Christian Mikunda Portrait

“I have no fear of intimacy. With nothing and no one.“

10. June 2016, Editorial

A meeting with vienna-lover, Christian Mikunda in Lederleitner Hansen. One of his favourite places because it pairs authenticity with lifestyle.


christian mikunda


© David Sailer

What projects are you currently working on?

This year we have some breweries in Germany. Private breweries that sell almost exclusively in their own region because high quality beer cannot be stored long; it can’t be shipped to Tokyo, which is why it needs to focus on its location. We are currently working on so-called “brand lands” – centres of experience positioned differently. One should visit the brand on site, be able to basically look over its shoulder so that one can see how the quality is created and which culture plays a role in it. One of the contractors is, for example, the private brewery Mackatzer in Allgäu, Meckatzer Weißgold is a high-class beer, comparable to a special red wine. For Meckatzer, the Allgäu itself and the history of the farming culture play an important role.

There is an interesting parallel, by the way, between these breweries and reWe; the reWe company was the first in Austria to bring high-quality products mainstream. If you think about Ja! Natürlich, if you think about the Merkur products, that is a quality that wasn’t previously available in supermarkets. We live in a world where the entire experiential society has become very mature and sustainable. People want to know again where products come from, they’ve understood that food isn’t only about getting the cheapest stuff, rather they also want to know which pasture their meat came from, for example, and I believe that reWe has accomplished very much in the past ten years, not only in product quality but also in communication of the product quality.

When I think of my childhood, the way supermarkets looked, they were like refrigerators, one went in and came out as fast as possible, today stores are designed like this place here, Lederleitner hansen, that’s why I also wanted to meet here. After my 5 hours of lectures at the university, I used to come here often simply to calm my emotions. And it worked brilliantly. Theofil von Hansen built here so fantastically, and then the interesting product assortment, one can really just get lost. The way the products play off one another creates a story. Not just plants are being sold, but garden furniture, wonderful British gardening tools and books on the subject, it is authenticity paired with lifestyle, not a staged fake world.

When I think of my childhood, the way supermarkets looked, they were like refrigerators, one went in and came out as fast as possible.

And supermarkets meanwhile have also become true places to chill out. The way Billa works with water and other effects, a huge amount has been achieved. Or the fruit and vegetable section at Merkur that’s like an Italian market. For many people, especially older people, shopping at the supermarket has become important emotional entertainment, like a caress, almost like ‘home away from home’: Wellness in a public space.

The products need to be presented so that it is a joy “to snap things up and to browse“.

What could be improved, which roles do fragrances play, for example?

One should work only with real things as much as possible. The aroma in a supermarket is good when the products are good, you don’t need to work with artificial scents. But there are a few classic traps, for example, when a sales area is so packed with stuff that one can no longer apply colour and other visual criteria, without any principle of order. Then we get lost in terms of form. Many stores suffer from that. But the presentation culture in the Austrian supermarkets has improved immensely. Another problem is the so- called backstage effect. The designers and architects create a shop full of emotions, but then things occur the way they tend to happen in real life. Products are unpacked and the boxes sit around maybe for days. There are rubbish cans with rubbish that one would rather not see. Lighting is always a topic as well. It’s often too glaring. Whole Foods markets in the US and England are totally brilliant, they show how high product pressure can be linked to a fantastic presentation. They work with the ‘joy’ concept, one of the 7 top emotions that I write about in my book.

How does it work?

The ‘joy’ concept functions by fitting a lot of merchandise into a small space rather than doubling the amount of merchandise using mirrors. For example, radishes stacked only 30 cm wide, but 1 meter high. The trick is the principle of order. The colours. Red, green, orange – next to each other. The abundance takes on a structure, and the ‘joy’ effect emerges from that. A good display artist builds an amphitheatre of products so that when he sells a lot, it still looks well filled. The products have to be presented so that it is a joy to ‘snap things up and to browse’. That’s why snapping up products in bulk should be allowed. The Germans are very good at this, for example. Globus sb has the best meat and sausage counters. They work according to the same principles as luxury delicatessens, such as Meinl, Harrods or Whole Foods. For instance, ham is layered out 4 metres high. They also offer very good assistance. There’s a huge amount of potential in the way counters are structured as well. Merkur is currently working on a new concept. We collaborated with them, assisted the architects. And in Vienna, a new Merkur with the joy concept is being opened.

