Above: Rosewood New York, The Carlyle
“The age of the cookie-cutter supermarket is over,” says Tesco’s UK managing director Chris Bush, in a blog post talking about its new Watford store which opened this month.
“Every store is different,” he goes on, “and serves a different local community with different tastes and needs.”
This is perhaps one of the biggest examples of a brand tailoring itself to the local area and it a strategy that brands including Starbucks, Puma and Rosewood Hotels & Resorts are also following.
“Bespoke store design helps us create excitement and diversity in each of the markets in which we operate,” says Ad de Hond, vice-president of store design and concepts at Starbucks EMEA.
The coffee chain, which has 746 stores and employs 9,000 people in the UK, wants its stores to be designed according to each location, to differentiate itself in a saturated market.
De Hond adds: “Location is a key indicator of how we design the store experience so it makes sense to the local community and customer. It’s exciting that, when shopping in one city, our customers can experience different sides of Starbucks and define where they feel most at home.”
Starbucks in London’s Mayfair, for example, uses materials with high specifications to ensure the store fits in with the surrounding area of exclusive shops, luxury hotels and restaurants. The St John’s Wood store displays the street address on the corner of the shop front and uses one colour to unify the store and integrate it into the high street.
Consumers are bored with regular advertising and switch to other brands if they can’t identify with one
This contrasts with the strategy for Starbucks’ Westfield Stratford City location which has been designed to fit into the modern and futuristic design of the architecture of the Olympic Village nearby, and includes the brand’s largest ’siren’ logo to date.
De Hond says: “Our design strategy means we apply our brand’s values and ensure relevance for each market. Our customers appreciate that newly designed Starbucks stores are intended to fit in with the local community and there are different formats that make the store experience more exciting.”
Rosewood Hotels & Resorts aims for the same effect with all its hotel locations. Although the brand has only 18 hotels in eight countries to date, with 14 more under construction, its slogan ‘a sense of place’ means each is designed from the outset to reflect its location, including the local environment and culture.
This tailored feeling is what sets properties apart from other hotel brands, claims Sonia Cheng, the group’s chief executive officer.
Cheng says: “We’re focusing on delivering experiences for our guests rather than taking the cookie-cutter approach. We target sophisticated travellers and well-travelled people, and I think they are tired of the chains, where each of the hotels are more predictable and you go into each hotel under the same brand and it looks the same.
“Today’s traveller is more savvy and sophisticated, and really values an individual experience.”
The brand is opening its first London hotel in October. This will see it take its bespoke boutique stance right through from the design of the hotel to theme of the restaurants and bars.
Rosewood London is based in an Edwardian Grade II-listed building which the brand says ‘combines English heritage with contemporary sophistication’.
For the restaurant, called The Holborn Dining Room, Rosewood is working with former Ivy head chef Des McDonald. It will be a British all-day grill restaurant and a place for local London-goers, rather than solely for the use of hotel guests.
“The way we are approaching the London hotel really sets us apart from all the other London hotels,” claims Cheng. “The way they approach it is generic and corporate, whereas our designs are inspired by stylish London residences.
”Travellers who come here will want that local experience and a taste of the local London culture rather than going to Knightsbridge or Park Lane where hotels are more commercial.”
Certain locations also prompt a brand to create a tailored approach according to the surroundings. Ahead of the curve is Puma, which opened its ‘twentyone’ concept store at unit 21 at Shoreditch’s pop-up mall Boxpark in December 2011. The store sees stock refreshed, as well as events and promotions take place, at 21-day intervals.
The store includes a countdown clock to let customers know when stock will be refreshed and a menu board at the entrance lists the 21 special and limited edition footwear styles available. According to Puma, it was one of the first big brands to experiment with the container retail concept.
Experience is key to the shift towards bespoke stores and brands have also seen that getting involved in tailored events is a way to get attention in places where they might not otherwise appear.
