Next’s decision to sell cars from its Manchester store is symptomatic of a retailer that has its hand on the tiller.
Does the news that Next is to sell cars from its Manchester Arndale store, the biggest store in its portfolio, mean that it will be something different from what it was before?
When it started, back in the mid-80s in Croydon, Next was a place you went to buy something swish for the office or evening and it ranked just a notch or two below purveyors of taste such as Woodhouse and Reiss.
Then it ballooned, became multi-sector in terms of its offer and over time became a mid-market store and catalogue stalwart.
Over time it has built some very large stores and now it has too much space and is seeking ways to deal with potentially flagging demand in its physical stores, all of which is a world away from its Croydon beginnings.
Now think of an edge-of-town car showroom. Not much thought is actually involved in this as almost any medium-size town has one of these glass and steel edifices on its periphery and usually several.
Place this image alongside a Next store in a similar location, and from a distance, if it weren’t for the logo, it might be a little difficult to tell them apart.
In fairness, Next does have stores that look a little better than the average car showroom, but it’s not much of a stretch to see how the Arndale store, which looks a bit of an edge-of-town construction but happens to be in a city centre, might be seen in the same light.
Indeed, it would be entirely possible in a number of instances to debadge a Next store, fill it with cars and put up a sign saying Fiat, Ford or perhaps Skoda and for the heart to hardly miss a beat.
“Selling cars is just another form of retail and there’s no reason to quibble about a store that offers clothing, homewares and cars under one roof”
There is nothing wrong with this. Selling cars is just another form of retail and there’s no reason to quibble about a store that offers clothing, homewares and cars under one roof.
Shopping centres such as Bluewater or the Westfields, all of which have standalone car showrooms, have shown that the divide between sectors traditionally not found in malls or high streets is fictitious and all that is really required is for the managements of big retailers to think about what they really want their stores to be.
Next has changed ostensibly and may well defy attempts at defining whether it’s a clothing store with extras, a department store or something different again, but that doesn’t really matter.
What is important is that this is a retailer that is reacting to a changing landscape.