The usual clichés spring to mind when describing Surrey. Leafy, Mock-Tudor, stockbroker-belt are the dated descriptive terms often cited to pigeon-hole this wealthy county to the south of London. Challenging these preconceptions are retail upstarts opening in a place more modernly associated with WAG style then young, directional male fashion.
Second to None started life in early 2010 as an online magazine managed by a collaboration of young creatives, Henry Mounsey, 21, Shola Branson, 21, Bakar Shariff, 20 and Sam Blenkinsopp, 20. They expanded into creative consultancy providing PR, lookbooks and innovative marketing solutions for both British and International brands and have now opened a store in the heart of Guildford. Selling brands such as GANT Rugger, Fracap, Heritage Research, Triwa, Universal Works & Velour, Second to None isn’t suppling the usual designer names found in the majority of men’s independents.
Director, Henry Mounsey, says “We chose Guildford because it was the birthplace for Second To None as a group of friends, we all spent our younger years together here. As consumers in Guildford for some years we knew that menswear had been seemingly static for considerable time, and that the aesthetic we wanted to bring was completely missing in the town.”
Do you think people underestimate the wealthy suburbs?
“6 months ago I would have said yes. But there seems to be a realisation happening at the moment - what with the arrival of big retailers in Guildford of late (Urban Outfitters, Office, Schuh, Hollister) and even Oki-Ni opening their store close-by in Esher.” says Mounsey
Oki-Ni, one of the best known and most directional men’s fashion websites, opened a bricks and mortar store in Esher High Street last September. More ladies who lunch in Max Mara furs then Martin Margiela, the location was a surprise to some.
But then maybe they are both on to something. These stores are tapping into a wealthy demographic. Young men still living at home with disposable incomes and the desire for something different. This group of young men has existed before, in previous generations, but now they are staying at home even longer due to house prices - a recent survey, released by the Department of Communities and Local Government showed home ownership is the lowest since 1988 - and rent increases combined with the increased thirst and disposability that has entered the male market. Young men are more informed than ever and are open to new brands and product away from the traditional high-street. High-streets continue to go down the identikit route, consumers have the same copy-cat garments, making these labels burn out quicker than ever before.
Another factor is young retail brands are priced out of central London. This expensive bubble buoyed by the tourist market makes it difficult for small, upstart brands to get a hold. Why be a small fish in a big pond when you can be a big fish in a small pond? Guildford is an affluent town, Surrey has the highest GDP per capita of any county in the UK and is said to have the highest proportion of millionaires in the UK. Second To None know their market as they live and were brought up in the town, their customers are their peers and friends and the sons of these wealthy people.
Oki-Ni on the other hand has gone for the quiet option. Situated in prime footballer country, it allows men to try on the clothes. They offer a “Click and Try On” service with any item from oki-ni.com delivered to the store for you to try on - See our Satellite Concept. They have also tailored their offer to the local market by adding brands such as Hugo Boss and Ralph Lauren.
Having a physical store has its advantages, some brands such as Dries Van Noten won’t sell to online-only retailers and it allows them to trial a store concept which could be rolled out to other areas when fully functioning. Oki-ni last had a store in 2001 on a difficult site on Savile Row. A physical store takes the brand off the internet and in front of people.
It will be interesting to see how these types of menswear stores work in these locations, but if they understand the local market and can convert the army of young guys willing to spend hundreds in Hollister, Jack Wills and the like, then there is huge potential here.
As the economy struggles, the speculative builders of shopping centres have put their plans on hold and thus the expansion of department stores’ portfolios has ground to a halt. To combat this, the large chains are opening smaller, satellite stores offering different concepts which blend online and traditional retail.
Modern retail is continually being divided between online and off-line, with the two seen as arch enemies, when in fact the real future is the combination of the two.
Department store chain House of Fraser has opened two ‘Click&Collect’ stores in Aberdeen and Liverpool. The new concept involves a smaller 1500 sq ft store which doesn’t stock merchandise. Instead, a series of iPads, computers and interactive screens are used to order products which are then delivered the following day to either the customer’s home or to the store for collection. This gives customers direct access to over 1000 brands stocked on House of Fraser’s website.
This new idea taps into the older consumer who may not be computer savvy or be on the internet at home, yet still having an attractive level of disposable income. The store is an environment where they can be tutored and maybe shop online for the first time.
House of Fraser say “A personal customer service is key to the overall concept, with a complimentary coffee bar and comfortable seating encouraging a relaxed shopping environment. Inspired by the level of service given by hotel concierge, the store will offer a virtual personal shopping facility as well as much-loved traditional department store features such as wedding list and beauty testers. Fitting rooms are also provided so customers can try on items before taking them home.”
One of the prohibitive reasons cited by shoppers for online shopping is the time, hassle and expense of returning items. Fashion, particularly, is a problem without being able to try things on or feel or see the true colour of material etc. making many shoppers reluctant to buy certain items online.
This new satellite concept satisfies the quick collect option for you to try on your item and if not required you simply return to the cashier, who returns it for you. This psychological barrier of returns is what these new concepts hope to overcome.
Robin Terrell, Exec Director of Multi Channel comments, ‘Aberdeen is a thriving city and we’re extremely excited to be returning there with our first House of Fraser.com store. This is an entirely new concept and the launch is a pivotal moment in the development of our multi channel business, which has seen online sales increase by 107% in the first half of the year (2011).’
