Thursday, 26 January 2012

Retail's capacity to create a new destination brand in an unexpected place

A traditional Auben and Wills store on the left and a pared down version on the right, in Redchurch Street, Tower Hamlets, East London, UK

I'm a real afficiando of retail developments in as much as I like shops, high streets and malls as destinations to spend time in and enjoy urban life. Most of the retail places that I visit or work on as a placebrander and destination developer are planned in a great deal of detail and little is left to chance in the mix of their offer and the experience you get there.

Running counter to this, in London's East End, in Redchurch Street in the poor borough of Tower Hamlets, a new retail destination is emerging in a very unplanned, incremental and very exciting way that calls in to question brand planning.

A number of shops have opened in the recent past that would not seem out of place in the upmarket streets of the city's West-end area, which I never imagined would venture in to the much more edgy and gritty environment of inner East London. Stores like Auben and Wills, the shoe designer Tracy Neuls, APC, Margaret Howells and Sunspel are all now trading here and it appears they have a market and an audience, albeit not all of them living in the neighbourhood. My sense is that these are people who have been looking for a more edgy shopping experience, for a cooler shopping experience and one a world away from the dependability of the city centre offer.

In keeping with this characteristic of urban edginess Ben Qinn in the Guardian newspaper recently described the appearance of these shops as "tattered chic" due to the stripped down nature of their trading spaces and the battered appearance of the buildings they are housed in. In a way that has surprised London retail agents a new place brand and destination has sprung up on the city's retail map without anyone undertaking the usual brand planning work of the kind that keeps the wolf from my door. Not that I am complaining. I love to see places like this emerge and change the landscape and defy retail and planning conventions. This is definitely an area whose development will be well worth watching in the future. 

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