Bankers and stockbrokers get to enjoy a more upmarket incarnation of the off-price retailer, with labels such as Chloé and Versace at bargain prices.
There are those who regard a trip to TK Maxx as something akin to a hunt - an expedition to track down designer labels and get them at a fraction of the price you might expect to pay elsewhere. There are however some who view a visit to the retailer as not unlike heading off to one of the inner rings of Dante’s Inferno - quite literally hell on earth.
Whatever your view, if you haven’t been to a TK Maxx of late, a quick shimmy down to the new branch on Gracechurch Street in the City of London might do much to change your opinion of the retailer. This is the latest in a series of trials by TK Maxx, with other experiments in places as far afield as the MetroCentre in Gateshead and Warsaw in Poland.
But the point about this one is that it’s for time-serving City folk who tend to start early and - or so they claim - have less free time than the rest of us. They also have rather more disposable income than the average person in, say, Gateshead. All of which means that this branch is open for business at 7.30am and carries ranges that, at the moment at least, you wouldn’t anticipate on a visit to your local TK Maxx. This is an upscale flagship but it remains true to the retailer’s principles, so the stock changes constantly and heavy discounts against standard pricing are, well, standard.
Merchandise and key looks
You know what you’re in for when you walk into a TK Maxx: brands, brands and yet more brands. You’ll know some of them, but by no means all, and there may even be a mild suspicion that some of what’s on view is a collection of labels that have rather more to do with a manufacturer struggling to be a brand than the fully fledged, genuine article.
If you want to know the truth about brands in the Gracechurch Street TK Maxx, then it’s likely to be pants. Men’s boxer briefs more exactly - all stacked on a gondola at the back of the menswear department in the basement. Here the list of high-profile brands seems almost endless, with the inevitable Calvin Kleins being in good company with DKNY, Ted Baker, D&G, Pringle and Ben Sherman, among others. Prices range from £5.99 for a twin pack of Jeff Banks smalls, to £10.99 for more or less the same thing if you want to wear D&G.
The reason for mentioning this is that it sets the tone for the rest of the store in terms of the upscale nature of the offer. This is confirmed when you head upstairs to look at womenswear. The most obvious examples are just inside the front door where the ‘Gold Label’ merchandise is situated. So if you want a bag by Chloé, it can be yours for 1p less than £500. Alternatively, you might opt for a Versace dress or another D&G number if the mood takes. This store is about labels you do know and would want to buy. It’s impressive.
When you think about it, making much of rails of assorted and generally unrelated merchandise is a tall order for anybody, even a talented visual merchandiser. Yet everything is well organised and this doesn’t feel like a jumble sale, which has certainly been the case with TK Maxx in the past.
Instead, the women’s beauty and accessories area, for instance, is well-ordered and making a selection is straightforward. The other point is that this is a store that affords you room to move.
The retailer has avoided the obvious temptation to cram the floor with merchandise and perhaps the generally higher ticket prices than in some other branches may have made this rather more straightforward than would otherwise be the case.
Couple all of this with a good-looking graphics package and this is that rare beast, a value-based store that is a pleasure to walk around.
The whole premise of TK Maxx is that when you visit you get stuck in - getting on with the business of grabbing yourself a bargain. As such, service would seem to play second fiddle to the ability to select and find where things are with ease. Actually, if you do need help in this store, the staff are on hand, smiling and ready to point you in the direction of that Chloé bag.
It won’t come as a massive surprise that the previous tenant of this large space was a bank. Yet all traces of the financial past have been wiped clean and this is a large, airy, two-floor space, accessed by a staircase from a smaller area at the front of the store where the accessories and beauty range is housed.
And care has been taken to soften the feeling of being in a value environment, ranging from the club-style leather armchairs dotted around both floors, to the faux-wooden floors and wood-veneer cladding around the perimeter walls. Signage is clear and easy to follow, taking the form of transparent plates bolted to the walls bearing white lower case lettering.
It’s a warm and friendly interior and even the stone cladding that adorns the wall next to the staircase leading to the basement feels as if it has been carefully thought about.
This may be a modular shopfit that is on trial, but it is welcoming and best in class.
Would I buy?
Yes, certainly, and I never really felt that about TK Maxx prior to writing this review. There are sufficient brands, in sufficient depth and contained within an appealing environment, to ensure potential customers give this one the benefit of the doubt and indulge in a little browsing. If they do, it seems pretty likely they will see something they want.
TK Maxx has opened a shop that represents a move away from what most people might expect when they walk into one of its stores. Equally impressive is how the store design has been created in modular fashion. Expect to see something like this in a town near you soon.
Address Gracechurch Street, London EC3
Most striking feature The stone wall facing the staircase
Most striking piece of merchandise A Chloé handbag
Reason for visiting A strong range of desirable labels
Other new-look TK Maxx stores Gateshead MetroCentre and Warsaw in Poland