Any retailer worth its salt continually pushes back the boundaries of what it can offer and since its creation in the early 1980s, this trail-blazing approach has been particularly true of Mamas & Papas, the premium baby product specialist. What’s more, following a change in ownership the company has been striving to further improve its store estate through an ongoing redevelopment programme. Construction Industry News recently caught up with Paul Lockwood, Senior Store Development Manager, at the newly re-developed Birstall site to see what impact the refurbishments have had.
“It’s fair to say that our stores were coming to a point where they required investment and a fresh look,” explains Mr Lockwood, who has been looking after Mamas & Papas’ store development programme in both the UK and overseas for the past five years after previously working with the likes of Matalan and New Look. “Having been partly purchased by BlueGem, the private equity management company, the decision was taken to take the brand in a slightly different direction.
“The creation of a new store concept then followed, which we introduced into our flagship store in White City in London in April 2016. Following the success of this initial refurbishment, we tweaked the concept slightly, not only improving it further but reducing the cost by half, before rolling it out into our Glasgow and Liverpool stores, as well as Birstall, which we completed the refurbishment of in October of last year we have refurbished a further five stores. The reaction we’ve had since has been very positive and we’re now actively looking to invest further monies into the estate.”
As a retailer that has always moved with the times, the new Mamas & Papas concept has been based very much on evolution rather than revolution. That said, the various tweaks that have been introduced have collectively made a significant difference to the stores.
“Having worked with design agency Dalziel and Pow on the creation of the new concept, the challenge then was putting it into our existing estate in the most cost effective and efficient manner,” adds Mr Lockwood. “We therefore retained the ceiling and the structural detail of the store and removed certain elements that were easy to rip out, so all the floor kit is new, for example. We increased the amount of space given to fashion, which has worked really well in the store, as it’s allowed us to showcase our entire range of clothing. Whereas before the kit was very bulky, it’s now been streamlined to show off the clothing in a much improved manner.
“In travel the displays have also been altered significantly to allow the pushchairs to be demonstrated much more easily. It’s now a lot more open, a lot more visual. We’ve also looked to encourage customers to buy into bundles where the pushchair, carry cot, car seat and the associated base can all be purchased in a single package. It’s all about providing a customer solution that makes things as simple as possible for the customer. This is proving very popular.”
The wisdom of the various changes is underlined by the fact that the renovated stores have seen sales uplift of between 10 and 15 per cent, whilst close working relationships with the shopfitters ensured that each store was able to remain open throughout the redevelopment process. “All the work was carried out without having to close any of the stores as all the works took place overnight in a number of different phases,” says Mr Lockwood. “This ensured that there was no disruption to the stores. This worked well with there being virtually no issues, which stemmed primarily from the high level of planning that took place before the work commenced.
“We have a relatively small core group of suppliers and they’ve all been excellent in supporting us. The benefit of having a select number of suppliers is that we’ve got to know them well and they’ve got to know about our own standards. We’ve tried to align ourselves with businesses that are similar to us and can provide the quality of finishes, decoration and fixturisation, etc, that we’re looking for. As a premium brand this is vitally important and they’ve done a great job with all the re-fits.
“Along with improving the fixturisation, we’ve also done a lot of work on the graphics side to educate customers about the full extent of our range, while at the same time bringing a bit more life into the store. We’ve also increased the levels of natural light by opening up the windows.”
It’s not just the look and feel of the stores that Mamas & Papas has looked to improve, as the refurbishment programme has also coincided with the introduction of a more personalised shopping experience for customers.
“It’s fair to say that our stores were coming to a point where they required investment and a fresh look. Having been partly purchased by BlueGem, the private equity management company, the decision was taken to take the brand in a slightly different direction.”
Paul Lockwood, Senior Store Development Manager
“One particularly significant focus area for the business has been our personal shop area. We have to admit that this was an area that we were perhaps lacking previously, but we’ve since worked hard to up our game in this regard and give the customer a truly VIP experience. As part of this objective we now provide a dedicated area where customers can have a sit down with a coffee while we take them through all the different options available to them. It can be a bit daunting for prospective parents to remember all the different pieces of kit they’ll need for their baby’s arrival so this is a great way to spend an hour or more ensuring that nothing’s forgotten.
“It’s been a hugely successful initiative in the 11 stores we’ve introduced it so far and as a consequence we’re now looking to roll out the concept to the entire estate. Personal shopping is definitely a major focus for the business moving forward. To us it’s about much more than just selling certain products, it’s more about providing a complete experience. For example, we have events where experts are on-hand to offer guidance in a wide range of areas, such as safety and first aid. With the rise of internet shopping we believe that this is the direction that retailing has to go.
“New parents are having to spend a lot of money in preparation for their baby’s arrival so we’re able to provide the opportunity for them to come in and see how the products work, look and feel before making their purchase. This simply isn’t possible with online shopping so we’re at a significant advantage in this regard.
“To support this initiative we’ve been very proactive in providing the necessary training to ensure that all of our staff are well versed in how the products work, enabling them to fully demonstrate all the various features. We even have a car in the new stores, which not only provides a great bit of theatre and something of a talking point for customers, but also allows us to demonstrate how the car seats are installed and removed.
“More generally, we’ve carried out a great deal of work on the till points to improve ease of use, as well as making the entire store look and feel that much better by having a much better flow throughout the building. We’ve also taken the opportunity to reduce the footprint of the stores, which we’ve been able to achieve without any adverse effect on sales, which has been an interesting process. We have certainly had the scope to experiment and trial different innovations. Not everything works obviously, but by trying new concepts we have been able to make strong improvements in a number of areas. You just don’t know if you don’t try.”
Like many businesses Mamas & Papas has been striving to reduce its carbon footprint too and has introduced LED lighting as a result, as well as using sustainable materials wherever possible. It has also strived to recycle as much material as it can throughout the refurbishment programme.
“One particularly significant focus area for the business has been our personal shop area. We have to admit that this was an area that we were perhaps lacking previously, but we’ve since worked hard to up our game in this regard and give the customer a truly VIP experience.”
Paul Lockwood, Senior Store Development Manager
While it has been proactive in-keeping its existing store portfolio fresh and current, Mamas & Papas has also continued to look for new opening opportunities too, as Mr Lockwood highlights: “In terms of brand new stores, there are lots of discussions currently taking place and if we have a slam-dunk of a deal then we’ll go for it, although we’ll only proceed if it’s absolutely right for us. We’re certainly not in a number’s game and we’re under no pressure to expand just for the sake of it. We are, however, exploring the opportunity of partnering up with different retailers that might have excess space that they’re not utilising to its full potential. It’s all about operating smarter.”
With such a modern and forward thinking approach, it is easy to see how Mamas & Papas remains one of the UK’s leading retailers nearly 40 years down the line.