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Kimberly-Clark, Neenah, Wis.

Jan 4, 2010 12:00 PM

Virtual Reality Merchandising

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Virtual store for Kimberly-Clark's Innovation and Design Studio in Neenah, Wis

When Kimberly-Clark (K-C) set out to design a facility for researching new product and merchandising innovations, the project team searched for a way to create a hands-on design studio that did not require physical construction to evaluate new retail concepts. The company asked: What would happen if you could envision new floor plans, shelving, and even product packaging designs at the push of a button?

For the 130-year old company—a world leader in health, hygiene, and other personal-care products—the answer translates into faster, smarter product planning and strengthened relationships with its retail partners. K-C chose Mechdyne to create a state-of-the-art advanced visualization room as the centerpiece of its breakthrough Innovation and Design Studio in Neenah, Wis. The facility is part of a working environment that gives K-C partners fast time-to-insight about consumers and how they shop and ways to positively affect purchase decisions.

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The visualization room makes it possible for K-C to create realistic virtual models of retail outlets and explore merchandising concepts without the time-consuming and costly creation of any physical prototypes. Interactive computer-generated models allow K-C and its partners to literally walk through stores to examine different layouts and merchandising concepts and test the impact of concepts before implementing them in actual stores.

According to the company, K-C is one of only a few companies in the world to operate a fully integrated virtual-reality system as a part of its product design and development process. By engaging internal development teams and partners in virtual worlds, the company is able to spark better ideas and deeper insights aimed at improving and simplifying the shopping experience. Additionally, it allows collaboration on new product concepts and innovations.

Pioneering retail visualization

Bill Lynch, the K-C project manager responsible for implementation of the Innovation and Design Studio, and Mary Logghe, events planner and designer for the studio, explain how the concept developed from the initial vision.

“Initially, the visualization room was intended to showcase how our products would appear in retail settings and allow us to change the look and feel of the product packaging without physical prototypes,” Lynch says. “As planning progressed, we recognized opportunities to create a very dynamic experience that combined virtual and real world elements.”

Lynch, Logghe, and other members of the project team visited several existing design studios, including one used by a leading prepared foods company that blended several types of kitchen layouts arranged around a central meeting and conference space. For K-C, the investigation confirmed that a studio that fully immersed its partners and associates within authentic environments would have a dramatic impact.

“As we looked at what could be done, we expanded the concept to include both the virtual and physical store layouts inside a single, large studio space,” Logghe says. “This lets us create dramatic before and after scenarios that really engage our customers and lead to very productive planning and collaboration.”

Prior to the K-C project, no retailer had ever designed an interactive, immersive environment to test merchandising concepts in realtime. So while studying design studios, Lynch also began to build a short list of suppliers for the advanced visualization system, control room, and computer clusters used to generate the immersive computer models. Attending industry events and researching on the Web, he identified three potential suppliers to bid on the contract.

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