The bricks and mortar retail market in New Zealand has been lagging behind its online counterparts for a while, says Barkers general manager Glenn Cracknell.
He says retailers can get ahead by surprising customers and giving them something online stores can’t offer. A case in point is Barkers’ new flagship store in Auckland City.
The store capitalises on growing coffee-drinking and man-grooming trends by combining the Burrs & Grind espresso bar at the entrance, the Barkers menswear shop and a Groom Room barbershop on the mezzanine level.
Barkers teamed up with renowned city brew Eighthirty coffee for the espresso bar, and Matt Swan of Mensworks grooming lounge for the Groom Room, to add these two new departments to the store.
Cracknell says it’s this unique combination of coffee, clothes and grooming that draws curious punters into the store.
“Since we took over the business four years ago it’s been about creating a new experience,” he says.
“You come in and there are different touch points. It’s not just your standard [trip] - come in, look at the clothing, walk out. You have to discover the different parts of the store and you have something a bit richer than a normal shopping experience.”
The bold new store has arrived at a time when many retailers in New Zealand are struggling to lure shoppers away from online stores.
Figures from BNZ’s Online Retail Sale Index show that in the three months ending September 2013, online retail spending in New Zealand was up 15 percent, where as in-store retail spending was only up 3 percent.
Since the shop’s launch in September, Cracknell says the High Street store is exceeding the company’s performance threefold. It is attracting many new customers, including women.
“We’re predominantly male-orientated in the smaller shops, but here, we’re getting a lot of females through. [The new store] is less intimidating and a little bit more welcoming,” he says.
He says the High St store’s average customer spends twice as much as that of other city stores, and three times more than the average customer at provincial stores.
The store’s head-to-toe grooming options appeal to a rising number of men whom Cracknell says are meticulous about their appearance.
“Guys are so into [grooming] now it’s unbelievable. I think it’s one of the biggest growing markets to be in, men’s grooming.”
Barkers founder Raymond Barker launched his first store on High St in 1972. The new store at 1 High St replaces a previous shop at 4 High St. It is a sizable successor, sprawling over 430 square metres in the heritage-listed South British Insurance building.
Cracknell says the large footprint and high staffing levels means the flagship store can act as a “grooming ground” for new managers and key staff.
The ample space also allows room for a separate made-to-measure suit department which runs directly out of the store. It is tucked away towards the back for privacy.
It also lets Barker’s collaborations be on display, with New Zealand brands such as shoemakers Mckinlays and bushwear company Swanndri clothing being showcased.
“What the space has allowed us to do is have different areas and different departments of the store so our business can breathe,” Cracknell says.
The brief for AND architects for the internal design was to take cues from the hospitality industry and the age of the building.
With the building’s 1920s Chicago feel and previous life as a restaurant and bar, Cracknell says it made sense to make the store’s theme prohibition.
A closer look around the shop reveals a subtle clue about it’s past life in hospitality - the point-of-sale counter is a cut-down version of the former bar with the fridges taken out.
The prohibition theme plays into this, with cues such as empty alcohol bottles lining shelves and vintage prohibition posters framed on the wall.
The beautiful features of the heritage building, such as the marble pillars and vaulted ceilings, were both a help and a hindrance to the design.
Nothing could be installed onto the walls or ceiling, which AND director Adrian Nancekivell says was one of the biggest challenges.
Pressure-mounted “pop-out” signage outside took care of the branding and detached cabinets and racks within the store were used to display clothes, giving them an almost 3D effect.
The only pre-existing lights were dim and didn’t lend themselves to retail, so lighting had to be suspended by wires.
Cracknell admits this added a bit of cost and was labour intensive, but it paid off.
The company also had to get approval from New Zealand Historic Places Trust for any changes made to the existing layout of the category B heritage building.
This included getting the inbuilt furniture taken out and the toilets stripped away and replaced by changing rooms, as well as refurbishing anything that was looking weary.
“The existing architecture was almost a restoration project, as anything that was damaged got repaired,” Nancekivell says.
He says the space was repainted with the original colours, making for an authentic reflection of the 1920s era with white ceilings, black and white walls and walnut coloured oak furniture.
The result is what feels like a trip back in time to a more sophisticated era and a revival of the strengths of a bricks and mortar store, cementing a major achievement for the Barker’s franchise.