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Shopwatch: Diffusion

Diffusion’s new flagship updates a former bank in the heart of Wolverhampton with modern touches to showcase its premium brand mix.

Diffusion has become quite the institution since opening the doors of its first multi-brand store in Wolverhampton in 1989. More than 20 years later and with additional shops in Telford, Walsall, Westfield Derby and two in the Westfield Merry Hill shopping centre, the smart-meets-streetwear independent retailer has slowly grown into a major force on the Midlands fashion scene.

Add to that the running of nine G-Star franchises in prominent locations such as Carnaby Street and Covent Garden, and it is safe to say founders Carl Peddie and Gerald Bailey know a thing or two about fashion retail.

During 2012 and early 2013, the team undertook a swathe of store upgrades, with refits, refurbishments and relocations taking place across the board. This culminated in May this year with the opening of Diffusion’s ambitious Wolverhampton flagship and head office, at 9 Lichfield Street, following the closure of the previous HQ on Victoria.

The 4,500 sq ft store is housed in a grand Grade II-listed building, a spacious former bank that most recently housed one of the city’s busiest bars. It cost more than £500,000 to revamp.

“We wanted to make a big impact for our flagship store, so when the opportunity to move to such a historic building came along we decided to take it,” says Rav Rayet, head of marketing and online sales at Diffusion, who also spearheaded the store’s design and fit-out. And make an impact it has; the store has been shortlisted as a finalist in the Best Store Design category in the Drapers Independents Awards 2013.

“The store is modern, yet retains all the character you would expect in a listed building,” says Rayet. “It was a rigorous process finalising every small detail due to the building being listed, but we wanted to retain the history as much as we could, while also injecting something fresh and new at the same time.”

Diffusion enlisted the services of local firms, architect Design to Build and construction company Bespoke, to work alongside its in-house design team. Restored original features, industrial add-ons and carefully considered fixtures and fittings make for an interesting and somewhat quirky interior, mixing the charm of the building with modern updates and shiny design features.

The store showcases Diffusion’s edit of big-name brands and up-and-coming labels for men, women and kids, including the likes of Barbour, Billionaire Boys Club, Blood Brother, Diesel, J Brand and Scotch & Soda.

Considering the shopfloor is on a single ground-floor level, the team has done well to divide the space into clear yet free-flowing sections, using furniture and various rail heights to designate menswear, womenswear, streetwear, kidswear, denim and accessories.

The store is dominated by two huge chandeliers and the central Denim Lab, a large floor-to-ceiling area highlighted with sleek white tiles. “The idea behind this was to sell by fit rather than brand,” explains Rayet. “This gives smaller brands a chance because staff are able to push them as well as the bigger brands we stock.”

Other standout features include a footwear space where shoes appear to float against a chipboard wall, making the most of a more modern, low-ceilinged corner of the shop. A separate raised platform and seating area segments the womenswear department to provide a cosier, more premium vibe, while men’s and women’s changing rooms have different entrances for privacy. Diffusion’s successful transactional website also has an in-store presence, with a computer for shoppers to browse online for additional styles and sizes.

But has the upgrade and the move from its previous site to this prime location next to Wolverhampton Art Gallery resulted in an increase in shoppers? According to Rayet it has already boosted footfall: “The store has helped us attract a more mature customer, as well as helping to retain our core shopper.”

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