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Why is flagship store design compromised?

10th May 2017

Are flagship stores losing their way when it comes to rollout?

In this post, our Account Director Ben explores what can go wrong when rolling out a store design concept, and reveals the recipe for avoiding disaster.

There's nothing like a new flagship store to get LinkedIn buzzing with excitement.

Flagships can reshape the public view of an established brand or, be used to launch a brand into a retail environment. Good flagship stores are so much more than a visually stunning environment; it also can be innovative when it comes to service and offer. Most of what we see is a statement of ambition.

So here's the controversial bit - I was in London recently doing the rounds of all the exciting and newly launched environments. I also visited the stores that were rollouts of amazing flagships and I'm sorry to say, some rollouts were underwhelming after the promise of the first store. It's sad to see when a rollout has lost that finesse and impact of a flagship, and so-called value engineering had taken its toll.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have an issue with value engineering. In fact I'm a big fan, when it's done well. I understand that if you're experimenting, you're going to push service and the offer, and sometimes things will get changed at rollout to make it effective. These kind of changes at rollout are justifiable; what I'm focusing on here though, is when cost reduction in an ambitious scheme leads to losing sight of the original concept.

Apparently, there are two approaches when it comes to these stores: push what's achievable and forget scalability and cost, (let's worry about that stuff later) or, be realistic with the scheme when it comes to cost and replicability - especially if this new store is the first of many. Both routes are down to the brand, and each has its merits. The first approach can create great PR and queues around the block. The latter can be seen as more honest from the outset, giving the public an insight in to what they will see on their local high street soon.

There is a third route though - the 'have your cake and eat it' route. We've worked on a few of these and it's a difficult one to balance; you can get a scalable solution from the most ambitious environments.

One of the most impactful flagship launches I can remember was the first European Apple Store in 2004 on Regent Street. It was a statement of clarity and boldness saying "we are selling our own product now, and isn't it great?". None of their other environments were to this scale, but they cascaded the look and feel to smaller formats successfully.

Apple wowed us again in October last year with their refit of Regent Street. The recipe was fundamentally the same as the original store, but it's an architectural masterpiece establishing the brand values of quality, simplicity and service. Will this new look cascade down to smaller stores? I'm not so sure.

We've worked on projects like these where the dream was delivered at rollout. Two schemes that come to mind over the years are M&M in Leicester Square and the other is Asics in Paris. These had ambitious concepts, scale and timings but the wow factor of that first store was never compromised when it came to the rollout. Recently we were also lucky enough to be involved in a new flagship store for Tesco in Swansea, which was briefed to be a project that must be scalable from the very start.

The 'have your cake and eat it' recipe:

1) Firstly, a brief.

The brief needs to communicate the rollout target costs, the scale of the rollout, and the format sizes of the environments it is to land in. It also needs to cover the colleague and customer requirements in detail.

2) A knowledgeable and relevant team.

This includes the retailers / brands and (from our perspective) development engineers working closely with creatives pushing what's possible. As I said in a previous blog, great development engineers are as important as the creatives on any project, but it's even more important on a scheme like this. To quote Stephen Tye, to make this work well development engineers need to balance "cost, lead time, health and safety, installation and materials" while achieving an innovative blockbuster of a concept.

3) The creatives.

Have the conceptual agency involved in the first rollout store so you keep that consistent vision all the way through. Sometimes the creatives are dropped after the first store and the vision behind the concept is left in danger of being forgotten.

4) The engineers.

Have great technical drawings and unbiased technical support throughout the tender process of the rollout specification.

5) Finally, you.

Be a demanding client - don't accept it if you're not happy. Strive for perfection.

With this recipe, you're less likely to have the reality of your amazing flagship falling flat when it comes to rollout.

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