Barcelona was a fitting location for the World Retail Congress, offering retail experiences ranging from dead pigs to contemporary stores. John Ryan takes a look around Spain’s second city

Uninformed visitors to Barcelona might be forgiven for thinking that they had strayed into some kind of porcine charnel house. On almost every corner, the smoked haunches of Iberian pigs (and, yes, there is a difference from the ones you may be familiar with) are to be found strung up in small groups, waiting to be carved up into plates of “serrano” – the local equivalent of prosciutto. There are myriad stores selling pigs’ legs and little else.

Nothing particularly unusual about that perhaps, except that you don’t normally find retailers selling large hunks of porcine products in shopping centres. Yet walk into Glories, the shopping centre at one end of the seemingly endless Avenida Diagonal, which cuts a swathe through the city’s newer districts, and on the lower level is a shop trading solely in this commodity.

Out-and-out vegans might find this off-putting, but for those with carnivorous constitutions it is worth visiting, if only to understand how something as ostensibly unattractive as smoked pigs’ legs can be made alluring by creative merchandising. In the case of the Glories store, the legs are strung up in a line along the wall and arranged in a circle around a cutting device in the middle of the shop.

Leave the store, ride the travelator and you will probably find yourself in Carrefour, where vegetarians will encounter a large area with artful displays of fruit and veg. That said, if prizes were awarded for the best-looking merchandise in this store, pride of place would once more go to the pigs – this time in the form of a long chiller cabinet with row upon row of salamis and the inevitable serrano hams.

Despite being a relatively mature shopping scheme, Glories has a highly contemporary food offer with something for almost every palate, including the curiously named Tea Shop of East West Company, where your attention is grabbed by a wall of tea caddies.

The semi-open-air mall also has a well-developed fashion offer and, as with most places in Barcelona, there is a heavy Inditex presence. The suspicion that the Spanish retail group is colonising every part of every town on the Iberian peninsula is hard to escape at Glories. Walk round a square that forms part of the scheme and you can tick them off: there’s the Zara, the Stradivarius and, opposite, are Massimo Dutti, and Pull and Bear. It may sound a little depressing, but this is a retail group that has managed its stable of fascias to the point where, even though they all sell clothing from the same group, they all look different. From an Inditex perspective, having all your formats and fascias in one block has obvious advantages in terms of deliveries and IT networks.

Cool for Catalonians

C&A is also in Glories and was one of the mall’s original tenants. It has, however, changed from its initial layout, with the space now cleaved in two. On one side is a fairly standard branch of the pan-European behemoth, while on the other is a semi-separated, almost standalone branch of Clockhouse, the retailer’s fashion brand.

The Clockhouse store has a white on bright red logo. Step inside and the theme continues with red walls and a central walkway that allows you to see right through to the back of the shop. The equipment height is higher than in a normal C&A, with the clothing generally brighter and more printed than in the main store.

Its origins, however, are clear from the highly promotional nature of the interior and the equally high stock density on the rails. This may be Clockhouse, but it remains true to the C&A ethos, which is perhaps why it hasn’t been opened as a true standalone.

No visit to Barcelona would be complete without a quick scoot round Desigual, the local fashion retailer made good. To date, UK consumers will only have come across Desigual if they have paid a visit to Regent Street in the past year or so, but in this city it is almost as all-pervasive as Inditex. In Glories, the branch boasts the usual graffiti-inspired windows and printed clothing. There is even an animated cardboard cut-out of a fat lady beckoning shoppers into the store.

And at the other end of the Avenida Diagonal is Diagonal Mar, a shopping centre that has been open for less than two years and which contains nearly every Spanish format that you might care to shake a pig’s leg at. Among these is Furest Casual, a clothing store for young(ish) shoppers that mixes a dark shopfit and interior with large, fluorescent orange graphics. This was one of the centre’s busier stores on a quiet Thursday afternoon and the linear layout, with mid-shop tabled shoes followed by a higher table of folded stock and then mannequins and a bar of orange overhead, seemed to be successful in attracting shoppers from across the mall.

In Diagonal Mar, mention should also be made of FNAC, the French technology-meets-culture hybrid that is soon to land in the UK. In this two-floor branch, large yellow dots, looking like poor man’s crop circles, had been applied to the floor and seemed to be doing the job of getting shoppers away from the mall’s public areas.

Barcelona, of course, also has its fair share of department stores, with branches of El Corte Ingl鳬 for instance, waiting to welcome city-centre shoppers. But for a sense of this Mediterranean haven’s retail pulse, it is the shopping centres that do as much as anything to make it worth a visit. It also happens to have good beaches, La Boqueria market, possibly the world’s most astonishing architecture and, for one week a year, a more than decent World Retail Congress.

Boxing clever

Sustainability was a key theme of last week’s World Retail Congress and the centrepiece was an exhibition in the main hall. Empty containers built from cardboard boxes displayed messages and case studies (printed in non-toxic inks) relating to the environment and retailers’ efforts to reduce their impact upon it.

Design company Gensler designed the exhibition and the printing and production was undertaken by London-based McKenzie Clark.

As well as examples of ecological developments being carried out by retailers as diverse as Wal-Mart, Marks & Spencer and Woolworths in South Africa, a series of UN Global Compact statements about ethical trading and the environment were also printed on the boxes. These were backed by analysis from consultancies such as Futureal, Fitch, SustainAbility and [re]cycle.

Unusually, the walls of cardboard boxes had been built kebab-style, with each stack skewered through its middle and then the individual boxes rotated on a daily basis to display new content on successive days. All of the retailers present were at pains to emphasise that they agreed with what was printed on the boxes. The only question that remained unanswered is how much of it is being implemented globally.

Needless to say, when the show closed on Friday the boxes did not end up in skips. Instead they were taken off to be recycled locally, effecting a saving of 41.2 tons of CO2 emissions or the equivalent of planting 117 trees. These figures come from McKenzie Clark, which commissioned Carbon Smart to measure the show’s footprint. Some retailers manage to do similar things, but not all.