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Primark opens for business in the US

Primark founder Arthur Ryan, who set up the business as Penneys in Ireland in 1969, is not one for long press interviews. In the 77,300 sq ft Boston store that opened as Primark’s first in the US today, the retailing legend kept it simple – rather like his shopkeeping philosophy: “We’ll do well here. It’s just about giving the customers the right goods at the right price.”

George Weston, chief executive of Primark’s parent company Associated British Food, agreed. “This store is everything we expected it to be – and more. We have taken an iconic piece of Boston, the former Filenes department store, and we have returned it [to retailing] as something very different but something very magnificent.”

Like all the Primark team, he is confident that Primark can be as successful in the US as it has been in nine other markets.

“We are differentiated here, especially from the other US value retailers, as we are in our European markets. Clearly we have to learn a lot more specifics about the US, but I am confident we will do that quickly.”

Image gallery of Primark Downtown Crossing

Interview with Primark chief executive Paul Marchant

There have been virtually no changes to the essential Primark offer, but the business is ready to move quickly once it analyses sales traffic.

“We deliberately didn’t make assumptions about what the Americans might want in terms of styling or sizing,” Primark chief executive Paul Marchant told Drapers today. “Within four weeks we will know what changes we have to make immediately.”

The company, however, has given more space than usual to US favourites such as denim, activewear and loungewear, plus basics like chinos and button-down shirts. As always, the price proposition is clearly flagged up with hero pieces – such as $7 jeans (£4.50) – clearly labelled at customers’ eye level.

Large lifestyle images are complemented by back-lit panels and several large-scale video screens at some cash desks and on the central escalator, displaying colourful moving messages.

Primark Boston

Due to the listed status of the Burnham Building (named after its Chicago-based architect Daniel Burnham), Primark’s regular interiors designer Dalziel & Pow were not allowed to cover any window and all fixtures have to stand a metre away from them. This gives the four-storey space a surprisingly airy and light look for such a large, modern store. Primark is intending to use the uncovered window technique in its next store in Madrid.

Several features of the old Filenes have been left exposed, including rough ceilings, tiled walls and the huge steel pillars that form the skeleton of the store.

New to Primark for Boston are:

  • Free Wi-Fi, which will be rolled out to most the rest of its 292 stores in due course;
  • Customer toilets, which are needed because of Americans’ higher expectations of in-store facilities. All US Primark stores will have them;
  • Seating areas, fitted with charging points for laptops and mobiles. There are five seating areas in footwear alone. (Seating was added first in the Berlin Alexanderplatz flagship);
  • The first men’s “recharging” corner for partners of female customers, complete with big screen showing a sports channel;
  • A reduction of sub-brands to just two: Denim Company and Love to Lounge (to simplify the message to customers, says Marchant);
  • A new staff uniform, comprising a T-shirt with turquoise body and black half sleeves, carrying the logo ‘I ♥ Primark’;
  • Primark on the breast and on the back (this new look will be rolled out across Primark’s other stores).

To serve the inevitable crowds, Primark has hired 590 permanent staff and will take on another 420 for the Thanksgiving and Christmas period. As it is close to Boston’s financial district, it will open at 8am for early-morning shoppers.

Primark’s first store in the US – officially styled The Burnham Building, 10 Summer Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02110 – will be known colloquially as Primark Downtown Crossing as it sits above the major subway interchange in the city.

It is next door to Boston’s city centre Macy’s department store. Other neighbours include a Gap Factory Shop and an Eddie Bauer Outlet store, which are a reminder of the US’s fierce discounting culture. They now have some new competition.

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