The changing face of flagship retail store designs

4th November 2015

Something regular readers will have heard us mention many times on the blog is the term ‘flagship’, when describing a particular type of retail store. Here at Barber we have worked on many flagship retail store designs, including Simply Be and Jacamo on London’s Oxford Street. But what exactly does the term ‘flagship’ store mean? Writing for Retail Week, earlier this year, John Ryan suggests that the role and definition of the traditional flagship store is changing and can now be applied to a wider variety of stores in different contexts.

simply be and Jacamo flagship store design by Barber

The term ‘flagship’ originally comes from maritime tradition where the flagship was simply the best ship in the fleet. The boat that all the others looked to for inspiration and the one that is shown to others, as the best example of what they have. When translated to retail this usually also means the biggest store in the chain – the one with the most product lines, best displays and most innovative retail designs. But as shoppers have changed their habits – with the proliferation of ecommerce and retail technology – Ryan suggests that this is no longer the case. The rise of specialist retailers means that these stores are no longer necessarily big and that size is becoming less significant as a defining flagship feature. Smaller stores are rising to the challenge of creating compact flagships, which are more about the quality of the experience than the volume of retail space and amount of stock on display.

In the past there was also an unwritten rule that flagship stores had to be in London. But this is also no longer true with Ryan citing examples n Norwich and Glasgow, which are better exemplars of a particular brand than their London counterparts.

Speaking about the shift, chief creative officer and chairman of Fitch, Tim Greenhalgh, explains how the role and identifying characteristics of a flagship have evolved in the wake of ecommerce and multichannel trends:

“One of the things that we’re interested in is, is a flagship a website? Could it be an app or is it a physical space? The idea of a flagship as a physical space is something that has to be questioned.”

New York-based retail consultant, Howard Saunders suggests that the ‘new flagship’ is in the eye of the beholder – a concept that takes different forms depending on who is perceiving it:

“A flagship is the place a brand showcases all aspects of its personality. It’s not just about range or scale, but about creating a space where we can engage at all levels”

Greenhalgh concurs:

“Concept stores are more interesting than flagships. Surely we need to be learning more about what stores do, than just standing back and admiring big shops?”

John Ryan concludes that a flagship should be a range of experiences that make a store a destination and we would have to agree with this. However, despite the continuing evolution of the retail flagship concept, we believe there is still a place for the large, aspirational London-based store as a flagship, alongside newer, less traditional formats.

Is it possible to have more than one flagship? does a flagship store have to be big? Can a website be a flagship? Let us know what you think about this interesting subject!