Branding the retail revival

Design is being used to refresh the image of retail developments as the owners aim to attract more investment and consumers. Hannah Booth shops around

London’s Regent Street is launching a brand identity to attract brighter names, increase revenue, improve the quality of design at its retail outlets and offices and boost visitor traffic (DW 19 July).

The marque will serve several purposes. The Crown Estate, which owns Regent Street, is trying to communicate to businesses, retailers and shoppers that it is a highly desirable destination.

‘Many of the 80-year leases on Regent Street are finishing and properties will be owned by Crown Estates again,’ says a Crown Estates spokesman.

‘Now is the time to improve the standard of many of the smaller retailers’ interiors and modernise behind their protected facades,’ he adds. ‘A brand identity will up the design stakes, help pull together the diverse retailers and give Regent Street back its exclusivity.’

The logo itself aims to marry traditional and contemporary values, according to Tim Lewis, client team director at Small Back Room. It uses the Bodoni typeface, one of the oldest in existence, and the tail of the ‘R’ has been re-drawn to symbolise the curved sweep of Regent Street. The flash of fuschia provides the contemporary element, adds Lewis.

Crown Estates will let retailers choose their own interior designers, as ‘they know their business best’, adds the spokesman.

The Regent Street brand identity, scheduled to go live in early autumn, must work on a consumer as well as a business-to-business level and try to turn around the fortunes of the once prestigious shopping street, says Lewis.

Small Back Room has also designed the identity for River City Prague, a retail development in Prague, which is currently launching to potential trade partners.

Its role is similar to that of the Regent Street brand: help to build an upmarket brand for the site, albeit before it has been built, to woo potential investors and big name international retailers.

‘A strong business-to-business brand identity can oil the wheels of development at this early stage,’ says Lewis. ‘But it must also be versatile enough to become consumer-facing once the businesses are in place.’

River City Prague, the identity for which is written in English to attract overseas investment, is scheduled to open in around 2003.

Creating a brand identity for a new-build retail development is one thing, but can a brand identity achieve the type of turnaround hoped for by Crown Estates for Regent Street?

Stuart Corbyn, chief executive of Cadogan Estates, which is constructing a retail development on the site of the former Duke of York headquarters on Chelsea’s King’s Road, doesn’t think so.

‘It would be self-defeating to invent a brand name and logo [for the development]. It is already linked in consumers’ minds with Sloane Street and King’s Road and therefore has premium values attached to it,’ says Corbyn.

He says Sloane Square, King’s Road and Sloane Street have earned the sort of traditional, upmarket brand values which cannot be created overnight with a brand identity. They are brand names in their own right, he adds.

But a rebranding project last year for Leeds Corn Exchange has been judged successful. It had to perform a task slightly different to that of Regent Street: to try to shed its traditional past to attract youth-oriented retailers to the site rather than play up its heritage.

This was to compete with an upmarket development in the city that was attracting big names like Harvey Nichols and Vivienne Westwood, which arrived in Leeds following the late 1980s retail boom.

Leeds group Thompson Design created the marque for Corn-Xchange, a Grade I listed building. The building’s vaguely hippyish feel was epitomised in its existing logo, says Thompson Design creative director Ian Thompson.

The most significant change to the existing marque was to replace the letter ‘E’ at the front of ‘exchange’ with ‘X’ and lose the word ‘the’.

‘The [loss of “E” and “the”] gave us just the right amount of irreverence to create a younger brand, as well as carte blanche to claim a whole bunch of less traditional, subversive “X” words,’ says Thompson. Applied to marketing literature, these include Xotic, Xplicit and Xcite.

This approach has clearly worked. According to Peter Smith, managing director of CornXchange owner Urban First, the rebrand played a large part in the rejuvenation of the Corn Exchange.

‘[The Corn Exchange] was always seen as a bit worthy and solid, but the “X-factor” [rebrand] helped it to overcome that and lend it some much-needed vitality,’ says Smith. ‘It is a wonderfully simple, irreverent graphic.’

The ‘X-factor’ has even attracted big name brands, including Jaguar and Moët & Chandon, to sponsor events such as fashion shows at CornXchange.

Perhaps the power of a well-designed brand identity shouldn’t be underestimated after all?

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