A busy day for retail – M&S, Blacks, and giving GIVe a look
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Today’s retail news has arguably been dominated by Marks and Spencer revealing better than expected results, and Blacks Leisure (owner of Millets, as well as its eponymous chain) announcing plans to shut 89 stores that “have not traded profitably for many years” (in which case, you may wonder why the company has persevered with those branches as long as it has – Woolworths’ demise surely demonstrates the potential for ropey stores to bring the profitable ones crashing down with them).
While established names link M&S and Blacks display mixed fortunes in their quest for future success, one of today’s other (less prominent but no less interesting) retail stories relates to a brand new presence on the high street – GIVe, the latest venture from fashion guru George Davies of Next, George at Asda and Per Una fame.
Following months of anticipation, GIVe’s Regent Street flagship has opened today, with 21 other shops – five standalone stores and 16 department store concessions – following tomorrow. Alongside London, the standalone GIVe stores are in all the top shopping centre locations that you would expect – Bluewater, Cribbs Causeway, Kingston-upon-Thames, Liverpool One, Meadowhall – with Glasgow and Harrogate following soon.
Unusually, the concessions are all located within independent department stores, including all 11 Beales sites – a refreshing change from the usual House of Frasers and Debenhams. This decision, reportedly, is linked to Davies’ wish to offer a free minor alterations service within all his GIVe shops, as well as his desire for a less corporate, more boutiquey feel – hence the sense in tying up with department stores that already provide this type of personal, customer-focused service.
Several observations can be made about the store portfolio. Most obvious, from a North East viewpoint, is the absence as yet of any GIVe stores in our region. Perhaps we shouldn’t worry – after all, there’s no GIVe store to date in Manchester, Leeds or Edinburgh either. However, compared to other major regional shopping centres, such as Bluewater and Cribbs Causeway, I do wonder sometimes about MetroCentre’s ability to attract and retain the top names – take for example the oft-cited departure of Gap and its replacement with Peacocks.
Don’t get me wrong – Peacocks is a great shop – but it’s ubiquity means that it’s not really a special shop. For me, a special shop can still be part of a retail chain, but it needs to be one that has few enough stores to make each one a real destination – shops like the John Lewis’s, Fenwicks, Selfridges, Apple Stores and Lego Stores of this world. Other than the Berghaus flagship, it’s difficult to think of stores in MetroCentre that would fit this definition. Is it a function of the existing retail mix? The fact that the 22-year-old MetroCentre, with the exception of the Red Mall extension, looks rather cheap and dated compared to its newer competitors? Or something else?
Certainly, Apple Store’s important decision to open up in Newcastle’s Eldon Square extension (blogged about here), alongside a growing roster of big-name fashion retailers, may help give Eldon Square the edge as the most likely location for GIVe’s North East debut. Alternatively, Rutherfords in Morpeth (mentioned here) or Robbs in Hexham would be obvious candidates, were GIVe to go down the concessions route.
Another observation about GIVe’s store portfolio is quite what a coup – and potential boost – this is for Beales, whose recent performance has been patchy to say the least. Assuming that GIVe is a success, Beales is sure to reap some benefit in terms of both footfall and trade. If nothing else, it will help to make its sometimes tired-looking stores more of a retail destination again.
Inevitably, a blog post like this would not be complete without me passing comment on GIVe’s online presence. I’m hardly qualified to comment on the women’s fashions themselves, but the good quality photographs are really effective, and I like how the clothes can be browsed by colour as well as garment type. The ‘style with’ tips – suggesting belts or bags to go with your top – also seem like a canny move. If nothing else, Davies’ ability to launch a high street retail chain and fully operational online store on the same day is pretty impressive. Recognising the synergies between bricks and clicks, the site – unlike others I could mention – also gets brownie points for featuring a list of GIVe store locations, complete with opening times, contact details, and the name of the store manager.
Any obvious website downsides? None especially, other than the predominant black and white look making the GIVe site resemble any number of other fashion retailers’ – House of Fraser or the aforementioned Tucci, to name just two. As always, if you’ve surfed the GIVe website – or indeed visited one of the high street stores – feel free to share your own reactions to the GIVe experience.