Upmarket women’s footwear and fashion retailer LK Bennett has relocated its Bluewater shop to a larger site with a new premium concept
Until a few weeks ago, LK Bennett’s presence in Bluewater consisted of a 900 sq ft outlet with a rather garish – albeit wide – antique frontage which was supposed, one imagines, to bring to mind shops of yore. In fact it succeeded in looking both out of place and out of date and its replacement was long overdue.
The new store in the Kent shopping centre is, at 2,670 sq ft, not only three times larger than what it replaces, but has a contemporary feel that would be as much in keeping with London’s New Bond Street as in its actual location opposite a branch of Yo! Sushi and across the way from House of Fraser.
And what shoppers are faced with is a shiny stainless steel and plate glass shopfront where the emphasis is on looking into the windows. These contain open-fronted white wardrobes
and white plinths bearing mannequins. All of this places emphasis on the stock.
The white, cream and mirrored stainless steel of the exterior continues inside, with features such as pillars clad in padded cream leather and Murano-style glass chandeliers. The effect is upscale yet unobtrusive, a quiet exercise in luxury that panders to LK Ben-nett’s affluent yet unflashy clientele.
LK Bennett’s raison d’être has always been women’s footwear and accessories, with clothing something of an afterthought. This is confirmed in the Bluewater shop where, although there are cocktail dress-clad mannequins and one or two perimeter wardrobes carrying similar occasionwear styles, the emphasis is on footwear in the store’s front half.
A division has been made between the accessories and footwear area and the clothing ranges, with the latter contained within a semi-discrete shop-in-shop zone at the rear of the store.
The footwear display at the front of the shop affords the merchandise a degree of bland sophistication bordering on the fetishistic, with individual items being given a large amount of space
on a three-tier, mirror-sided mid-floor fixture.
There are no prices on display anywhere in this store, the implication being that price is not a major driver for LK Bennett shoppers. Velvet-cushioned banquettes and peach-coloured two-seater sofas add to the luxury feel.
Shoppers and staff seemed impressed by the new store’s appearance. Although LK Bennett has been tight-lipped about the store’s performance in its new incarnation, one member of staff confided that it had proved so successful that a decision had already been taken to apply the new format to all future stores. Cardiff’s St David’s 2 shopping centre, which opens in late October, is next in line to host the remodelled store design.
Above all, it is the use of expensively quiet materials – from cream terrazzo tiling to the high-gloss peach-coloured display fixtures that form a wall between clothing and footwear – that marks this store out as being better than a run-of-the-mill upper mid-market fashion retailer.
Staff were welcoming and well informed about the offer, and were quick to point out that what was on display was autumn stock. Pride in the new store was reflected in the enthusiasm with which they suggested possible combinations of clothing, footwear and accessories.
As LK Bennett is a mono-brand proposition, the issue of selecting between brands was a non-starter, leaving staff free to concentrate on upselling, which they were doing with subtlety.
Would I buy?
There can be little doubt that shoppers strolling though the doors of LK Bennett in Bluewater will have to be relatively affluent and unsusceptible to intimidation in the face of a luxury environment. If both these boxes are ticked, then the chances seem high that a purchase will follow because the ranges are slick, well-merchandised and are being offered in time-proof colours, for the next few months at least. This store seems well adjusted to the nuances of its market.
A sleek, contemporary store perfectly in tune with its market. This will do well.
Our expert: John Ryan
Group stores editor
With a background in fashion buying, including a 10-year stint at C&A in the UK and Germany, John Ryan writes about visual merchandising, store design and the business of launching new shops. As a journalist, he has covered the sector for more than a decade.
Size Old store: 900 sq ft; relocated store: 2,670 sq ft
Design Glass, mirrors, stainless steel and Murano chandeliers
Roll-out Plans are at an advanced stage to take this format to all future stores
Number of stores LK Bennett trades from 96 standalone stores, concessions and outlet stores
Head office Cavendish Square, London W1
What the shoppers think
“It’s much nicer than the old shop. It’s easier with brands like this to find them in a department store. I normally shop at Karen Millen, House of Fraser and Russell & Bromley. The prices are reasonable, but I was a bit surprised by the £500 price tag on a pair of boots.”
“I hardly ever come to Bluewater and, yes, I do shop at LK Bennett. I looked this branch up on the internet before I came here, and what they’ve done to the store is really lovely. But I haven’t just come to Bluewater for this shop – I came to have a look around.”
“This store looks brilliant. I shop for shoes only in LK Bennett. I actually thought they’d gone out of business – I was expecting to find the old store, not this one, even though it’s only a few doors along from the [old] one with the gold front.”