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Diversion at Sunday Best, Rawtenstall

A new young fashion floor has almost doubled the selling area at this Lancashire indie, which looks to Manchester for its retail competition

For those hailing from beyond Greater Manchester, chances are that the name Rawtenstall may not ring a bell. Nestled at the foot of the Pennines, this is a commuter town for those who work in the Mancunian smoke and is therefore relatively well-to-do.

It’s also home to a womenswear independent offering the kind of collections that wouldn’t look out of place in Manchester’s ritziest stores. Sunday Best has been around for 38 years and is in fact as much a fixture of Rawtenstall as any part of this very respectable, albeit mist-shrouded, stone-built town.

In August however, work was completed on a project to turn the first floor into a selling area and it is now home to a series of ranges, all housed within a space labelled Diversion. The young fashion offer includes brands such as Desigual, Superdry, Religion and Jovonna. It’s also an almost total contrast with the marginally larger ground floor, which targets a more mature and well-heeled customer.

Sunday Best owner Jan Shutt says she regards Harvey Nichols and Selfridges in Manchester as direct competitors and certainly a quick scout around Rawtenstall reveals that this store is very much on its own in terms of the shoppers aimed at.

It would be tempting to review the whole of the store as the quality is high throughout, but given the fresh-run nature of the first floor and the fact that its unveiling has come close to doubling the shop’s selling area, it makes sense to cover this on its own.

Key looks and merchandise

The best independent retailers act as collection editors and first impressions are that Shutt and her team are very good at this. In Diversion, whether it’s a relatively cost-effective entry-price top from Desigual at £25 or a more serious ‘investment’ Almost Famous top at £95, the message is width of offer. There is a range of Ichi T-shirts at £12 in coral, white or black, but the bulk of the tops are around the £50 mark. Dresses start at £29.50 and run up to £125, while if you really fancy splashing the moolah a jewel button coat from Desigual is £225.

Colours focus on blacks, greys and a few brights, with purples, fuchsias and royal blues predominating. And with a good range of boots too, this is a broad offer with something for the majority of affluent young shoppers.

Score 8/10

Visual merchandising

Diversion starts with a very distinct advantage - the dramatic setting in which the visual merchandising can take place. However, this does mean that the VM has to live up to the promise of its surroundings: a tall order.

The solution has been to make various elements appear as if they’ve been left around almost by chance, whether it’s the crystal jewellery strung over an antique dressing table, or the belts and boots draped over an open-fronted cupboard attached to the wall. Then there’s the lead-lined vintage packing case, used as a prop to display scarves and the windowsills that have assorted accessories seemingly carelessly left on them - to good effect. Almost all of the clothing is side hung, increasing volume in the space.

Score 7/10

Service

Independent retailing should be about service, as it is one of the major ways in which retailers of this kind can differentiate themselves from the high street. It’s half-term week when Drapers visits, and quite a few mothers accompanied by their offspring are in the store. In spite of the fact that this store stocks nothing for kids, the children are afforded the same kind of attention given to paying customers and everyone looks happy.

And standing by the front door, it’s easy to see that many of those beating a path to Sunday Best are regulars. Upstairs, on the Diversion floor, Shutt has recruited two younger members of staff, who seem well-versed in the fine line that has to be drawn between helping and being over-attentive.

Many shoppers on the ground floor will spend between two and three hours before making a purchase, according to Shutt, so service is an integral part of the experience. Given that the prices in Diversion do not fall into the pocket-money category, it’s no surprise that this ethos also extends to the first floor.

Score 8/10

Store appeal

Entering the first floor is like walking into a different shop. The open and bright nature of the ground floor, with its bespoke cast-iron mid-shop fixtures and glass jewellery cases is replaced by something altogether darker.

Diversion’s perimeter is composed of reinforced steel joists (RSJs), the kind of thing more commonly found in a builder’s yard. These have been welded together to form a structure from which garment displays and rails can be hung, giving an effect that is a cross perhaps between The Nightmare Before Christmas and a set from The Addams Family.

Shutt has added to the effect by having a series of ‘found’ pieces placed around the two rooms that compose this level. These include a factory shift-end bell, grey-shaded pendant lights from a Glaswegian gym and a small row of old-fashioned cinema seats. And then there is a rococo mirror. To match with the new department, Shutt had its frame sprayed grey and it now looks as if it has come straight from a haunted mansion.

It’s worth noting the windows too, which let in a huge amount of natural daylight in both rooms. They are sash windows, and in one room are original, but in the other are fake Victorian, though it’s hard to tell which is which.

Finally, it would be difficult not to notice the trompe l’oeil walls, which give the effect of fading stone with peeling paper. All fake, but fake of the highest order. Diversion is about appearance rather than reality and this is an exercise in stage setting.

Score 9/10

Would I buy?

Certainly. Providing the funds were in place, what reason would there be for not doing so? The sheer width of the offer and styles would almost certainly demand a purchase and the shopfit is perfectly in tune with the stock.

This store is about detail and the new floor picks this theme up and runs with it. There are many different reasons for people to make a purchase, but this shop has most of them covered.

Score 8/10

Verdict

The new floor is a strong addition to Sunday Best. Rather than extending its appeal to existing customers, Diversion targets a new shopper, adding to the reasons for visiting this Pennine fashion outpost.

40/50

Essentials

Address Bank Street, Rawtenstall, Lancashire
Owner Jan Shutt
Store opened Sunday Best has been trading for 38 years. Diversion occupies the first floor and has been open since August
Installation time One month
Principal design features Reinforced steel joist (RSJ) perimeter stock system, trompe l’oeil walls

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