Along with trips to the theatre and shopping on Oxford Street, the pale green storefront of Fortnum & Mason is synonymous with London’s West End. But last month the Queen’s grocer took a leap into the great unknown, opening its first new standalone branch in 300 years. Slotted in the heart of London’s banking district, in the 16th-century Royal Exchange, it comprises an all-day restaurant and 2,400 sq ft store stocking luxury groceries, homeware and gifts. All decked out in that Fortnums’ signature shade of pale green (eau de Nil, actually).
“It’s amazing to be in such a beautiful space,” says CEO Ewan Venters. “A shopping mall or street corner isn’t enough for us.” The fine food retailer has outlets at Heathrow and St Pancras, and its experimentation in those locations has given it the confidence to move into this standalone, with double the retail space of those outlets. It also helps, of course, that the business as a whole is doing so well, with its results last week reporting sales up 12% to £126m, with pre-tax profits up 26%.
And while online sales are growing (up 21%), for Venters the new store is all about attracting new custom, with the City a natural fit. “Fortnums has always been a big purveyor of products to City workers,” he says. “We already had a lot shopping with us, but bringing a branch closer to them makes the experience even more convenient.”
Although the intricately designed Royal Exchange branch is far more compact than the 6,500 sq ft Piccadilly flagship, it still stocks the very best of what the retailer has to offer. That includes its world-renowned hampers, and what it has promised is its finest food and drink, be it cheese, caviar, salmon, champagne, biscuits and tea - including the exclusive Royal Exchange blend.
“There’s nothing worse than small store formats offering a selection that misrepresents what a retailer stands for,” says Venters. “It’s not just about bestsellers, it’s the lines that represent Fortnums the best and give customers the true experience of us. Why wouldn’t we celebrate the best of what we sell?”
Tea is a key focus, and in a witty touch, the store’s chandeliers are made from tea caddy spoons. “Tea is the store’s anchor, along with our gift personalisation service. Employees use our digitally controlled steam pumps to compress tea leaves customers wish to sample before adding water at the relative temperature for the tea type. The pump then brews the tea two to three times faster than naturally brewing.”
It’s a feature also present in the flagship, and that Venters was keen to include here because of the “engaging conversation” it creates with shoppers.
Every detail has undergone the same careful consideration, from contemporary curved shelving to plush red carpets. And that’s just the shop.
The bar and restaurant enjoys the same lavish touches, including patterns on its crockery inspired by the famous spiral staircase at its flagship, and luxuriously velvet eau di Nil seats. The space seats 90 across tables and the counter, and serves a seasonal menu consisting of caviar, shellfish, smoked salmon, plus on-trend raw, light and vegan dishes - think grilled aubergine and roasted cauliflower. There’s more traditional options too, like welsh rarebit, fish pie and knickerbocker glory, or dover sole, white truffle tagliatelle, and its exclusive Glenarm beef, alongside wine priced at up to £480 a bottle.
Given that the restaurant was busy at 4pm midweek, it seems a hit with customers already. Venters says it and the store had hit “budget numbers almost instantly” in the six days after it opened.
The retailer is by no means stopping there. From spring 2019, it’s launching a champagne delivery service on bicycles for customers throughout the City. The price has not yet been confirmed, but the service is designed to allow customers to treat themselves (or someone else) to one of Fortnums’ many select bottles.
And though Venters insists there are no plans for more stores any time soon, he is keen to keep the historic brand evolving with the times. “We can be attractive to a new generation through what we offer, but you’ve got to listen and respond to customers’ opinions, adapt to their needs and flex your proposition.”