A flagship store can serve multiple purposes and there are no simple one-size-fits-all rules. It’s not necessarily about making a profit, but location is key.

Many brands have a flagship store but do the rewards warrant the expenditure?

A prime location, striking interiors, an extensive product range and a memorable shopping experience. Add to the unique selling points that make your brand stand out, and you’re beginning to appreciate what consumers expect from a flagship store.

You couldn’t ask for a more vibrant location than London’s Oxford Street. After being considered the ‘ugly duckling’ among neighbouring ‘swans’ Selfridges and John Lewis, department store Debenhams announced a major £40million refurbishment in 2012. “Our vision was to create an environment that redefines Debenhams in the West End and beyond, presenting a vibrant and relevant concept for the future,” says Debenhams Marketing Director Richard Cristofoli. The transformation, completed in December 2014 showcases an exciting state-of-the-art ‘kinetic’ façade of 180,000 aluminium tiles that shimmer and shimmy in the breeze while the corners feature eye-catching glass panels, allowing shoppers a tantalising peek inside every floor. The interiors have a light, airy atrium with central escalators so shoppers can soak in the atmosphere. As well as reinstating Debenhams’ claim to be “a retail beacon” on Oxford Street, the store is now a worthy international flagship for the brand that trades out of 238 stores in 29 countries.

“Small is beautiful” is the mantra for Caramel Baby+Child. The luxury children’s brand has three London boutiques in fashionable Brompton Cross, Notting Hill and Soho, and international stores in Tokyo, Singapore, New York and Moscow. “Brompton Cross is the flagship,” says owner Eva Karayiannis. “Eventhough it’s the smallest, it is the one that first captured the imagination and really launched my business.” Although online is thriving, Eva is a firm advocate of bricks and mortar. “I would feel that something was missing if we didn’t have a shop,” she says. “Being able to offer a personal service and face-toface style advice is important. When you have that emotional connection with your customers, that’s when they really fall in love with your brand.”

A flagship store is often an integral part of a company’s omni-channel strategy; even previously digital-only brands are not immune to the allure. Farfetch, the multi-brand online fashion behemoth, recently purchased prestigious London boutique Browns with a view to use the store to develop and test new innovations in omni-channel retail technology before rolling them out to their network of 300+ online boutiques.

A market town in rural Leicestershire (Market Harborough) is the unlikely location for Joules’ flagship store, and yet it the perfect fit. The 25-year-old lifestyle brand has a mix of own-brand stores, concessions and online and, as befits their heritage “established in the fields of Great Britain”, they even sell at country fairs, horse shows and festivals. So what about a flagship? “We call them our ‘heartland’ stores,” says Andrea Gray, Retail and Show Director, citing the seaside concept store in South Wold, Suffolk and premium retail spaces at Waterloo and St Pancras stations as prime sites that offer high volume of customers and international links with Eurostar. “Joules is associated with having time off and spending time with family, so it makes sense for us to be in these locations,” says Gray. “It’s wonderful to be associated with holidays, fun and good times.”

When a flagship store works, it can mean good times all round: healthy sales and happy customers. The next challenge is the flagship online experience!

How to fly your flag

• Choose a prominent ‘get you noticed’ location, with maximum footfall – and the ‘wow’ factor.

• Showcase everything you do best: wide product range, exemplary customer service and ‘leisure’ facilities, like a café or pamper bar to enhance the shopping experience.

• Stand out – but don’t alienate! Make sure the other stores are in sync with the flagship.

• Keep refreshing and innovating and stay in tune with your customers.

By Catherine O’Dolan