In-house collaboration and innovative design facilitate successful launch of LCBO's flagship Craft Beer Boutique

Case Study by Cris Jaw RGD, Graphic Designer, Marketing, at LCBO


The LCBO developed a special section in one of its flagship stores in Toronto showcasing local and international craft beers, as part of the organization's business mandate. In addition to a wide selection of craft beers, the boutique features a tasting bar and a growler station where customers can purchase freshly-poured draft beer in over-sized, jug-style containers (growlers), as well as in cans or bottles.


Background / Brief

The LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) is an Ontario government agency and one of the world’s largest buyers and retailers of beverage alcohol. Through more than 650 retail stores, catalogues, special order services and more than 210 agency stores which provide access for rural consumers, the LCBO offers nearly 24,000 products annually from more than 80 countries to consumers and licensed establishments.


The in-house design team for LCBO Marketing took on this project as a design exploration and prototype for a possible roll-out of LCBO craft beer “boutiques” at other locations in Ontario. Currently the LCBO’s craft beer selection is displayed in the general beer section with limited craft beer-related signage.

The team collaborated closely with the project's lead architect, Fiorino Design Inc., and the LCBO’s Store Design and Construction teams, to launch the Craft Beer Boutique. Led by Creative Director Brad MacIver, the LCBO in-house design team developed signage, video, in-store graphics and the Growler package design and various display elements specific to the new space. 


This project was highly collaborative, involving teams from various LCBO divisions, including Marketing, Logistics, Store Design and Construction, Sales and IT. The space, physically adjacent to the existing store, was leased in early 2015 and initial planning meetings were arranged to commence in early March, for a proposed late June 2015 opening (subsequently moved back to mid-September 2015.)


Goal: To create a boutique for Ontario and International Craft Beer, including a Growler Station, the first of its kind in an LCBO store, typically found in small craft producer retail outlets.


Target AudienceCraft beer enthusiasts (a segment that is currently experiencing rapid growth) and customers who are passionate about supporting local brewers. 




The many roles of the Marketing Design Team for this project included the Growler packaging design, mural and signage design, 'digital walls', certain key elements for the interior store space and the 'Growler Wall'. 


Growler Packaging Design

We did a visual audit of numerous examples of craft beer Growler-style containers in market, including examples from both local and international producers. In addition, we researched what I call “kin-groups", products such as cold brew coffee and fresh pressed juices.


The visual audit mainly served as initial market research. By reviewing what is in the market place, we were able to establish a comfort zone for where our brand fits. The design solution needed to reach out to our Craft Beer customer, while maintaining authenticity to the LCBO brand. For instance, something wild and crazy or whimsical might be very popular for the Craft Beer market, but we would be compromising the LCBO brand integrity.  At the same time, you don’t want something so corporate that would alienate the consumer. 


We explored several preliminary design directions and technical solutions, including the possibility of silk-screening with inks that would allow writing and erasing directly on the glass Growlers. Two short-listed concepts were presented to the project stakeholders, both reflecting our new brand guidelines and standards. One option was geared stylistically to a target audience of “hipster” craft beer aficionados and featured one of our custom script fonts, Cheers, which has a relaxed, hand-written feel. The other option employed our classic serif face, Miller. It was a tough decision because both designs had merits.




Focus groups were held within our marketing department. Based on the feedback from these sessions and much deliberation between myself and the stakeholders, we went with the classic serif font. In addition, a hang tag was designed with all the product-specific information. This works well for merchandising and also creates a hand-crafted look.



Mural and Signage

For inspiration, we reviewed the architect’s drawings and researched various illustration styles and their use in retail settings both local and international.


For mural illustration, we researched visual styles that suited the parameters of the project, using the architect's drawings as a reference. We looked at various illustration styles and how they were used in retail settings both locally and internationally. For the Craft Beer segment, we wanted a loose, hand-drawn style. We also wanted an artist whose work appeared both fluid and expert, with hand-rendered typography to reflect the artisanal spirit of Craft Beer making.

Heather Gatley was awarded the commission. Her portfolio contained examples that closely aligned with our initial concept and displayed beautiful line work and a great grasp of hand-rendered typography. The result was an expressive interpretation of popular craft beer styles. The mural was so attractive that we expanded the commission to include several pieces of collateral signage, including an important “menu board” piece explaining to customers what’s on tap on any given day. We designed the board, in collaboration with Nella Fiorino’s retail store design team, to include sliding pieces on which staff can write daily offerings.






























Another key component of the project was what we referred to as “digital walls” - two sets of four stacked screens flanking each side of the internal entry way from the main store into the beer boutique. The screens run on a continuous loop and can be updated with content that includes video close-up clips of beer being poured alternating with still, black and white portraits of local craft brewmasters. The LCBO’s Broadcast Production Group, also in-house, created the five-minute video with art direction from the Marketing design team.



The major components of the store’s interior were conceived by Fiorino Design and LCBO’s internal Design and Construction team, but certain key elements were added to the plans by our team as well. Our contributions included the 'soft dressing' (i.e. products in specially-designed buckets, décor elements) and a sleek shelving unit to celebrate the diversity in label design for craft beers. This is a display-only unit meant to enhance the visual experience for customers. A street-facing, glassed-in display area was also designed by our group in collaboration with our Visual Merchandising team.



Lastly, and perhaps the most arresting element in the space, is what we refer to as the Growler Wall, a floor-to-ceiling multi-unit display case featuring multiple glass Growlers, lit from within by an integrated LED system that creates visual drama as a backdrop to the actual Growler station. It was custom-designed by Fiorino in collaboration with our team.




