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Flexible property needed for bricks and mortar growth says Rapha

Retail property owners should be more flexible about leases, offering temporary deals and more pop-up units, if they want to attract innovative retailers, according to growing cycling brand Rapha.

Caroline Crosswell, director of retail and development at the brand, says that pop-up stores have proved a useful way to try new towns and cities before opening permanent branches.

“We have test pop-ups,” Crosswell told the audience at the Future Stores conference in London this week. “We do it to make sure we have brand engagement and to test the market.”

Rapha in-store cafe
Rapha in-store cafe

Rapha, which refers to its branches as clubhouses not stores, operates from 23 sites in 11 countries. It puts brand engagement – via cycling clubs and events – ahead of pure commerce when judging its own success, says Crosswell. This makes the choice of location critical, with Crosswell saying that finding the right site is akin to finding a unicorn.

The latest Clubhouse, in the Miami Design District, has recently become a permanent branch after a fine month spell as a pop-up. But Crosswell says that many landlords are reluctant to offer the flexibility it has enjoyed in Florida.

“Landlords can be reluctant to offer pop-ups… it’s hard to invest in bricks and mortar, especially when you are like us,” she says.

But she says that retailers than emphasise customer engagement can create a long term growth in footfall, through a regular calendar of events. Rapha runs the largest cycling club in the world, based in its stores, and encourages customers to join group rides, as well as using services such as yoga classes, and lessons on issues such as bike maintenance.