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Exclusive: Inside Anthropologie’s new 'neighbourhood' store concept

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US fashion and lifestyle brand Anthropologie has unveiled its new local store strategy, which will be rolled out across the UK.

Nestled on a quaint, cobbled street in the historic market town of Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, sits the beautiful Victorian building with navy blue Art Deco fascia that is home to the UK’s newest Anthropologie store. Among its neighbours, Whistles, Brora, Mint Velvet and a handful of artisan coffee shops, it looks very much at home.

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Inside it is a study in moody blues, chock full with Indian ceramics, hand-tufted rugs, pebble-shaped mirrors and a suite of turquoise-accented crockery. Next to a pink velvet armchair piled with hand-woven cushions are an array of bohemian slip-on mules, embroidered tunic dresses and a table meticulously laid out with pearl-embellished hair slides.

The new 2,898 sq ft store, set across four floors, opened yesterday and is the first of many planned under managing director of international Peter Ruis, who joined from Jigsaw in July 2018. It offers everything you would expect from a typical Anthropologie store, but on a scale that is unusual for the US fashion and lifestyle retailer.

Fashion makes up 50% of the offer, comprising mainly own brand (40%) and third parties such as Mimi Berry, Clare V, Pyrus and Sessùn (10%), while homeware, stationery and gifting makes up the rest. 

Founded by current Urban Outfitters Incorporated (URBN) chairman and president Dick Hayne and named after his Anthropology university major (but with a decidedly French twist), Anthropologie first opened its doors in Wayne, Pennsylvania, in 1992. It now operates 229 stores worldwide, 11 of which are in the UK.

Anthropologie declined to report its financial figures. However, for the three months to 31 January, URBN, which owns Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie and Free People, reported a 3.5% increase in like-for-like net sales to $1.1bn (£763m), compared with the same months in 2018. Total gross profits rose by 9.7% to $373m (£285m) in the same three months.

People want to shop for inspiration, to relax and to be with family

Peter Ruis, Anthropologie

The stores, typically in city locations, are renowned for their size. London’s Regent Street branch boasts 18,700 sq ft of retail space, while in the US, Anthropologie shops can reach 34,826 sq ft.

However, since joining Anthropologie, Ruis has recognised that its UK customers do not want to shop in cavernous stores, and instead have a thirst for bijou, localised retail experiences.

Leading the Drapers team up to the second floor, where matt-finished homeware is displayed on slabs of marble and natural stone benches, Ruis explains that he will open new stores in strategic, smaller “neighbourhood” locations.

“The idea that people travel into the city – be it London, Birmingham or Manchester – to shop has disappeared because they can do that online,” he says. “People want to shop for inspiration, to relax and to be with family. Shopping has become much more local. The concept of combining some big flagships in the city centres with online, and then being able to come to your local high street is much more relevant.”

As well as the new Tunbridge Wells location, a 8,538 sq ft store is set to open in the former Laura Ashley store at 92 Promenade, Cheltenham, in May. A further four stores in the new format will be rolled out this year in market towns and in London.

New neighbourhoods

By 2020, Ruis hopes to have between 20 and 25 Anthropologie stores in the UK, up from 11, and to have doubled the European store portfolio.

“Ten years ago, when we first launched in the UK, the idea would be to say, ‘Let’s build in London and customers will come to us,’” he explains. “Now that’s not good enough. You’ve got to take your concept locally, so people can find out and understand what you’re about.”

He defines the idea of “local” as a combination of upmarket, regional high streets, market towns such as Tunbridge Wells, and small-scale city centres such as Cheltenham, which have characterful architecture. The Anthropologie units in these locations will be on a more appropriate scale.

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“I think big square footage is not as easy for retailers as it used to be, and it is one of the major challenges surrounding department stores,” says Ruis. “The idea of a huge retail space, where it takes customers 10 minutes to find what they are looking for, just doesn’t feel right any more. Customers are enjoying spaces that feel more intimate, but still offer a varied mix of products.

“The stores will still offer the ever-sensory experience customers expect from Anthropologie, but with 30% to 40% less space. Going more local just plays to our strengths and is a reaction to where the market is going.

“What we’ll never do is build huge, conglomerate out-of-town stores.”

