Mamas & Papas looked to be a casualty 18 months ago, but under new ownership it is reasserting the pizzazz that once characterised the brand.
Being put through the mill is a phrase that many will be familiar with, but kidswear and newborn specialist Mamas & Papas has survived the experience.
Following a tumultuous period in 2014, the retailer secured a company voluntary arrangement (CVA), and now private equity owner BlueGem Capital Partners appears to have nursed it back to health – or at least to a point where a substantial recovery is apparent.
The company year ends next week and, according to chief commercial officer Jonathon Fitzgerald, like-for-likes have advanced at around 20%.
But just ahead of that, a new milestone has been reached as the retailer recently unveiled of a 5,000 sq ft flagship store in Westfield London.
There has in fact been a branch of Mamas & Papas in this shopping centre for some years, but the new store has been relocated to the opposite side of the doughnut-shaped mall, directly above a cluster of kid’s stores on the lower level.
In theory, this should help those stores and the new Mamas & Papas branch to function as a destination within this large shopping centre.
For those approaching the store, the fascia is something of a cop-out, at least for the time being.
The original designs included an exterior formed of Corian, a marble-like material that has considerable cost implications for any build.
But this has proved tricky to install and instead, there is a floor-to-ceiling glass frontage, filled with origami swans in a range of lilac and green pastel shades.
These have been suspended from the ceiling and form a flock nestled between children’s garments in complimentary colours.
It’s a simple device, but eye-catching and the motif is repeated across the store.
Fitzgerald says that the idea of the birds was to provide a visual merchandising feature that would be attractive but which would not distract from the store itself, always a danger when creating a new scheme.
Sum of its parts
Standing on the threshold of the shop, the visitor can see directly to the back – this is a long, deep space and as Richard Bennett, design director at Dalziel & Pow, the consultancy that worked on this project, says: “This is a store that has different parts as you walk through it.”
The first of these is, in effect, a very young childrenswear boutique. And it is introduced by what Bennett refers to as an “in-store window”.
In situ this translates as a framed graphic in the mid-floor, positioned among a cluster of low display tables. It is one of a number of in-store “windows” spread across the interior.
This particular graphic informs shoppers about a tie-up with Liberty (Liberty also launched a fashion collaboration with Uniqlo last week) and a brace of child mannequins stand and sit in front of it, setting the scene for what is to come.
The stock in this part of the shop is double or triple hung along the left and right perimeter walls and above this, the upper portion of the walls have been devoted to digital wizardry.
The team at Dalziel & Pow have created two long screens for this which are used as mood-enhancers, taking the form of clouds scudding across the sky and transforming into the shapes of animals as they do so.
Beyond the boutique is the hardware. This is where the prams, pushchairs and car chairs are on display and these are featured in a double-tier arrangement along both walls with mood graphics above this.
Brands are on the left-hand wall, own-brand is shown on the right and there are car seats in the mid-shop.
The latter are interesting because there are two screens that guide shoppers through the business of choosing a car-seat or pram that will be suitable for their needs.
This means answering a series of questions until finally the appropriate Mamas & Papas vehicle is displayed on the screen, and given the size of the store, there is a good chance that it will be available in store, according to Fitzgerald.
There is also a screen with a wooden platform in front it that protrudes from the right-hand wall. This where a child’s weight can be digitally measured and displayed as he or she stands on the platform – an essential part of buying an appropriate seat.
Worth noting too, from a visual merchandising perspective in this part, is the Mini car that has been sawn in half with the rear portion used to display car seats as they are used in a vehicle.
And so to the back of the shop – the home department, where the living needs of young children and babies are catered for.
A combination of white neon signage, cream colouring and soft ambient music succeed in making this a restful part of the store after the hustle and bustle of the crowds in the mall outside.
It is also spacious – always a difficult decision for a retailer to take when square feet are limited – and the displays have been set at an angle to the layout of the rest of the shop. This marks it out as a shop-in-shop.
It is hard not to breathe a gentle sigh of relief in this area, so calming is the environment, and beyond are a suite of rooms for baby-changing, breastfeeding and suchlike.
Finally, and adjacent to the home department, there is a semi-discrete personal shopping area.
Fitzgerald says that the average basket size in a Mamas & Papas store is £55, but when a personal shopper is involved, this rises to around the £800 mark.
He makes the point that when shopping of this kind is undertaken, a small proportion of what is purchased will be taken away by the buyer. The bulk will be delivered – not entirely surprising when the nature of baby equipment is considered.
According to Derek Lovelock, executive chairman at Mamas & Papas, £3m of capex has been earmarked for new stores and “tooling” for new prams over the next year.
This will mean a new store in Speke, Liverpool, a “boutique” format in Northcote Road in London’s Battersea, and some of the elements of the Westfield flagship being taken to other stores in the retailer’s 30 store-strong portfolio.
When the CVA was undertaken in 2014, close to half of the retailer’s stores were closed. This looks like ancient history now and if Lovelock and Fitzgerald can replicate what has been done in Westfield, then it looks as if this might indeed be a resurgent retail brand.
Mamas & Papas
Location Westfield London
Size 5,000 sq ft
Design Dalziel & Pow
Target customer Millennials