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TK Maxx Woman, Putney, London

Off-price retailer TK Maxx has launched its new women-only concept in southwest London, mixing designer bargains with cheap-as-chips brands

There’s been a branch of TK Maxx in Putney, southwest London, since October 2009 on the site of a former Woolworths. As such, it was nothing terribly remarkable, although it was better than the Woolies it replaced. But following a 10-day makeover, it reopened in January as the world’s first TK Maxx Woman.

Even the most cursory glance will mark this store out as different from other branches of TK Maxx. Although this was a Woolworths store first and a run-of-the-mill TK Maxx afterwards, in its new incarnation this is a store that aims at being a boutique. And perhaps the most obvious question is why has this US discount giant opened such a format?

The answer may be that most TK Maxx shoppers are female and therefore trialling a format aimed solely at them might encourage higher spending if the store is laid out in a manner that takes account of their specific needs.

And there can be little doubt that in spite of the fact that in many ways the store follows traditional TK Maxx thinking, it’s not for men and on the day of visiting, your correspondent was his gender’s lone representative in store.

Interestingly, the store’s management confides that while this may be a worldwide pilot store, others are set to follow and Swiss Cottage, in north London, already has its card marked as a destination for the next TK Maxx Woman. It’s also perhaps worth noting that this may be the British offshoot of a US company, but the trial is taking place in Blighty and it is understood that the American parent is considering opening something similar in New York later this year.

Key looks and merchandise mix

If you haven’t done it yourself, the chances are good that you will know somebody who claims to have found unbelievable designer off-casts while visiting a branch of TK Maxx, and TK Maxx woman is no exception to this rule. Walk into this store and one of the first things you are likely to see is the Gold Label rail. Or at least that’s what the railcard tells you you’re looking at. This is home to the store’s most expensive merchandise, so if you’ve got £499 to spare on a sequined dress from

Blumarine, for which the RRP is £3,730, then this is the place for you. The fact that it may not be on sale elsewhere at the RRP may be immaterial. The top-end, by high street standards, price of this garment is indicative of what’s on sale in this shop if designer merchandise is your shtick.

And in fact there are price points to suit almost every pocket. Putney may be a well-heeled place by London standards, but this doesn’t mean that its denizens are averse to a bargain. There is therefore plenty to distract, from pieces for just a few pounds up to bags by Pucci and Chloé - all at prices that represent a significant discount on the original prices.

When it comes to key looks, this is hard to define, as the nature of the TK Maxx offer is that there is a little bit of almost everything and not a great deal of anything. However, a lot of the stock has been skewed towards the more discerning shopper for whom brand and styling are matters of importance.

Score 7/10

Visual merchandising

Not bad would be the best you could say about the visual merchandising in this store. But there again, consideration has to be given to the offer. Making rails full of assorted stock look good is a constant challenge for the staff at TK Maxx. That said, there are one or two things that might perhaps be considered superfluous. Topping a rail filled with garments for the upper body with a lower-case sign stating “tops” might be considered a statement of the obvious. The same could be said for any of the commodity offers on the many rails with side-hanging merchandise that fill the mid-shop.

Where the store does score is in some of its attempts at humour, where there is a real lightness of touch. So while golden banners with words asking you to “share the bargain love” across the perimeter wall, “frockin prices” over a rail of dresses and “try it on, fall in love” above the entrance to the fitting rooms may not be to everyone’s taste, it is eye-catching. And you can’t help but smile at the words above the door that read “kiss kiss…see you soon”.

There is still a mild problem with finding your way to what you want in this store, owing to the fact that it still looks, well, like an organised mess, in spite of the many signs. But perhaps that’s the point.

Score 6/10

Service

The staff seem genuinely pleased to be part of the store and this translates well in the level of service provided. The fact that this is the first of its kind anywhere in the sprawling international TJ Maxx empire is seen as a real positive by the staff and that pride comes across. And despite the supermarket-style checkout, a feature of this end of the market, there is still a strong sense that all customers are valued.

Score 8/10

Store appeal

Stand outside this shop and TK Maxx’s familiar red frontage, albeit with TK Maxx Woman detailed in white above the windows, is a familiar call to action for Putney shoppers. Inside the store, it is obvious that this store is aimed at the female shopper, whether it’s the red studded banquette surrounding a pillar close to the entrance, or the dramatic “male crèche” at the back of the shop, complete with lust-making hot red Apple computer screens with the word “Love” in white appearing sporadically on them.

More familiar TK Maxx signposts are in the black circular holes cut in the suspended white ceiling and the curved counter at the checkout, although these do look better than in most branches.

Score 7/10

Would I buy?

Biting the TK Maxx bullet involves a leap of faith for those more used to neatly merchandised stores where everything is where you expect it to be and in all the sizes that you might want. This is a different form of shopping and the attempt at making it appeal to women seems to be working. There is also much to be said for a shop that has few pretensions, where there are what appear to be genuine bargains and where every time you visit there will be something different. Still a bit of a mess though.

Score 6/10

Verdict 34/50

This spin-off from the core TK Maxx chain has a freshness about it that will work for the retailer’s female fans. It stands more than a passing chance of attracting a few additional customers as well.

Essentials

Address 62 Putney High Street, London SW15

Store’s previous life A branch of Woolworths

Time taken to convert from TK Maxx to TK Maxx Woman 10 days

Standout features Female joke graphics and curved checkout

Future of format Further trial stores are planned, including in Swiss Cottage in north London and at Westfield London

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