Primark ’s second store at the junction of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road combines value and volume on an enormous scale.
On Thursday last week an event took place that will likely have as big an effect on the future of Oxford Street than anything else that is likely to happen this year. Primark finally made it away from the starting blocks at the east end of the street with the kind of store design sprint that might not have Usain Bolt too worried, but would probably have Yohan Blake looking to his laurels.
The four-floor, 82,400 sq ft store at the junction of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road has been under construction since March this year. And this opening has generated almost the same level of excitement as when the retailer made its central London debut in 2007. It is, however, half a decade since that happened and things have moved on.
Primark chief executive Paul Marchant says that the new store is a balance between “getting the volumes, because we are a volume merchant, without being gratuitous”. The translation of this is that what Primark director of store design Peter Franks and consultancy Dalziel & Pow have created is a shop that took three buildings and melded them into one.
In so doing the inherent architecture of each structure has been used to sell the kind of quantities with which Primark is associated (50,000 pairs of a single style of women’s sock were sold last week across the estate, for example) without losing sight of what was there prior to the retailer taking possession of the space.
Practically, it means that the retailer has used a mix of exposed brick, most of it original, black metal caged pillars and joists, and a significant number of screens, to create the interior vista. And whichever door – there are three, two on Oxford Street and one on Tottenham Court Road – the shoppers opt to use there is something to look at. Marchant says that there is little certainty about which door will prove to be the main entrance. He “suspects” however that the door more or less opposite Tottenham Court Road will probably prove to be the main thoroughfare and, for those entering through it, it won’t be long before a screen is encountered.
This is actually located some way along the walkway that leads from the door, but it is hard to miss owing to the scale and the fact that it is situated at the foot of the main escalator, covering the walls above and to either side of the lifts. This is an LED screen and cost about £350,000 to install, according to Franks, which does sound a substantial investment for a value retailer.
It serves two purposes however: to reinforce Primark’s credentials as a young fashion retailer, with content taken from current campaigns, and to hit home the value message.
The latter, probably one of the main reasons that the office workers around Tottenham Court Road will choose to visit the store, is a point that Marchant is keen to emphasise: “We’ve really punched the Primark message in this store,” he says. And indeed, almost everywhere you look – on the walls behind the many banks of cash desks, in the windows of the first and second floors (which allow natural daylight to flood the interior), or on the walls of the escalator well – the word Primark is visible in some form or another.
The other point that is worth considering as you stand at either of the two Oxford Street entrances is that while this store may be an exercise in getting sufficient stock volume onto the floor, it is also about giving shoppers room to move and helping them find their way around.
To an extent this is achieved by merchandising from floor to ceiling on the walls, letting the stock do the navigational talking. It is also realised by keeping the walkways through the ground floor’s various womenswear departments very large.
There would be no problem in pushing two double-buggies side-by-side around the ground floor and it would be child’s play to do this, but getting to where you need to be would be achieved with equal facility owing to the visual merchandising.
On the ground floor, it is not long before some of the other new elements become apparent. There is a faux tube station. Franks says that this is a station on the “fashion line”, aka the Central Line, linking the other Primark stores at Marble Arch and Stratford and that the feature pays homage to this.
A graffiti artist was employed to add authenticity and urban grunge to this mid-shop visual merchandising installation and, like the rest of the floor, it is heavily merchandised – with red, scrolling dot-matrix displays adding the appropriate feel.
The other thing that is hard to miss is the ‘trend room’, which fills the corridor between the Tottenham Court Road entrance and the main body of the store. Here a combination of suspended lightbulbs, a galvanised steel lighting gantry and a light-box studded ceiling foster the feel of a separate shop and this is where some of the store’s more edgy collections are located.
Downstairs, it’s menswear which, as Marchant points out, uses absolutely standard mid-shop equipment, but which once again feels different, owing to the fact that the building’s architecture has been allowed to speak for itself. On the first and second floors, home to more womenswear, lingerie, accessories and kids’ clothing, the feature that the shopper will not be able to miss is the view out over the lower end of Oxford Street, thanks to the mid-20th century windows through which light streams.
This is a very large store, around 10,000 sq ft bigger than the Marble Arch branch, and if you were a fashion retailer with a store to the east of Oxford Circus it would represent a real cause for concern. There will undoubtedly be an eastward pull along the street from Oxford Circus and for many of the somewhat shabby businesses that have characterised the thoroughfare’s eastern reaches this may look like nemesis. That said, it will do wonders for footfall in the area and may be the beginning of the renaissance that has been talked about for east Oxford Street and which, in spite of the best efforts of a revamped Dixons over the years, has largely failed to materialise. The new Primark seems unlikely to cannibalise shoppers from the Marble Arch store and indeed looks set to open a new value axis at this end of the street.
And, in spite of being a value merchant through and through, this store looks as much a carefully considered store design proposition as many of its nearby mid-market rivals, and is considerably better than most.
Primark, Tottenham Court Road/Oxford Street, London
Opened September 20, 2012
Size 82,400 sq ft
Number of floors Four
Store design Dalziel & Pow
Store fit-out Patton
Ambience Value design