Retail Focus: Is Trinity the jewel in the crown for Leeds?

Trinity Leeds has been attracting some good headlines for retail, taking some of the focus away from the now trotting pace of the horsemeat scandal. I visited on the opening day and I have to say that I was impressed overall, if a little surprised by its small size.

One thing that stood out in Trinity Leeds is that you couldn’t fail to notice how Arcadia is investing in its brands there. Dorothy Perkins, Burton, Topman, Topshop and even BHS have each opened new retail concepts here. For me, it represents a big shift in what the company has done before. It’s like Arcadia has finally woken up to the fact that better retail design can be a profit driver.

My only criticism of this welcome move is that it appears that these brands are being innovated together, perhaps even using the same design agency. As a result, they seem to have lost their individual brand identity as, for the most part, they now seem to compete using similar design thinking, themes and ideas. These new concepts all tread a familiar path of attractive store design simply using new fixturing, décor and lighting, with graphics and more displays. In my opinion though, each is a ‘me too’ copy of themselves, which cannot be right. Blurring the lines between brands can potentially cannibalise sales (for example, Burton looks like a mini Topman). Given the scale and opportunity with the Arcadia business as a whole, personally, I’d appoint several top-notch agencies to manage the design evolution and customer experience for each brand. In my opinion, this would retain identity, exclusivity and edge.

Back to Trinity Leeds itself, it may be the only UK shopping centre to open this year, but by the usual standards, it’s a small centre. It’s an infill of land in-between the historic Briggate, Commercial and Trinity streets. This has caused several large, unoccupied gaps to open up in the surrounding streets, following Next and River Island’s relocation to Trinity Leeds.

It’s clear Arcadia has learnt from investing in Topshop. Whether it will invest further to refurbish older stores across the country remains to be seen.

Leeds was already a great shopping city, and while this new development has added a few new stores, on balance, will it be seen to have taken something away? Development is good generally, but only if it has an overall positive effect.

It has to be said that Trinity has an attractive design, an iconic glazed roof, restaurants and a city cinema etc., but in five years time it will have aged like any other city mall.

That said, individually and taken as a whole, this is still big news. The question is, to what extent do the stores represent a series of one-offs, or a serious commitment to upgrade the estate and refurbish what are, for me, so many tired old shops with these better concepts? I witnessed a similar story a few years back when the once retail goliath Sears UK innovated several brands together shortly before some of these fascias were put up for sale. While there is no suggestion that this is in Sir Phillip’s thinking, a cynic would argue that before any disposals took place, investors would expect to see a new retail format producing positive performance results before they too sought to make any investment in these brands in future.

Physically, it’s left its mark on the rest of Leeds’ shopping districts, with lots of big old stores now lying empty. With so many retailers now having gone to the wall, who’s going to fill up this space? I suspect that many shops will lie empty for some time – downgrading the rest of the city. For example, the area closest to Debenhams and Harvey Nichols looks tired already, with the Trinity Centre having shifted Leeds’ centre of gravity by a couple of streets.

It’s down to Leeds City Council and Leeds’ retailers to ensure that it doesn’t suffer like Derby did in the wake of its own super mall.

So finally, to the best stores. Next has a very attractive new concept. This multilevel space has a lighter design aesthetic and a sophisticated, aspirational feel. With this, Next seems to have come of age. It’s not gimmicky and reflects the brand’s ‘quality credentials’ better than the showy ‘black’ store design phase.

Love it or hate it, Superdry demonstrates some great VM, powerful merchandising and colourful displays, although it’s big, sprawling and confusing layout and endless sea of ‘samey’ products very quickly lost its appeal.

As I mentioned, Dorothy Perkins was good with its long overdue new store design – the first in ages for the brand – with the resulting effect being lighter, sophisticated and feminine. Similar things could be said for the new Burton, but with more emphasis on product VM and displays. Finally, River Island was a very attractive store with areas of particular note being the men’s denim area, women’s footwear and accessories, and women’s trend area.

So, overall, an interesting trip up north. Trinity is attractive, human scale and appealing. Smart and tidy, just like the brands that have set up shop there. Leeds, beware though. Trinity is good, but you WERE great. You need to do more than this to retain and improve your retail crown.

