A quick visit is enough to say all that needs to be said

Exeter yesterday afternoon at around 3.50pm and it was raining very heavily. Being in the market for a sports knee brace, this seemed like a good time to stop at a small retail park on the outskirts of the city and see if they had something of the kind ahead of closing time.

They had and it was fit for purpose, but if there had been almost anywhere else to buy this particular item, and if you were a local you’d probably know somewhere, then the chances seemed pretty good that you’d have gone there. The reason for this was simple. The shop looked terrible.

It has to be admitted that operating from a shed on the edge of a town is never going to be the most inspiring location, but even here there is much that should be done to make the environment welcoming. At JJB Sports in Exeter, the building in question is quite simply enormous: it feels that way because it is. To get a sense of this, all you need to do is glance at the perimeter. This isn’t difficult, the ceiling is very high and most of the perimeter wall consists of painted white blocks. Below this, the merchandise display modules, that are about 8ft high, all look the same, as there is little or no variation in merchandising. But the overwhelming impression is of blank, white wall.

Now let your eye stray over the mid-shop. Blue metal display units of a chunky nature that wouldn’t look out of place in a Transformers movie fill the floor. Again, it’s the equipment that you tend to look at, rather than the stock. The merchandise, in fact, is probably no better or worse than most of the competition, but the store environment dominates in a way that it shouldn’t. Overall, this shop is too big and high for the offer it contains.

Last year, Retail Week visited a JJB Sports store of the future, in Slough. It was much better with clear graphics, mid-floor interest and clear departmental segmentation. The trouble is, there are plenty like Exeter and while this continues, it is hard to see why shoppers would want to visit. Decathlon, Sports Direct and JD, all of them are better than this. The company is struggling for its place in the market and on the evidence of Exeter, it is not winning the battle.