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The Future of the Beauty Hall, According to British Retailer Flannels

The retailer is making its first foray into beauty, with a new concept that focuses on cross-selling and interactive experiences, such as in-store beauty bars.

LONDON — British retailer Flannels has been on a steady growth trajectory in the last five years, weathering the pandemic better than many of its retail peers in the U.K.

Part of its success formula? Bringing the buzziest luxury and contemporary fashion labels to regional U.K. towns and tending to those regions’ fashion-savvy shoppers, who have historically been underserved — for simply choosing to live outside London.

Now, the company is venturing into beauty for the first time to build on its success, with a new retail concept and three locations in the towns of Leicester, Sheffield and Liverpool.

“We’ve proved our concept and the fact that the consumer really does exist in regional cities, they are just not being served in a modern, forward-thinking way. That’s what we want to apply now to the beauty category,” said Michael Murray, the retailer’s head of elevation. 

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Not only does Murray want to make the best of beauty more accessible to regional audiences — the idea is to offer established labels like Chanel and Dior, next to specialty brands and hyped-up digital names like Patrick Ta — but also offer a new, more modern physical store experience.

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“There’s a reason why beauty halls are closing all around the world because the concept is dead — it’s a dying business model. So we’ve really ripped up the rule book and put the consumer first with a multibrand approach,” said Murray. 

This means that Flannels’ beauty specialists will be selling across all the different brands on offer, helping customers pick what’s best for them instead of sitting behind individual brands’ counters.

A rendering of the new Flannels beauty hall
A rendering of the new Flannels beauty hall. Courtesy of Flannels

“The specialist can walk you around all of the different areas, counters and brands, and then create a look that suits you with no brand bias,” said Murray.   

There will also be a beauty bar on the shop floor, where customers can take a seat, sip a glass of champagne and try the products on the bar’s ever-changing menu. The idea is to make the experience more “interactive” and create opportunities for brand takeovers, parties, beauty tutorials and more.

Local beauty therapists will also be able to use the beauty bar as their version of a “hot desk” and start treating clients from the Flannels shop floor.

“I wanted to allow brands the chance to build close relationships with the consumers, and get them to discover more about their products and stories. We’ve got a very exciting calendar with brand events and expect this to be a huge hit with regional customers, driving that in-store engagement,” added Murray.

There are also portable payment systems and digital screens dotted around the new space, which will allow the retailer to highlight social content within its physical spaces.

“We are a digital-first business so everything we do in the physical store has to have an online presence, too,” said Murray. “There’s a whole digital content strategy in stores with screens that make it very easy to host brand takeovers, change content quickly and react to trends.”

According to the company, beauty brands quickly jumped on board and there are a number of exclusives in the work, with the likes of Patrick Ta, one of the beauty world’s biggest Instagram personalities. He has turned his 2.2 million following into a burgeoning makeup business.

A rendering of the new Flannels beauty hall
A rendering of the new Flannels beauty hall. Courtesy of Flannels

“The beauty industry has been starved of forward-thinking and innovative business models. That’s why, I think brands have been holding back and just going online for the last few years. But they welcomed our concept with open arms because we are literally investing huge sums of money on new concepts like cross-selling,” said Murray. 

But it will be well worth the investment, in a saturated landscape where “everybody’s going online” and retailers need to have a strong point of difference and offer brands opportunities to enhance their strategies and connect with new audiences.

The plan is to open three more locations in the next year, and up to 10 to 15 additional doors in the longer term, with the focus being on regional towns.

“We have to be adding value to a city which is currently underserved. London is over-served, so we are not looking at opening beauty in London. That’s the main reason why we chose to start with Liverpool, Sheffield and Leicester: They’re huge cities with a very fashion-focused consumer and demographic which has just been severely underserved for the last few decades. That’s where the opportunity lies: Focusing on that consumer and bringing the best of London to their doorstep,” he added.