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Timberland, Westfield Stratford City

The outdoor brand impressed with its storefit in Westfield London, so how does its new opening in Westfield’s Stratford mega mall compare?

Everybody knows Timberland - it’s as US outdoors as, well, the America’s Cup or maybe a moose, and for most people it’s about boots. In the mid-1980s this was pretty much the basis of the Timberland range in this country. Time has long since moved on and now this is a brand that can offer you everything from footwear to checked shirts…all that is needed, in short, to brave the wilds of, say, Kilburn or Solihull when a spot of trekking to Sainsbury’s calls.

Now there’s even better news. Timberland has just opened up shop in Westfield’s Stratford City mega mall in a move that mirrors the action it took when Westfield London opened in late 2008. And it’s worth noting that change is on the cards.

Last week, Timberland was acquired by US-based VF Corporation in a £1.46bn deal, which represented a 40% premium to the brand’s share price the previous week. Clearly, this is a brand-cum-retailer with considerable cachet, so you’d expect the new store to be something of a showstopper.

The brand has fine form when it comes to associating with Westfield. When Timberland opened in Westfield London it was the talk of the store design world and the mall itself. In essence, the store’s glass and massive interlocking timber beams looked like an abstracted version of the brand’s logo. It proved good enough to win design prizes, including the grand prix at 2009’s Retail Week Interior Awards.

Timberland had a lot to live up to, therefore, and this kind of precedent was always going to have the curious wondering what the company would do next. Now we know.

Key looks and merchandise mix

Outdoorwear as it has evolved is a pretty simple proposition. Take a pair of trousers in a hard-wearing fabric, couple this with a shirt in moleskin, cord or checked cotton and then layer a padded gilet on top to complete the ensemble. If it turns chilly, consider a waxed jacket, a scarf and maybe a flat cap or woolly hat. To all of this add a pair of waterproofed boots, grab a multi-zipped rucksack and it’s job done.

This is more or less the modus operandi at Timberland, it would appear, and while there is nothing wrong with any of it (many brands and retailers follow a similar path), when you put everything in shades of green, plum, grey and mustard the impact can be a mite muted.

In fairness, boots and shoes, the brand’s core competence, are on offer in a wide range of styles, although the iconic yellowish lumberjack boot does predominate. There’s even a service where you can customise the design and colour of your shoes using one of a table of iPads near the back of the store.

Prices are high - £70, for instance, for a pair of faded red sueded trousers does veer towards being a considered rather than an impulse purchase - but not overpoweringly so. The organic and green cards are played hard in this store, with swing tickets informing shoppers about their purchase’s ethical dimension. This is a perfectly good offer, but it suffers from considerable competition in the centre and ticket prices might seem steep for the local demographic.

Score 6/10

Visual merchandising

In Westfield London, much play was made of the handmade nature of the products, with cobblers’ lasts and wooden benches placed around the store. All this has been banished in Stratford in favour of a slicker execution in which mannequins and large, backlit graphics are to the fore and the Timberland logo becomes part of the storefront just inside the glassline.
The windows are of particular note. Here, individual boots are placed on discrete plinths with water taps emerging from the base of each plinth. The toes of the boots are placed under the stream of running water, proving presumably that the boots are durable and waterproof. Faceless white mannequins, outdoor-clad, stand behind this and the legend applied to the glassline reads: “You still use an umbrella.”

A clever window, therefore, and one that seemed to be attracting its fair share of attention from passing shoppers, although it did appear that it was struggling to clinch the deal, as the store was shopper-light within.

Score 8/10

Service

Pleasant and personable is the executive summary of the service offered to shoppers. A middle-aged couple were being taken through the bespoke shoe process and the member of staff clearly knew the system inside out.

The shop was tidy, but this was opening day so you’d expect it to be shipshape. If you’d wanted to know about the rugged features of any of the items on show there seemed
little doubt that advice would have been forthcoming.

Score 8/10

Store appeal

There’s no nice way of saying this: Timberland in Westfield Stratford is a good shop, but not in the same league as what was done in Westfield London and it’s hard to see this one winning awards. It looks like part of an international roll-out put together at the New Hampshire headquarters (although in fact it wasn’t).

There was little feeling that the store had been made appropriate to the locality; if you visit a regional mall in the US you’ll see a number of stores that bear a passing resemblance to this one. Shopfits at this level, with TV monitors integrated into the mid-shop equipment don’t come cheap, but it was somewhat underwhelming.

Score 6/10

Would I buy?

In spite of everything, if I were heading for the great outdoors, Timberland is still a strong enough brand to persuade me that I should visit. This store does little to enhance the brand’s reputation, but neither does it detract from it - it’s rather a non-experience. Given a choice and if time permitted, Westfield London wins hands down.

Score 6/10
Verdict
Timberland is a fine brand and is likely to remain so, but the store at Westfield Stratford doesn’t add to its credentials. Sadly, as it is in one of the centre’s more peripheral locations, it may not attract as many shoppers as it should. And those who do pass might keep walking. l

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