Next opened a store last week for its homewares, furniture and clothing offers with a DIY and gardening offshoot. John Ryan travelled to Shoreham-by-Sea to look at its latest innovation

If you were going to set up a gardening centre, you could do worse than situate it in Shoreham-by-Sea. This small town on the West Sussex coast is almost everything you’d expect it to be – chock-full of old people and relatively affluent to boot. Which may be why Next has decided that this is a suitable location to set up its first Home and Garden store.

Located in a former Homebase branch, this 56,000 sq ft store on two floors – one of which is an extended mezzanine – has a space to its right that might have been a goods yard or perhaps a potted plants area in its former life, but is now a garden roomset. And if you’re wondering what a garden roomset might be, it is a term that comes closest to describing what has been done in this store’s external areas.  

Stand outside in the very busy car park (rather too small judging by the queues to get into it on the second day of trading) and the only clue that this is a real hybrid is provided by the name above the door, which reads, yes, Next Home and Garden. The Garden part of this sign is picked out in lime green against the black background, giving it a real prominence purely by dint of its diversion from the Next monochrome norm.

Room with a view

The real game is given away, however, by the horizontal wood planking that has been applied to the frontage to the right of the main door where the words ‘Home’, ‘Decorating’, ‘DIY’ and ‘Garden’ appear, accompanied, at the bottom by a Starbucks logo. That’s it, settled then. This is a branch of Next Home, full of roomsets, where you can also buy plants and a few of the necessaries for home improvement. As such, it should be a step on from what was unveiled in Cambridge in 2010 – a good-looking store that will by now, no doubt, be benefiting from the gradual disappearance of Habitat.

Walk through the door and things don’t quite conform to this stereotype. They are in fact nothing like what has gone before. Yes, there’s a roomset and some of the now familiar grey stone cladding has been applied to a pillar, but look to the right and there’s women’s clothing, and to the left it’s decorating and DIY followed, in the distance, by a door to a garden.

If one were to be accurate, this is a Next superstore with clothing, homewares and furniture, to which a life-styled garden centre has been appended. As the garden bit of all of this is the most novel of the elements in the store, it is worth considering first.

There are two parts to it. The first is a 6,000 sq ft covered, conservatory-style space. Here Next plays the indoors-outdoors card with a mix of open-air furnishings of the kind that can only by used when it’s sunny and plants that would not survive a frost. This is roomset territory, with each of the furniture assemblages being part of a fair weather vignette and set on individual mid-shop mats.

You get the sense of this being outdoors – although it would work just as well in the main shop – by the fact that the metal beams supporting the translucent ceiling have a wood veneer applied to parts of them, helping create the feeling of an oversized high-tech lean-to.

From here, if the shopper chooses not to go back into the main store, the other option is to head for the great outdoors, aka the open-air part of the ‘Garden’. This 4,000 sq ft area comprises a series of grey-painted wooden pergolas in which pots plants and hardy perennials nestle. So far, so garden centre.

The difference is that the ground is not the usual decking or cheap flagstones, but a semi-geodesic tiling pattern and around the perimeter there are pastel-painted garden sheds. The latter have all been styled and accessorised, with everything from a birdhouse to full glass French windows. And in the doorway of each bijou shed there is a small sign informing shoppers of how to ‘get the look’.

As such, this is very similar to a home interiors piece in the Sunday Times Style section – the aim being to encourage multiple purchase behaviour, rather than single-item shopping.

It is also a step away from the manner in which the big shed DIY retailers operate, where single item shopping is the norm and if multiple purchases do happen, it will not be the outcome of skilful visual merchandising of the kind on view here.

For the DIY crowd

Heading indoors, it is DIY world and a long counter in front of it. There are aisles set aside for paint, one of which is own-brand, while the other is a Dulux concession with a Pantone-style graphic as a backing.

But it is the tools section that really captures the eye. Next has clearly been careful about editing the offer, but for those wishing to ‘Drill it’, ‘Fix it’, ‘Nail it’ or ‘Fill it’, there is a tool for almost every job. This is not for tradesmen, but judging by the way it was being inspected, it was just the ticket for the genteel folk of Shoreham-by-Sea. It also made the process of selection more straightforward – something that does frequently bedevil the business of heading into Homebase or B&Q.

Careful consideration

The rest of the ground floor is about childrenswear, womenswear and more homewares roomsets. There are even Smeg lookalike Next-branded retro fridges, it’s all been carefully considered. And owing to the geography that has been created in this store, with many, many small areas, there is little feeling of roaming the wide open spaces – as would certainly be the case in a homewares or DIY shed.

If all of this does prove a little much, however, it might be worth heading upstairs, via a travelator, where there are bedrooms (for adults and children), bathrooms, a large and well-appointed menswear section with a wood-panelled backing for the cash desk and, of course, a branch of Starbucks.

This was doing brisk business and seemed to be fostering the notion of almost making a morning out of visiting a branch of Next. A good store then and it is rumoured that six more locations are already sorted, with Dublin being the next to benefit, although the retailer would not confirm if this is the case. Meanwhile, take a trip to the sunny south coast. Even if it’s raining, as it was on the day of visiting, this one is worth having a look at.

Next Home and Garden

Location Shoreham-by-Sea

Size 56,000 sq ft

Store design Dalziel + Pow

Shopfitting Pattons

Reason for visiting Knocks spots off the competition