Pret a Diner describes itself as ‘not a pop-up restaurant experience’ on its website, but claims it is a dining experience established in 2004 by international food company Kofler & Kompanie.
It tours European countries and is partly funded by brand sponsors who get involved with each bespoke event. Brands get woven into the overall experience by taking elements from their visual identity and implementing them into the event design.
Lise Uduak, head of marketing at Kofler & Kompanie, says: “In Berlin this year, for example, we used a vintage-look gaming machine from Veuve Clicquot, the large ones you’d have in bars in the 1970s, but mixed that with regular champagne coolers [from the brand]. People see that and notice there’s a brand presence, but they’re not annoyed and don’t feel they are being lured into liking a certain brand.”
The concept behind the experience, which also includes local art, entertainment and culture and is open to the public, aims to offer Michelin-quality food at reasonable prices. Veuve Clicquot, Land Rover, Jaguar and Lufthansa are a few of the brands that have taken part in the dining experience which runs three to five times a year and can last from one to nine weeks.
Pret a Diner also works with social brand communication agency Native LDN to create collaborative campaigns that ensure the partnership with the sponsors is well-positioned and promoted effectively to the target audiences.
Uduak says: “As a dining experience that combines elements such as food, art, design and entertainment, and communicates both off and online, it’s interesting for brands because it covers so many interests, so you can approach and reach a big target group.”
According to Uduak, consumers cannot be approached in the same way as in the past, when engagement was solely through TV commercials, billboards or ads in magazines: they must also connect with consumers through bespoke experiences.
Uduak claims: “This is a way consumers can get a different engagement with the brand and also where the brand itself can invite business partners to see what projects they are involved in. It’s not only about a certain product or other visual identities that you normally see in commercials, but also discovering what a brand stands for.”
However, it is something that hotel brands in particular have sought out from the beginning, according to Rosewood Hotel’s president Radha Arora.
“What’s happened is that our competition has grown, going from 20 to 30 to 100 hotels. They start off in the same mindset, wanting to keep the service bespoke, with a tailored approach but they lose this along the way because as you get bigger you come up with a service standard so that everybody is consistent.”
Pret a Diner believes brands want to be relevant to the areas they are in because the element of surprise is something people are looking for.
“Consumers are bored with regular advertising and there’s a lot of competition out there,” says Uduak. “They switch to other brands if they feel they can’t identify with one anymore because it just keeps repeating itself.”
Differentiation is key in saturated markets and brand identity does not just mean a consistent approach to how your products and services are represented. People can weary of the same attempts at gaining their attention so adapting to locations brands can stand out.
Fitting in with the community
This month Tesco revamped its Tesco Extra in Watford this month to appeal and add to the community. It now includes coffee house Harris + Hoole, Giraffe, The Bakery Project and bakers Euphorium, as well as a new F+F concession. There will also be a pharmacy, opticians and a community space which local groups can book and use free of charge. On its blog the retailers UK managing director, Chris Bush, explains that as online shopping is easier the stores need to be more exciting and ‘not just places to shop, but places to spend time with family and friends and enjoy a coffee or meal’. Earlier this year Tesco also announced it would use space at its Stockton Extra branch into a leisure facility which may include a gym, a children’s play area and a day nursery.
Urban Outfitters opened its Camden store at the end of last month and with the location being known for its unique, vintage stores and markets the retailer would need to fit into the surrounding. The store is located in an old cinema which was also used as a market after its closure. The Camden look and feel is achieved through rough brick walls and remnants of how the old building was used, complete with graffiti on the shutters.
A retail chain in South Korea decided to create a bespoke offering for its stores but it was not tied to a location. Working with agency Cheil-Seoul, EMart Korea created a ‘flying’ store which was a branded truck-shaped balloon equipped with a Wi-Fi router which customers could connect to for free via their mobile phones. Once connected to the Wi-Fi, shoppers could download coupons and use these immediately to buy products via the EMart mobile app, in-store sales rose by 9.5 per cent, while mobile sales more than doubled, rising by 157 per cent.