Despite the downturn, young fashion retailer Cult has continued its rapid rise and has now opened its biggest store to date. But does bigger mean better?
If you need a yardstick of the retail progress being made in Cardiff at the moment, a visit to the newly opened extension to the St David’s shopping centre provides an indication of what is happening. And among the many examples of retailers putting on a show for the Welsh capital is Cult, the retail arm of fashion brand Superdry. By the standards of any fashion retailer, this is a large store and, at 14,000 sq ft, is Cheltenham-based Supergroup’s, Cult Clothing’s parent company, biggest store to date.
It’s only been open a few weeks, but founder and chief executive Julian Dunkerton says its sales have been more than double those of the business’s high-profile Bristol store, which opened as part of that city’s Cabot Circus scheme in September last year. Dunkerton isn’t sure why this store is proving so successful, but says: “I imagine there’s probably more pent-up demand in Cardiff than Bristol.”
Whatever the case, this is the latest outing for a retailer that has been sprinting down the track when others are labouring to get out of the blocks. Supergroup has 33 Cult stores and this number will hit 40 before the end of the year. Dunkerton says he will aim to open “a minimum of 20 more” next year and that the store count will reach 100 within the next three years.
A success story then, and one that proves if the formula is right, then even in tough times there is money to be made. It’s also a measure of the availability of retail property that Dunkerton is able to predict the chain’s expansion curve with such confidence. Cult demonstrates that if location and store design are appropriate, then footfall will follow, even in the chilliest of economic climates.
Key looks and merchandise mix
Cult Clothing is about urban clothing and goes head to head with the likes of Bench. Walk into the Cardiff flagship and your attention is likely to be grabbed by T-shirts, sweatshirts, jeans or perhaps the indie band-looking womenswear on the far left. Prices are remarkably consistent and the differential between entry level and top price is narrow.
In practice, this means that if you’re in the men’s jeans area, at the heart of the shop, you’ll see a display of fits and washes that would normally have you thinking that a wide price range would be involved. In fact, the entry price just scrapes the £50 mark and carries on up to £64.99. Similarly, T-shirts in bold brights, bearing variations on the Superdry logo, start at £19.99 and top out at £24.99.
There are pieces that are more expensive, so if you fancy a black, hip-length leather jacket with large patch pockets, expect to fork out just shy of £300. But this is the exception. The store offers a very specific look, male and female, but if check shirts or brights are your thing, then this is probably Cardiff’s most complete selection. The pricing is at the mid-market’s better end, meaning that for most of those shopping the store, although the ambience is street, the mindset is investment purchase.
The interior design runs the risk of overwhelming the merchandise at every turn, but slick visual merchandising ensures this doesn’t happen. At the front of the shop, the circular stage-like area, lit by pendant bulbs contained within what look like old-fashioned preserving jars, gives immediate impact with its mannequins posed at different heights and on differently sized wooden tables.
But it is the little visual merchandising details that make this store. Both the men’s and women’s jean shops, for instance, pull the now familiar trick of hanging the stock from its belt loops, but at a level where you can actually compare and contrast what’s on offer.
Dunkerton says the challenge he gave to the in-house design team was to “push the boundaries and to make every square inch interesting”. He adds the aim was to be “as far away from white box as possible”. Given these two strictures, Dunkerton should be feeling pretty happy with the efforts.
What marks this store out from many of its competitors is the sheer width of materials that have been deployed. Whether it’s the railway sleepers or a single aluminium light-aircraft wing – both of which have been turned into mid-shop display features – or the five different kinds of pendant and spotlights that are dotted around the store, there is little chance of boredom.
The ever-present danger of an overlarge interior is avoided by breaking up the space with floor-to-ceiling free-standing walls, covered in dark wood, bleached wood, brick or galvanised metal, depending on where you look. And then there are the outsize Superdry logos, suspended at the back of the shop and guiding shoppers towards the large bank of fitting rooms.
One of the more difficult things to do in a large footprint fashion store where much of the stock is tabled, is to keep things looking shipshape. It’s the old Benetton dilemma, where you almost felt guilty about disturbing the beautifully folded stacks of knitwear. No such fear in Cult, where everything may be appropriately displayed, but the staff actually look pleased that you are giving the stock the once over. Turn your back for a moment and things are back the way they were.
Smiling faces at the tills too, which were ticking over nicely on the day that Drapers visited. If there had to be a criticism, it might be that the sales floor’s labour-intensive nature means that attracting the attention of staff might occasionally be harder than in some other stores, but this is a minor quibble.
Would I buy?
Certainly. The reassuring thing about Cult is that it may target teenage and 20-something shoppers, but a fair percentage of those in the Cardiff store had celebrated their 40th birthday some years back. The prices are such that you are going to browse quite carefully, but with the great selection it would be quite hard to spend any time in the shop and not find something you might like.
It may have many competitors, but Cult outshines them all. That this store is performing as well as it is should come as no surprise to any visitors. Creating a gritty urban store environment within the confines of a bright, airy shopping centre is always a matter of walking a fine line. Cult appears to be getting things right.
Address Grand Arcade, St David’s, Cardiff
Size 14,000 sq ft
Number of UK Cult stores 33
Next major store to open Dublin, 13,000 sq ft
Chief executive and founder Julian Dunkerton
Store design features Multiple use of materials across all surfaces, including an aluminium aircraft wing and railway sleepers