I have often wondered what certain customers in their chauffeur-driven Bentleys think when they are dropped outside the grand doors of Selfridges in Oxford Street to spend the day shopping and lunching – only because Oxford Street is neither Bond Street nor Sloane Street and, although it is in close proximity to Mayfair, it is a street that is a great equaliser. But is it changing?
I caught up with Max Conze, CEO of Dyson, at the opening of their third Dyson Demo and asked him: why Oxford Street? Max promptly replied, simply saying customer traffic. The store is right next door to Tesla and across the road from Selfridges – so is this end of Oxford Street disrupting its perception and upping the ante, or are other luxury brands – particularly fashion – missing a trick?
The first and second sites of the concept launched in Tokyo and Jakarta in the past two years. This newest space, which is 3,230 sq ft over two floors, was designed by James with the exceptional lighting done by his son Jake. The opening was a family affair with everyone, including Mrs Dyson, looking on with pride. The space is fabulous and has a similar feel – albeit smaller – to the Apple stores, in addition to their next door neighbours, Tesla. Upstairs, visitors can have a full demo of the new Supersonic hair dryer, with hair stylists on hand to wash and then blow dry your hair – talk about retail theatre! There are 65 products to try out and they can be bought too, along with a collection of 64 dust specimens and four types of flooring to test out the devices. Customers are treated to the cleanest air in London on one of its most polluted streets, thanks to the company’s state-of-the-art air purifier.
The company was founded in 1991 by inventor Sir James Dyson with his flagship bagless vacuum cleaners. It has become a worldwide household name, integrating industrial technologies with household and commercial items, such as hand dryers and hairdryers, to create best-in-class models that are simply well-known. The company has done so with barely any television campaigns, relying almost entirely on press reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations from customers. Known amongst reporters for his hands-on approach, including vacuuming the floors at press offices, Sir James’s aversion to marketing is clearly working: Dyson reported revenues up 26% to £1.74bn in 2015.
“The Dyson Demo encourages people to be hands-on. The Supersonic salon introduces hair science to the high street for the first time, and nowhere else can you choose between 64 types of dust and debris to test a vacuum cleaner” – Jake Dyson, son of founder Sir James Dyson
The Dyson Demo brings to life a more sophisticated version of its ‘no marketing’ strategy, and stems from its first concept store launched in Paris in 1999, which was based on the principle that people need to understand how a machine works to see how it works better. Part of the experience is pushing visitors to become acquainted with the products in deeper way than traditional retailers would: “[It] encourages people to be hands-on. The Supersonic salon introduces hair science to the high street for the first time, and nowhere else can you choose between 64 types of dust and debris to test a vacuum cleaner,” says Jake Dyson, son of founder Sir James.
With vacuum cleaners priced up to £800, there’s no question that Dyson qualifies as a luxury tech company. So far in 2016, online sales have made up nearly 17% of all retail sales in the UK, showing that consumers are not necessary bothered about where they get their purchases from – and that’s how Sir James wants it to be. As Max Conze made clear, the Oxford Street location is all about the number of people passing by: “It is about creating an experience and demonstrating. Dyson invents technology, and then we need to explain and demonstrate it. Where people choose to buy it from doesn’t really matter.”
“Dyson invents technology, and then we need to explain and demonstrate it. Where people choose to buy it from doesn’t really matter” – Max Conze, chief executive of Dyson
Both Dyson and Tesla are untethered from a luxury heritage demanding a certain London address, and they have cleverly got the freedom to tie their sites to attention-grabbing locations, allowing people who pass by to come in and play with the products, with no pressure to buy. Apple has shown a similar strategy with its chosen sites that are all about grabbing attention from pedestrians: with huge glass storefronts and tables full of gadgets, consumers are drawn in to tinker with the latest technologies, showcased in clean, bright spaces that may as well have ‘Please Touch’ signs on the wall.
The Dyson Demo and its counterparts are by no means the end of traditional marketing: social media, television and the ever-reliable London Tube ads certainly aren’t going anywhere. But a brand that can base its reputation on word-of-mouth references and invites people in off the street to experience its offering can cater to a part of the experience that others cannot. And with the ever-continuing growth of online shopping, I think we’ll be seeing some similar ideas coming up in the future. The question is will Chanel and Louis Vuitton ever open stores on Oxford Street? Bets on!