When Robert Wade Smith, the Liverpool retailer, decided to undertake his biggest project to date, he looked to London consultancies rather than local practices to deliver the creative concept. “From a London perspective there are so many good, progressive design groups, but from a northern perspective it’s not so easy to find good architecture practices combined with retail design,” he says.
He believes the investment in a well-established group like Davies Baron, which won the pitch for the new store, has definitely paid off. “We’ve had to pay a premium but it’s clear they’ve had 15 years of direct retail experience and that’s a big advantage on a local practice,” adds Wade Smith, whose group includes a fashion department store in Liverpool and stand-alone JNR childrenswear stores.
The new store, a converted Victorian building offering five floors of branded sports and fashion, launched last month. According to Davies Baron, it is a “new kind of brand experience store”. Consultancy director Alison Cardy likens it to a “retail theme-park”, with touch-pads releasing smells and sounds to heighten the retail experience.
Costing 2m, the concept is the first of its kind to combine 13 of the top “sports power brands”, claims Cardy. “Retail is moving into superpower brands,” she adds. Each floor contains individual “stores” ranging from Timberland, Kickers and Adidas to Fila and Lacoste, while the entire top floor is taken up by Nike. One of the more unusual aspects is a fully operational rock climbing wall which “carves its way through the centre of the store” from top to bottom, explains Cardy. Wade Smith is particularly impressed by the conversion of the old lightwell into the climbing wall and stairs. “Visuals sometimes take too much artistic licence. This came out better than the visuals,” he says.
Wade Smith and his team, in particular design and style co-ordinator Chris Leigh, had fixed ideas about the new store and worked closely with Davies Baron to realise these.
“We’re extremely grateful to Davies Baron for getting it right first time – how much is that worth? They’ve played a blinder,” comments Wade Smith. Local architect Diaz Associates worked with Davies Baron on the conversion of the building and provided project management.
Although Wade Smith is more than pleased with the results, he says he would only use big-name London consultancies for projects which have the right price tag: “We’d bring in designers where it’s a significant investment, say over 500 000.” Otherwise, less expensive projects are handled in-house with shopfitters to oversee them.