Opinion: The changing face of the flagship store by Jeff Kindleysides

When we talk about flagship stores it is interesting to think firstly about the term. At one time the definition of a flagship store would possibly have been ‘our biggest, grandest and most opulent store’.

To me, today’s definition of a flagship would be less about a reliance on scale and more about a concentration of knowledge, expertise, connectivity, elements of exclusivity and, critically, availability.

Another definition of a flagship store is that it is an artery of a brand, having the closest connections to what the brand is thinking and saying right now. It will be rich in content, will be live and relevant and being constantly refreshed, also offering elements of privilege. 

The continual advances in technology and social media mean that brands and retailers are connecting and having a dialogue with more people than ever before. The sheer depth of knowledge and opinion gained from every possible perspective means consumer expectations of a flagship store go way beyond the norm. Therefore service, expertise, insight, relevance and a strong sense of uniqueness are critical, as are exciting products and depth of range.

To my mind the physical retail environment that does all of these things immaculately, and with authority, has the attributes of a flagship.

There is of course one defining ingredient that underpins flagship status, and that’s location. Being in the right place, with the right company, is critical; whether it’s tucked away in the most relevant location or highly visible on one of the world’s best streets. This is a critical part of the equation that makes it all work, and in the right location a flagship store has the ability to very quickly change perceptions

When we first began to design brand flagships, part of the brief was that they must break even over a period of time and carry the full product range. It gave our clients the opportunity to demonstrate to their customers (multi-brands) the ultimate brand expression and prove how this approach would increase sales. It was also often a test bed for elements that could potentially be rolled out across the whole retail estate.

In 1994 when we designed the first flagship store for Levi’s, it was one of the first stores to place storytelling at the heart of the experience. We talked about history, manufacturing and cultural connections, but we also spoke about product, fit, finish and expertise. This became the definition of flagship retail at that point in time. It changed the way that people thought about those things and went against the convention of how you could describe your brand.

When we redesigned the store in 2010, we revisited this original principle, but we interpreted it in a very different way. The first store was very monolithic, which reflected how brands were thinking at the time; it was all about them. This latest flagship store is more empathetic, showcasing local artists and designers and the continually evolving expression of the creativity of the brand.

Today, the role of the flagship store has naturally evolved. An in-stock element remains a crucial part of it, but with the ability to purchase so easily online, brands are now able to have much smaller flagships and still offer their customers a massively extended range by also providing the opportunity to deliver in-store or at home. However, the critical ingredient of world class service and knowledge retain the same importance. 


Jeff Kindleysides is founder of Checkland Kindleysides