Niche retailing relies for its effect upon surprise, but is it possible to sustain this beyond the immediate shock value?

Taking an idea and running with it is generally put forward as a good thing, but does this apply to the world of niche retailing? Visiting Berlin last week, it was hard not to admire the Ritter Sport flagship. And at first mention this would not sound a promising formula. Yet taking a branded chocolate bar and then making it the foundation for a large shop is what has been done in this instance and it is very popular.

Something of the kind can also be observed in London where, if you feel so minded, you can be surrounded by people dressed as Smartie-like M&M’s. This is M&M’s World and if you like this sort of thing, then this is probably the sort of thing you’ll like. And finally, for the purposes of this piece anyway, you might care to spend a few moments in Roast & Conch, the Hotel Chocolat spin off where you can watch chocolate being made and turned into a premium product that you can eat, drink or give to somebody else.

All of this is niche retailing of the experiential variety – you go into these shops as much because of the range of interesting things to look at and do as to buy something (although this does form an important part of the equation). The point about them however is that they are all successful – shoppers, it would appear, seem to favour ultra-niche offers if they are displayed with imagination that gives a sense of the unexpected. A supplementary point however would be to ask how far niche retailing might be taken?

Would consumers flock to washing machine world, or Hovis heaven? The answer is almost certainly yes, but the trick would be to keep them coming back. Niche retailing of the branded variety relies, to a certain extent, on novelty and unless, like the Ritter Sport shop where you can mix your own chocolate bars to order, there is something different on each visit the reason for checking things out will quickly fade.

That said, the best ideas are the most improbable. The notion that you could buy a cocoa plantation on St Lucia, put a hotel on it called Hotel Chocolat and have an upscale offer that would find mass favour would seem a non-starter to many. Yet that is probably why Bridgepoint Development Capital is currently eyeing Hotel Chocolat.

So come on Premier Foods plc, let’s go with Hovis Heaven, you know it makes sense.