But the world is no longer the way it was.

What can a supermarket achieve for us?

A supermarket can be a spectacular place, it can be a place where one learns what a good product is, it can be a place of well-being and wellness. The two basic emotions of any supermarket are ‘chill’ and ‘joy’. I am convinced that at some point there will be lounge chairs in supermarkets, like in the Vienna museum quarter. A trend from America: that one can eat in the supermarket or outside in the park. Another development of the traditional supermarket restaurant.

And convenience entertainment plays a big role. We suffer hugely when we come back from America because there’s no bagging service here, only at Meinl am Graben. Dealing with cash points logistically is another big opportunity. Whole Foods Market in American has streets of cash points with multiple registers per street, and it’s irresistible. The speed at the cash points here in Austria create a crazy pressure because there’s too little space and the cashiers work very fast. Why not consciously slow the pace down, for example, by showing a video or having an aquarium. Also no temptations at the cash points. At Globus sb, for example, there is a sweets-free cash point.

How meaningful is radio in a supermarket, with advertising spots and music?

Supermarket radio is the ultimate broadcasting surface. It would be nice if the radio stations would allow themselves to be open to the overall emotional situation and see how people are doing in the store, what their needs are. Namely ‘joy’ and ‘chill’. Continuous announcements have an aggressive effect. Once should think carefully about what suits the customers when selecting music.

What is better for a business? To be located in a shopping centre or to be independent?

It can’t be put that way. The Merkur stores have functioned very well in shopping centres. But there are also fantastic stand-alone Billas. I think Billa’s outside effect, with the shopping bag as a symbol, is brilliant. An important innovation. And the landmark architecture of many stand-alone markets is surprising and fantastic. For example, the big Billa near the Vienna airport, which was built by BEHF, or Billa in Burgenland, which looks like a giant Billa shopping bag. Merkur and Billa have made very strong statement in the rural areas.

I read in the “Presse am Sonntag” that you learn from Dieter Bohlen. Who else do you admire?

It’s easy: everything is interesting. And I have no fear of intimacy. With nothing and no one. I think that supermarket people should go to museums more and look at how the things are displayed there, it’s fantastic. Just the way museum people could learn from the supermarkets, how to get their collections under control. Whoever has been to a Whole Foods Market in New York knows how one can display 35 brushes using the principle of order. We learn from everything, and that’s why I learned about the feeling of ‘power’ from Dieter Bohlen. The way we could learn a lot on the topic of ‘joy’ from Lena Meyer-Landrut. Or the way one can learn from Hélène Grimaud about what extreme intensity means. What is also important for the point of sale is to create intense images that one doesn’t just see but also feels. Almost like a film – one image after the other.

Is this statement true: Tell me where you shop and I will tell you who you are?

Yes, definitely. Although you can’t look at it so linearly. We buy very high quality and expensive things and drive huge detours to get to the best Merkur, but I think that other stores do a great job. For many, the product assortment is the focus and they have to improve at the point of sale much more.

Does a supermarket need staging?

For some markets, everything is about their products, and that is what is so fascinating at the moment, that the discounter assumption still functions well. As for me, I suffer at the point of sale of a discounter. But the world is no longer the way it was. You go eat at Steirereck and the next day at McDonald’s. The class-specific order no longer exists. McDonald’s has changed a lot, namely to ‘joy’ and ‘chill’. For example, ‘joy’: Ronald McDonald, toys for children, cute advertising etc…
An example of ‘chill’: McCafé. When you go to a luxury supermarket, to the delicatessen counter, there’s also the ‘glory’ aspect. Like with the large, free- standing staircase at Meinl am Graben. And one can still learn a lot from the farmers markets. A lot has happened there as well. When we do urban design, we always make sure that medium-sized cities have a good market. For example, we were consultants for Lienz, and now the city has a fantastic market in the upper city. And footfall has increased 35 per cent.

The entire store script not only has an effect conducive to shopping, it’s good for people, for the city, the region. And I believe that is part of the job of retail. Large supermarkets can learn from their rural branches in terms of friendliness and niceness. People want to get together, share things, chat at the meat and cheese counter, a little like before. Communication is an essential point for many people.

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