business

Birmingham Harvey Nichols: first look inside new Mailbox store

The revamped designer outlet is due to open this summer and will sport an 'immersive tunnel' and 'style concierges' among its new features at The Mailbox

Selfridges has that distinctive cladding, John Lewis its wall of mirrors... Harvey Nichols' designers had to come up with something distinctive.

So the brains behind the soon-to-be-reopened Mailbox store in Birmingham have taken the digital route to people's hearts, with visitors greeted by perhaps the largest indoor screen in the city and an "immersive tunnel" entrance, surrounded by LEDs and more screens.

The new 'Harvey Nics', which will be double the size of its previous incarnation, opens in July and is part of a package of three department stores which city leaders expect will deliver a major tourism boost.

But it will be perhaps the city's most digital store, with screens wherever you turn, mobile payment, a new loyalty app and state-of-the-art 360-degree mirrors which capture footage of shoppers which can even be shared on social media.

Manager Richard Vickery said the store, designed with Virgile & Partners, creates a new blueprint for the 184-year-old retailer.

And he believes 2015 will be a ground-breaking year for retail in Birmingham, with the prospect of more visitors being attracted from beyond the city's traditional reach.

He said: "The Mailbox has always been a successful place for us. Of the retailers who operated here previously, there was probably a handful who made a success.

"Jaeger are coming back, as are Hugo Boss, and we are expanding, so there is a level of confidence in The Mailbox anyway and the confidence in its new, developed form, will come.

"You can't underestimate how successful The Mailbox has been from a residential and commercial point of view. The only thing that wasn't right was the retail side and this development not only fixes that, it takes it to another level.

"Add to that Grand Central opening between us and the Bullring, I personally believe we will create a shift in terms of retail in the centre of the city."

The expansion to a 45,000 sq ft store will see the workforce trebled to 200. In hospitality alone, the team will rise from three to more than 40.

A computer-generated image of plans for the Mailbox, showing the new roof

The luxury retailer has already secured more than 200 brands - many of which are debuting in the city - across womenswear, menswear, beauty, food and wine.

It also has an exclusive tie-up with Michelin-starred Birmingham chef Glynn Purnell in its restaurant. Mr Vickery expects to double the number of shoppers in the short term.

He said: "We broadly expect to double as soon as we open and then continue to grow as other retailers in the centre open. It is almost a phased launch of the centre, not a big bang.

"We will open in July, some others in August and September and then it will snowball. When the centre re-opens in September, it will be a game-changer for the city.

"You can have the Harvey Nichols experience you want here. The bespoke way we have set the store up allows you to do that."

The first thing visitors see is the "immersive tunnel" - where they are surrounded by LED screens which seek to reflect the mood - sunny meadows in the summer, autumn leaves or snow in the winter.

Then they will be met by "style concierges", who will tap into the digital hub underpinning the store.

Everything will be done by tablet - other than beauty, there are no cash tills on the shop floor.

The store flows from 'international', to 'designer', to 'casual'.

Then there will be a large food market - complete with a chocolate wall - and wine area, with its own bar facing the restaurant, which will offer private dining and a chef's table.

The store also has its own bar, which will be open until 12.30am on Fridays and Saturdays and will be accessed from a separate entrance opposite the BBC office.

It will also boast a cut and blowdry bar, a spa for everything from a facial to botox or fat-freezing, complete with secret entrance for VIPs or people having more invasive treatments.

Stacey Cartwright, chief executive of Harvey Nichols, said the store was a glimpse into the future for the famous Knightsbridge retailer.

A computer-generated image of the urban room at the redeveloped Mailbox

She said: "This is a landmark moment, not just for our Birmingham store, but for Harvey Nichols. It is hugely exciting to be launching our new design concept store in Birmingham.

"We believe we are creating an unrivalled retail destination for customers which will redefine the luxury retail market."

Mr Vickery said the store's customers vary from football stars, who use private shopping, to walk-in shoppers looking for a simple T-shirt.

However, he said offering a welcoming environment to all was vital to its success.

And he hopes to be welcoming more people from further afield as investments like Grand Central, John Lewis and the wider Mailbox scheme put the city on the map.

He said: "People who live in Staffordshire or Shropshire are going to be asking themselves 'Am I going to Manchester or am I going to Birmingham?'.

"And I think Birmingham will be in with a shout, where it might not be at the moment.

"Similarly, in Warwickshire, if it's 45 minutes to Birmingham or an hour into London, they will choose London now. Going forward though, that may well not be the case. It is an incredible time to be in Birmingham."

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