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Fat Face, Brighton

A former post office is the venue for the lifestyle retailer’s distinctive new store, which has a laid-back feel in keeping with Brighton’s surfer chic

There is a tendency to get a little muddled when thinking of Fat Face. Wander into certain branches of the lifestyle retailer and then follow this by a stroll around rival Quiksilver and you might wonder which is which. Both seem to be seeking to serve the VW campervan demographic - laid-back types who like music, relaxing and who might, if they were on the other side of the Atlantic, be referred to as surf dudes, or something of the kind.

This similarity is dispelled in Brighton if only by the disparity in size between the two retailers’ outlets. Quiksilver’s is just beyond the area known as The Lanes and is a small, well-established shop situated among a gaggle of indies and upscale chains. More or less at the end of the same road sits Fat Face’s much bigger store, which opened two weeks ago.

It also happens to be in a rather more dramatic building - a former Post Office with a whitewashed exterior and a dramatic high-ceilinged interior. Onto this canvas, Fat Face has applied a distinctive store design and visual merchandising of the kind that captures the eye.

And it’s easy to understand why Fat Face has taken such a relatively large punt on Brighton. The town’s easy-going, beach-based lifestyle is writ large in this store and the fresh-faced staff seem perfectly in tune with brand Brighton.

Key looks and merchandise mix

Fat Face is a casual brand and in a town like Brighton, you’d expect beachwear to feature large. It does, and the offer is heavily weighted towards female shoppers, with about 60% of the available space given over to womenswear, 30% to men and the remainder to accessories.

There is, however, much that is similar between the menswear and womenswear in terms of colour, with brights and washed fabrics predominating. Lead-in prices for men and women start at about £25 for a striped or printed T-shirt, rising to £40 for a men’s short-sleeved polo shirt with a rugby-style placket fastening at the neck. For trousers and jeans, prices begin at a little over £40 and top out at £55 for the small denim range that is on offer.

On the accessories front, own-brand footwear ranges from £35 to £50 for anything from heavy duty flip-flops and canvas pumps to Hush Puppies-inspired desert boots.

All of which means the Fat Face proposition is relatively inexpensive and might even be cheaper than the store environment would lead you to suppose. It’s also a carefully constructed offer, where mix and match across the product categories can be done with little effort, even if the styling does lack individuality.

Score 6/10

Visual merchandising

For whatever reason, the VW camper is central to the look and feel of a Fat Face store and in this branch, small models of the iconic vehicles are on view everywhere. Perhaps this is to foster the notion that you can break out the surfboard from your van while wearing Fat Face gear, but whatever the explanation, the models have all been hand-painted and are positioned in small groups around the perimeter.

Much of the stock is folded and care has been taken to make this attractive through a combination of white mannequins clad in beachwear and white tiered plinths that rise from the floor to the perimeter wall, allowing merchandise to be displayed at different levels.

The use of a shipping container that has been cut in parts and painted red and stationed in the mid-shop ensures that not all of the attention is focused on the perimeter. Worth noting too is the giant rotating advertising hoarding that carries three alternating Fat Face graphics and occupies the lion’s share of the wall towards the front of the shop. This may not serve any function other than to set the mood, but it is effective in the way in which it achieves this.

Score 8/10

Service

On the day of visiting, the store had been open just one weekend and it was early on a Monday morning. It is to the credit of the staff that the store not only looked immaculate, but that sizes and colours were in the right place and a smile greeted almost every shopper who walked through the door.

Stock knowledge was also impressive, with the price of almost every garment on the tip of the member of staff’s tongue. This is never an easy thing to do, particularly when everything is new, but it all seemed to work with ease. For those who did make it to the cash desk, things were efficient and rapid.

Score 8/10

Store appeal

The store’s curved Georgian frontage gives it an immediate appeal. Fat Face has succeeded in selecting a building with obvious drama, but from the outside there is little clue about the shape that has been created within.

The interior divides into three parts, with the red painted shipping crate forming an additional jeans shop space and dividing the two other spaces that are used for separate departments.

The walls are white and high, and grey scaffolding is used to allow mannequins and shelves to be positioned at different elevations, adding variety to the view. Other than the dark wooden floors, there is, in fact, nothing uniform about any part of this interior, which is definitely part of its charm.

And so to the fitting rooms, which have a waiting area with seats and cushions that look like Scrabble tiles, as well as cubicles papered with scenes from Brighton seafront.

Other points of note are an overhead skylight, up high at the front of the shop, and a red cash desk with a mesh front, both of which demand inspection. There is a casual quality to this storefit that belies the obvious attention to detail.

Score 8/10

Would I buy?

If you were buying on the basis of a store interior, the answer would be a resounding yes. The mild problem is that there is also the stock to consider and while it is perfectly respectable, you can find very similar merchandise anywhere from Jack Wills to Hollister. In fairness, prices are on the low side for an operator within this fashion sub-sector, which might swing the balance in its favour.

Score 7/10

Verdict 37/50

Fat Face has created a fine store with a distinctive interior. The retail environment feels appropriate to the town and is a noteworthy addition to its retail provision. However, perhaps greater width and a more idiosyncratic approach to ranging might be in order, and it would also be good if the kidswear ranges were stocked.

Essentials

Address 17-18 Dukes Lane, Brighton

Building’s previous use A large post office

Design In-house

Outstanding design features Red shipping container and VW campervan models

Number of Fat Face stores 171 in the UK

Owned by Since May 2007, Fat Face has been owned by private equity house Bridgepoint

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