Seeking shelter

Taking space in a ‘mother store’ can be a tempting and less risky alternative to opening your own shop. Clare Dowdy looks at how three fledgling businesses are using this option to get a head start

In times of uncertainty, brave is the retailer that launches straight on to the high street, however strong its design and branding. A favoured route among fast-food outlets and quick-turnaround products and services is the concession or kiosk in an existing retail environment.

As design consultancy Platform’s director Max Eaglen puts it, ‘There’s a lower initial outlay, so it’s a great way to test a market and it can travel without the usual barriers to entry in foreign countries, such as lease deals that can take additional time and money.’ What’s more, the ‘mother shop’ absorbs many of the headaches of running a business for you. ‘Staff can cash up at the end of the day and just leave,’ says Vanita Parti, founder of Blink Eyebrow Bars.

However, when department stores and shopping centres double up as landlords, they can be frustratingly fussy over their tenants’ design plans. ‘With kiosks, everything seems to be about what you can’t do, and trying to navigate that,’ according to Dominic Harris of Cinimod Studio.

And no amount of inventive formats will save a brand that is inappropriately located. ‘When you’re entering into a concession it’s all about clustering with like-minded people,’ says Eaglen.

Blink Eyebrow Bars by Kerry Ferrar and Sheridan & Co
When Vanita Parti first planned her eyebrow-shaping outlets, she looked at niche London locations like Marylebone and Westbourne Grove. But high rents and the risk of taking on her own site put her off. So she turned to department stores, and made her debut in Fenwick on Bond Street. ‘We started a trend and were approached by stores throughout London and the UK, and copycat brow bars have snuck in there. But we got the pick of the locations,’ she says.

Blink now has outposts in various Selfridges and Harvey Nichols stores (with Harvey Nichols Bristol opening this month), and in John Lewis and House of Fraser in Westfield London. All but Heathrow Terminal 5 Blink – by shopfitter AE Hadley – were by Sheridan & Co. Future plans include Sydney and Harvey Nichols Dubai.
‘The business took off more quickly [than it would have on a high street], because of the footfall in these department stores,’ says Parti.

At first, Blink is given a small space, so it is just a question of moving in some chairs and applying Ferrar’s branding. ‘Our bright pinks and greens stand out in those mostly white cosmetics halls,’ says Parti.

She contrasts running concessions with standalone shops. ‘The thing with a store is things change all the time. They can chuck you out whenever they want to, but with a shop it’s more permanent. You always have to think in your mind that this is temporary. There’s not the same sense of ownership as a shop,’ she says.
And she admits that stores’ own design stipulations mean that her initial dream of the perfect shop interior is yet to happen. ‘I’d love to open a standalone, but in the right climate when we’ve established a brand,’ she says.

Snog frozen yoghurt by Cinimod Studio and Ico Design
Snog has standalone stores in London’s South Kensington and Soho, but, as co-founder Pablo Uribe says, ‘The concession model is a key component to our business strategy. We envisage Snog outlets being successful in different settings, including airports, train stations, cinemas and shopping centres.’

Hence this month’s foray into Westfield London’s main ground floor hall. ‘The pros of a concession are that you are in a temperature-controlled shopping environment, and in the right location visitor numbers can be very high,’ says Uribe. ‘Also, because of Westfield’s high profile, and the fact that it attracts visitors from all over London, opening here ensures that our brand is exposed to a wide audience.’

Snog’s presence for Westfield had to be free-standing, hence Cinimod Studio’s shiny, dimpled and curvy kiosk, with LED nodes playing on the inside of the dimples. ‘Westfield has a policy of no vinyl graphics where people can touch as they pick them off,’ explains Dominic Harris, director of Cinimod Studio. That meant that there was no way to incorporate guest artwork, which is a feature of the two standalone sites. ‘Instead, Ico’s graphics will go on to the six tables, each with its own Snog-style flower. So the concession has the same strong visual cues,’ Harris adds.

Stop by Platform
Stop was conceived by founder Alain Arbibe as a centre mall kiosk stocking different jewellery types from watches to rings, and from simple to bling.

‘Stop needed a creative, yet functional method of displaying products and bringing to life what would normally be a static display,’ says Platform director Max Eaglen.

The consultancy, which has worked for Yo! Sushi, developed a conveyor-belt system to carry products and incorporate watches, ‘all housed in a secure frameless glass display with bright, yet discreet lighting’, Eaglen adds.

In fact, for Stop, the kiosk in the Westfield London retail centre has not attracted the footfall to justify keeping it operating there, so the brand is upping sticks and relocating to Galeries Lafayette in Paris this autumn.

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