We’re often bombarded with marketing speak talking about “local”, but it’s mostly just that, speak. Remember when HSBC used to refer to itself as the “The world’s local bank.”, it meant nothing more than operating in lots of different markets and countries. Local became more about geography than anything else. It joined the group of words, such as luxury, modern and sustainable, that get used all too often, but have become meaningless.
Trying to balance the idea of a much loved local, independent retailer and the scale of a larger chain is the dream of any contemporary brand or retailer. According to CACI Consulting Group’s ‘Location Dynamics” engine, 75% of the UK high streets have the same brand profile. They say “The concept of clone towns is well known, but we believe clone stores are the real issue.”
Left - Welcome to clone town - Can brands decentralise and empower its people on the ground to make decisions?
It’s boring and in a saturated market many cookie-cutter, anonymous chains are no longer appealing to consumers and as such we’re seeing those with too many stores close or reduce their footprint.
“In a market where consumers are seeking localisation and engage in brands that mirror their values it is essential that a store is part of the community in which it sits.” says Alex McCulloch and John Platt, Directors of CACI Consulting Group.
“Customers can buy generic product sold in a uniform way online, they seek out stores for the personal, curated, local and engagement. Brands that therefore dictate homogenous stock and store fit out regardless of the local customer will not deliver that experience and as a result fall away.” they say. “The brands that trust in their people on the ground, invest in them and empower them to know their shopper as well as supporting them with forensic data analysis on what sells, what doesn’t, which marketing worked etc are the ones that will succeed.”
“Data alone cannot fix the problem, but nor can people. Good brands leverage both. A great example of this is Waterstones, finding a similar one in the fashion sector is a challenge – typically independents lead the way here. One fashion brand that doesn’t shine in this area is M&S, which serve up the same store, stock and fit-out regardless of market, and have only just entrusted their store managers to know their own P&L; the antithesis of employee empowerment.”
The type of store finding it hardest to adjust to modern retail was, originally and ironically, the most localised. Nearly every town and city had their own individually named department store up until quite recently. It was only in the early 2000s that John Lewis, with the exception of Peter Jones and Knight & Lee, which is now closed, rebranded each store to the company umbrella name. Tyrrell & Green in Southampton, Bonds in Norwich, Trewins in Watford, Jessops in Nottingham, Bainbridge’s in Newcastle, Robert Sayle in Cambridge and Cole Brothers in Sheffield all disappeared. They were all recognisably John Lewis because of the store interiors and branding, but retained their historical monikers into the 21st century and the affection that each town would have for them.
DH Evans on Oxford Street was re-branded as House of Fraser in 2001 along with many other well known names such as Rackhams of Birmingham and Kendals of Manchester. (It will be interesting to watch House of Fraser’s next rebrand to Frasers in 2020, back to the original Glasgow store’s name, with a new store in Wolverhampton’s Mander Centre following the exit of Debenhams. “Frasers of Wolverhampton” could have quite the ring to it?)
Up until 2018 the Newcastle based department store chain, Fenwick, had individual buyers for its 9 department stores. In order to save costs they centralised their buying last year saying, ”Fenwick has today announced a proposal to modernise and reorganise the business, moving to a functionally led structure while retaining our local focus.
“These proposals are part of a broader strategy to modernise the business and to invest in both Fenwick’s multichannel offer – including IT upgrades and ecommerce – and its flagship Newcastle store.” Previously each store ran autonomously.
It is understandable the desire to have everything centralised under one name and buying team. It saves costs and doesn’t confuse the customer. It also makes more sense because of the internet and having one unified website, but it loses the personalisation and affection that people had for these brands and nobody wants to think that their town or city is the same as everywhere else. (In out-of-town shopping centres it doesn’t matter quite as much because their isn’t so much ownership of place).
Right - Do clone towns need a pop-up Banksy store like this one in Croydon?
This reblanding doesn’t take into account British idiosyncrasies or quirks and our love of personality. Many chain stores want bland boxes. The historical nature of the fabric of many of these older brands and their buildings have been looked at as a problem, money pit and not conducive to modern retail rather than embracing their uniqueness. It’s only poor and long term under investment that has let these retailers down. Liberty of London wouldn’t be the same if it was in another building. The building is the brand.
"There is a fear that localised = expensive. It doesn’t need to – you know a Waterstones when you go in it and the branding is universal, but each store manager has autonomy over the look and feel of the product, what is on promotion and maintains local charts etc.” says McCulloch and Platt, Directors of CACI Consulting Group.
"Chains need to trust that their staff on the ground can make decisions on how they sell and give them space to do so within the brand framework. Equally they should be able to use POS data, online sales data and customer data to inform the manager on which lines have worked, which initiatives drove sales and how to better them.”
Engaged employees make better employees especially if they are personally invested in decisions. It’s the opposite of automation and the robotic attitude to manual shop employees.
“By trusting in the people on the front line, educating them, training them and supporting them through data will you also likely see key staff retention increase because staff will be empowered in their roles.” says McCulloch and Platt.
Is the design of stores an issue here and how can design catch up with consumer behaviour? “I’m not sure design is at fault here, there are many truly innovative stores and spaces in the market. The issue is more typically underinvestment in stores and a homogenous approach to stores. A brand can tailor its social ads based on geography and consumer (a 20-year-old single male in London will get served a different ad. to a 28-year-old mother of two in Liverpool) but don’t consider the same approach and nuance with their stores.” says McCulloch and Platt.
