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Shopwatch: Brown Thomas, Dublin

Quality materials are used with little fuss at Brown Thomas’s Dublin flagship

With the Irish economy showing signs of recovery, now is the time for retailers to capitalise by investing in their stores. Luxury department store Brown Thomas is one step ahead, enjoying the benefits of early investment in its 110,000 sq ft Dublin flagship, which it has occupied on Grafton Street since 1848.

The €9m (£6.6m) revamp of the 24,000 sq ft ground floor has increased the space devoted to accessories by 50% to 15,500 sq ft, showcasing brands such as Givenchy, Tom Ford, Céline and Prada. Its beauty collection was expanded into the remaining 8,500 sq ft. The extra space was achieved by moving items including a Ladurée macaroon stand and work was completed in November 2014.

“It’s been very successful. I’m delighted with the results and customer feedback,” says managing director Stephen Sealy. “But at the end of the day it is the sales that pay the bills and justify the investment.” And they are doing just that, driving beauty into double-digit growth and “very strong growth” in accessories.

“No one does curves [in stores], but if you look it works very well”

Circles, spherical shapes and curves are a prominent and distinctive motif, unifying different areas. Sealy explains: “No one does curves [in stores], but if you look it works very well.” This is seen most clearly in the series of mobile pod-like display units made to be mixed and matched, allowing the visual merchandising teams to change the appearance and layout of the central accessories floor whenever they want.

According to Chris Dewar-Dixon, head of interiors at the project’s design consultants Four IV, the aim was to use “quality materials in an honest way to provide a non-pretentious, non-gimmicky but serene environment”. This has been achieved by using luxurious materials in muted tones in simple ways. Oversized blocks of marble and onyx are used as minimal display tables, for example, complemented by brass and oak. The marble floors were handpicked in Italy and pieced together so patterned sections line up and form subtle walkways.

“It’s about continual investment in the business”

The central accessories and beauty areas have been deliberately homogenised, creating a generic feel to unite the always changing offer through unfussy, Brown Thomas-branded display units. “We wanted to make sure what we presented to our customer was a distinctive Brown Thomas take, as opposed to a space where the brands just drop their latest shopfit in and it feels like you could be shopping anywhere in the world,” says Sealy. “When you walk into some stores the brands have been allowed to run free and they can jar against each other.”

Sealy isn’t stopping there. In the latter half of this year the second floor womenswear department, housing contemporary brands and denim, will get the treatment, and the concept will be rolled out into the beauty department of its Limerick outpost (the company also has stores in Cork and Galway).

“It is about continual investment in the business,” says Sealy bluntly. “That’s what retail is about to make sure your stores are absolutely leading the way and you’re at the top of your game.”

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