As the graphic designer, I looked after the packaging design of the Growler itself, the art direction of the wall mural and some signage design. Working closely with the Creative Director and Marketing Director and Manager, we navigated through the many requirements of our retail operations, and problem-solved as the project progressed.

This is the first craft beer boutique of its kind for the LCBO, so many challenges and solutions were unique. All aspects of the store, from shelving to signage to the Growlers themselves, were custom designed for the location. Brad MacIver, Creative Director, worked closely with project architect Nella Fiorino to produce the overall creative vision for the boutique. LCBO’s Store Design and Construction team renovated the space in accordance with Fiorino’s plans in collaboration with various other internal departments.



Simply put, the Marketing Department, of which we are a part, and the Store Design and Construction and Product Category divisions were the clients. They initiated project mandates and scope and provided input and feedback in terms of our retail operations and business needs.

Many creative professionals also contributed to the success of the project. Heather Gatley drew the wall mural; still photography of the Brewmasters for the video display was done by Stacey Brandford; our in-house broadcast team shot the videos and product stills with art direction from Marketing’s Creative Director. LCBO’s IT specialists purchased and installed the Growler Wall screens and managed the related technical processes; Michael Elliot was the food stylist. Nella Fiorino of Fiorino Design Inc. was instrumental in the retail store design.

Various divisions at the LCBO are not often called upon to collaborate so closely. While this was initially seen to be a potential source of tension, the opposite was in fact the case. The project ran as smoothly as it did precisely because roles and responsibilities were clear from the outset.


As already mentioned, many aspects of this project were firsts for us. In addition to coming up with a totally new store format and signage concept, the planning and construction of the Growler Station presented many challenges to the teams. Again, a good collaborative process saved the day. Many technical and tactical mandates involved multiple teams from store design, marketing, product, construction, retail operations, just to name a few. Challenges like, how are the kegs stored, maintained and connected to the taps; or how we would charge and refund the customers for a deposit for the growler jug are just some of the unique problems that emerged. All teams worked closely with each other and relied heavily on each other’s expertise to problem solve. We found the most important best practice to open communication and asking lots of questions!


The digital video wall was a breakthrough moment as well, providing us with an opportunity to test some of the newest retail display ideas seen in stores today. We knew that scale was very important if we wanted to make a statement, so the challenge was deciding what the budget would support. In the end, we went for maximum coverage and have been very pleased with the results.

Timelines and deadlines kept changing and scope of work (especially the signage needs) fluctuated unexpectedly. There were many rounds of revisions and we worked closely with all teams to keep trying new solutions. A good example is the product info tag on the Growlers. In addition to providing customers with product information, this tag functions as a price tag for our cashiers. Also, the Growler jug itself requires a refundable deposit that needed to be accounted for. All this required a design solution that would take into account the needs of both the customer and the retail store staff.


Our Corporate Social Responsibility mandate extends far beyond checking the age of customers; accessibility and sustainability are important considerations in all of our stores. The Craft Beer Boutique is an extension of our Summerhill store, so all the accessibility requirements were met with the original store design and adapted to address the needs of the new space. The LCBO is a world leader in demanding producers reduce the weight of glass in their products, which saves landfill as well as shipping costs. The concept of the growler itself is also very green: by bringing back your growler for refills, you are saving on packaging. 



The Craft Beer Boutique officially launched on September 17, 2015 and received lots of media and industry attention. The local beer makers are very supportive of this initiative and look forward to possible roll-outs of additional boutiques province-wide. Consumers responded favourably with  higher sales results than forecasted.

There seems to be general agreement internally that the design work has been a great success. Response from the public and industry has been very positive as well. Our partners in the craft beer community have been very enthusiastic in their response to the project, which is very important to us: as an agency of the Ontario Government, we are mandated to provide support and promotion to local producers.

We know that our customers are very engaged with the idea of craft beer, and we feel that our first major initiative in this area provides greater opportunities to learn about products they might otherwise not have discovered. Customers are enjoying the new shopping experience and there’s been significant activity in social media.


Significant savings to the organization were achieved by having a large portion of the project originate from within the LCBO. As well, the in-house design group’s familiarity with the LCBO’s business needs, branding and complicated approvals process allowed for innovation based on the realities of a government agency environment. 


Designer Takeaways

  1. Research is critically important. Not just pertaining to design issues, but also regarding a client’s operational systems and business needs. A successful design solution doesn't just please the designer. It must satisfy all stakeholder needs, including, in our case and most emphatically, the customer’s.
  2. Don’t be afraid to suggest new or untried ideas if they seem likely to lead to a more successful result. It’s the designer’s role and responsibility to push the envelope. For example, this project did not initially call for a digital video component, but we felt it would significantly add to the customer experience.
  3. The importance of attractively-presented mock-ups cannot be over-stated. Designers are trained to imagine results, but clients often do not share that ability. Your first presentation of an idea is the one that matters most, so make it the best it can be.


Client Takeaways

  1. Keep an open mind. Big ideas need room and space to grow.
  2. The designer’s viewpoint can often shed light on problems that may not have been anticipated - it helps to have a welcoming attitude for fresh perspectives.  
  3. Be honest in your responses from the outset. Too much time is often wasted because clients are unwilling to be open about their reaction early on. Better to share your thoughts while there’s still time to make changes calmly and thoughtfully.


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