From Burberry to Brick Lane

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been drinkingfrom the fire hose of retail – touring five worldcities, listening to dozens of retail experts,visiting hundreds of stores, and takingthousands of photographs – as part of theannual Westfield World Retail Study Tour.Recovering from all that intense retailstimulation, I reflected that great retail comesin many shapes and forms.

The one commonfactor is that it is defined by the size of yourimagination, not your budget.At one end of the spectrum is the Burberry store on Regent St in London: 2500sqm of gob-smackinggorgeousness.

Housed in a circa 1820 building restored by master craftspeople and then fitted outwith acres of marble, 100 digital screens, and 500 speakers; this is a seriously impressive retailexperience.

Breathtaking both in vision and execution, the Burberry store would have (just quietly) cost a bob ortwo.

But it’s probably earned its keep already just in the buzz created.

Equally exciting to me, however, was the fascinating retail I experienced in markets in various cities:London’s Borough Market, Columbia Road Flower Market, Spitalfields Markets, and Brick Lane, aswell as Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. It’s walking through markets – the traditional antithesis to Burberry’sluxe store – that you see retail reduced to its essence with unique merchandise and passionatetraders jostling side by side.

At Borough Market, I witnessed a casestudy in great retail. After following aqueue that snaked around a corner,I came across a gourmet baguettemerchant selling up a storm.

The airwas filled with the scent of sizzlingsausages and felt alive with banter.Prime produce was proudly on display.

The brand language was engaging:“award-winning sausages”, “thehangover cure”, and “handmade witha lot of TLC”.

And the customers werebuying into it big time.

Right next door to the baguettemerchant was a lonely bloke at a cardtable who was trying to flog “properhot food”. No engagement. No theatre.No snappy signs. And, sadly, nocustomers.

At Columbia Road Flower Markets, Icaught a cheeky flower-seller spruikingthe special nature of his blooms.

“Grown on me grandfather’s allotment,they were,” he said, adding under hisbreath, “and if you believe that, thenI’ve got a bridge to sell you”.

On Brick Lane, I saw a delightfullyunpretentious caravan signpostedwith “Northern Soul Kitchen & RecordShop” that specialised in vinylfrom the late 60s.

I also loved “TheFrenchie”, run by a bearded Parisian,where you could buy three sizes ofgenuine gourmet French toasties;Petit, Moyen (regular), or the EiffelTower.And in the Grand Bazaar, I watched asmerchants of every kind ran through aritual that has been repeated for 700years.

They prepared their stalls andstores immaculately, set up their VMperfectly, stocked up their sampletrays, and then got out there and soldtheir socks off.

Actually, when you think about it,those are some of the keys to all greatretail, whether you are Burberry or atthe Grand Bazar.

When he’s not on the road visitingstores, Jon Bird is CEO of specialistretail marketing agency, IdeaWorks(, andchairman of Inside Retail’s publisher,Octomedia.Email: [email protected]Blog: www.newretailblog.comTwitter: @thetweetailer


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