The top three in this year's retail interiors league table looks similar to last, save for the Sarbanes-Oxley-enforced absence of Cordiant's Fitch Worldwide. In its stead, Coutts moves up a place to head the table with a fee income of £6.3m, a significant proportion of its overall fee income of £7.5m.
The agency has had a fairly static year, with high points such as work for Hutchison's 3 , which included the design of in-store furniture at flagship stores in Birmingham and on London's Oxford Street and High Street Kensington.
Checkland Kindleysides, which finished in third place last year, moves up to second, with a retail fee income of £4.5m, down 13% on 2001.
Fitch is not the only absentee. Six of last year's top ten are missing, and their absence has helped Allen International rise from seventh to fifth, while Dalziel & Pow makes the top ten for the first time, at number six.
The category suffered in 2002. Only three of the top ten companies in the retail table - 20/20, Din Associates and The Design Group - grew their fee income during 2002. And of those, only The Design Group enjoyed double-digit growth. But, more so than in some other categories, retail consultancies seem cautiously optimistic.
Dalziel & Pow creative director David Dalziel says: "2002 was the downtime. Things have improved since then and will be reflected in next year's figures. All the uncertainties of last year are beginning to free up."
Like many in the retail field, Dalziel & Pow earns a lot of its money - 53% in fact - from international contracts. This is a reflection, says Dalziel, of the reputation of UK designers. "For three of our international contracts the only requirement was to employ a UK consultant."
Corsie Naysmith also claims 53% of its turnover from overseas contracts, and this figure will increase during 2003 should its European venture, Corsie Naysmith Marketplace Makers, prove successful.
The company has teamed up with three European partners in a plan devised by industry guru Jean-Francois Bentz: Paris' Volcan Design is a trend predictor product development agency; Les Marchands, also in Paris, handles visual merchandising and category management; and The Creative Factory, with Paris, Geneva and Zurich offices, is a branding agency. Combined with Corsie-Naysmith's retail design skills, Corsie says it covers the criteria retail clients are looking for from a design perspective.
European expansion has also helped 20/20 increase its presence in retail, with projects in Sweden, Italy, Holland and Germany in 2002. Another important factor, says managing director Rune Gustafson, is the length of tenure of its clients.
He points out that 20/20 has been working with Sainsbury's since 1997, Boots since 1996 and Early Learning Centre since 1989. "By focusing on building these long-term relationships, we are not constantly engaged in short-term projects," he says.
Finally, Gustafson highlights the value and importance to the company of its 'Radar' team - a five-person in-house intelligence unit that monitors consumer trends and best-practice retailing. "Radar is an investment, but definitely worth it," he says. "Designers are only as good as the information available to them, so Radar has both an informative and an inspirational role in the business."
A couple of years ago, retail designers in the banking sector must have wondered where their next commission was coming from, as commentators predicted the demise of the branch and the rise of the web. But things look different now, according to Michael Allen, chairman of Michael Allen International. He concedes that 2002 was a slow year, as banks and supermarkets halted capital investment for about nine months following the terrorist attacks on the US.
"But then," he says, "they realised that branch networks were going to be around for a while, and that they had neglected their branches in the rush to get on the web."
As a result, says Allen, business is up about 35% on last year. "There is a willingness to change, and it's needed, because most bank branches are transaction-oriented when they should be relationship-oriented."
While banks are rediscovering the value of good retail design, some are coming to it for the first time. Dalziel says his firm is currently involved in a project for Poundstretcher, and that it is indicative of the design ethos moving down the value chain.
"If you had told me five years ago, when we were working for Hugo Boss, that we would be working for Poundstretcher, I would not have believed it," he says. "Value is all relative. They have a desire to keep up with the markets they're in and they are realistic about what they have to spend to do so."
It may not quite be the environment some retail designers saw themselves working in, but in the current climate, designers simply cannot afford to be too choosy.
TOP 15 RETAIL INTERIORS AGENCIES
Rank Agency Fee income Retail
2002 (pounds) (pounds)
1 Coutts Retail Communications 7,541,000 6,334,440
2 Checkland Kindleysides 6,023,000 4,517,250
3 20/20 4,665,000 3,732,000
4 Allen International 2,350,000 1,880,000
5 Dalziel and Pow 1,699,900 1,614,905
6 Din Associates 1,601,924 1,521,828
7 Corsie Naysmith 1,250,000 1,250,000
8 Marketplace Design 2,320,000 928,000
9 The Design Group 3,439,000 859,750
10 Four IV 1,146,000 687,600
11 Sedley Place 1,070,059 642,035
12 Stocks Taylor Benson 1,197,000 454,860
13 AD Creative Consultants 700,000 420,000
14 The Church Agency 1,300,000 390,000
15 Carter Design Group 200,000 190,000