A confident challenge from the general manager of The Source, a new venture in home accessories. But as the former buying director of the ever-so- eclectic Conran Shop, Polly Dickens has spent years seeking out those exceptional little things for the home - and selling them. The difference this time is she's selling them at exceptionally competitive prices to a much broader public.
The new store, and showcase, opens today in London's High Street Kensington, in the 23,000 sq ft site just vacated by the once trendier-than-thou fashion emporium Hyper Hyper. The Source's two existing stores sell the same products but in less glamorous surrounds. The first opened 18 months ago in Thurrock Retail Park, Essex, shacked up rather anonymously next to PC World and Toys 'R' Us; the second is in a retail shed in Southampton. If the initial trial of three works, fifty more will open, most in low cost, out-of-town locations.
With over 10,000 items in store, The Source is, indeed, an Aladdin's Cave of home accessories: everything (except furniture and carpets) from sheets to shower curtains, bins to baskets, coffee cups to kiddies' bins - in all the colours of the rainbow, and in many different price brackets. Lime greens, oranges, acid yellows on cordless kettles and kitchen bins; electric blue or lime green glasses; Mediterranean or simple, risk-free whites on tableware; an array of tablecolths, 200-plus cushions, row upon row of sheets...
The list is endless and there are fun items too, like the "tap" salt cellar or the "chemistry set" spice rack - good starting points for any evenings' entertaining. "Our point of difference is our wide range and our extremely keen pricing," Polly Dickens insists. "Five basic ranges of knive from pounds 2.95 up to pounds 13.95. Across every range you get the spectrum. And at pounds 4.95 for a lilac vase you can afford to take a risk."
Forget lavish displays, or highly designed surrounds. Affordability is more important, and that means staffing the cashdesks, filling the shelves, signposting the different departments clearly and keeping margins down. "The source is about drama from volume not beautiful one-off displays. We want to give people an idea of how our products go together, but you don't need a laid table. You can do it by putting three products together," says Polly, keen to point out that her buying team is a mix of mass market buyers from the likes of SavaCentre and up-market ones from Conran. "We're aiming for massive footfalls."
The inspiration for The Source came from American "category killers" like Bedbath & Beyond or Linens and Things, modern-day versions of that old British idea - pile it high, sell it cheap - where price and choice far outweigh shopping niceties like pleasing surrounds. "Coming from Conran and Heals, I was fairly stunned," she muses. "Category killers sell every product but they make no effort with display: fluorescent lights, sagging wire shelves. Pile-it-high branded products at a good price."
Sure. But so-called category killers turn round the type of volumes that other stores would murder for. So how, with just three outlets, is The Source coming up with its competitive prices? "We are not greedy with our margins," Polly told me, "although we make a perfectly good one. And we've had good support from all our manufacturers who think it's about time something new happened in British retailing. The common denominator for our customers is `I can't resist it and I always find something I like.'"
In spite of the large choice, the hand of the buying team can be felt behind all the ranges, bought in or otherwise. But as The Source prepares to challenge the highly stylised Habitat ("if you don't like the look that season, that's it") and the Scandinavian feel IKEA at one end and the John Lewis Partnership ("the closest we get to a category killer, making a virtue of not being inspirational") at the other, own brand or exclusive goods are becoming more important. They have now grown to make up 40 per cent of the ranges, sourced from the UK to India (textiles to lighting), Egypt (Egyptian cotton bedlinen) or Portugal (ceramics and pottery).
The Source (developed under the auspices of multiple retailer, Sears) is undoubtedly cashing in on the next growth market. Those thirty-something babyboomers-turned-superwomen who work, have school age children and are redirecting their double incomes from fashion to the home to improve their nests.
It was as a target customer that I set off for Thurrock (work on the Kensington High Street store could only start a week before its opening) and took my basket in hand. My aim? To defy Polly Dickens' confident challenge, and pass between the designer-clad London luvvies and the Essex housewives without spending a penny.
As I saw the polycotton sheets on entering the store, I relaxed. Not for me, I thought. But just as you're meant to. I stumbled on more and more that I liked, needed or would have been stupid to pass by. And after two hours' browsing (considerably longer than I'd planned) and a great deal of resisting. I left almost pounds 30 worse off with a few beautiful odds and ends: a packet of sea-shell soaps (75p), a bathmat (pounds 9.95), a salt and pepper mill (pounds 5.95 and pounds 8.95 respectively) and some lemon bath oil (pounds ). I'll go back for the muslin curtains (pounds 12.95) and the new range Egyptian cotton sheets (from pounds 19.95) another time.
The Source had clinched the tournament.Reuse content