s infinitely renewable. Just grow more trees. Buy from FSC suppliers to assure forests are managed properly. Most wood at retail though is in the form of MDF or particle board and is laminated. Sometimes the MDF is powder coated. None of this is really good for the environment, and these finishes sometimes render the material un-recyclable. Talk to your designer and suppliers. Try to specify renewable alternatives like wheat board, or Greenguard certified materials that don’t emit toxic chemicals. Using non-toxic materials also means better health for supply chain employees, as well as reduced need for regulation in your facilities to handle toxic materials, both of which save long-term costs. Weight and durability are issues as well.

“Think of it this way though, you’re investing in a material that is designed to last 500 years at the very least. You’re marketing team is going to change their mind in about 6 months.”

Lastly, plastic is a good material choice for retail displays in certain instances. I could write a whole article just on the pros and cons of plastics. Think of it this way though, you’re investing in a material that is designed to last 500 years at the very least. You’re marketing team is going to change their mind in about 6 months. Plus the tooling is expensive if you’re molding something. Realistically, unless your display is going to last at retail for five or more years, or you need a plastic part for some sort of utility enhancement, it’s not that great of a material. Light weight is one plus of plastic.

If you do use plastic, use only one type of plastic; preferably polyethylene or high-density polyethylene which are readily recycled. Regardless mark every plastic part with the type of plastic it is, so people downstream can recycle it if and when the time comes. Unless you’re taking the plastic display back at the end of its life, it is most likely going into a landfill.

Is that the legacy your brand stands for and wants to leave for future generations?

5) Take your displays back.

You invest all this time and money into raw materials, make displays, ship them out and then forget about them. This is how it’s always been. Well don’t be surprised if this changes in the not so distant future. Either through self implemented programs or through regulation, more brands are taking back the products they produce, when the product’s useful life has come to an end. Virtually every brand and retailer I’ve talked to bemoans the cost and logistics of a “take back” program, and they even state the added fuel usages to ship a heavy display back are environmentally unfriendly. These are all valid points, but that doesn’t change reality. Displays need to be designed with a cradle-to-cradle approach instead of the traditional “ship it and forget it” school of thought.

Displays should be designed to use minimal, like materials; no hybrid materials that can’t be reused or recycled. These displays should be easy to disassemble in a factory setting. If the retailer isn’t shipping them back (or the brand going out and harvesting them), then they or someone else downstream should be able to easily identify components and strip out valuable, reusable or recyclable materials for future uses.

If you are not going to take back the display then at least design it to be less of a burden downstream. If anything the raw materials you provided can be reborn into something new.

I hope these tips help you to at least start thinking about infusing sustainability into your next retail design. If there is anything my team and I can do to help your brand with retail design and sustainability please contact us. In the end, displays are not the product or service, they are a communication tool to inform, excite and prompt. They shouldn’t do more harm than good. Otherwise it might be better to just put out a blank cardboard box in the aisle and let guests pick through it.

Chris Weigand

President, Chris Weigand Design, LLC