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Shopwatch: Jigsaw

The opening of its store at The Centre MK in Milton Keynes represents a change of pattern for the contemporary retailer.

Shopping centres are not Jigsaw’s usual stomping ground. For years, the contemporary womenswear and (more recently) menswear retailer has snubbed malls in favour of high streets. However, on December 19 it opened a 1,600 sq ft store in The Centre MK, in the middle of the concrete grid that makes up Milton Keynes, while another will open in Sheffield’s Meadowhall in the not-too-distant future, with a date to be confirmed once the exchange is complete.

“The reality is we need to be in shopping malls,” says Jigsaw chief executive Peter Ruis. “There are places like Milton Keynes, which is Britain’s fastest-growing city, a vast hub. In Milton Keynes the shopping mall is the high street.”

Opening in a mall comes with its own set of challenges. Jigsaw’s standalone stores typically have their own personality, varying to some extent in size, look and feel, whereas a unit in a mall starts life essentially as a white box. But rather than try to fight this, retail design consultancy GPstudio decided instead to take advantage of it by creating a gallery feel in the Milton Keynes store. The shop is sparsely decorated, with a concrete floor and a black MDF grid-like shelving system running along the length of one of the white walls, designed to reflect the network of roads outside.

The store is narrow and long, so GPstudio was tasked with creating an engaging customer journey that carries them through the space. Mid-floor units create opportunities for visual merchandising throughout. “The black grid system also links the front and back, running down the length of the store,” adds Ruis. “We put the changing rooms and cash desk in the middle so people don’t just walk straight through.” Elements of Jigsaw’s Duke Street Emporium concept in central London can be seen, such as the in-store cafe at one end of the shop floor.

There are two entrances: the mall entrance and one at the opposite end leading out onto Silbury Arcade. The mall entrance has a window free of mannequins, allowing customers to see the whole length of the store from the outside. It is adjacent to a Jamie’s Italian restaurant and close to Kurt Geiger, House of Fraser and The White Company.

Although the shop is open, it is by no means finished. Ruis says another layer will be added to the pared-back design in late January or early February, including more textures and graphics. The latter may include images of past Jigsaw photo shoots - something that tells the story of its heritage. “We want to give the store more of that Jigsaw character,” he explains. “And it has to feel different every three months - the look, not just the product - otherwise in three years you will have to rip it all out.”

Stuart Naysmith, partner at GPstudio, adds: “We wanted a balance between a sort of rawness, but a soft environment. It is less of a shopfit concept; the brief was not to copy anything Jigsaw had done before, but to grow its existing concept further. Each store is slightly different from the next, reflecting the location it’s in. It gives the customer something unexpected.” To that end, Ruis says they will look at introducing ‘Jigsaw Milton Keynes’ branding to the store.

At the Silbury Arcade entrance sits the cafe, which is run by local gourmet coffee company Bogota. There is some seating inside and more outside, making it feel like a proper cafe. “There is no gourmet coffee in Milton Keynes, it’s all Costas,” says Ruis. “If people come in for coffee, we’re seeping into their consciousness even if they don’t buy there and then.” It also softens the environment, introducing interesting sounds and smells and a cheerful barista to what could have been quite a cold store.

The entire fit-out, including fees, cost about £300,000. Although Wi-Fi enabled, the store is deliberately low-tech. “I think what stores are about is the look and feel,” says Ruis. “If you’re a big retailer you probably need a few tricks to keep people interested or if you have a big space you might drive the character using technology, but we’re a smaller brand.”

Jigsaw’s full range of clothing and accessories for women, men and children is stocked, as well as its limited-edition lines (none of which are exclusive to the store). Womenswear prices range from £25 to £449, while menswear is between £25 and £295 and kidswear at £15 to £79. The store, which is at Unit 7 on the Silbury Arcade, is 2,532 sq ft in total, but only 1,600 sq ft is being used for retail. The upstairs space is used as a back office and stockroom - but could be turned into additional retail space if the need arises.

Ruis says Jigsaw has been trading well from its Centre MK John Lewis concession, which was another reason behind the decision to open a store there. He is confident the shop will not cannibalise the concession’s sales: “Where we have a store next to a concession partner it helps both. We will often have a bigger assortment in store, while the concession might attract a shopper passing through John Lewis.” He predicts sales at the John Lewis concession will go up 20% as a result of the new store.

There are no sales or footfall figures available yet, but Ruis says the store is “going really well” and is above budget. Dhiresh Bhardwa, managing consultant - location strategy for data and property consultancy CACI, says all signs point to it being a success: “Milton Keynes has a prosperous shopper profile that is well aligned to Jigsaw’s target customer.”

The next opening will be Meadowhall, followed by Aberdeen in March and one in Norwich after that. Another is planned for later in the year at a yet-to-be-disclosed location. GPstudio is also designing the Sheffield store, and Naysmith says it will take some lessons from Milton Keynes, but it will be more “boutiquey” to reflect the city’s smarter style of dressing. He emphasises: “We’re not just dropping a shopfit system into a space: this is about learning new things.”

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