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The benefits of courage and focus in retail design

It goes without saying that the high street retail landscape is changing rapidly, household names disappearing, and new emerging players appearing, some of whom have been pure play DTC brands moving into physical spaces in order to connect with their customers in new, and different ways.

A perfect example of this is the decision Michael Preysman of Everlane who initially said that he would rather shut down the business than open a retail store, who has recently opened his seventh store. Preysman talks about how he recognised that customers not only wanted to touch and feel the product, but also were hungry for the experience of finding out more about the brand, its ethos and values.

He talks about how physical retail has allowed him to bring his stories to life in a way that he simply cannot achieve online. He also references the importance of the social in his stores, and the opportunity to get closer to his customers through events, that allow a deeper experience of understanding where the product comes from, famously sharing a recording, for example, of the sounds of a t-shirt being made, to reference their commitment to an ethical supply chan.

We are currently working with a business who will be shortly trialling a new retail model, initially as a pop up with the intention of testing the concept, and refining prior to exploring more permanent locations. The brand owner’s ambition is fuelled by the belief that customers have an appetite to discover and experience new brands on the high street, curated around a singular point of view, with the focus on discovering new and emerging brands, each with their own point of view and story. The idea is to use the physical space as a way to encourage customers to gather, to socialise and host events where the guest brands can share their stories and inspirations behind their individual brands. Due for a launch later this month, watch this space!

What appears to define these new players who are revitalising our high streets is that they have adopted a singular point of view, that speaks to and connects with customers in a way that resonates with their values beyond the merely transactional.

They are bravely pioneering their own space, an emotional territory, that they can legitimately ‘own’ and therefore more easily defend from would be competitors or imitators.

Their physical spaces represent an opportunity to amplify their respective brand worlds, and connect on a deeper level with their customers.

Much has been talked about localisation and creating a sense of community around physical retail, and the rise of online has led to brands thinking carefully about the role of their physical stores in their omnichannel strategy, where fewer, but better stores that provide a different experience to the online, one that is more sensory and intimate, and connected to a sense of place is clearly a strategy that is influencing even many of the larger brands such as Nike, who are shrinking their bricks and mortar presence, but ensuring their physical retail spaces are highly considered and localised.

Clearly it requires courage to adopt a singular, clearly defined, and distinctive stance. However, the benefits to a brand of expressing a strong, instantly recognisable point of view in delivering cut through have been amply demonstrated by those brands who possess a clear vision, and a deep understanding of who their customer ‘tribe’ is.

It does seem that success is being won by brands that possess this clear vision, and follow their north star, in their own way, without being obsessed about their ‘competitive’ set. Witness the huge success of Ganni, the Danish fashion brand, who have grown to epitomise the cool, and ultimately global, cult appeal of the #GanniGirls, a casual, feminine, accessible, inspiring aesthetic, but ultimately a strong cultural identity that celebrates the Copenhagen street style in a way that resonates with a global tribe, evidenced by their revenues of over $70 million in 2019. They are selectively opening stores, choosing locations carefully, having recently opened in Soho, and creating cool, salon, colourful, social spaces that beautifully express their brand ethos.

In a world where apparently our attention span is less than that of a goldfish – around 18 seconds – clear and unambiguous signalling is increasingly vital to signpost and drive customers to your door.

The mantra of sharpening focus to broaden appeal has never been more important.

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