Bathstore has unveiled a new-look smaller store designed to offer a spa-style experience in Harrogate.

Harrogate’s a genteel place, with an air of exclusivity perhaps aided by the fact that it’s on a branch line from York and therefore not overrun by the East Coast mainline horde. For long it has been the Northern spa town of choice for the well-heeled and intrinsically conservative, making it in some ways Yorkshire’s equivalent of Bath.

And that may be the reason why retailer Bathstore has opted for it as the location for a smaller-footprint store, intended to engender a more “boutique feel” to the in-store environment, as chief executive Gary Favell puts it. The 2,800 sq ft shop opened a little under a month ago and is around half the size of a standard shop in this 171-store chain.

Favell says: “We’ve got about half the amount of stock in this store that we have elsewhere and we offer a full
service - fitting, tiling, advice and CAD design.” He notes that, in the past, some parts of the Bathstore empire have been characterised by a laissez-faire attitude towards the in-store shopper experience. “We did have a tendency to let the customer come along, buy some products and then let them get on with it,” he says.

Design roll-out

This is not what the Harrogate store is about. As well as offering better service, it has also received a £100,000 makeover - substantial when the scale of the chain is considered and what the implications might be for the rest of the portfolio, even allowing for a measure of prototype value engineering.

Favell says that plans are in place to roll it out in the next financial year, although this may be dependent on the progress in Harrogate.

Stand outside the Bathstore in Harrogate and what is most likely to catch the eye are the entrance - the store is built on a corner and the door is on the apex of the building where the two customer-facing walls meet - and an A-board.

The latter is intended to leave the onlooker in no doubt that what lies inside is different from a standard Bathstore, bearing the message ‘new boutique store now open’.

More interesting are the pair of Victorian-style claw-foot baths that have been positioned either side of the door, filled with earth and used as impromptu flower planters, brimful of blooms in many colours. It’s a simple device and one wonders why it hasn’t been done before.

These features provide a clue to the aspiration that underpins this store, according to regional manager Norman Howie. He says: “This is about Bathstore becoming a real retailer and offering a full service.”

The store windows have also been carefully considered. One features a chandelier above a bath that Liberace might have given the once over, while the other features tastefully low-key contemporary ‘sanitary-ware suites’ as the industry parlance has it.

What all of this succeeds in doing is to set Bathstore apart, in terms of the introduction to the store, from the kind of thing that the shopper is likely to encounter when heading into the bathroom department of a large DIY retailer that has sanitary-ware roomsets.

Roomsets with a view

In the store proper and the layout is organic, rather than regimented. Freestanding walls in the mid-shop are used to separate the various roomsets, of which there are many, and they serve as display vehicles for bathroom accessories and fixtures such as hand basins and the various “splash panel” options that Howie points out.

It is, however, the roomsets that most shoppers are likely to look at, and the store has been arranged so that there is a wide variety of finishes, ranging from the modern to the distinctly retro.

At the back of the shop there is a dog-leg turn in the interior to an area on the right-hand side that functions as a world of showers.

Here, customers can make a choice between the purely functional glass box with a shower head or, more opulently, a walk-in splash-room of the kind that most people would probably only have used when staying in a ritzy hotel.

Howie says that the aim is not to be diagnostic about what the shopper should buy, but to provide inspiration for those in search of something different. “You don’t get to buy a bathroom very often, so when you do you want to get it right,” he says.

He also makes the point that the roomsets are based on practicality.

“We know that everybody would like a 12ft square bathroom or bigger but realise that, for most people, this won’t be the reality.”

When the shopper has been sufficiently inspired by fixtures and fittings, it’s off to the desk where a full CAD service is available and the shopper is given 2D and 3D visualisations of what their dream bathroom will end up looking like.

This is the point at which a fitting service will be offered, if a purchase is made. Howie says that the offer is very
different from what used to be done as far as fitting is concerned. “We had lists of tradesmen who could do jobs, most of whom came from suppliers, but we really couldn’t recommend anyone in particular,” he points out.

The question that has to be asked at the end, however, is whether this is the answer for a retailer that has pretty much been through the mill as far as performance is concerned.

Bathstore was bought last year by Leeds-based investment firm Endless and Favell was installed shortly afterwards. The man whose pedigree includes MFI in its heyday has been working on a turnaround plan since.

Template for the future

The Harrogate shop certainly looks an improvement on most other Bathstores - gone is the nondescript carpet and overcrowded showroom and in its place is a store environment that will encourage dwell time.

The store is supposed to be spa-like and that may well be the case for those who frequent such locations. What it does do is provide a template for the future of Bathstore - one that will see its many medium-sized outlets looking rather more in touch with trends in homeware store design and that will stand a better chance of appealing to home improvement shoppers.

It is also curiously apt that Yorkshire’s town of choice for the genteel wishing to be discreetly healthy has also been chosen as the location for a remodelled spa-style bathroom store. The chances of taking the waters in this one, post-purchase and fitting, seem pretty high.

Bathstore, Harrogate

Address Leeds Road, Harrogate

Opened June 2013

Ambience Spa-like

Store format Mid-size trial

Bathstore owner Endless