THE jumbled aisles of discount shop Pricerite may be the last place one expects to find Rodney Fitch, a British architect and interior designer who has worked closely with trend-setting tycoons Sir Terence Conran and Richard Branson. Dirty tiled floors, glaring fluorescent lights and cheap plastic ware and furniture would never fit in with the cool, clean images cultivated by Habitat founder Conran or Branson's Virgin Airlines. But the gregarious Mr Fitch senses opportunity. Emboldened by (pre-recession) reports that Asian retailing is maturing rapidly, and by a belief Asians will want to shop in the same comfort and style as Europeans and Americans, he is optimistically pursuing clients here. 'Hong Kong will [follow the same trends as overseas], absolutely, because human beings all over the world were put on the Earth to shop,' he said, pointing out that retailing is the world's largest business. How people shop is Mr Fitch's concern. His office, which just celebrated its first anniversary in Hong Kong and has branches elsewhere in Asia as well as a head office in London, deals with the physical side of retailing - making shops comfortable and inviting to customers. He did not find those qualities when he first moved his burly figure around Pricerite some months ago. There was no well-organised display of goods, no placing of like goods together, no clear shop identity. 'It was just a place full of stuff, it had no rhyme or reason,' he said. 'My impression is that hitherto, Hong Kong retailers have had it very easy. 'They haven't had to work very hard to be successful.' The recession, and customer demands, would change that, he predicted. And shops like the newly revamped Pricerite would be in strong positions because they would provide better service to their customers, he said. Starting with its recently opened Sha Tin store, Pricerite shops will have a bright colour coding system for different departments (such as bathrooms and kitchens) and goods organised into 'adjacencies' so, for example, chairs are displayed next to tables which are near kitchenware. The shop windows have also been re-done and the shop logo sharpened to give a bolder, clearer image of the store. Mr Fitch said this was done for 'very little' money and in a retailing recession, but he believed it was all the more reason for shops to hone their images. 'In a recession, retailers should concentrate on what a customer experiences - service, merchandise presentation, price presentation, and good circulation of people so they visit all that's on offer,' he said. 'They don't want to come out of a recession known for treating people badly.' He speaks from experience, having plied his trade for 35 years during which he reckoned there have been several recessions. He worked first with Conran, helping to set up the original Habitat shops, then his own large firm which became publicly listed in 1982. He fell out with the owners of that firm and set up a smaller company, Rodney Fitch and Company, four years ago with the Virgin Group. His new company has two priorities: to focus on mass-market retailing and to work in Asia. One of their early jobs was to re-do the Optical Shop, albeit with certain restrictions. 'We've done a lot of work for the optical market in Europe and interestingly, Hong Kong is one of the few countries where there is no such thing as self-selection - you can't browse the walls to find the frame you like. 'So our first step was to make the glasses and frames as apparently accessible as possible.' This meant doing away with the dark, underlit interior, introducing more light and glass, and re-planning so the customers 'owned' the centre of the shop and the staff owned the perimeter. The shop was also given a stronger identity with a blue sign painted with a symbolic eye. The result was that market share increased, he said. Park'N Shop's image has also been re-moulded by Mr Fitch's office. The logo has been changed to incorporate Chinese characters, surprisingly for the first time, and set against a blue background. All new stores have been designed as 'superstores' with a brighter look and more selection. Crocodile clothing shop is another client and their outlets are being re-done to make them calmer and better-planned, and to reduce the clutter which has built up over the years as the merchandise range expanded. Mr Fitch believes these changes will make it easier for customers to find what they want and help retailers attract business, but how can he be sure the clutter will not creep back in or, more likely, his final design will not be re-arranged in six months? After all, even the larger chains seem keen on constantly re-organising their shelves. 'There is a lack of consistency and confidence in Hong Kong retailing,' he said. 'Walmart [the American chain retailer] can only roll out a Walmart-style shop because they are very confident the last one they did was the best one they did. 'Here, they think there's always another way, let's try that.' This is where Mr Fitch and his colleagues come in. They are trying to bring the tried and tested formats of Western retailing to Asian retailers. And if it strikes some as boring or worse that shops all over the world will look the same, he says so be it. 'The platform of my argument is that we hold more in common than we do apart, on a global basis,' he said. 'People all over the world would rather go up an escalator than stairs - don't tell me to keep stairs in a design just because they are quaint - and escalators are the same the world over. 'Once you start to introduce some elements like that, things start to take on the same shape and size. 'Most people think that's a kind of Kafka-like world, that everywhere you go will be the same, that it's scary. 'You can understand why people feel like that, but it's inevitable,' he predicted.