Until very recently, New Look ruled the roost in the fashion footwear stakes. With an enormous range and an uncanny knack of having the right style at the right price, each store seemed to sell out almost as quickly as stock appeared.
But nothing is forever, and within the past six months the women’s footwear volume crown has shifted to Primark, although if you’re female and aged between 16 and 44, the chances remain high that New Look will still be first choice for fashion footwear.
According to New Look buying, merchandise and design director for footwear and accessories Malcolm Collins, the retailer owns about 10% of the market for that demographic – putting it comfortably ahead of its rivals. However, nobody would choose to have Primark as a rival and it is perhaps why a decision has been taken to see how a standalone footwear shop might work.
Collins is quick to make the point that the 2,300 sq ft standalone trial at Cribbs Causeway near Bristol is not just about footwear and that accessories are also an important part of the offer.
But it is obvious that footwear is the main event at this former Principles unit, with accessories playing a supporting role. It’s also worth noting that while footwear has been removed from the main New Look store – three doors along from this shop – Collins and his team have opted to dual-site accessories, which are given space in both stores.
Collins says that by removing footwear from the main store, space has been freed up that can be used to expand the fashion ranges, and certainly the footwear category is more space-intensive than accessories – which may also explain this decision. He adds that there is a feeling within New Look that there are potential footwear shoppers who probably wouldn’t frequent a full-range store, but would be tempted to have a look around a footwear shop.
Whichever way you cut it, this is a departure for New Look.
Key looks and merchandise mix
As a single floor with a central aisle that allows the shopper to more or less see right to the back the area just inside the entrance has to have the best of the best if people are not just to plough straight into the interior, ignoring the first 10 ft. This is why the front left-hand third of the store is given over to boots, with the same amount of space on the right devoted to court shoes.
Collins says the store only holds about half of the New Look collection and that with boots being the “must-haves”, the decision to put them at the front was intended to “suck people into the store”. All boot styles and lengths, from ankle to thigh, are catered for, with the top price being £75 and the entry-price point hovering around the £20 mark. Across the aisle, grey, purple, black and red satin courts and platforms start at £16.
Deeper into the store, a broad range of ballet pumps is displayed in the middle of the shop and wide-fitting styles are at the back. Oh yes, and there are accessories too.
Perhaps to reinforce the notion that this shop is about something other than footwear, a heavily accessorised mannequin sits atop one of the fixtures towards the front.
Generally, the merchandise displays are dictated by the gondolas that run in a single row either side of the aisle from front to back. The danger of monotony is avoided by the use of mirrored perimeter panels defined by internally lit translucent white frames, dressing-room style, which provide homes for bags, bangles and suchlike.
Above the perimeter, magnetic black and white mannequin hands are used to display more accessories while silvered letters, spelling out the word “shoes”, are contained within asymmetric black frames. The windows are basic but do the job, with inverted mannequin legs and more hands. This is a narrow store and although it is well merchandised, it is hard to escape the sense of entering something akin to a tube station.
More than ample numbers of staff were on duty, considering the size of the store. On the other hand, if this space is to perform to expectations, the tills should be ticking over on a regular basis and supermarket-style efficiency will be required at peak trading.
As such, keeping things up to scratch is likely to be about replenishment and housekeeping as much as providing a personal service. That said, all of the upbeat staff seemed to know their stock.
Times are hard, even if you happen to be a successful operator trading at the right end of the market, so it makes sense to make the most of what’s already in place. This is probably why the lighting scheme, with silvered globe-style pendant lights running down the middle of the shop, is an inheritance from Principles.
Small touches, such as the gift box-style table at the front of the shop and the chair covered with beige raw silk, accompanied by shoe-bearing plinths covered in the same material, go some way to setting this small shop apart from its nearby parent.
However, the mid-shop equipment is standard, albeit effective, New Look stuff. The shop is home to about 200 options and 2,500 pairs of shoes. Density is essential for this form of volume selling, but it did feel a little crowded.
Would I buy?
New Look is already, as noted, a very successful footwear and accessories seller and this spin-off format serves to reinforce its position. A mild criticism might be that it would have been better to have windows that allowed improved views into the interior, rather than the boxed-in versions that are in place.
The design is certainly value- to mid-market glam and is likely to exert a strong pull on passing shoppers. For those entering the store, the ranges hit the great majority of the hot buttons and prices are such that if shoes are top of mind, then a purchase is likely.
This looks set to be the first of many and with the current availability of suitable units across the UK, if New Look pushes the roll-out button expect this format to be a familiar sight. As part of a strategy to maintain its position in the face of a marauding Primark, this is a useful addition and one that could add to its attractions.
Address Cribbs Causeway, Bristol
Store opening August 2009
Size 2,300 sq ft of selling space
Stock 200 options and 2,500 pairs of shoes are on offer
Design features Mirrored perimeter accessories panels with Hollywood-style lighting surrounds. Repurposed mid-shop shoe gondolas and Arne Jacobson-style soft furnishings
Number of stores planned 10