Next Home’s new format store is a case of evolution rather than revolution, but that doesn’t make it a bad store, says John Ryan

It’s a little under four years since Next introduced a waiting world to its new look Next Home format. The location was one of the retail parks that surround the Lakeside shopping centre and at the time it was admired for its monochrome graphics that used small homewares icons as a means of lifting the interior and telling

shoppers what was in store. It also had roomsets, a mezzanine floor and a lighting installation in the atrium at the front of the store, directly in front of the mezzanine.

All well and good. This was a step forward for the brand since its first standalone Home store opened in Braehead, Glasgow, in 2003. It was also one that marked Next Home as something that could be a credible standalone high street format where previously it had been an area, usually in a secondary space, in a Next branch.

The dark days are over

Now take a trip to Cambridge, which a couple of months ago welcomed a new Next Home to The Beehive Centre, a retail park a way away from the ancient city centre, but still very much of the urban fabric. And it is in good company. The new store joins a line-up that includes a ritzy (well pretty good-looking anyway) branch of Asda, the development’s anchor, a HomeStore & More and, next door, a branch of TK Maxx homewares spinoff, HomeSense.

In short, standard retail park stuff and the architecture of each of the units is pretty much as might be expected. An interesting question, therefore, is how has Next progressed with its Home format since it unveiled it in the middle of the last decade?

Step through the door and both layout and format look familiar. In front of the shopper is a large ground floor and a mezzanine. In front of the mezzanine, in the store front atrium is, er, a light installation, albeit different to the Sputnik-inspired lighting in prior stores. And to the right, next to the staircase and escalator, there’s a graphic with pictures of some of the stock that is on offer in this store.

So what’s the difference? Well, actually quite a lot, and a close examination of the store reveals that the format that was developed by London design consultancy Dalziel + Pow, which continues to work with Next Home, has undergone significant change since Lakeside, or the Trafford Centre’s Barton Square, come to that.

The point, however, is that structurally many of the essentials remain the same. This 14,305 sq ft store is a living, working demonstration of the phrase so beloved of many retail design departments: ‘evolution, not revolution’. It may be of the same lineage, but over the course of a few years, it has morphed into something altogether more polished, a format capable of taking on the likes of dedicated homewares retailer Habitat (which was almost next door to the Lakeside original) or perhaps Dwell, and giving them a run for their money.

Remaining at the front of the shop, the first difference is the poster that runs up the wall to the right of the stairs. Monochrome, it appears, is so last decade - colour is what the self-respecting Next Home store is about in 2010.

For the most part, the graphic is in warm red and summer yellow colours with mature light wood tones unifying the two. And the reason for dwelling on this ‘summer colour rush’ (as the in-store graphic has it) is simple - it sets the tone for much of the rest of the store.

Dalziel + Pow associate director Tim Graveling says: “This was about refreshing what Next [Home] had been doing. The previous Next Home was still a bit black and white and reflected, to a certain extent, some of the fashion stores that we had been doing. So this was about updating things. It was also about being softer and more approachable.”

Move further into the ground

floor and Graveling’s words become apparent. This store eschews the clinical in favour of warmth and while it certainly follows the same lines as its predecessors, there is much that sets it apart. Yet, it’s quite hard to discern exactly why.

Look at the upper perimeter, however, and the changes begin to make themselves more tangible. There is a pelmet that runs around this area that has been clad with planks of stained white oak. It follows the entire perimeter and succeeds in creating an almost homely feeling for an edge-of-town shed, a feat not easily achieved.

If you happen to be on the left-hand side of the ground floor and lower your eyes at this point, you may note that the oak pelmet marries up with the oak plank mats used to demarcate the store’s living room roomsets. And, as at the front of the store, each of these roomsets takes a colour theme and really works it.

Wood plays a major part on both floors, whether it’s the pelmet, the baffles inset into the ceiling where spotlights are located, or the floors: warmth and domesticity is central. This may be the reason that the department signage markers are also low key, although visible, couched in a soft, white faux-handwritten style. In the case of the roomsets on this floor, which are fronted by a broad grey tile walkway, the message on the gondola end at the entrance to each is ‘Get the look’ with a range of living room accessories displayed beneath.

Softly does it

‘Soft’ is a word used a lot by Graveling when describing what has been done and, heading towards the back of the store, even the lighting department -which carries within it the potential to be harsh by nature of the product that is on show - is muted in feel. And it is defined by a niche created from several perimeter modules - a change from the more central position it occupies in other Next Home branches. Lighting is adjacent along the rear perimeter wall to a customer ordering area where all is also quiet in terms of décor and ambience.

The right-hand side of the ground floor is about soft furnishings and the cash and wrap. As this version of the store format update is a work in progress, Graveling says that the soft furnishings zone remains to be worked on and certainly, it is different from much of the rest of the shop - evidence perhaps of progress elsewhere.

Upstairs, it is bedrooms, bathrooms and kids’ bedrooms and the shopper has been prepared for much of what is on view by the warmth and colour combination on the floor below.

The question is whether this is a sufficient move on from what has gone before to constitute an ‘update’ and the answer must be a qualified yes. If you were grabbed by a fit of masochistic store format curiosity and were to visit the Lakeside, Barton Square and Cambridge Next Homes in quick succession, the progress that has been made would be fairly clear.

And, within the context of The Beehive Centre, the outcome is a store that is best in class and that leaves others in its wake. Homewares is a tough call in that it is generally a discretionary purchase and therefore you really do have to put on a good show or be ultra-low price to clinch the sale. This latest update - and there are several more Next Home stores slated to open during 2010 - gives the retailer a good chance of being at the head of the queue for consumers’ cash.

Store facts

  • Size 14,305 sq ft
  • Number of floors Two - ground and a mezzanine
  • Principal design features Use of colour and wood
  • Design Dalziel + Pow
  • Imminent future Next Home stores Worcester and Southampton