Standing inside a Bloch store makes one feel as though they could peel away the merchandise to reveal a fully functional dance studio. That’s their true strength; living and breathing dance. Balance beams line floor to ceiling mirrors and hardwood floors creak quietly underfoot as knowledgeable staff flit from shelf to rail helping dancers find their perfect fit. Bloch comes to life with their in-store experience, true principal artists of retail theatre. Bloch thrive in a niche market by making themselves a rite of passage for young dancers, delivering on reputable products and personalised service. Despite having little to no major competitors in the bricks and mortar landscape, Bloch continues to strive and innovate rather than rest on their laurels, showing a consistency and commitment to their Belief. Appointments for pointe shoes can go for as long as 40 minutes. At Bloch, “the most comfortable dance shoes in the world” is something not to be rushed.
Kookai are the only traditional clothing brand to break into the top 10, bucking the trend of apathetic apparel retailers. And it’s certainly not by chance. Kookai is a compelling case study in finding your demographic and fostering a community of belonging. Upon entering one of their stores, you’re enveloped by floral perfume that welcomes you into the world of a Kookai woman. The interior would not be out of place in an issue of RealLiving - bright, open and minimalistic, tied together with soft pink accents and marble textures. The employees - dressed head-to-toe in Kookai clothing, shoes, and accessories - are impeccably presented walking mannequins. Racks of clothing are satisfyingly colour coordinated, podiums of jewellery are strategically scattered, and a phalanx of staff stand by, ready to meet any service requirement. In this sense, the service level was a stand-out. Shoppers felt as if they were always looked after as they explored the various nooks of the store.
With a greengrocer in South Yarra, two café’s, a delicatessen and a supermarket in Essendon Fields, they may be little, but they’re certainly mighty. The LaManna brand is all about family and community, and their retail expression exudes these elements in spades. Customers are routinely greeted by smiling staff, not because it’s their job description, but because of their culture. It’s something you rarely see that at major supermarket chains like Coles or Woolworths. If you’re lucky, you might even spot the titular LaManna and his sons at their South Yarra greengrocer.They’re up at the crack of dawn every day to pick fruit and veg and are always happy to have a chat. Walking into any of their stores is a sensory experience.Their towering fresh food displays go above and beyond their supermarket contemporaries, and the joyous energy of their staff is infectious. It’s this atmosphere that separates LaManna from the rest. It’s the hustle and bustle of a weekend market in retail form. Brilliant.
When people think about buying art, they think of auctions and art galleries, of highly-wound art collectors who judge your tastes against their own. Bromley and Co. completely upend this attitude. Since making the transition from selling one artist’s art (David Bromley), Bromley and Co. has become a curator and retailer of a multitude of artists. And in doing so, they’re making art accessible to a market the art world seems to have ignored for many years. Notably, Bromley and Co. have a strong and recognisable belief. In their staff’s own words, they’re committed to “creating an art gallery for the people.” Almost everything about the retail experience is right: strong message, eclectic store design, and staff that are both knowledgeable and passionate about what they do and where they do it. For those who aren’t familiar with similar retail spaces, Bromley and Co.’s over the top displays might be more overwhelming than inspiring. But for those who truly belong, there’s charm in the chaos.
R.M. Williams is a brand that cues thoughts of leather, the outback, the crack of a stockman’s whip and Hugh Jackman in Baz Luhrman’s ‘Australia’. Customers are greeted by large portraits of the man himself that gaze imperiously as they wander through the space. Stylish wood panelling, perfectly polished floors and the open plan layout of a designer boutique work together to marry the brand’s rugged Australian identity with its premium quality and price point. Beyond the space itself, the people and the products truly feel like they belong. After multiple visits the one thing that consistently stood out was the ability of staff members to recite brand stories and anecdotes about almost every product. From their apparel to their iconic boots, R.M. Williams is packed with personality, and the staff clearly love it. With more than 400 stores in Australia alone however, the potential for variation in the customer experience is higher than the smaller stores on this list.
Haigh’s Chocolate is ‘Willy-Wonka-meets-Sovereign-Hill’ – and the effect is utterly delightful. Much like R.M. Williams, Haigh’s lean into their Australian heritage to form their brand identity, but a fork in the road comes in the form of retail theatre. The gold rush era touches are charming and the chocolate itself is quality, but where Haigh’s shines is in their ability to put on a great show and give a memorable retail experience. Every customer is greeted by a smiling staff member who offers a sample of their product, pamphlets for chocolate factory tours are readily available, and the abundance of staff means there’s always someone to talk you through their large selection of sweets. The iconic gold-wrapped chocolate frogs adorn the shelves and beautiful handcrafted chocolates taunt you through glass casings. The chocolates are the real stars of the show — and Haigh’s know it. Their store, staff and products are all top tier, and their ‘family owned’ belief and history is compelling.
T2 have always put on a good show, a commitment that has helped them become the dominant tea purveyor in Australia.But what makes them especially noteworthy is just how knowledgeable and enthusiastic their staff are. T2 pioneered the emergence of experience-led retail in the 2000’s and in the years since they’ve remained true to themselves and impossibly fresh, defying all the retail odds. Both tea aficionados and those who never touch the stuff were convinced to buy a box during their visits to T2. That’s a remarkable testament to the in-store experience. These guys have the whole package. As soon as you walk in the door, the delicious aroma of tea wafts over you while rainbow walls of perfectly stacked boxes of exotic tea blends invite you to come and discover what lies within. Friendly employees are always ready to hand out freshly brewed tea and chat through their various notes and benefits. It’s one of those spaces you just want to pop into every time you’re at the shops.
Aesop imbues every one of their retail stores with the striking architectural elements, attention to detail and service quality that you might expect from a concept or pop-up store. It’s a feat that’s as impressive as it is unique, and that’s why Aesop belongs in the top three. What sets it apart is its design philosophy, which radiates personality and belief. The beautiful simplicity of Aesop stores is striking. The design of each one is tailored to its location through subtle unique elements, and filled with perfectly placed jars of lotions and potion sleeve you feeling like you’re in some kind of ultra-chic apothecary. It’s clear that every Aesop store puts culture first - and that’s how they create such a gripping retail experience. Through the creation of a sensory destination like no other, Aesop force customers to snap out of their haze and take notice. Despite having more than 200 stores, Aesop keeps a humble facade. They know that the world doesn’t need another big company - it needs symbols of change to pave the way to a better way of living.
You may not have heard of Gewürzhaus Spice Merchants, but they stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of the best. Gewürzhaus customers step off the streets of Melbourne and into what seems to be a traditional Turkish bazaar, enveloped immediately by colour and culture. Anchored by the Belief that cooking should come from the home and the heart, Gewürzhaus delivers a truly immersive retail experience. Customers are invited to scoop and bag their own spices. It’s a practice that’s not only fun, but is driven by the belief that cooking is an important and intimate experience. Each store is warm and homely; tea is always brewing, and the quiet environment is a welcome change from the loud pop music that blares from many other retailers. The walls are chock-a-block with aromatic spices from every corner of the world, giving you the same feeling as an afternoon spent at your nan’s house —if your nan had seriously upgraded her spice rack.
Deus rises as the cream of the crop and top the top of the tippy top in this list. But, to truly discover what makes them special, you'll have to check out our 2019 Australian Betail Survey where you can find more information on how we came to these conclusions, as well as our methodologies and why the retail world needs this report now more than ever. Without the context provided by the report, our words on Deus will hold no weight. So do yourself a favour and check it out.
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By Oscar Hammond - Junior Copywriter @50 Crates