Currys’ two new stores are a world away from its traditional barrage of white-on-red branding. John Ryan goes to find out whether the retailer’s smooth new image works

As stock markets continue to gyrate, share prices tumble and consumer uncertainty gathers momentum, you might be forgiven for thinking that being a retailer at the moment is a pretty thankless task. And if the core of your business is selling higher ticket items related to the home, these difficulties must appear to be almost insurmountable.

But not quite. DSGi may have posted a 7 per cent fall in like-for-likes for its Currys and Currys.digital stores in the 16 weeks to August 23, but apparently this is not standing in the way of its ability to take a hard, critical look at its stores and come up with something new.

The new in this instance is three weeks old and can be found at the redesigned Currys.digital and Currys stores in Chelmsford and Swindon respectively. Stand outside either and what is immediately apparent is that they have sprung from the same design stable. Design consultancy Dalziel + Pow has worked with the managements of Currys and Currys.digital and the consistency of approach adopted in both stores speaks of a desire to create a generic brand.

Stare at the exterior of either store and the logo is more or less the same, apart from the addition of the word “digital” in white at the Chelmsford outlet. With a royal blue background and red font, the new logo is also relatively peaceful when compared with the white on red of a run-of-the-mill Currys branch. It also goes some way towards giving the impression that although the range at Currys may differ from a Currys.digital, these are stores with shared values and attitudes towards the merchandise on display.

All of which is not before time. DSGi managing director of airport retail Andrew Milliken, who headed the internal team that carried out the work on the new format, says: “When we went from Currys to Currys.digital [in 2006], it wasn’t anything more than a fascia change and to be honest it was a format that hadn’t been changed in seven years.”

In 2006, there had in fact been a seismic shift as the Dixons name vanished from high streets – being retained online and in airports – and the 500-plus Currys and Currys.digital chain took its place.

The trouble for DSGi was that its Currys portfolio looked like the product of a promotionally driven company with all that this entails. A Dixons store was characterised by a vast amount of point-of-sale material, most of which amounted to information overload, and nothing much changed when it morphed into a Currys or Currys.digital. From the outside in, red was everywhere, representing less of a call to action and more of a distinctly offputting, worry-inducing environment.

From a customer perspective, Chelmsford’s 2,500 sq ft (230 sq m) Currys.digital store feels almost like it could belong to a different company. The shopfront notwithstanding – and this is certainly better – the interior appears hi-tech, low-key and an altogether better place in which to acquire some portable technology.

Toning it down

Two white “play tables” run down the middle of the narrow shop and there are “Autumn offers” signs wrapped around the ends of each. And that is the full extent of the promotional material in this store, with the only hint of red being behind the cash desk. Each of the play tables is devoted to a particular category – the front two are for digital cameras and the two behind showcase laptops. One of the laptop tables is devoted to Apple computers and whereas this would stick out like a sore thumb in other branches, in Chelmsford it blends in with the modern, restrained environment.

Above the play tables are two long, white ceiling rafts with embedded spotlights. These are separated by a row of white spotlights attached to a gantry that is set into the black ceiling void. Milliken remarks that these white spotlights should be black and are due to be changed, but it wouldn’t matter if they stayed the way they are – the net effect is still a positive one.

The rear of the store switches to an all-black environment and provides a home for a range of flatscreen TVs, all of which are on low stands across the floor, meaning that sightlines to the back wall are not compromised.

On the shop’s right-hand wall, the journey from front to back takes in the accessories department, which has been much extended from that of a standard Currys.digital branch.

Speaking of the store as a whole, an enthusiastic Milliken says: “It’s the same size [as the store that preceded it], but it looks much freer, more shoppable and has 40 per cent more product.”

So if there is a greater choice across the categories, what’s been taken out in order to make space? The answer is white goods – always a curious choice of stock for a high street electronics store – sundry brown goods and personal care products.

The outcome is a much slicker, more easily understood offer. Here is a shop that is not a seemingly random collection of electronic paraphernalia and is instead a well targeted offer. Chelmsford’s citizens have reason to feel pleased.

In Swindon too, shoppers must be pleasantly surprised by the new 20,000 sq ft (1,860 sq m) Currys store. As a much larger retail shed proposition, you would expect this outpost to be different, but it is the similarities that are most striking.

Given that this is a shed on a retail park, it does not have the windows housing large flatscreen monitors that fill Chelmsford’s shopfront. But identical brand colours foster the sense that you are entering a store from the same family.

Inside, the royal blue colour is used as a unifying feature in the shape of a frieze that runs around the perimeter. This has been deployed to pick out product categories, with each demarcated using a white font.

In the mid-shop area, the very large space is broken up by three aisles that run from front to back and one main cross aisle. Branded product suppliers have been allowed to provide their own shopfit, which gives variety around the store. This is particularly effective in the TV section, but this area would be worthy of comment whichever way you cut it. It is eight rows deep and each row has between 10 and 15 outsize flatscreen TVs. Currys managing director Peter Keenan says: “This is one of our hero areas. Nobody in Swindon will have a better range of TVs than us.” It’s hard to disagree; this is the kind of display that makes you think there must be very little else to do in this Wiltshire new town.

The thing about both stores, however, is that they represent the new face of DSGi and work alongside the refreshed PC World at Enfield, unveiled at the beginning of June. Actually, these two stores look better than PC World, where the strange inverted funnel in the mid-shop area and the choice of corporate purple still appear strange. That said, all three pilot stores are better than their standard counterparts.

A handful more Currys.digital branches are due to receive the new treatment ahead of the peak Christmas period, according to Milliken. And the long-awaited “J9” Currys hypermarket, a 60,000 sq ft (5,575 sq m) behemoth at junction nine of the M6 in Birmingham, will open at the beginning of next month and also follow the new layout and design.

Currys’ makeover looks particularly effective but relatively inexpensive when allowing for the size of the space. The question has to be how quickly DSGi will get the bit between its teeth (and whether it can afford to) and opt to change more stores to resemble the two at Chelmsford and Swindon – it can’t be soon enough.

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