I learned three things in a jump into central London yesterday. one, that Uniqlo doesn't do gloves. two, that the recession has yet to hit Abercrombie & Fitch, the till queue for which was a good twenty-punters long. and three, that National Geographic have opened a rather amazing store on Regent Street.
National Geographic are not the first (and they won't be the last) media organisation to open a branded retail space, but they're certainly in line to be the one that opened the grandest. its 20,000 sq ft across three floors sells everything from bug spray to the latest technology in exploration gear, but that is just the start.
the store also aims to provide an absorbing learning experience through interactive visual displays as well as an auditorium to host film screenings and public lectures. it's an amazing space, and one that will go towards funding the Society's aims, as copy in the store explains:
"when you buy at the National Geographic Store, you're helping launch new expeditions across the world. thanks to your help, projects we've helped fund have uncovered the Inca city of Machu Picchu and the wreck of the R.M.S. Titanic. today the Society supports more than 500 expeditions and research projects a year" (source: poster in National Geographic Store)
it is certainly opening in interesting times; as an article in Retail Week observes, the store is likely to be the last major opening Regent Street (and indeed London) will see in a while:
"Retail pundits will tell you that Regent Street is a thoroughfare filled with brand flagships where having a presence is rather more important than making money. This may be so, but in recessionary times the tendency to let the eye stray towards the bottom line is more tempting than last year."
which is a shame, because it's exactly this kind of initiative, exactly this kind of engaging brand innovation, that is most likely to future-proof a brand. as a focus for PR efforts, as a destination, and as a source for new news and sparks for word of mouth, the National Geographic Store is everything an interactive and engaging brand experience should be...
...an experience grounded not in the necessity to sell, but in the discovery and exploration of why that brand pertains to exist in the first place, and what that brand's point of view on the world is; the concept and idea of that brand made manifest. everything, in short, that a retail space in the early 21st Century should be.