Fashion retailer Oasis was looking a bit stale, but now it has a store template that represents the future.
It’s been about two-and-a-half years since Oasis unveiled a revamped flagship on London’s Argyle Street. That was the all-singing, all-dancing version which featured iPads at almost every turn and was hailed by the retailer as the best embodiment of the omnichannel strategy that it has been endeavouring to take across the chain since then.
A couple of weeks ago it opened what is, in effect, a flagship for the North with a new store in the Trinity Leeds shopping centre, which welcomed its first customers on March 21.
In many ways this is a very close relation of the Argyle Street store but Liz Evans, managing director, says that it represents the future for the fashion chain because what is on offer is, in effect, a kit of parts that can easily be adapted for other stores.
That matters. Oasis has 89 stores across the UK and Ireland at present, having closed a number in the interests of right-sizing. It now looks to be close to what Evans deems the optimum size for a UK omnichannel outfit and she says: “We’ll probably only close around six stores in the next three to five years and that will be across Europe as well as the UK.”
This will not be done in a slash and burn manner, but, says Evans, “as leases come up [for renewal], we’ll ask is this part of our roadmap; part of our future?” There is also the topic of international expansion, as Oasis makes inroads, via franchises, into Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia as well as having made its South American debut in Colombia, Peru and Chile.
Practically, this means having a format that is flexible. And the work carried out in Leeds, with the ongoing assistance of design consultancy Dalziel + Pow, which worked on the design for Argyle Street, is intended to provide an object lesson.
There is also the matter of cost. Evans admits that Argyle Street was at the top end of what the brand can do, but the challenge for the team at Oasis has been to take what is in situ there and bring it elsewhere while retaining “the brand personality”, as she puts it. Stand outside the store in Trinity Leeds and the initial vista is engaging.
Look carefully and it becomes apparent that what is on view is a fascia that is intended to look a little like a house, in terms of the window surround at least.
Evans says that it would be possible to miss this, but that the idea of the window-cum-house showcasing “the House of Oasis”, as it has been internally dubbed, is one that will be worked on in a more obvious way in future stores.
The current window scheme is a bright, sunny spring one, complete with the high cheese-content strapline ‘Wishing it was Sun-Day’ enclosed within a childlike sun sketch.
Step inside and the ‘third window’ (an Oasis term), a display featuring a live tree and a pair of mannequins standing in front of a screen showing a sylvan scene, is the first thing that stands out.
Behind the screen is another vignette, this time featuring a throne-like green chair that is positioned in front of a box with a screen at its top. This is the first hint of the interactivity that is a feature of this store and allows shoppers to take pictures of themselves (while holding a cardboard lollipop bearing the legend ‘Love Leeds’)
and then do the social media thing, posting the images on Facebook or Twitter, or perhaps just printing them out.
There is an added refinement to this however, insofar as shoppers can also choose to have the pictures of themselves projected onto the store-wide screen at the back of the shop - a feature that has proved popular with visitors, according to the store manager.
Evans is at pains to point out the ceiling treatment in this relatively modestly sized shop. At the front of the shop this consists of a suspended white ceiling raft, while the rear half dispenses with this and allows the blacked-out ceiling void to be apparent.
“We said to Dalziel + Pow that if they had an open ceiling, what would they do and they came up with this ‘night and day’ solution,” says Evans. Certainly, it does provide the retailer with options as far as different store types are concerned, something that is particularly important when dealing with a franchised operation overseas.
It is rather less the big stuff and more the details that make this store interesting however. Whether it’s the graphics around the walls that feature stencils of lights, the glazed screen with a black cat decal sitting patiently at its base or the mouseholes - two of them around the skirting boards - the more you look, the more you see.
Interactivity, is not confined to the ‘third window’ box of tricks. The employee staffing the fitting room at the back of the shop packs an iPad that serves as a mobile till and there are chairs in front of the fitting room with another iPad on which bored males can get online while waiting for their loved ones.
Evans seems pleased with what has been done in Leeds and says it is part of the route to reanimating Oasis.
“This is a brand that used to have huge profile and personality and which had gone a bit stale. Our challenge was to bring the look to life,” she says. It is also testimony to the relationship between the retailer and its chosen design consultancy that close to three years since they first started working together they are still, effectively, a single entity pursuing a common aim.
And with the Far East, in particular, “an untapped opportunity”, according to Evans, establishing a template that can be exported to a variety of locations and markets has been essential to forward movement.
Evans says that being a “boutique chain”, meaning not being very big, has meant that Oasis has not had to deal with a massive legacy store portfolio, which would involve considerable time and effort for unguaranteed returns.
As it is, this looks a well-managed enterprise and with a store format that should see it well positioned for expansion overseas.
Leeds, meanwhile, has an Oasis store that is ahead of the game and which seems to be meeting with local approval. And its appearance has not gone unremarked by Trinity Leeds’ management, which has used a digital screen on the side of the building to promote the new store’s charms. This looks like a brand that is changing rapidly and which has already set itself up for a shiny new digital world.
Oasis, Trinity Leeds
Opened April 26
Number of floors One
Store design Dalziel + Pow
Standout feature Interactivity
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