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Shopwatch: Pro-Direct

Specialist football etailer Pro-Direct is hoping its first physical presence, just off Carnaby Street, will prove to be a game changer.

A store that sells football boots but avoids, in large measure, endless displays of near identical footwear. An interior where you can play football without actually coming into close proximity with any kind of spherical object and product displays that may be digital, printed or physical.

As a blueprint for a new store, this might sound like the kind of thing that would be destined to sit on the drawing board of a junior designer in a
creative consultancy. It is, however, the new Pro-Direct store.

When approaching the store, which opened on August 2 at Fouberts Place, just off Carnaby Street, the first thing any visitor is likely to remark upon is the plain black frontage. This means there is almost no distraction from the main event: looking through the windows directly into the shop and trying to make sense of a vast array of screens and lights. Indeed, the only concession made to the shop windows’ plain surround is a white cube above the main door on which the words Pro-Direct are inscribed.

Reminiscent of footwear retailer United Nude’s shopfits (previously covered in Shopwatch, January 9, 2010), this is a dark store, inasmuch as the whole of the interior is black, allowing an uninterrupted focus on the screens and stock, rather than the shop equipment.

In this two-floor, 1,500 sq ft space it is almost hard to know where to look. The rear perimeter wall of the ground floor is made up of a large screen across which promotional messages for football boots flicker.

The right-hand wall offers a mix of football boots displayed in illuminated boot-size frames, some smaller screens and static graphics. The whole wall design is completely flexible and, according to Jonny Lennon, chief technology officer, this allows rapid remerchandising as new boot styles come onto the market.

The other feature worthy of note about all the ground floor walls is that the merchandise they promote is, for the most part, on very limited release, meaning you won’t find everything in here everywhere else. Lennon says while deals have been done with the big three - Adidas, Nike and Puma - this does not mean other brands are unavailable. Names such as Under Armour, Morelia and Pantofola d’Oro are all given space at various points around the shop.

The ground floor mid-shop is also a busy place. Here, freestanding kiosks with illuminated sides allow shoppers to browse the online offer, order and choose from a number of delivery options. The fear that remains about this kind of technology is always that the screens will freeze, be extremely slow or just won’t work at all. This is not the case when Drapers visits Pro-Direct, where everything that is touched seems to respond almost instantly.

And so to the staircase that leads to the basement. This is an experience in its own right and as Lennon comments: “In Apple they have the glass staircase. We have the ‘boot monolith’.”

This is a backlit wall formed of blue lighting panels with floor-to-ceiling pigeonholes created from glass shelves, each containing a pair of boots. These are arranged to show different aspects of the boots - soles, side view, front, and so on. The whole structure is then sealed behind a pane of glass. The effect is startling and takes the eye across the ground floor towards the staircase, ensuring shoppers do not miss the basement, which is always a danger in two-floor stores.

Once downstairs, there are yet more screens, including two that show “full-size digital mannequins”. In practice, this means a screen with a moving life-size figure staring menacingly back at the onlooker wearing football boots and kit. Beyond this, the rear wall affords the shopper the chance to play a virtual game of football with a handheld console. And perhaps with a sense of relief, this floor also has a mid-floor banquette where shoppers can sit and try on a pair of boots.

Overall, there is a sense of Blade Runner meets one of the new iPad-rich Argos stores via United Nude about this interior, and this sort of fitout does not come cheap.

Although Pro-Direct declines to comment on the cost of creating this store, Lennon does make the point that “nothing in here is cheap”. Point taken. Prices range from £42 for a pair of Adidas Predito Instinct FGs to £230 for a pair of Nike Mercurial Superflys. The first boots Drapers notices when it visits, almost at random on the ground floor, are a pair of Nike Hypervenom Phantom FGs priced at £160, taking this way out of the casual purchase league.

Lennon says the plan is to open more stores in major cities, for which read Berlin, Paris, New York and suchlike. This is a similar strategy to brands such as cycling specialist Rapha, where the products on offer are top-end and customers are likely to be found predominantly in large metropolitan locations.

The question has to be, will it work? As a piece of marketing for the online operation this is very good indeed and anybody unfamiliar with Pro-Direct will register its existence in no uncertain manner when passing this shop. Its Fouberts Place location is actually a little off-pitch from the main Carnaby Street drag, but as this is likely to be a destination store, it shouldn’t prove too much of a problem.

“Back of the net” therefore for the well-heeled youthful demographic that this store targets.


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