Over the last two weeks, I’ve been drinking from the fire hose of retail on the annual Westfield World Retail Study Tour – touring five world cities, listening to dozens of retail experts, visiting hundreds of stores and taking thousands of photographs. Recovering from all that intense retail stimulation, I reflected that great retail comes in many shapes and forms. The one common factor is that it is defined by the size of your imagination, not your budget.
At one end of the spectrum is the Burberry store on Regent Street in London – 2,500 square metres of gob-smacking gorgeousness. Housed in an 1820 building that has been restored by master craftspeople, and then fitted out with acres of marble, 100 digital screens and 500 speakers, this is a seriously impressive retail experience. Breathtaking both in vision and execution, the Burberry store would have cost a bob or two, just quietly. But it’s probably earned its keep already just in the buzz created.
Equally exciting to me, however, was the fascinating retail I experienced in markets – London’s Borough Market, Columbia Road Flower Market, Spitalfields Markets and Brick Lane, and Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. This is where you see retail reduced to its essence with unique merchandise and passionate traders jostling side by side.
At Borough Market, I witnessed a case study in great retail. After following a queue that snaked around a corner, I came across a gourmet baguette merchant selling up a storm. The air was filled with the scent of sizzling sausages and alive with banter. Prime produce was proudly on display. The brand language was engaging – “award-winning sausages”, “the hangover cure – today’s special & bacon”, “hand-made with a lot of T.L.C.” And the customers were buying into it big time.
Right next-door was a lonely bloke at a card table, trying to flog “Proper Hot Food”. No engagement. No theatre. No snappy signs. And sadly, no customers.
At Columbia Road Flower Markets, I caught a cheeky flower-seller spruiking the special nature of his blooms. “Grown on me grandfather’s allotment, they were,” he said, then under his breath, “And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.”
On Brick Lane, I saw a delightfully unpretentious caravan signposted with “Northern Soul Kitchen & Record Shop”, specializing in vinyl from the late 60’s.
I also loved “The Frenchie”, run by a bearded Parisian – where you could buy three sizes of genuine gourmet French toasties; Petit, Moyen (regular), or the Eiffel Tower.
And in the Grand Bazaar, I watched as merchants of every kind ran through a ritual that has been repeated for 700 years. They prepared their stalls and stores immaculately, set up the Visual Merchandising perfectly, stocked up their sample trays, and then got out there and sold their socks off.
Out of those visits, I developed the “Principles of Market Retail”. It’s all about: 1. Passionate people, 2. Engagement and Interaction, 3. Specialists in their Field, 4. Operational Excellence, and 5. Great Visual Merchandising.
Actually, when you think about it, those are some of the keys to all great retail – whether you are Burberry or at the Grand Bazaar.