Mothercare’s revamped UK flagship in north London is a beacon of sector best practice, but can it be replicated?
n mid-July, Mothercare provided a trading update for the first quarter that hardly made uplifting reading. UK retail like-for-like sales had fallen 6.7% and while there had been growth in the international business, it was not of the scale that many analysts had been expecting.
This was hardly news however. The retailer has seen its fortunes dwindling for close to 30 months and the period had also brought the high-profile departure of chief executive Ben Gordon and the appointment of his successor Simon Calver.
Calver’s arrival has spawned an equally newsworthy event, the revamping of the UK flagship, just off the A406 in Edmonton, north London. This store nestles among an armada of out-of-town sheds including a Tesco Extra, an Ikea and a Wickes Extra (what is it about the word ‘Extra’?) among its near neighbours.
At 30,000 sq ft, this is a moderately sized shed, but it is huge for a mother and baby retailer, and standing outside the store, it is hard not to be impressed by the size of the enterprise.
The interior, designed by London-based consultancy CDW Partners, looks enormous, with a large ground floor and, towards the back, a floor-to-ceiling 2D rocket graphic surrounding the lift up to the mezzanine level. But it was this size prior to the makeover that was completed by the end of July and therefore if scale is important, then this has always been a leviathan.
What matters about this branch is the fact that it is home to new elements and store design features that are intended to provide a clue about the future of the beleaguered chain. Looking to the right, it’s easy to spot the first of these as there is a full-size Costa Coffee implant. It is full of mothers, fathers and pushchairs, as those who have braved the North Circular take the weight off their feet after the rigours of the journey.
But in truth, the cafe notwithstanding, there is something worth inspecting at almost every turn. The mid-shop of the ground floor is an island with a walkway encircling it and it contains nursery furniture. The overwhelming impression is white – whether it’s the furniture itself, or the surrounds that create mini roomsets.
Many of the walls have been given a very light pastel wash to which graphics relating either to childcare or something about childhood have been applied. In total, in spite of the area’s substantial size, there is no sense of being in an oversized space, or even a shed, come to that. Equally, although the freestanding walls that give the central island its character are high, it is still possible to navigate the interior easily as the areas to the left and right of this are distinct and the mezzanine’s open balustrade permits views of the upper level.
There are several other ground floor features that are likely to capture the gaze of visiting shoppers. ‘Mumspace’, is a discrete, wood-clad room at the rear right-hand side of the shop that can be used, according to a member of staff, for anything from baby massages to breast-feeding classes. Companies can hire the room and on the day of visiting, it was being used by mums (and dads) as a drop-in space and probably an alternative to sitting down in Costa, although the cafe was busy.
The decision to locate the pushchair and pram department at the back of the store, underneath the mezzanine, is an obvious consequence of the category’s destination-like nature – you don’t enter Mothercare or any of its rivals and walk out with a pushchair by chance.
This is actually a very large department and as well as using the rear wall to display the merchandise in a manner that is reminiscent of a better-end bicycle shop, care has been taken to allow sufficient walkway space to permit test-drives.
Room for manoeuvre
And so to the mezzanine that consists of a large, curving balcony with a deep space behind it. This is predominantly used to house toys, soft and otherwise, and is a complete remodelling of what was in place before.
Large 3D graphics adorn the perimeter, acting as wayfinders and adding to the feeling of a kids’ kingdom for children accompanying their parents. There is also a library of kids’ books at one end of the floor and an outsize Wendy house at the other. Between the two, a photo studio means proud parents can have snaps taken of their offspring having a good time. As on the ground floor, the circulation space is generous – essential for a retailer where the proposition involves parents with pushchairs inspecting the stock and entirely possible in a shop of this scale.
Which is perhaps the point. This is a very big shop when set against sector rivals such as Mamas & Papas, and has allowed Mothercare room for manoeuvre in terms of visual merchandising and laying out the floor. Yet as broker Panmure Gordon, which retains a sell position on Mothercare shares (although it admits, in a note, to being very impressed by this store) points out, there are only about eight stores of sufficient magnitude in the retailer’s portfolio to ‘do an Edmonton’ on their interiors.
A supplementary concern is therefore which features of this new-look store are likely to find their way into other branches? Putting a cafe into a shop takes up space and is generally not a real money-spinner for the host retailer, although it does serve as a crowd-pleaser and may prolong dwell times. Equally, the Mumspace room looks like a luxury that can only be afforded in out-of-town sheds where space is not an issue.
Finally, there is the little matter of online. Shops that operate on this scale increasingly run the risk of being treated as showrooms rather than places in which to buy. This is a very good-looking store and there is a real sense of occasion on entering, but it is quite hard to see how many of the initiatives that have been put in place will be meaningfully exported to other locations. Simon Calver still has his work cut out.
Address Ravenside Retail Park, Angel Road, London N18
Size 30,000 sq ft
Store interior design CDW Partners
Store status UK flagship
Reason for visiting A true destination shop