Karl in The Retail Bulletin

Karl has been thinking about Britain’s high streets – in particular Portas Pilot schemes. Are they an effective method of reviving high streets, or could the money be better spent in a different way?

In this feature for The Retail Bulletin, Karl lays down his opinions on what is really needed to bring our town centres back to life.

Click here to read Karl’s column on The Retail Bulletin website.

How Karl helped dress Props & Frocks for success

Karl was working for an American brand in Singapore when he received another call fromTwo Four Broadcast, this time to see if Visual Thinking could help Alex Polizzi with the retail strategy and visual merchandising improvement for Props & Frocks, an Essex based fancy dress business.

As in previous episodes of the hit BBC Two series at Courtyard Bridal and Kettley’s Furniture, Karl was asked to give his feedback on the store, to identify the improvement priorities, and, importantly to carry out the complete store transformation with his team at Visual Thinking.

The shop was housed in converted stables at a family house in a rural location, and unless people were familiar with it, they wouldn’t know it existed. Add to that poor signage and a ‘discrete’ exterior, and it wasn’t obvious that a shop was there at all. In fact, the blacked out windows and visible latex boobs, bums and ‘naughty play outfits’ made Karl think he’d arrived at a sex shop by mistake! The owners were horrified and concerned on hearing this.

Karl concluded that a new visual identity was needed, and one that was more in line with what the business was supposed to be all about – selling costumes and accessories, to children and adults, to enjoy fun parties and family celebrations. Good clean fun!

Karl recommended that the shop needed comprehensive refurbishment – a total makeover.

The old stables presented many issues with a complex layout, patched up and non-descript interior design, poor lighting and a mish mash of old shop equipment – topped off with dull and uninspiring visual merchandising. Also, important customer service areas such as the changing rooms and cash desk had become ineffective and were no longer fit for purpose.

Karl thought that the owners had started to forget what the shop was all about. People came here to plan for fun, but the look, feel and instore messaging said ‘don’t touch!’ Customers were not encouraged to buy; overall the shop was seemingly an exercise in sales prevention!

The store needed to be drastically improved with a better layout, visual merchandising and display to tell product stories, make shopping easier, silent sell and to drive linked sales of the store’s great range of costumes and accessories.

Visual Thinking carried out the makeover, using our own suppliers and working with local contractors. First we developed a vibrant new visual identity, including a new logo, colour scheme and various design elements to use throughout the store. The ‘look’ featured a bold carnival theme, using red and white stripes and humorous speech bubbles. Alex presented our creative concept to the family, who really loved it – immediately approving the designs.

The VT team planned all other aspects of the makeover including; exterior signage, an improved layout, interior decoration throughout, new interior signage, improved lighting, updated changing rooms, and of course, much improved visual merchandising and display.

At the end of October, we spent four days on site to transform the store for Halloween – the company’s biggest selling period of the year.

The family loved the end result and even asked for additional items to be carried out, whilst we were implementing the makeover, to maximise the finished results. The resulting retail environment led to fantastic sales performance increases, making for a very successful Halloween that beat all previous years’ results for the same period.

Sales of products featured on the new mannequins were incredible. The same products that had previously sold just two items in a single month now sold 30 products in just two days after the VM improvements that we made.  Overall, there was improved sales performance in all product categories, confirming the success of the changes that Visual Thinking advised.

Customer comments have been WONDERFUL. Everyone noticed, and feedback on the improvements has been extremely positive. Adele Wiseman, the store owner, said: “Sales have increased and we were delighted to see how Karl and his team have helped to make the shop entertaining to be in again.

“The biggest change, though, was how Karl, Brendan and the team helped us to transform the store, in terms of ‘feel’ as well as ‘look’. We were a little worried about letting everyone play with the products so freely, as they can get damaged that way and then we can’t sell them.

“Karl set a bit of seed change in motion though, by convincing us to get rid of the ‘don’t touch’ ethos, which then made the shop fun and gave customers more freedom to try on and play with the costumes and accessories (within reason!). I’m pleased to say that the sales now far outweigh any cost of the damage to goods though!”

This is a great example of how ‘try before you buy’ and ‘retailtainment’ can give new energy and sales impetus, as customers interact with the products and each other, giving people the confidence to buy and making the retail environment so much more appealing for shoppers.

Click here for a programme synopsis and to watch the episode on BBC iPlayer.