The great majority of retailers have the chance to hive off elements of their offers and to create something new, but why don’t they do it?

The great majority of retailers have the chance to hive off elements of their offers and to create something new, but why don’t they do it?

This week sees the opening of a global first for Marks & Spencer as it welcomes shoppers to its first standalone beauty and lingerie store, in Saudi Arabia. Sadly, not called ‘pants and pongs’ or even ‘thents and thongs” (sorry), the real question is less one of nomenclature and rather more why this hasn’t been done before.

Consider the facts. In this country the M&S lingerie brand remains the default ‘foundationwear’ position for many women and while there may be upstarts such as Agent Provocateur or perhaps Primark, it is probable that most women in most locations will have made a trip around an M&S lingerie department. Head across the channel to the more recently established French operation and the category occupies almost an entire floor of the store on the Champs Elysees.

Yet only Saudi Arabia (where the stores will be ‘family stores’ – meaning women only) is going to have these standalones initially, to be followed by a few outposts in India.  Surely this is the kind of thing that would do well in the UK, France, or almost anywhere else for that matter? Fears of cannibalising sales of existing stores would probably prove unfounded as the point about a category standalone is that it requires less space and can therefore be opened in locations where the retailer wouldn’t normally go.

But how far can you go with taking a part of an offer and turning it into something that will work as a separate entity? Tesco has, of course, done this with its F&F clothing offer in the Czech Republic and Poland for some years now, although it has yet to expand what were pilot stores. But for a real instance of what can be done, perhaps a trip New York might be in order. Visit the city’s Union Square and for most of the year there is an outdoor market where each stall sells just apples  - big apples in the Big Apple perhaps.

At first sight, this looks limited, but it clearly functions well and by extension it’s hard not to wonder why the largest retailers haven’t done something of the kind without recourse to pop-ups. At times when appropriate new locations may be hard to come by, might smaller niche propositions be one answer? And why just Saudi? Thents and Thongs would be a winner in Blighty.