Black, Birmingham, U.K.

Dixons’ new technology retail concept in the U.K. makes the geeky stylish and exciting
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Posted May 24, 2011
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Fashion retailers tend to have fashionable store environments that celebrate the product using colors, materials, interesting fixtures, plush seating and eye-catching window displays. Consumer electronics retailing, on the other hand, typically means a more stripped-down and frequently monochromatic experience.

What would happen, however, if things were mixed up? Imagine, for instance, a space that feels like a fashion store – complete with mannequins and bold colors on the walls – that’s in the business of selling the latest computers, flatscreens, smartphones, digital music devices and other high-tech gadgets. Welcome to Black, the new technology concept from electronics retail group Dixons.

Dixons is the U.K.’s largest consumer electronics group, operating more than 500 Currys and 160 PC Worlds across the country. However, the rise and rise of Apple, whose stores are consistently buzzing with activity, and Best Buy’s 2010 debut in the U.K., sent Dixons off on a store transformation program and the introduction of Black at the end of 2010.

The new concept is not aimed at the mid-market, as Dixons’ other stores are, putting the retailer in front of a new audience. “This one is for the Apple generation,” says Andrew Milliken, the director at Dixons who led the team that created the Black store.

The floor-to-ceiling display window is your first clue that something different is afoot at the 15,000-square-foot store in Birmingham. For one, it’s a display window in an electronics store. Second, the display regularly changes with new merchandise and themes. For its store opening, shoppers were treated to a “Driving home for Christmas” theme complete with a bright red Fiat 500 (a touch of “Roman Holiday”) inside the store, which later became a display dubbed “Bringing Color to Life.” The message: Products here are treated in the same lifestyle manner as you might see in an apparel boutique.

This style-focused intent is further emphasized by an “Objects of Desire” space at the front of the store, where a series of freestanding white plinths supports a collection of limited-edition products. Here, jewel-like pieces of electronic wizardry, ranging from a retro radio to a digital camera, are on display. In the middle of this area are two mannequins clad in sparkly Jackie O.-inspired dresses – one listening to an MP3 player and the other with a digital camera slung around her neck.

Each of the three floors deploys color in unconventional ways with a palette of black, lime, white and gray. From the Op-Art gold wall panels and the lurid green backwall on the ground floor to the brightly colored sofas in the lounge on the second floor, this space feels bold by electronics retailing standards.

There’s also an intention to move away from any sense of the regimented, says Milliken. “Play tables” – asymmetrical mid-shop pieces of equipment constructed from a mix of raw concrete, wood and Corian – invite shoppers to experiment with product. The basement floor lounge, complete with TVs, audio systems and a glass-fronted studio with Barcelona chairs, is for test driving the latest hi-fi products. The setting – in the middle of a soundproofed space – stresses design as much as performance.

Dixons plans to open a second branch in central London this summer, while lessons from the Birmingham store will also be applied more generally across Dixons’ chain of stores. In high streets where the complaint is frequently that everything looks the same, this is a shot in the arm.

Project Suppliers
Retailer: Dixons Retail, Hemel Hempstead, U.K.
Design: Household, London
Outside Design Consultant: Liberation Creative Consultants, London (visual displays)
Lighting: Targetti Poulsen, Chessington, U.K.
Mannequins/Forms: Millington Associates, London
Mannequins/Forms, Props and decoratives: Dixons Retail, Hemel Hempstead, U.K.