Arcadia’s stated aim of reshaping its estate following last year’s profits downturn is already having some positive effects. John Ryan visits Lakeside to look at the effect of change on Topshop/Topman.
In November, Arcadia unveiled a slump in profits for the year to August 28 and confirmed that store closures would take place over the following three years as lease renewals fell due. Arcadia owner Sir Philip Green said at the time, however, that there were highlights in the group’s portfolio with Topshop, Topman and Miss Selfridges “trading positively”.
And the reconfiguration of the portfolio is in fact already well under way, if recent action taken at Lakeside is anything to go by. Here, a two-floor Bhs has been transformed into a single-level branch, on the mall’s lower level, while upstairs is now a Topshop.
And next door to the new 17,900 sq ft Topshop is a 7,200 sq ft Topman, formerly a branch of Clintons, which has moved one unit along.
All of which means a smaller Bhs, and Topshop and Topman branches that are both more than double their previous size in the centre. Arcadia head of design Guy Smith says: “We’re now getting the same turnover from one floor in Bhs as we got when we traded from two – we’ve got two stores for the price of one.”
This is certainly one way of looking at things, although a jaded observer might say that it is a measure of how badly the Bhs store was doing in this location that cutting it in half hasn’t really affected sales.
Whichever is the case, the new Topshop and Topman stores are performing way ahead of plan according to Topshop visual director Tim Whitmore. “Every department here is up on plan. Shoes are 80% up on plan and denim is 71% up,” he says. He runs down a category list and it’s pluses all the way. “For young women in this area, this is their living room, this is their house,” he adds.
The reason for Whitmore’s enthusiasm and the positive results is straightforward. The formats are the latest iteration of a developing store design story that has its roots in locations as diverse as New York, Chicago, One New Change and, most recently, Westfield Stratford. The other point is that you can drift from Topshop into Topman and back again through a single arch on a single level – this is uncomplicated shopping and will give the boys something to do while their better halves survey the fashion view.
Back to Topshop, however, and Whitmore says: “We’ve put the visual merchandising set-piece at the front of the store and then we run into the blocky stuff [commodity presentation such as denim] followed by more fashion to make things interesting.”
“It’s a matter of almost messing up the box,” says Smith. What is clear is that this is as good as it gets for Topshop currently and this is the blueprint that is being taken, broadly, across the chain. ‘Broadly’ because, as Smith remarks, efforts are now being made to make every branch of Topshop bespoke and responsive to its location – meaning that the Chicago store, for example, which opened in September, will be in some way different from what is on view in Lakeside.
“Philip’s view of the stores is that he wants them to be slightly bespoke spaces,” says Whitmore. All of which notwithstanding, the similarities between the new stores are probably greater than the differences.
Walk beyond the initial cluster of modishly dressed mannequins that guard the entrance to this branch, and the large mid-shop glass-faced floor-to-ceiling box that captures the attention is the same as that which was first seen in the Chicago store – although nowhere else to date.
By any measure, it’s an eye-catching feature – principally owing to the dark glass panels being used as the backdrop for LED lighting strips that are set against it. Beyond this and on the left-hand side is the first of several commodity areas. It is worth noting at this point that although this may be commodity in name, it does not evoke the same kind of feeling as might be the case in a mass merchant such as Marks & Spencer. Instead, shoppers confront a denim shop, which offers commodity with a twist.
Smith points out the mix of materials used in the space. “There is the rough wood used around the wall and on part of the table and then there are the gold cubes that are used to display some of the jeans. The mannequins are unfinished, deliberately, we mix textures to create an effect.”
This is a very deep shop, and beyond the various displays featuring ‘twins’ – pairs of mannequins dotted around the space, a gambit first seen in the Oxford Street flagship – lurks the shoe shop at the back of the store. Again, this seems familiar. “This concept is a version we’ve been rolling out since One New Change, but we have changed things,” says Smith.
This area is very well signposted, with white neon letters providing an upper-case welcome that is visible from almost the front of the shop. Practically, some of the design cues are from the mirrored cubes that have been a mainstay of Kurt Geiger stores for a couple of years. This translates as a perimeter wall with a series of discrete mirrored boxes in which pairs of shoes are alternately displayed face-on or in profile.
The mid-shop is filled, for the most part, with pink upholstered dark brown wood-framed chairs. With a cream tiled floor, the total effect is relatively neutral, allowing the brightly coloured stock to appeal on its own merits.
The other noteworthy aspect in this part of the shop, as in most of the rest of the store, is the lighting. This takes the form of theatre-style spots attached to mid-shop gantries that are set in black recesses in the white ceiling. The lights themselves do vary across the shop, with large chrome spots providing a contrast at the front, for example. The general principle, however, is a well-worn one in fashion circles – lighting the stock rather than the shop.
Looping around and heading back towards the front once more, it’s a case of more fashion, more commodity and then a few more mannequin clusters before an exit is made. At no point, however, is there a sense of being crowded by stock or display equipment – unusual in a fashion context.
Stand outside and Topshop (and indeed Topman) has the kind of presence only really achieved by one other retailer in Lakeside – Cult, aka Superdry. The store is totally open front and the Topshop logo suspended, beacon-like, from the ceiling at the entrance, means that this it is hard to pass without wanting to take a quick look inside, with the same applying to the more modestly sized Topman.
If the outcome of right-sizing the Arcadia estate is more instances of stores like this, then perhaps fashion shoppers will prove the ultimate beneficiaries of a decision taken in the jaws of a downturn.
Opened November 16
Store design In-house
Reason for visiting Hard not to if you are in Lakeside
Dwell time “She’s going to come in here [Topshop] for a good 45 minutes to an hour,” Tim Whitmore, Topshop