Latest figures from retail intelligence specialist Springboard and the British Retail Consortium showed that footfall was down 2.9% in UK shopping centres during May.
During my recent visit to the US capital, there were no such signs, with business still brisk within its most popular mall destination, Tyson’s Mall. It first opened to the public in 1968, becoming one of the first fully enclosed, climate-controlled shopping malls in the Washington metropolitan area – although it is actually located in the state of Virginia.
Today, it is still a major draw for those who still want the mall experience in DC, due in large part to a committed programme of investment and refurbishment over the years. This has ensured it has evolved and remained relevant. A great example of this is the addition of an outdoor terrace, complete with artificial lawn and games.
It may no longer be the power brand it once was, but the Abercrombie & Fitch store is perhaps one of the most interesting within Tyson’s mall. This retail concept was the first of six prototype stores that opened last year. The following stores have yet to open – read into that what you will. But, at least, it is very different.
This store is emblematic of the retailer’s desire to embark on radical transformation as a way to change shopper perception of the brand. Certain aspects of the store are interesting due solely to the fact that they display a sense of bold experimentation or genuine raw creativity, and makes a welcome change to the conventional and formulaic A&F concept.
Once through the open entranceway, you find yourself part of an interior catwalk that guides you deeper into the store. Complete with pavement, bicycle and street signs, it has an engaging ‘street scene’ vibe. Elsewhere throughout the store, greater emphasis has been put on co-ordination. The overall result delivers a more boutique and aspirational feel to the store. Displays are entirely low-level. It may signal a different approach for A&F, but it’s very much ‘of the moment’ – similar to the new Zara stores, and others, who are deploying the technique as a way of making the brand look upmarket, simply by leaving less stuff out.
About two miles, and a very hot walk across four freeways, is Tyson’s Galleria. Here, Bonobos is one of the undoubted highlights. The brand was founded in 2007, and started out as a pureplay online brand. Bonobos moved into physical retail spaces five years later and was acquired by Walmart in 2017.
From a VM perspective, it’s hard to actually make a point of difference for what is, in effect, just another menswear store. Essentially, there are only so many things you can do. But this is a brand that has really have thought ‘out of the box’. If you’re looking to find a menswear store that is truly innovative and really doing things differently, this is the one to look at. Polo shirts, shirts and shorts they may be, but they’re still handled in a way that is very different. Product volume gives way to just displaying one of each, working together in a very imaginative solution. The result really makes their products feel exclusive.
Moving into the neighbourhood streets of 14th Street in downtown DC, J Crew Neighbourhood store is quick to catch the eye. When it launched, J Crew said the location was chosen because the energy and vibe on 14th Street fits well with the brand. And fit right into the neighbourhood it does – just. The store operates within a very small space. Nonetheless, it’s everything you would expect from J Crew: very select, and a great example of retail done well.
While some retailers in Washington DC may be struggling – having to discount to keep the sales going despite the economy and retail sector in the US doing better – there is a wealth of inspiration that awaits visitors to the city, with clear pockets of innovation and forward-thinking that continue to breathe new life into established and new retail spaces alike.