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Boden's bet on bricks and mortar

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As lifestyle brand Boden opens the doors to its first flagship store, and second shop ever, on London’s King’s Road, Drapers meets with founder Johnnie Boden and CEO Jill Easterbrook to find out more about its Chelsea debut.

On a drizzly November morning, the cosy glow flooding through the doors of Boden’s inaugural flagship store on the King’s Road in Chelsea is an enticing prospect. Stepping through the glass doors is akin to walking into the hallway of a stylish, slightly eccentric Chelsea townhouse: warm, welcoming and brimming with colour. The store is distinctively “brand Boden”.

“The overall idea is that this store should be like my home,” explains founder Johnnie Boden, leaning on a copper countertop at the shop’s official opening. “It’s all the little things: it’s the panelling, the art, the music, the furniture.” He gestures to a plush yellow chair topped with turquoise cushions. “I have an armchair just like that at home.”

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Boden began life as a catalogue business in 1991, and originally considered venturing into retail 15 years ago, when the team debated opening a store on Sloane Square – an idea abandoned as Boden was cautious of investing too much too soon: “We were worried that we would ‘bet the farm’.”

Until this week, brand had one store, at Hanger Green in west London, which opened in 2004. Its other store, in Walton on Thames, closed in 2012.

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As it renews its foray into physical retail with the King’s Road flagship, Boden is ensuring the principles that underpin the business remain ingrained in future development.

“When I set up the business one of the things I had to remind myself of all the time is that receiving a catalogue is the most unexciting event in anyone’s life – so you have to make it different,” he explains. “There has been a similar philosophy here: how do we make the store different and still make it commercial?”

The business is performing well: profits are up 9.6% to £26.2m for the year to 31 December 2016 and sales up 8.9% to £308.3m. With the opening of the store, Boden is looking ahead to further growth.

“We felt we now have right team and infrastructure to open a store,” he says. “We want to grow a lot and this is a great opportunity to do that: with a store, existing customers will spend more and we’re also recruiting new customers.”

“This gives the customers what they want,” says chief executive Jill Easterbrook. Sporting an opulent black and gold velvet jacket from Boden’s Icons collection, she adds: “They always say to us ‘please give us an opportunity to come try stuff on’. It’s interesting because 50% of our target customers say to us that they’d never shop online, so we would be halving our opportunity if we didn’t open shops.

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“Any decline [in sales] raises the bar on what you have to do with your physical presence. It has got to be something more than just a dull store, poor customer experience and poor availability.”

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With the store, at 20-23 Duke of York Square on King’s Road, Boden has achieved an artful brand experience. Colourful rugs, wall art and a sweeping Georgian-style staircase make the store inherently engaging, and small details, such as hidden chairs and suitcase shelves, intrigue shoppers throughout the space.

The store stocks a curated edit of the full Boden women’s, men’s and children’s wear offer. Standout items and the Icons collection comprise 20%-30%, alongside partywear for the upcoming festive rush.

Earlier this year, Boden began its bricks-and-mortar expansion with the launch of five concessions in John Lewis in the UK and Nordstrom in the US.

“We’re trying to give customers more ways to get hold of Boden,” explains Easterbrook. “The more engaged they are and the more touchpoints they have with you, the deeper the relationship you have with them, which obviously translates from a sales perspective as well.”

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Next Label and Zalando, which stock Boden, provide additional online “touchpoints”. The new flagship offers click-and-collect to ensure a joined-up journey for the consumer.

“If you follow the customer you won’t go far wrong,” says Easterbrook. “You have to keep a commercial head on. That’s trying to make it easier for customers to shop Boden.”

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Boden explains that the increasingly omnichannel consumer has shifted the way the brand looks at physical retail – it is now seen as a natural and necessary extension of the offer: “People had previously said that if you open a store there is a risk that all you’ll do is transfer sales from online to retail without a corresponding uplift to pay for the costs.

“That argument seems to have been undermined by the new omnichannel customer, who wants to be able to get stuff everywhere: online, via the catalogue, via wholesale – and you need to be where they are. The theory is that those customers will buy more, so you will get that uplift.”

Easterbrook says that the business plans to open more stores in the UK and eventually the US, once they have used the new flagship as a testing ground. The focus however, remains on digital: “We don’t think we’re suddenly going to become more shops than online. Over the next few years we’ll build up our physical presence and probably end up about 70% digital and 30% stores. I still think the majority of our business will be online, but we need to work out the optimum mix between that, our own shops and being in other stores. But we will definitely be growing our physical presence in one way or another.”

The flagship is an assured step into the next phase of growth for the brand, as it expands beyond its traditional online and catalogue customer base and seeks to become a truly multichannel business. Boden and Easterbrook are rightfully cautious, using this store as a testing ground to refine their physical presence.

If it can establish its bricks-and-mortar feet, Boden’s growth looks set to flourish.



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