13 February 2020

Back to the Future Part III: What Camden Lock taught us about the future of retail

Paul Hanegraaf discusses our curation and placemaking in the market and how going back to basics can help retail today.

“It was chaos when we first got there… a classic example of push retailing – shoving as much stuff  (often junk stuff) at the visitor. It was terribly confusing. The clutter and duplication of product distracted from the richness of quality brands and the few makers that were long term or resident. Our first task was to transform it to a pull experience, creating an enriching, calm, enjoyable and entertaining destination, for more than just weekends.

Market curation and placemaking

“We began with a process of sifting and curation. Tat out, interesting and quality in. We reduced the number of traders and the ones we felt needed to be seen were taken to the front. We allowed open spaces on weekends for new quality traders to come in, making the place feel different with every visit. We worked with the resident makers to bring their making process to the fore and with stall holders to tell their stories, in addition to selling their product. With that conversation alone we saw penetration grow alongside transaction value.

“These transformations require a more theatre-like stage setting than a redevelopment programme. We transformed spaces, redecorated spaces, added theatrical lighting and better sound so as to make them work more efficiently. We learned that in creating a dynamic flexibility in the physical environment, we had the ability to offer multiple formats of engagement in just one space.

Enriching events and experiences

“We added amazing events and a Thursday night, after-market unsigned bands performance programme. A local music producer curated the line-up and three groups would play each event accompanying an outdoor dining experience. It created a wonderful Camden vibe… in the shadow of the famous Dingwalls that for so many years had done just that. We were doing evening food fairs with an array of street food, well before it became a cool thing to do, alongside cinema and movie nights under the stars.

Back to basics – the importance on conversation in consuming

“Our experience at Camden took us back to basics, the very basics of retail commerce. We learned again the importance of a conversation in consuming. Anytime a vendor had the opportunity to engage personally with the consumer, all things changed from transactional to human engagement and sales grew. We learned of a world of makers and brands that existed outside our retail world – remarkably committed, talented designers and makers – emerging companies striving to be discovered.

What does this tell us about retail today?

“Today’s consumer wants fine product in a curated environment, but also the flexibility to browse. They crave a narrative that is engaging and that makes a purchase meaningful. They place importance on loyalty and thus the offer must evolve regularly, entertaining their interests and filling their impulses. They crave a new localism, a brand from their place, their town, their region that shares a bit of the life they live. They desire a community, personalised around their way of living.

“In a very interesting way, and as our experiences at Camden taught us, I think now is a time to listen better, push less, respond more and to very simply take it back to the basics… back to a time where entrepreneurs developed and operators delivered. Camden highlights how integral markets are as hubs and as the fabric of so many communities – breathing life into old spaces, connecting people from different walks of life through a mutual love of discovery, creativity and the conversation of commerce. They can be a powerful catalyst for town centre regeneration.

“It was this Camden learning that became one of the important threads to inform our CreativeTrade makers emporium concept, which will be where brands maturing from the likes of Camden Lock, will join to grow their businesses.”

Paul Hanegraaf is Milligan’s Creative Navigator, core to the team working to cleverly bridge the divide between architecture and developer. To find out more about our work in markets or CreativeTrade drop Paul a line paul@milliganltd.com