Dutch fashion retailer The Sting has opened its first UK store in arguably London’s highest-profile location, but it fails to stand out from the crowd
Use the words Tower and Records in close proximity and for almost anybody of a certain age thoughts turn to Piccadilly Circus. This was the location of one of the UK’s best-known retail landmarks and for years it was where you went to get your groovy sounds. There was then a brief interlude during which Virgin Megastore, and latterly Zavvi, occupied the premises on this corner of London’s de facto centre and then silence.
Now, after about a year and a half, the site is trading once more, this time as a clothing retailer. Dutch fashion chain The Sting opened the doors on a remodelled and rebranded interior a little more than two weeks ago.
What it has taken possession of is one of the most high-profile retail locations in the country: 33,875 sq ft spread over three levels, giving an almost barn-like feel to the large floors. And you’d be hard pushed to miss this one. It wraps around the northwest corner of Piccadilly Circus, meaning anybody heading up Regent Street will encounter it.
It’s not hard to understand therefore why The Sting considered this such an important place in which to make its UK debut, and if a building can be said to enhance your chances of capturing passing shoppers, then this has to be one of the more useful addresses.
Key looks and merchandise mix
Anybody peering through the main Piccadilly Circus entrance will be hit by two things: darkness and casual clothing. The Sting is from the Netherlands and any visit to the nation of its origin will be sufficient to lead you to expect an informality of approach.
It also happens to be not far from other purveyors of the casual, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Gant and Levi’s, all of which have flagships in the area. The difference is that all of these are more expensive than The Sting. There is, of course, a reason for this.
The Sting may be, as it says in its window, a “Network Of Brands”, but the brands are likely to be more familiar to its Low Country devotees than to anyone else. Names such as April Evil, Royal Chicks and Kiss Therapy for women, and Zaatxchi Men, 55 Stage and Stangata for men are going to be virgin territory for UK shoppers.
Given its location, you’d be forgiven for imagining that the merchandise would be expensive, but with jeans around the £35 mark, T-shirts at under £30 and sundry tops starting at £10, this is not high-end branded pricing. What comes across is a strong sense that this is a series of private-label brands rather than anything widely available.
Even allowing for the many brands, there is a feeling that you are looking at the same thing repeatedly - plain T-shirts in a number of colours, polo shirts with varying branded treatments and easy-fit trousers. This may be a very large offer, but it doesn’t feel that way.
Everywhere you look in The Sting there is a mannequin looking back at you. Many are in groups and the majority are striking what might best be termed positive street attitudes (ie aggressively crossed arms, hands on hips and suchlike). There is also a sentinel-like feel to the mannequins seemingly on guard on the first floor mezzanine, which stare down on customers entering the shop.
Strong variation is evident in the manner in which the perimeter is used. Here, open-fronted wardrobes are used to good effect to tell branded stories, and the brand logo is above each. In the mid-shop, tiered plinths are used to display T-shirts and other laid merchandise with the emphasis veering more towards commodity than to lifestyle.
Making the most of a store on this scale, and with such a large number of brands, is never going to be easy, but The Sting makes the best of a tricky job.
The windows are strong too, with each providing a variation on the Union Jack as the backdrop.
Large, branded cash-and-wrap counters are a feature on each of the levels, indicating perhaps the expectation that there may be supermarket-style queues waiting to snap up a piece of action. On the mid-week day of visiting, however, staff were largely untroubled by this consideration and were concentrating instead on ensuring stock was tidy.
Although your correspondent spent a fair amount of time in the store, not one of them acknowledged that he might be a potential customer. At these price levels, there is a lot to be said for letting shoppers get on with it, but occasionally it might be good to be greeted.
Making a space this size work is difficult and a balance has to be struck between allowing people to see into the store’s deeper recesses and avoiding appearing to be too much of a wide-open prairie.
The Sting does manage this with a dark store in which the stock, rather than the interior, is lit. This means a lot of spot and accent lights, the latter being blue neon. It plays on the fact it’s a London store with a 3D, abstracted version of the underground logo which is used to signal that women’s collections are in the basement.
Worth noting, too, is the loud music and video walls. It’s all very young, but it is quite hard to understand who this is aimed at. The conclusion has to be that this is a store for tourists not locals, a fact confirmed by the many languages spoken by those browsing.
The store remains almost too big to be comfortable.
Would I buy?
Probably not, as although the offer is huge, if you’re going to buy branded merchandise you’ll probably opt for the better-known names along Oxford Street, and if you’re not, then you’ll head for nearby Uniqlo. The combination of store appeal and the me-too feel of the merchandise make a purchase unlikely.
The Sting arrives with a strongly Dutch casual feel to its offer. Yet, in spite of its attempts to localise the store, this looks and feels like an imported format. It may take time to bed down for UK consumers.
Location Northwest corner of Piccadilly Circus
Size 33,875 sq ft
Number of floors Three
Country of origin The Netherlands. It also trades in Germany and Belgium
Reason for shopping A very wide variety of casual branded merchandise
Overall ambience Like a nightclub, videos and darkness predominating
Outstanding feature The Union Jack-themed windows