The young fashion chain’s arrival is a much-needed boost for the town after last year’s riots and a lack of recent retail excitement.
Croydon has been the butt of jokes for years and its leading role in last summer’s riots did little to help its reputation. Yet this remains a major shopping centre on London’s southern fringes and one where, traditionally, retailers have taken big units and used them as test-beds for other locations.
A quick stroll along North End (the main shopping drag) and the Whitgift Centre revealed the fact little has changed in the past few months other than the disappearance of USC, leaving a large empty space in its wake.
Rounding a corner in the shopping centre, however, a surprise awaited. In place of what had been a somewhat lackluster branch of defunct formalwear retailer Suits You, there is now a triple-height glass frontage bearing a single word: Superdry.
Given the majority of retailers in central Croydon seemed to have shied away from revamping or improving their presence in the town of late, this looks like a real act of faith by one of the UK’s few real retail success stories currently. And where it might have been tempting to scale things back, Superdry has not spared the horses.
If you want to understand why Superdry continues to exact a hold on the popular imagination and how it looks set to weather what will be a stormy 2012 for many, look no further.
Key looks and merchandise mix
The thing about Superdry is it never seems to change … except it does. Mention the name and a collection that majors on checked shirts, denim, hoodies and jackets, many of which will bear a version of the brand’s name directly or accompanied by Japanese characters, springs to mind. There’s much to commend about an offer that does broadly what Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister and Jack Wills all do, but in a mass-market manner. This is not to say price is any less of an issue.
With jeans starting at about the £60 mark and heading upwards, this is as much about investment casual dressing as any of its rivals, yet somehow the numbers on the swing tags aren’t quite as intimidating as elsewhere.
Rather more to the point, almost every single item will work with everything else that’s on display, so multiple purchases are likely to be the norm rather than the exception. It’s interesting that a casualwear retailer has taken the place of a purveyor of formalwear in Croydon. Much the same happened last month when Superdry opened the doors of its Regent Street flagship on a site that formerly housed Austin Reed (although the latter has opened a stunning new store across the street). It is always easy to pick holes in a range but this is one of the high street’s more complete offers at the moment and the fact that it was being shopped on a quiet Thursday morning in January speaks volumes.
Consistent might be the best way to describe what Superdry does. Whether it is the windows or the rusted pieces of metal that look as if they have been taken from a 1950s factory in Kansas or Yokohama, you know exactly where you are when you visit one of these stores, with or without the pervasive outsize Superdry signs.
This is generally a good thing, although a sense of surprise might occasionally be lacking. The windows are a real positive, however. Given the enormous size of the plate-glass frontage that this store offers, the retailer has made the best possible use of it, filling it with mannequins on plinths, platforms or discrete niches.
In-store, the VM rings the changes – meaning that although this looks and feels like a Superdry shop throughout, the visual merchandising creates very clear departments for customers.
Unobtrusive and helpful are the two words one might use when talking of the service at a Superdry store, and the Croydon branch is no exception. Even on a relatively quiet January day, there were staff in all areas of the store ready to assist. In essence, this store is the kind of place you are going to browse and with longer dwell times any kind of hard sell would be inappropriate. The store offers the reassurance of advice without obvious push. Everything was immaculately tidy, but then there is plenty of time for this at the beginning of the year.
Every Superdry store is pretty much the same, but all of them are different. This is what the best retailers achieve, irrespective of location. And the old adage about taking down the name over the door applies to this store as much as any other of the retailer’s branches – this could only be a Superdry store.
Having said all of that, the manner in which the frontage leads you to expect three floors only to deliver two internally is clever and acts as a magnet for passing Whitgift shoppers. This is a beacon for Croydon and its mix of an industrial chic interior with retro fixtures and fittings makes it quite unlike anything else in the town.
Will it work in Croydon?
Yes, it most definitely will. Most of the stock in the store was at full price and yet this was not acting as any kind of deterrent, even when all around were offering reductions as if they were going out of fashion. Superdry’s happy mix of aspiration and a sense of effortless retro casual proves a winner in most locations and Croydon will be no exception. There is also just a chance that it may exert a ‘halo’ effect upon other shops in the centre, encouraging them to indulge in a spot of refurbishment during 2012.
Croydon gets a new store that may well make a difference to its fortunes as a shopping destination. Inward investment is badly needed if the appearance of many stores in the Whitgift is anything to go by and the arrival of Superdry indicates there is life in one of the UK’s older shopping centres yet.
Address 153–155 Whitgift Centre, Croydon
Number of floors Two
Outstanding feature The enormous storefront
Reason for visiting Probably the best store in the town currently
Ambience Industrial chic