The Northeast indie’s most southerly outpost to date looks to have successfully repeated its winning formula, despite its less-than-obvious neighbours
Picture this. You’re an independent retailer offering aspirational brands and you decide to open up in Sheffield’s Meadowhall. You look around and eventually opt for a space sandwiched between GAP and a Build-A-Bear Workshop – it might not be the most obvious choice, but at least you’d be different from your neighbours.
Van Mildert is the retailer in question and its shopfit and ambience shine out like a beacon in a fairly mid-market part of the mall. That said, there is plenty of competition, ranging from Ted Baker to All Saints by way of USC and Boss Orange. Shoppers in this centre do not want for choice, although on a hot day last week the air-conditioning in the mall’s public areas could have done with a little TLC.
The Middlesbrough-based retailer’s move is, however, a considered one. Area manager Jane Slattery says Van Mildert is looking to open more stores in out-of-town locations and Glasgow is next on the list. For the moment, though, this is the retailer’s most southerly branch, and Glasgow looks set to be its most northerly before the year is out.
Key looks and merchandise mix
This Van Mildert store offers only menswear, although if women feel disenfranchised, there are four iPads at the back of the shop (a new departure for the retailer) where they can select from the women’s offer that is available in some of the retailer’s other outlets.
The store targets casualwear shoppers and the number of brands on offer is too long to list without risking reader fatigue. Suffice it to say therefore that Stone Island, Y-3, Nudie, One True Saxon and True Religion are among the many familiar names.
This list should be sufficient to inform that this is a store where entry prices are at the mid-market’s top end, with a nod to the casual designer market. Translated, this means T-shirts are on sale for around £40, a shirt will be closer to £70 and from there you can head on up to a Belstaff leather jacket at £800.
It’s an offer that is likely to appeal to a broad demographic, principally owing to the fact that the ranges selected from almost all of the brands are mainstream rather than cutting edge. Nothing wrong with this, it’s a very commercial evaluation of what’s required.
On the day of visiting, the store, along with every other retailer in the centre, was on Sale, but there was a strong new-season showing from Stone Island.
A lot of care has been taken with the in-store VM in this Van Mildert and the use of props such as boys’ boarding school packing trunks and a table across which copies of GQ and Wallpaper are casually scattered creates a men’s club meets designer bloke feel.
Then there are the cabinets. These are found, in a small way, in the mid-shop and writ large around the perimeter where they are used to display ‘found’ objects, such as cream porcelain chamber pots, a bottle of Möet and a bust of somebody you feel you ought to know. It’s all very retro and at the back of the shop the public school theme continues with faded gold-lettered lists of old boys on wooden boards and the year in which they were victors in fencing, boxing and suchlike. All in all, this does succeed in taking you away from the world of Meadowhall.
The temptation to fill the space with mannequins has been resisted and the outcome is a pleasingly spacious feel in which the product is allowed a voice of its own. Nothing has been left to chance, except the uppermost cabinet at the entrance to the store, which, curiously, was empty. Retail remains detail.
There are 10 staff on the books at Van Mildert Meadowhall – a lot for a store with a 2,800 sq ft footprint – and a good number of them were there on the day of visiting. Most were young and female, a fact that says much for Slattery’s understanding of the male customers. Those inspecting the merchandise were certainly getting one-on-one attention.
Considerably more than its mid-market neighbours, the price levels in this store mean the stock has to be sold rather than selected, and the staff seem adept at putting shoppers at their ease. Housekeeping standards were very high too.
The store interior and stock represent a £750,000 investment and the design blueprint was created by Newcastle-based firm Collective. The outcome is a cross between a Wild West saloon bar, the common room of that minor public school and a museum of curiosities.
The whole thing is housed in a dark wood envelope that rises from the floor and runs around the entire perimeter.
This has appeal when set against most of the competitors in the centre, but when you look up something curious happens. Instead of dark wood walls meeting the ceiling, you see a black void that’s filled by lighting gantries and cable trays. This post-industrial touch seems at odds with the rest of the shop. Nonetheless, overall the store works well.
Would I buy?
I might, if I were feeling in need of a mild image update and if I’d had the OK from the bank manager before heading off on a spree. Most of what is on offer here is aimed at those who wish to mark themselves out as having a bit of money and discernment, rather than heading to the nearest mass-market purveyor of menswear. Whether you’d head to Meadowhall to spend this kind of money remains a moot point, however.
Van Mildert’s march south is likely to pay dividends as this store is differentiated from others in Meadowhall to ensure a steady stream of shoppers. It’s a shop where loyal visitors will drop in every time they visit the centre, so the ability to change the offer with regularity will be key to generating the appropriate customer base.
Address 21a Park Lane, Meadowhall, Sheffield
Size 2,800 sq ft
Standout feature The lights at the entrance
Van Mildert head office Middlesbrough
Total number of Van Mildert stores Eight
Next opening Glasgow (location to be confirmed)