It occurs to me (following yesterday’s post) that the first example of a flagship store was also the first modern shop – Wedgwood & Byerley’s showroom on the corner of St Martin’s Lane and Great Newport Street, in what is now Covent Garden. (The enterprise later moved to the more fashionable St James’s.)
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The Bookseller has published my monthly column, and this time around, Waterstones’ Piccadilly flagship has sparked off my train of thought.
In retailing, flagships tend to come in two forms – the retailer, and the brand. Examples of retail flagships would be Marks & Spencer at Marble Arch, Top Shop at Oxford Circus, Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge and HMV in Oxford Street. These are the stores that define the chains, and that set the standards for the rest of the business to follow.
Plenty of retail brands get by without flagships. Supermarkets don’t have flagships (they may have a current “future store”, but these things shift), nor do electricals or many retail park brands.
Brand flagships are different, and create a halo for fashion, jewellery, perfume and lifestyle brands that are sold through many different retail channels. In London, Bond Street is the home of these flagships, and of course similar stores can be found in major cities worldwide.
It’s questionable whether either type of flagship always stacks up as an economic proposition, and many retailers and brands have had their fingers burnt by flagships. Nevertheless, the “best of the best” is always seductive, and the new businesses continue to seek their flagship opportunity.