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Le Hardware
5 September 2014

Le Hardware

Can you say quincaillerie? It’s French for hardware store.

The coolest hardware store in the world is undoubtedly in the basement of one of the coolest department stores in the world, BHV (Bazar de l’Hotel de Ville) in the centre of Paris.

Founded by engineer Xavier Ruel in 1852, BHV is now owned by Galeries Lafayette. The flagship store is in the fashionable Marais district of Paris, and has separate specialty offshoots in the area for menswear, pets, cycling and motorcycling. The hardware section at BHV is Paris institution.

Unlike the mega sheds we have become used to in Australia, this is a completely different hardware experience. It’s merchandised like a department store- no long aisles, no industrial shelving, no value stacks. It’s service driven- aimed at the keen amateur rather than the professional. And it’s fun- an element often overlooked in the category, and in department stores in general.

The first thing that strikes you is the intimacy. Being in a basement, with the customary low ceiling height, it’s cosy but not crammed. Finishes are stripped back to the structure and lighting and services are carefully integrated to allow the maximum head height. A nice touch is that there is no overhead signage: departmental names are integrated into the colour coded floor stripes that define departments.

Planning is quite unique. Where most hardware stores are based on a traditional aisle and gondola format with special offers on the gondola ends, BHV follows the department store format of walking the customer around the store in a rectangular path.  It’s a lot more casual and full of fun and discovery.

The scale and design of the fixturing is fascinating. Freed from the tyranny of straight lines and aisles, there is now scope for designing fixtures around the product, not the store format. Circular fixtures are used to great effect in making the merchandise tactile and adding “buy appeal.” Even if you don’t need them, those heavy-duty castors look fantastic hanging from the top of the gondola, and you’d take a dozen of those brass cabinet knobs from the circular dump bin. And everyone needs the French style street numbers stacked in those orderly cubbyholes.

The most fascinating aspect of the design though is the island units that have been created around advice- heavy categories like power tools, door hardware and adhesives. These densely merchandised three metre cubes each contain a small workstation with openings just large enough for a hardware guru to dispense advice and assistance – right at the point of choice. No having to stand there confused waiting for someone who might know something to show up!

Last but not least in the experience are the cash desks- each of which calls out he word “Caisse” in made up of different hardware elements- paint can lids, electrical cable, different size nails driven into painted plywood. Just a touch of humour to keep you amused while you pay for your purchases.

It’s great retail- fresh, fun and engaging. Hardware stores here should be this good- and so should department stores.


Gary McCartney is the owner of McCartney Design and can be reached on

5 September 2014
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