Space capsules

Another new element are “capsule spaces” in which product is randomly and experimentally selected: “We will create little capsules that will work locally because we can show customers a small selection of products and then, if they like them, we can explain our online offering.

“We will also move the assortments and products around every four to five days between [all] the different stores if they don’t work in a specific location.

“We launch 30 to 50 new products every two days, so products are just constantly coming in and out, and mixing between the stores. The process is less disciplined than you might find from a typical retailer,” he says.

You’ve got to take your concept locally, so people can find out and understand what you’re about

Peter Ruis, Anthropologie

Each store will also offer a different “look” and “feel”, because Ruis wants them to fit in with the local architecture.

“The stores will be designed by different artists, who will be given different briefs to work with based on the location they are in. So, you’ll see a much more eclectic feel to all of our shops.”

The stores will also mix together the fashion, homeware and gift offerings, so they are not compartmentalised.

“Internally we have mixed up all the concepts. Anthropologie is a variety store, so we are about 50% fashion and accessories, and then the rest is home and gifts. The idea is to mix everything together and lead from that point of view. We’ll lead with the fashion  side, but you’ll see everything will start to be mixed in where it wasn’t necessarily before. There’ll be bowls, plates and candles intertwined between the shoes and clothing.

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“We’re going to be much more fluid with the stores,” he adds. “We’re not going to have the really big changing rooms that you might normally have, but just having much more of that sense of just a really fun place to shop around.”

Pricing points

Despite the changes, price points will remain the same across all the stores. Fashion prices range between £10 for a hair clip to £425 for a jacket.

Ruis explains: “We are in that premium end of the market, but we’ve got a varied sense of prices. The idea is that everybody is allowed in.”

As we reach the end of the tour, Drapers catches a glimpse of a team of artists sawing, drilling and painting pieces of wood that will later become a “mini-diorama” of installations for the store.

Ruis reveals this is one of Anthropologie’s “best-kept secrets”, and enables it to continually offer up-to-date and original store designs: “Around 90% of our stores have their own designated art rooms for our designers and artists. We set a brief for the teams, and they are free to have some fun by drawing freehand on the windows and floors,” he says, pointing to a stencil-painted rug on the floor.

“It all becomes part of the shop fit. That’s what makes us so unique. Every brand has its magic dust, and this is ours.”

The Drapers Verdict

As disruption in the fashion retail industry continues, more retailers are closing stores than opening them.

Anthropologie has recognised that “big box” retailers are the dinosaurs of shopping that face extinction.

By “right-sizing” its portfolio in upmarket, “local” locations and “downsizing” its store footprint, Anthropologie believes it has found the right formula for a bricks-and-mortar store roll-out across the UK.

The retailer has cleverly encapsulated its signature large-store DNA on a much smaller scale. The mood lighting, dreamy music and handcrafted art pieces give the space an overwhelmingly homely feel. The new neighbourhood concept feels even warmer and more inviting than its larger stores.

However, Anthropologie will have to ensure that it keeps a wide and varied mix of products and brands across its clothing, accessories, gifts and home furnishings offerings, or it risks losing the undeniably unique shopping experience that sets it apart from other retailers.

 

Anthropologie by numbers

  • 229 standalone stores worldwide
  • 13 stores in Europe
  • 11 stores in the UK (six of which are in London)
  • Smallest Anthropologie store in the UK: 2,898 sq ft, Tunbridge Wells
  • Largest Anthropologie store in the UK: 18,700 sq ft, of which retail space is 11,000 sq ft, Regent Street, London
  • Largest Anthropologie store outside the UK: 34, 826 sq ft, of which retail space is 23,722 sq ft, Bedford Square, Westport in Connecticut (Anthropologie & Co)
  • Outsourced brands make up 10% of store offer, the rest is own brand
  • Fashion makes up 50% of store offering, the is rest split equally between gifting and homeware
  • Online currently makes up 30% of sales
  • It currently stocks fashion brands Veja, Mimi Berry, Clare V, Pyrus, Sessùn, Agolde and Citizens of Humanity, among others
  • New fashion brands that will be stocked soon include Essentiel Antwerp, Rita Row, Paper London, Chinti & Parker, Tela and Zakee Shariff
  • Fashion retail prices range from £10 for a hair clip to £425 for a jacket

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