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How House of Fraser is reinventing Chinese retail

House of Fraser Nanjing exterior

House of Fraser takes Drapers on a tour of its high-spec new store in Nanjing

Opulent, spacious and luxurious are three words more commonly associated with a high-end designer retail, but House of Fraser has delivered just that to the mid-market with its first foray into China. 

The 250,000 sq ft store opened at the end of December. It is spread over six floors and is located in Sanpower Plaza, one of the commercial complexes built by the retailer’s Chinese owner, Sanpower Group, in Xinjiekou, the central business district of Nanjing.

Playing on its British heritage, the exterior of the store is adorned with Union Jacks, black-and-gold House of Fraser embossed bins and lampposts topped with mini-gold crowns. A large clock has become a talking point among passers-by – throughout the day it lights up and mechanical Beefeaters march to music. A nightly LED “light show” on the skyscrapers around the store also draws a crowd.

Indeed, when Drapers arrives at the store, a queue of shoppers lines the street waiting to get in – a regular sight since opening in December explains Ka Keung Wong, a director at Sanpower: “It has been very encouraging so far and we are gearing up for our busiest shopping period, Chinese New Year, so the next few weeks are very important.”

Inside, marble flooring and large spacious walkways give a premium feel, as does the gilding and chandeliers leading to the central glass atriuminspired by the one at HoF’s Glasgow store, which Sanpower chairman Yafei Yuan liked when he visited.

The overall feel is light, bright and airy – a far cry from many of its low-ceilinged, claustrophobic competitors in the area. The atrium provides clear visibility of brands and facilities such as restaurants, making the store easy to navigate.

The ground floor is home to beauty and women’s accessories, while the first, second and third floors feature womenswear, including a multi-label area called Style at House of Fraser, which includes wholesale brands such as Roamers & Seekers, Paul & Joe, Iceberg and MM6.

HoF’s own brands (including Linea and Biba, which is called MyBiba in China) and concessions (including Ted Baker and Barbour) have their own dedicated branded areas.

The fourth floor has homeware and menswear, while the fifth is dedicated to kidswear. On every floor there are walkways connecting the store to the adjoining Hamleys toy shop, also owned by Sanpower.

Leisure plays a big part in the overall experience. There are five restaurants, a dedicated virtual reality chamber, complete with shooting and flying games, and a room of touch-sensitive lights. Other services include a children’s dentist, a yoga room (connected to an organic cafe) and a VIP room.

The retailer plans to open 30 similar stores across Greater China over the next two to three years. Each one will be tailored to suit its local market but the scale, mixture of product and leisure offering debuted in Nanjing will be their prototype – and a pioneering department store model in China.

Nanjing at a glance

The tier two city of Nanjing is the capital of China’s eastern Jiangsu province, and is located about 190 miles west along the Yangtze River from Shanghai. It has a population of 8.2 million.

Nanjing’s GDP was ranked 12th in 2013 in China and the average urban resident’s disposable income was RMB36,200 (£4,300). The city is an industrial technology research and development hub, and is known for its IT, energy-saving, environmental-protection, energy and intelligent equipment manufacturing industries.

It has a humid, sub-tropical climate.

How House of Fraser fits into the Sanpower family

Sanpower Group has interests in banking, real estate, retail, technology and healthcare.Its total assets and annual gross sales exceed RMB100bn (£12bn). In addition to owning House of Fraser and Hamleys, Sanpower’s retail assets include US tech retailer Brookstone, Chinese mass-market department store Cenbest, and a significant stake in Chinese state-owned luxury department store Wangfujing.

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