Vincon, Liberty, and The Bay. Don’t laugh.
I think I cut things off a little quickly last time, or that’s what I’ve been hearing. So let’s call this Are You There Retail It’s Me Margaret part 2.
Vinçon. Vinçon carries a lot of home and design products that you would find in any other upscale store throughout the world, but also some very useful regional products (the ubiquitous ham leg holder, clothing lines and drying racks of all sizes and configurations). From a visual merchandising perspective they hit it out of the park- displays can include: rubber chickens, giant fake spaghetti made out of yarn, a whole display covered in crumpled up balls of paper. It’s housed partially in an old Modernista mansion on the Passeig de Gracia and a more 70/80’s space of wood and dim lighting. On any given day there is a great mix of families, couples picking out stuff for their wedding registry and tourists. It’s a STORE. Not a museum. They also have a public washroom (can you imagine asking to use the bathroom in Inform? I don’t think anyone has ever even farted in that space).
Liberty of London. Liberty is such a cool Grandaddy. It’s got a lot of history, but is not really a backwards looking store. It has some of the best designer floors and is rarely predictable in it’s buying. It also has the best selection of mens wear that men would actually wear. But it’s not afraid to hold onto some rather stodgy old-fashioned ideas like a whole floor dedicated to sewing supplies. That’s a lot of real estate for low ticket items (packet of darning needles anyone?) But on any given day that’s the floor with the most commotion- it’s also part of what makes it so English. You have little old Grans buying nightgowns and yarn and a beautiful (and expensive) oyster and champagne bar in the basement.
Now, I don’t want you to think that I want something for everyone. Heavens no. We all know that the glove made for all fits none. But what these stores have is a great instinct for what customers want, the ability to surprise, and the confidence to let the store evolve. A while back I was lamenting the death of the boutique and wondering what on earth could be next in retail. And right now I am thinking that it’s the much maligned department store.
In Canada there is such an opportunity for a company like The Bay- and for sure they have made some huge strides since Bonnie Brooks took over. But will they have the confidence to see it through to its potential? Last I heard they moved the estate jewelry in the downtown store up to the furniture floor because it doesn’t make any money. But that’s what makes a department store great! These strange eccentricities! If anything they should move it to the centre of the womens wear floor and start actively pursuing better estate pieces. It’s the only reason I and any woman I know has gone to the womens wear floor for the last ten years. My other suggestion for the Bay is to get rid of the cafe and open a cafeteria. Somewhere that I would actually go for lunch. I think The Bay could be … well maybe not Vinçon or Liberty because that wouldn’t work here, but a good example of what Canadian retail could look like if we just stopped trying to look like everyone else.
Below, two of Liberty, one of Vinçon.