Frasers Group unveiled its latest Frasers flagship in Norwich last weekend as it continues the rollout of its upmarket “next generation” department store format.
The premium concept, which launched in Wolverhampton back in 2021, looks to “rewrite the rulebook and redesign the department store”, explains Frasers Group head of luxury and premium Lauren Barrie.
Its rollout comes as the department store sector has undergone much change in recent years. The collapse of Debenhams as well as store closures from the remaining players, including John Lewis, M&S and Frasers Group’s own House of Fraser chain, has led some retail watchers to question the long-term future of the format.
Indeed, Frasers Group has closed down more than half of House of Fraser stores since its acquisition of the chain in 2018.
But as the new Frasers concept, which combines much of the group’s premium portfolio under one roof, opens its tenth store – in a former House of Fraser – is this a department store that can stand the test of time? Retail Gazette heads to Norwich to find out.
Elevating the department store experience
The 100,000 sq ft flagship in Chantry Place spans across three floors, however the bulk of this – two floors, in fact – play home to the group’s Sports Direct, USC, Evans Cycles, Game and Belong fascias.
The 35,000 sq ft ground floor is where the Frasers concept comes to life, with a beauty hall at the entrance leading you through to menswear, womenswear and accessories, as well as the brand-new Frasers Home concept at the back of the store.
Each department carries its own identity – defined by its own colour palette, flooring, and branding – while creating a seamless journey around the store.
Walking around Frasers Norwich, it’s obvious to see where the investment has gone and how the space works around current trends and fits into the group’s elevation strategy, a concept that Frasers Group CEO Michael Murray has spearheaded to raise perceptions of the group and attract more high-profile brands.
Several marketing activations are placed throughout the store, with one currently promoting ’40 years of the Beaufort jacket’ from Barbour.
Barrie explains that the stands can be changed regularly “depending on what’s going on within marketing” whether that’s with brands or seasonal observations to support the omnichannel experience.
Drawing in younger shoppers
It’s clear to see that the group’s take on the new department store is targeted at a younger and trendier shopper, something that both M&S and John Lewis have been actively pursuing in the past 12 months.
The beauty hall features the likes of Dior, Chanel and Rituals, alongside a host of trendier brands such as GHD, Benefit and Rituals.
A collection of Coach bags have been brought to the front of the accessories section as the retailer looks to capitalise on the brand’s recent popularity among fashion lovers.
“There’s a lot of different brands that play into different trends,” says Barrie.
“This is a much younger consumer, which is something that we believe isn’t being catered to in the market. It will help you bring in a new audience, as well as retaining the current customer as well.”
House of brands
The Frasers store is a brand emporium filled with much of the group’s rapidly expanding portfolio and partnerships.
Its new Frasers Home concept introduces 20 new brands to space alongside sofa.com’s furniture range, while its beauty hall welcomes several new lines to the Norwich location.
Elsewhere in the store, the group’s own fashion labels such as Missguided, ISawItFirst and Jack Wills have been weaved in a lot more sympathetically in comparison to the awkward block branding found in its House of Fraser stores.
“We’re really working hard with all our brands and you’ll see where [the third party brands] have dropped in elements of personalisation and put their stamp on it,” explains Barrie, referencing the rug branded with Barbour’s staple check pattern and the Polo accessories in the Ralph Lauren stand.
The Frasers format combines six of the group’s retailers into one space: House of Fraser, Sports Direct, USC, Game, Belong and sofa.com
Keen shoppers might notice that the group have brought elements from its new “elevated” Sports Direct flagships into the space, such as the gait analysis machines and interactive iPads to browse the location’s footwear offer.
“This is how we get the flagship elements of those stores across the high street, and make sure that we’ve got the same language and the same form across the board.”
Is Frasers the future department store?
Just last month Murray warned that more House of Fraser branches could close as he declared that the “department store globally is broken”.
Murray said that historically department stores would have been 150,000 sq ft or larger, which was now “too big” and meant that in the past they “didn’t have the investment” they needed.
However, the team believe they have created a new format that is breathing new life into the format
Barrie says the Norwich stores gives customers “brands that they’ve not had access to before within the city”.
“There’s a new department store format and this is it,” she says.
The Frasers stores sit on a “reduced House of Frasers square footage, which allows for a better representation of our key brands and own brands,” explains Barrie.
The group has evolved the Frasers format since the first opening in 2021 and it seems to still be a work in progress.
“We’ve definitely got better with brand personalisation – how a brand can put their look and feel within our store,” says Barrie, referencing the strong branding across its fashion and beauty departments.
The group is backing its department store concept with plans to roll out the format to three more locations this year.
Some will be conversions of current stores and others will be new sites, says Barrie. “We’re still working with landlords”.
The group signed a lease for the 120,000sq ft former Debenhams unit inside Sheffield’s Meadowhall last month to open a new Sports Direct and Frasers flagship.
By contrast, House of Fraser’s Reading and Doncaster branches have both been earmarked for closure. This is on top of the Guildford and Solihull closures last month.
It seems that the group is slowly phasing out its House of Fraser brand whilst it grows this “next generation” department store.
If the Norwich branch is anything to go by it is a format that should excite shoppers. Murray may believe that the department store model is broken but Frasers could be the format that could fix it.