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Ash Shopwatch - Ash strides ahead in london

The footwear brand hopes to cash in on tourist spend at its new Covent Garden flagship.

Ash has brought its signature Italian style to Covent Garden with the opening of its new flagship on King Street.

The 1,200 sq ft shop, which has a 700 sq ft sales floor and a 500 sq ft stock room, has neighbours including Aesop and Burberry Brit and opened its doors just in time for last-minute Christmas shoppers on December 23. Inside, the shopfit lets the footwear brand’s product do the talking with a simple, pared-down interior comprising wooden display frames that are minimally merchandised. These flank leather seating that runs down the middle of the shop floor.

Spot lighting on the ceiling and well-lit wooden cabinets create an inviting environment, while an elegant store front with a large window features a quirky display of multiple wooden circles and bicycle wheels suspended from the ceiling to showcase Ash’s footwear.

This shop is the second in the UK to be fitted out with Ash’s new global store concept, after South Kensington was given the treatment in August last year. Eddie Benisty, managing director of Ash UK, explains: “Ash has launched a new concept for the brand worldwide, having just opened flagship stores in Shanghai, New York, Paris, Milan and Rome, and this year it is opening 60 shops in China. The ultimate Ash concept is a lifestyle concept and there is talk of introducing more clothing and bags.”

The store, which at present is staffed by a team of four while the company assesses its head count needs at the location, sells footwear and accessories from the Ash’s men’s, women’s and kids’ mainline, Sport and Mexican collections, and will also sell limited edition products that are exclusive to the flagship. Prices start at £89 for summer shoes and lighter trainers, going up to £140 for hi-top trainers and £280 for heavier biker boots.

However, Benisty says that because of space limitations and high rents in premier London locations, the brand has had to limit the number of full concept elements that it could put into the store. The brand’s China stores have coffee shops, chandeliers and a false stairway that acts as a display, for example, with the Shanghai branch combining all of these elements.

“We do not lose sight of the aim to sell shoes,” he says of the decision. “But the location and the surrounding architecture is wonderful and the store is naturally beautiful and light, overlooking St Paul’s Church’s courtyard. Having been converted from a former pub, The Essex Serpent, the exterior of the shop is rather special and ornate.”

Premium brand ash was established in 2000 by Leonello Calvani and Patrick Ithier and now sells 1.5 million pairs of shoes worldwide annually with a turnover in excess of £100m. China, the US, France and Italy are its largest markets, with the UK accounting for 15% of global sales. Benisty is confident this will increase: “It’s in growth, and the brand awareness is stronger than ever. Having just launched an app this year, we have embraced mobile web technology for our website, which is performing fantastically. When a customer wants something, they want it instantly and with the app they can achieve this.

“With Covent Garden being a new store it will take time to understand what volume it will bring, but we are expecting fantastic sales. If it represents 4% of overall sales for the UK we will be happy.”

This is the fourth opening for Ash in London - and the UK - and comes in addition to stores on King’s Road, Marylebone High Street and Kensington Church Street, as well as a shop-in-shop in House of Fraser on Oxford Street.

Benisty says Covent Garden was the natural choice. “We chose King Street because Ash needs to be sitting with the premium brands such as Burberry Brit, Oliver Sweeney, Aesop, Vilebrequin and Sandro. It is a very busy location, especially for Asian and European tourists who are big followers of the brand,” he says. “Also the landlords are trying to reposition King Street as the premier location for luxury brands.”

Ash also has 200 stockists across the UK, including womenswear boutique Sunday Best in Rawtenstall, Lancashire, and etailers and Asos.

The announcement of the store’s opening in December followed the news that it was to ditch 10 late-paying accounts in the UK to tighten cash flow. Benisty declined to name the shops but said most are in southern England, with three in the North.

Benisty hopes the flagship will be the first of several additions to the brand’s UK retail footprint, though he adds: “We would hope to [open more stores]. Finding premier locations appropriate to the brand and reasonable rents is not easy. So far we have resisted opportunities to open in a shopping mall but that is open to consideration.”

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