The new trial stores are also a great test bed for companies to see whether a full department store offer would be viable. Piloting with a pop-up store shows demand in the area while also promoting the web offer.
One example of this is Harvey Nichols. After a recent temporary “pop-up” food store in Liverpool One, Harvey Nichols says that the venture has been a “great success” and paved the way for a permanent store. Harvey Nichols will be opening a shop in Liverpool One this Autumn. The new shop will open in the former Habitat location and will be a “new concept, small format store”. The group said it would reveal more details of its plans for the 22,000 sqft store in Peter’s Lane. Miles Dunnett, head of asset management at Grosvenor Liverpool Fund, said: “There is no better testament to the success of Liverpool One, and indeed Liverpool, than Harvey Nichols’ decision to choose it for this new-format store. This is the crowning glory of a very successful year for Liverpool ONE. Footfall for 2011 was up by more than 5% compared to 2010, and sales have increased by over 10% for the year.
This takes Harvey Nichols to a new city, albeit in a smaller format and will act as an advert for the brand overall. The new concept it speaks of will probably involve iPads and click and collect services.
Men’s online designer store Oki-ni have recently opened a store in Esher in Surrey. They offer a ‘Click and Try On’ service where you can have any item from oki-ni.com delivered to their Esher store for you to try on. This allows the brand an entry to the customer not used to shopping online but wanting the choice that online shopping allows. Opening in a leafy Surrey suburb brings designer fashion to a new audience without the massive outlay of high shop leases. Esher offers fairly easy access for people to drive to and park. Almost a park and shop scheme in one of the UK’s richest counties, Oki-ni is bringing high fashion to the footballer’s heartland of wealthy Surrey.
If people feel confident they can try things on, they are probably more luckily to order more and then buy more. These satellite stores are an interesting experiment, combining online and traditional retail. They introduce stores and brands to new areas and allow a demographic not used to shopping online the chance to experiment in familiar surroundings.
Grooming brands are clambering over each other for sports ambassadors this year. The majority of these sports ‘stars’ have had limited exposure in comparison to other forms of ‘celebrity’. How they perform in front of the camera, in person or on social media is yet to be fully tested and after all, they are regular people thrust into the spotlight due to their sporting ability and not their hunger for fame or exposure.
Finding brand synergy is important without looking like simply jumping on the Olympic bandwagon. It’s important to choose a winner; a gamble that will increase the brand’s exposure and association with a person who is as good as their last race or competition but it's also important to have a connection with the personality. Brands want to be seen as supporters rather than exploiters which makes the reasoning behind the partnerships increasingly important.
French beauty group, Clarins, has chosen the South African runner Oscar Pistorius for its new Thierry Mugler A*Men Pure Shot fragrance. What makes Pistorius standout is his blades, having had his legs amputated at the age of 11 months resulting from a birth defect. Tagged ‘The Olympic Blade Runner’, Oscar Pistorius perfectly straddles the Olympics and the growing interest in the Paralympics. He ticks a lot of boxes; he’s handsome, young, fit and different. His superhuman appearance fits well with the aesthetic of Thierry Mugler’s design-house, whose label today is most closely associated with the likes of Lady Gaga and her stylist Nicola Formichetti. Oscar’s beautiful freakiness makes this an interesting and believable partnership.
Diver Tom Daley has taken on the role as the ambassador for the Adidas Body Care advertising campaign starting this month. Daley has had plenty of exposure before but this is the first product which really focuses on his age group. Adidas Body Care is traditionally for the younger male consumer. Cheaper price points and easy to understand product, this partnership speaks straight to Tom Daley’s peer group. Already sponsored by the parent Adidas group, it is tailoring a specific star at a targeted area.
Shaving giant Gillette has signed up cyclist Chris Hoy and swimmer Liam Tancock. A global brand, these are the UK ambassadors. Hoy has been seen on advertising before and is really a surefire bet, already being a housewife’s favourite. Tancock is relatively unknown which is interesting. New sports stars have to come from somewhere and picking the ones with the most potential can be difficult. World champion and record holder in backstroke and looking a little like Buzz Lightyear and with the body to match,Tancock stands a strong chance of making it on to the podium.
All these men should look and perform like heroes; mortal men with superhuman capabilities. Showcasing bodies which come from hours of training; the male market continues to be increasingly body-conscious and these men illustrate the Olympian ideal of the modern male. The right Olympian adds sex-appeal to a brand.
The grooming brands have the added bonus of the social media potential of these sportspeople. Interest in them and the level of followers or likes on Facebook wll grow massively. Highlighting Daley’s younger market, he has a huge 180,000 followers on Twitter and over 20,000 likes on Facebook. Pistorius has 28,000 Twitter followers and nearly 70,000 Facebook likes, while Chris Hoy and Liam Tancock have 40,000 and 12,000 followers on Twitter respectively. People will be following their progression up to and during the games and these numbers will swell. People can, today, link directly with a brand's ambassadors, their every word monitored and read, making the choice of personality increasingly important.
The Olympics is the place where stars are born and history is made. If brands can position themselves correctly and hedge their bets regarding who will shine in a competitive way and at the same time being associated with the best personalities, then some of this much talked about Olympic magic will rub off on them.