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Farmers re-imagines its department stores for city living

  • News
  • November 24, 2015
  • Sarah Dunn
Farmers re-imagines its department stores for city living

The Queen St Farmers store opened on November 12 after a $5 million fit-out. The store represents a bold return to Queen St for Farmers, which closed an outlet at a different location early in 2014 at the end of its lease. Farmers managing director and CEO Rod McDermott says the new store is characterised by a focus on the individual city consumer.

According to Colliers’ 2015 NZ Retail Report, average prime rents in Auckland’s CBD have reached over $4000 per square metre. Therefore, every item in Farmers Queen St’s 1600sqm store has to earn its keep. The foot traffic is worth it, however - McDermott says 40,000 people pass by the Queen St shopfront each day.

“We’re talking probably the most prominent retail store on the street.”

The Farmers Queen St building at the corner of Queen St and Victoria St formerly housed Whitcoulls. Both Whitcoulls and Farmers are owned by the James Pascoe Group. Whitcoulls has not disappeared from the area – it has been shifted into a smaller space in the Downtown Mall, and is accessible from level one of Farmers.

The heritage building was built in 1899 for the Direct Supply Company, and was bought in 1910 by John Court Limited. As part of Farmers’ fit-out, which began in July and was completed in just 17 weeks, the main door was moved from the corner to Victoria St. McDermott says that when the floor was lifted, the team found they had inadvertently reinstated the door to its original position.

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The store is designed to maximise retail floorspace, and to let in as much natural light as possible. An atrium effect was developed on level two by doing away with a lot of back-of-house space: “Being an old building, it’s got quirky spaces in the architecture and challenges in the construction that limited choice,” McDermott says.

The fit-out features a neutral palette of cream and white, with light grey and steel detailing. Usually, McDermott says, Farmers will break its stores into separate zones by using different design elements, but in this store, each level has retained a uniform look. There are some unusual touches of luxury – McMillan is particularly proud of the carpet in the lingerie section on level two, which boasts a very deep pile.

“When you’re in the same street as European luxury brands and new overseas brands, you really need to put your best foot forward,” McDermott says.

McDermott has Farmers Queen St’s typical customer down pat. They’re an individual, not shopping for a family, and likely to be based in the city for work or study. They’re all about convenience: “We feel that [as] the customer, you’re thinking in terms of ‘Buy now, use now.’”

In accordance with this, Farmers Queen St stocks full ranges of the kind of items an office worker or apartment dweller might conceivably dash out to buy at short notice, and limits itself to only the best of the rest. On the ground floor, it has an enormous range of fragrances, skincare and cosmetics, plus the largest hosiery range in all of Farmers.

Among the skincare items, a stand-alone display of New Zealand made products caters for customers walking to Farmers from the cruise ship terminal down at the wharf. Store manager Irene Seiderer can confirm this strategy is effective – these customers will commonly retain their boarding passes as they shop, she says.

The menswear section on level one stocks formal clothing, officewear, a small amount of weekend clothing, and a great deal of underwear.

“Where else on Queen St do you buy this?” McDermott asks of the men’s underwear. “You really can’t.”

The menswear section also houses a separate display of Lego. Unlike “the gadget shop” across the aisle in the homeware section, which is aimed at office workers on the hunt for a playful gift to give colleagues, the Lego stand is about giving shoppers the opportunity to buy an instant birthday present for the children in their lives.

To save on space, some sections are dominated by a single, top-performing brand. Only Domani linen is sold in the homewares section, and a Philips display on the ground floor accounts for haircare and grooming devices.

Seiderer says she was worried on opening day whether customers would venture up to the womenswear section on level two, but it’s turned out to be just as busy as the ground floor. Level two is what McMillan calls “a whole floor for her alone”: women’s fashion, lingerie, and handbags and accessories.

Like the menswear section, level two is aimed at the career customer and does not carry Farmers’ full range. It is, however, carefully appointed – there’s McMillan’s special carpet, and the fitting rooms are equipped with unobtrusive lights which allow customers to call for a sales assistant.

Starting on opening week with 95 brand new team members had been stressful, Seiderer says, but all had received training in other stores before coming to Queen St. They were all pleased to be there: “We were frantically busy on [opening day] but everyone was still smiling because they were on a high.”

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