California footwear brand TOMS launched its first London store, well balanced in brand and commercial needs. We assess the store and its specific features.
Brand store concepts are as old as electric cash registers. Whenever store technologies evolve, store processes and consumer experiences change and marketing hype is created for a new generation of ‘future store’. Possibly the first store that deserves the label is a hypermarket launched by Metro Group Germany in Rheinberg. The store was piloting a number of advanced technologies such as self checkout and RFID.
From the ‘new millennials’ perspective, the 2004 Metro Group press release reads like Grandma talking about the first land-line telephone. From today’s perspective, some of the great technology is already ‘last century’.
TOMS’ Brand Future Store
Time has moved on and ‘future store’ has become a favourite term for many retail architects, technology companies and management consultants. Today many brand PR departments label each new generation of brand stores a ‘brand future store’. So when the Californian footwear brand TOMS launched its future store in Chicago in November 2015 we thought, “another retail High Street store of fancy tech features that doesn’t deserve the title future store”. The video below is great entertainment and strong PR for the participating companies. But what we see as a retailer is costly and too complicated to reach the majority of the brand’s High Street stores.
However, after being in the new TOMS’ London store recently it seems we have to apologize for some of our early judgements.
TOMS’ One for One®
For Europeans not familiar with TOMS, the brand was born in California in 2006 and quickly became a favourite on social media. Its founder Blake Mycoskie, designs and sells shoes and eye wear but he has managed to expand this task to a broader vision. When TOMS sells one piece of merchandise, one additional item is given to a child in need through the company’s One for One® program.
TOMS has donated 25 million pairs of shoes and helped over 200,000 people to improve their sight, in just 10 years. This is corporate social responsibility in its purest form, with the shoes given to the poorest children in Central & South America. But no good deeds come without criticism from NGOs and there is always room for improvement. “Donating destroys work ethics and local industries” is one of the criticisms. Blake listens and changes tack – he supports the building of factories and moves part of their sourcing from China to Central & South America.
A Brand Flagship in London
TOMS’ final social future is not written yet, as hard-core investors Bain Capital bought a 50% stake last summer. But the young American brand is on its way to becoming international. An early sign of the coming global growth is TOMS’ new London store – a special kind of brand future store. We visited the store twice this year and to us, the store is in many ways a good balance between branding and commercial needs. Situated in the neighbourhood of Carnaby Street, the store’s outside appearance comes across as laid back, with only a little outside branding. Just a small, but highly visible window logo is featured, in an otherwise wooden, brownish shabby chic fixtures and fittings – a style that fits very much with the brand’s ethos. But for a brand that is mostly unknown in Europe, the spring/summer window has upside potential to create impulse footfall.
Completely opposite to this was our in-store experience: many small and some large features tell us about a decent product and an especially strong brand story. The look and feel is somewhat Caribbean Cabin and casual European consumers will get the feeling of being on vacation. The product appearance is rather mid to low end – not to everybody’s taste but it will work with many. However the store appearance is tough for some of the global blink blink consumer markets (i.e. China or Russia), but after experiencing the 20-minute brand store journey across the two levels, you somehow feel obliged to purchase at least something to contribute to the global good through the One for One® program.
TOMS Commercial ‘Brand Future Store’
With our brand flagship scoring system, TOMS’ London store gets 7.8 (out of 10) and subsequently a top ranking. Though the store itself does not make the headlines – as Burberry’s future store did a few years back – the store does, however, create consumer memories that last. It is not only the video wall that tells you the story about the brand’s social engagement, but also the virtual journey you take in-store to witness how Blake and his team support some of the poorest villages, and it is the barista bar.
We like to call it a brand future store, not only because of its story telling but also because it is in many ways, very commercial. Take the bar, which most retailers place on the low performing upper floor – TOMS puts it next to the entrance where you would expect to have the cash register. In fact, the cash register is the café. Imagine that you could increase your units per ticket by offering a cappuccino and a cupcake while avoiding the cost of an extra barista. We exit without a purchase, but we had a cafe from the ‘cash-ista’ and still remember the nice after sales chat.
Though the store may be at break-even only, (as rents are likely high, traffic is mediocre and the brand’s awareness is too low), from our professional perspective, to be a destination the store does very much what it is designed for: to introduce a great brand to a new market without spoiling investment budgets. TOMS call the store a ‘community outpost’. It is a ‘brand future store’ to us – it creates a vision of the future of TOMS in Europe. We look forward to how the brand and its retail will evolve. Bain Capital will have a major say on how much retail, how much commercial and how much brand experience we will get. But thus far we wish Blake and his team all the best in maintaining their well-balanced approach to branding and commercial retail.
About the Author
Guido is a brand & retail manager who has been working for 25+ years with small and high profile retailers & brands in Europe, Asia & the Middle East. As founder of Team Retail Excellence, he assisted entrepreneurs and managers to successfully grow their brand distribution. Guido is currently working on a book of global best practices for brand growth management, while he continues to coach brands on their strategic growth path. You reach him best by email or see more from him here.