During a recent stop in Bozeman on the way to Billings, MT last week it became clear that not all big-box stores are created equal. In Spokane and surrounding environs, the typical blah cinder-block wonder under an acre of roof is where we've set the bar. It's no wonder that the Home Depots in North Spokane and East Sprague in the City of Spokane Valley look remarkably similar. Set low expectations (all of North Division, the 'Y', and East Sprague), and you'll rarely exceed them.
According to Bob Gibbs of Gibbs Planning Group, when a big-box developer comes to town they generally have four designs (A,B,C, and D) ranging from unique (or sensitive to local character) to Anywhere, USA, and they are ready to build one of those. Which one gets built depends heavily upon how much push back the company receives from local residents and officials about design and it's importance. Retail Consultant Bob Gibbs says as much: “Cities need to have high design standards for signage, lighting and building design and be willing to enforce those standards,” says Gibbs."
Below are some images of competing Lowes and Home Depot stores. These two are literally across the street (a street by the way that is unsafe for anyone not inside a car) from each other and look remarkably different from any of the milktoast designs we've received for big-box stores in our area. Someone in Bozeman has apparently figured this out. Big Box retailers want to grow, to open more stores, to capture more sales. It's a competitive world out there and some design/material costs up front are likely a drop in the bucket when they've settled on a location they know will be profitable.