Facebook has been putting ‘Beacons’ into stores to send consumers personalised ads and to track their movements. Retailers also need to work backwards from this and tailor the stores to the people who are frequenting them. They could find out this information from peoples’ Bluetooth being turned on and then change the buy of the store according to the breakdown of the consumers and visitors.
Obviously, not each and every store is identical. Stores are different in size and can accommodate different levels of ranges. Some chains specifier different product for different locations, but, it’s more a mindset and preconception that they’re all the same which is the main problem here. People want to be pleasantly surprised. “I’m-not-going-to-go-in-there-because-I-already-know-what-they-sell-and-I-can’t-be-bothered” is the modern attitude to many chain stores. The more individual or local they were perceived to be, the more often you’re likely to take a look. If you want anonymous and clinical you’ll shop online, it’s about pride of place.
At the end of a tumultuous year for traditional retail, and at the start of another, which doesn’t appear to offer much respite, there’s been a distinct trend in rebranding for both luxury and high-street brands. While you’d expect them to want to stand out, it seems as though they all want to blend into one another. This homogenisation is a case of an expensive “reblanding” exercise. Rebranding means creating a different identity for a brand, from its competitors, in the market, which, in fashion, is even more important especially when you're trying to flog luxury goods and the idea of difference and individuality. This feels like the opposite.
The recent rebland list is long: Belstaff, Celine, Calvin Klein, John Lewis, Burberry, Berluti and Balmain have all gone for simple and bolded logos without any of the details and distinct serifs. Playing it safe, what these new logos and fonts say is a lack of confidence and often change for change’s sake.
Left - The recent logo "reblands"
In August, Burberry unveiled its new logo. Replacing the Burberry Equestrian Knight logo with its bespoke Bodoni font, which had been used by the clothing company since 1901, the new logo is the work of celebrated British graphic designer, Peter Saville. It’s also worth noting he rebranded Calvin Klein with a similar font when Raf Simons took over and wanted to refresh.
"The new logotype is a complete step-change, an identity that taps into the heritage of the company in a way that suggests the twenty-first-century cultural coordinates of what Burberry could be," Saville exclusively told Dezeen. Somewhat cryptic and full of marketing speak, he describes what he and Riccardo Tisci, the new Burberry Creative Director, settled on as “modern utility,” adding, “It looks like it’s been there forever, but it’s still contemporary.”
Right - Hedi's masterstroke?!
Tisci said on Instagram ‘Peter is one of our generation’s greatest design geniuses. I’m so happy to have collaborated together to reimagine the new visual language for the house.’
Burberry are in the throes of changing everything way before the new Creative Director’s impact has been proven. As his first collection hits stores to a rather muted response by the fashion press, it’ll be interesting to see how it sells, especially the items with this new logo on.
Seb Law, Fashion Copywriter & Journalist, says, “I really hate that they’ve added’ ENGLAND’ to the Burberry logo after London. As if it’s London, Texas or something.”
It “Seems like an attempt to look ‘international’ and more premium, but also it’s now becoming an established way of a new designer starting at a different house to mark the start of their chapter. Does the general consumer care about this, or is it dive behaviour? Also rebrands cause plenty of chatter in fashion circles and build publicity – see Hedi’s previous rebrand of SLP. All press is good press, apparently.” says Law.
Hedi Slimane is a designer who likes to put his mark onto a brand and in September it was announced that the French house, Celine would be, controversially, losing its accent. Law and others have been defacing the brand’s posters by returning the accent to the first e.
“For me, it’s a matter of good use of language. As a copywriter and journalist (with a degree in French), diacritics aren’t just a pretty typographic tool to be played around with at the will of a designer, they’re an integral part of the word.” says Law. “‘Celine’ and ‘Céline’ are different words, pronounced differently (‘sell-een’ and ‘say-lean’, respectively). he says.
“It’s a continuation of the cult of personality over brand, in both cases. Causing a splash, in whatever way possible, seems to be the aim of the game. With Burberry, I’m disappointed that the logo doesn’t have a more uniquely British feeling, which the old one did IMO – I do love the interlocking TB print though.” says Law. “With Céline, it’s a classic case of Hedi doing whatever he wants. Brands should be aiming to exercise their unique personalities; this uniqueness is what attracts customers and maintains a brand’s personality. Homogenisation might attract sales, at least initially, and while change is obviously necessary, and often good, these two rebrand exercises feel like they’re a bit half-arsed. They’ve succeeded at building publicity, but is that what a logo redesign should do?” he says.
Left - The new logos are all very similar
On the high-street, John Lewis, in September, rebranded as John Lewis & Partners at a reported cost of £10m. Its first rebrand in 18 years and inspired by the company's 1960s "diamond pattern" motif, John Lewis managed to not only complicate its name but also lose its trademark dark green. Opting for safe black, it was yet another example of this reblanding trend.
In an age when these brands should really be trying to expressive confidence in themselves, these boring logos show a striving for safety and an anti-criticism blandness. It’s hard to be critical and negative about something so simple, yet they aren’t memorable or standing out. These aren't utility companies. Fashion’s current love of the sans-serif is definitely missing something.