Once again the ‘On Tour’ team have been out to exploring the innovations some of you are too busy to see for yourselves. Late summer saw a special ‘On Tour Safari’ to London’s West End with representatives of the RCA and Ascot Racecourse in tow to explore all that’s new in the world of shopping, entertainment and eating.
These tours are the result of many hours of research and planning. London is, after all, a very big city and our criteria are to identify those innovations which point the way for the macro consumer trends of the future. In other words if it’s happening here now – it will become mainstream within the next two or three years.
So let’s begin.
First off the team descended on that mothership of retail showmanship – Selfridges. This is the department store with a permanent Creative Director on the team – putting on a show should be part of their DNA.
First stop Pimp My Magnum, or correctly known as the Make My Magnum concept store. Located in that temple of bling, The Wonder Room (watches and jewellery with truly wondrous prices) on Selfridges ground floor, this hugely popular pop-up celebrates twenty-five years of the Magnum Ice Cream. For only £4 you get to join the queue and have your dream Magnum personalised in your own mix of chocolate, sequins and treats of every kind.
And in case anybody asks there is no truth in the rumour that Caroline Davies thought this was going to be a Champagne Bar.
Selfridges is, of course, much more than a one trick wonder. Moving through the food hall we discover a breathtaking display of craft-made and beautiful delicacies. From BOBO Macarons personalised macaroons to the ultimate edible gift with your own Instagram photos printed on Boomf marshmallows…
Also a “Build your own Ice cream Sundae Bar” and Food Village where the guest brands take a back seat by switching off their brand colours to keep the look together.
Of course the real money is in clothing and branded merchandise. The idea is that a fun food and drink stop will help you to get over the guilt of the last hour’s spending and set you up for another one or two. Welcome then to the Denim Studio. This epicentre of all things denim has at its heart, in addition to the Denim Tailor, personal consultations and the largest range of denim products in London, an interactive table (you can also see one of these in Newmarket’s Frankel Lounge) allowing customers to explore their denim preferences on screen before going to fight it out in the dressing room.
Ok that’s enough praise for Selfridges. Let’s take a stroll across Oxford Street toward Marble Arch Urban Outfitters, the most sophisticated of all the street-cool brands.
Now Urban Outfitters isn’t new, I first visited one in Santa Monica Boulevard nearly twenty years ago (it was certainly cool then) but it has built-up its reputation as a style centre and London’s Oxford Street store does not disappoint. First of all because they build all of the display fittings in a carpentry shop on site. In full view of the customers. Very sustainable.
Secondly because they have chosen to use up valuable floor space to make room for a pop-up independent coffee shop and record store (yes that’s vinyl). Vinyl & Beans serves über-cool Black Sheep Coffee, under the tagline ‘leave the herd behind’ in its pop-up garden shed conversion. Nice.
Now onto brand temple central, Regent Street and into the all new Levi’s Tailor Shop.
Levi’s Tailor Shop
One of only five such stores in the world Levi’s Tailor shops are home to Levi’s team of Levi’s makers who will repair or customise your new or used Levi’s product in store.
Rapha Cycle Club London
The hunt for the ‘coolest’ store in town is an elusive one and this tour wasn’t venturing far East (that’s Hoxton to you and me) so we headed down towards Soho to the iconic Rapha Cycle Club.
This ultra-cool British cycling brand has built a global cult following positioning itself as the ultimate provider of cycle equipment – better read it in their own words…
‘A passion for road racing means Rapha is more than just a product company. It is an online emporium of performance roadwear, accessories, publications and events, all celebrating the glory and suffering of road riding.’
In Soho Rapha have opened more of a community, a club, than a store. With merchandise, a café, consultation and the ability to meet and hang out with other people who share Rapha’s call to action: ‘Kings of Pain’.
The brand temple word here is a good fit – because if you are not, fit that is, then this place will make you feel like an outsider. A wonderful blurring of the lines between product display, brand experience, storytelling, meeting place and café. A true sense of the thrill of road racing.
And what Rapha and the next store both illustrate is that the divide between shopping and eating or drinking is becoming an irrelevance. Customers are choosing the brands they want to spend their time with. Either shopping, hanging out with friends or alone with their ubiquitous iPad.
The next example, Jigsaw’s new Duke Street Emporium, is just such a place.
Duke Street Emporium
Here Jigsaw’s usual good taste reaches a new level. In addition it is the coolest of coffee outlets, this time courtesy of Fernandez & Wells, whose use of English in their website is to die for.
Just take a look at the product display, the reassuring Boho Chic and the omnipresent jugs of water and Duralex glasses. Tasty too.
All that food chat has given me an appetite.
Spuntino & Barrafina
So let’s get over to Soho and to one of our perennial favourites – Spuntino. Love child of the highly regarded Polpo group. With seating for 20, the shortest menu, free popcorn when you sit down and the best sliders in London (those mini bite size burgers). Of course this is not a restaurant review – although I would welcome the opportunity, but it’s the authenticity of the thing that seals it. Simple food, served with style, authentic service and no service charge.
Getting a taste for our food now we speed off to Barrafina. One of Soho’s less well-kept secrets – a counter service tapas bar with no reservations. Arriving in good time, and after the shortest of queues, we are offered seats for one of the fastest served and best tapas experiences of my life. Validation of Barrafina’s extraordinary quality was achieved only last month when it was awarded a Michelin Star, the first time this has been given to a walk-up eatery. Richly deserved – but also a clear indication of the changing tastes of the capital’s diners. Also of note is the removal of Michelin stars from some of London’s most established, some would say stuffy, some would say overpriced eateries, including Nobu. Be careful racing – this trend is coming your way too!
Before we finish let’s take a few minutes to burn off those calories with a quick visit to Nike Lab over in Shoreditch. I told you we couldn’t end it without a trip out East. This intriguing brand land is located down an industrial street in East London and is one residue of London 2012’s community sports initiatives. More sports Exploratorium than retail outlet this unique environment presents events, a meeting place for athletes and tests pioneering products amongst aficionados before being launched to a wider mass market. Look out for the indoor and outdoor ‘bleacher seating’ style seminar spaces, the authentic materials and the fittings made from über-sustainable cardboard.
By way of conclusion – study trip days may look like a jolly jape but the reality is that for those of you in the food service, entertainment and retail businesses (when you are not busy running a racecourse) the discipline of continuously looking outside your sector for inspiration is both good business and great fun. It is a brilliant way to keep your team excited, to keep the creative juices going and to create opportunities to surprise and delight your customers. And if you and your team have time for a day out in London we’d be delighted to suggest an itinerary for the most informative team building study trip you can imagine.
And remember, the only thing in life that is certain – is change!