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Why more retailers should fly the flagship standard in all stores

Are the days of large multiple retailers rolling out the same store format everywhere finally numbered? The current plight of grocery retailers would certainly seem to suggest so. Vast out of town ‘Extra’ style supermarkets are rapidly becoming retail white elephants as shoppers turn their backs on them, forcing the leading players to re-evaluate what their future estate strategies will look like. Is there really also a need for a raft of ‘Local’ convenience retailers or the same few mobile phone retailers on every street corner?

Many industry experts acknowledge that moving forwards, stores will have to develop a much more concentrated offering. So can we expect a future of fewer and better? Will we see brands invest in more flagship stores, and reduce their wider geographical coverage – leaving online to fill the void? Retail banking has certainly been going this way for some time, with customers in more outlying regions forced to rely on Internet services for their needs.

Flagship stores undoubtedly serve a purpose in re-presenting a retailer’s offer to customers and helping to change perceptions. Marks & Spencer recently unveiled a new-look store fit at Westfield White City. Featuring spacious aisles, new shop-in-shop concepts, a greater focus on shopper technology and improved retail standards, as well as a crisp, fresh fascia, it signals the retailer’s intent to take its in-store experience in a different direction.

Another example is the new Jessops flagship store, which opened in Reading last month. Its new store design seeks to immerse the shopper in the world of photography and comes complete with a consultation area, mini lab and training room. This extra level of detail and retail theatre is what will give shoppers real reasons to leave home and journey into store – a lesson that was painfully learned by Jessops. But how many times will shoppers up and down the country actually be able to make the pilgrimage to see these one-off, though nonetheless inspiring, brand temples?

According to the retailer’s chief operating officer, its new flagship brings to life the brand’s ethos of “image is everything.” With that in mind, we have a rallying call for retailers in 2015. Whilst formats may have to increase in their flexibility, retail standards must be more widespread in their consistency. Why should best practice only be truly encapsulated within just one or two stores, when retailers have access to the means that will allow them to win out on scale?

Often, it’s not the need to showcase the new or the next that shoppers love about flagship stores. Instead, it’s the effort and attention to detail that goes into delivering that in-store experience. And it’s that expert delivery of display standards in-store that is frequently missing across the wider estate.

After all, one shop does not a turnaround make. The biggest, the cleverest – magic mirrors, digital rain showers, iPad-toting sales assistants at every turn – flagship stores are in many ways an example of retail fiction. Being able to roll out consistently high standards of in-store experience in towns and cities up and down the country is the retail truth.

M&S has almost 800 stores across the UK. Tesco’s has over 3,300 stores. For all retailers, harnessing the essence of the brand to present a showcase of its ‘greatest hits’ with a single flagship experience can be a difficult, and often costly task. But when it comes to delivering renewed store standards consistently across all stores, achieving success requires real aptitude and efficiency.

This is one of the many things that in-store specialists like CJ Retail Solutions do for clients across the country, almost without being seen. Do the most successful retailers make a song and dance about it? No. Does its impact help to fine-tune the quality, effectiveness and consistency of the brand experience in-store? Undoubtedly. Too many stores can have a ramshackle, ‘work in progress’, disheveled feel about them and sloppy standards are still, disappointingly, commonplace.

To our mind, each and every store should have flagship standards of brand execution. And that ideal can become reality. Prestige automotive dealerships are a great example. Here, image matters, and ensuring retail standards and POS displays are impeccably maintained is vital, with each location very much seen as its own flagship. Many have effective retail audit programmes in place to provide their marketers with full visibility of what’s really happening in-store, allowing them to compare the visual and financial performance across nationwide retail estates. They understand the importance of employing specialist teams to maintain a retail experience befitting of the brand and are clearly focused on ensuring minimum merchandising standards are tirelessly delivered to keep them on top of their game. As we approach the end of 2015, now is the time for others to redouble efforts and put effective processes, activities and tools in place to ensure that good is never again viewed as being ‘good enough’.

The only thing seemingly standing in the way of achieving this is retailers’ willingness to ask for support to make it happen. As with everything in life, accepting that you need help is not always easy, but we really do believe that if more brands did, they could make all their shops great again – not just the few.