This year, Sheridan&Co celebrates 40 years in business. To mark the occasion, Michael Sheridan, Chairman & Founder of Sheridan&Co reflects back upon the retail industry over the decades.
At Sheridan&Co, we have worked through a period where retail and brands have had to target their marketing and reevaluate their vision to reflect the new cultural shifts and technological advancements that affect and shape our lives today. Integrity and transparency are, and always will be a must. The business and our clients have weathered five recessions.
Back in 1983, my wife Julien Sheridan typed a letter of resignation for me to hand into my employer. It was official. I quit my job and for the year that followed, I began to lay the foundations for Sheridan&Co. Julien continued to work at her job whilst carrying out admin for the business in the evening. The internet did not exist then. A mobile phone was the size of a small suitcase. Times were very different compared to now.
The arrival of Sheridan&Co coincided with the advent of the concession space. Estée Lauder and Clinique pioneered the initiative with bespoke shop-in-shop sites across the flagship department store network. We have helped many brands including Clarins, Elizabeth Arden, Revlon, Ralph Lauren, and Louboutin to realise the physical manifestation of their brand in this and standalone store formats.
This decade was really the very beginning of brands seeking to implement these kinds of spaces in retail. Forty years ago, concession spaces were rooted in brand awareness building. You would need to have a brand logo and their colours in the space so customers understood who they were shopping with. Our services were focused on the physical execution of sites. They were centred on VM projects such as window displays, promo sites and permanent concessions that enhanced brand education. Brand education is still important today, however, the retail landscape and our offering has become much more complex and nuanced since the 1980s.
An interesting part of our process back then for creating retail design was to source furniture for sites and to rent them. In our current retail climate, a lot of brand furniture is now bespoke. This makes it hard to reuse or recycle materials. However, with the current landscape pushing brands and retailers to strongly consider the environment and end of life cycle of materials used in design, a return to renting furniture could be a welcomed revival in retail.
In the 90s, we began to expand our offering from the physical execution of branded spaces to also designing them. This is when the creative services part of our business really took off. A client of ours moved to the US in the mid-90s so I was travelling to New York every 6 weeks to support with design services. This led to us expanding our offering by setting up an office in New York.
My travels to the US in the 90s also included working with Princess Marcella Borghese which coincided with P&G acquiring licences for fragrance brands such as Hugo Boss and Lacoste. We came up with a retail proposition abbreviated to LLML (Look Like Market Leader) opening the first multibrand concession in Allders of Croydon and Newcastle. Riding on great initial success, we moved quickly to find solutions for mainstream distribution in other major department stores and retail outlets such as Boots and independent distributors such as for chemists.
We were certainly the first in the sector to use early planogram software to help retailers optimise their fragrance presentation and at the same time ensure P&G had prime location. P&G went on and acquired many brands such as D&G, Gucci and many more. They then sold their extensive portfolio to Coty in 2016.
I work on the basis that you need at least two strong reasons to justify a business initiative. US brands have always coveted British Design but on my travels around the US, it soon became evident that the UK was admired as a major retail hub and therefore the first stepping stone away from home for US brands seeking global expansion. Our arrival in the US coincided with a number of brands wishing to expand into overseas markets so the ‘Britishness’ looked particularly attractive then as it still does now. One such client; Laura Mercier had us design their entire retail proposition, concession, merchandising units and other VM and once the concept was proved in the US, it was translated into the UK, Europe, Middle East and into South East Asia. We sourced their tester bar production out of China which directly led on to us facilitating production and local initiative from our base in Shanghai in the 2000s.
It was during this decade that the business really expanded its reach into Asia. I was born in Malaysia so it felt natural to be back in this part of the world. I travelled there extensively during the mid-late 2000’s working mainly for beauty and drinks brands but also latterly with CIMB Bank in Malaysia for whom we re-propositioned their ATM’s encouraging customers to deposit and access cash locally and away from the traditional B&M branches. A strong belief that we carry with us at Sheridan&Co is that ‘inspiration is everywhere’. We often look to other markets to inform ideas for different industries. This curiosity for inspiration has been consistent throughout the years but really started to come to life when we were operating in three regions globally.
From our experience, beauty brands have always been leading the way when it comes to retail. Throughout the years, notably starting in the early 2000s, we have seen the word ‘experience’ become a buzzword. I feel that beauty brands have been focused on this since day one. In concession spaces, beauty brands were doing all that they could to get customers to come into the store and a big part of motivating people was to offer them beauty services to enhance their understanding of products whilst also providing them with an enjoyable experience. Afterall, beauty projects are the smallest products in the room and therefore needed to think strategically about how to grab the most attention. Throughout the years, great retail has always been rooted in providing customers with experiences that entertain, educate and delight. Whilst this concept began in the 1980s with beauty, other sectors began to follow suit and we began to see the introduction of retail concepts that offered dining, social spaces and other forms of entertainment to get people through the door.
Through this heightened focus on experience, by the end of the 2000s, we arrived at a point whereby we were asking the question ‘what is our why’ when it came to design. Before this, we were primarily focused on ‘the how’ in terms of design and often rushed to this point, bypassing the considerations of consumer behaviour and trends. By returning to this question, we were able to sow the seeds for our strategy offering and offering client strategic direction that informed our creative and retail manufacturing.
Anecdotally, like many businesses we were affected by the unprecedented tragedy of 9/11. Six months later, we weren’t sure our business would be sustainable in New York anymore. My GM and I met at the Peninsula hotel for an early evening drink to discuss the future of Sheridan&Co in the U.S. The bar has two identical terraces and returning from the bathroom I inadvertently ended up on the other terrace to find the whole Laura Mercier team celebrating a deal they had to open in all Saks doors starting immediately with NY. Several martinis later our US business was back on track.
Retail as entertainment was in full swing by this decade. A notable example that summarises this decade would be Topshop’s flagship destination on Oxford St which was a place that many teenagers would flock to on the weekend. Girls could easily spend several hours inside shopping, getting their hair and nails done, listening to music from DJs and eating at the food outlets inside. The start of the decade was marked by the launch of Instagram and people taking selfies in changing rooms like Topshop to show the world how much fun they were having.
This decade is when pop-ups began to really take off. Brands understood the experiential nature of retail and wanted to invite customers to experience newness and immerse them into their brand world through pop-ups. Following the financial crash, our London office opened on Blandford St and we had a pop-up space whereby we were the first to showcase Clarins new ’teen skin’ brand, hosted launches for Suitcase Magazine, showcased live musical experiences from global performers through Steinway’s pop-ups and created our own immersive retails experiences with our ‘Little Shop Of…’ initiative. The Little Shop of Health and The Little Shop of Beauty enabled established and blossoming brands to come together to showcase their products, host talks and share ideas with one another.
Everytime clients came to visit us, they could see a curation of brands at all stages of their journey showcasing experiential shopping and pop-up retail done properly. This era really summarised a heightened focus on curated retail. Long gone were the days when we simply merchandised products by brand or category type. Thoughtful retail experiences would curate spaces to showcase the very best of the current moment or make a statement about culture or art. The competition for brands was much more challenging in this decade than when we started in retail and in order to have an edge, retail needed to work harder to stand out. Our strategic offering focused on delivering on this point and became an integral part of our work with clients.
The start of this decade was marked by the global health crisis: Covid19. However, it is true what they say: a crisis welcomes creativity and innovation. This was a very challenging time for the sector as due to prolonged periods of closures. However, clients began to really understand the role of retail and the role of their marketing for community engagement. Instagram lives began well used forms of engagement for brands to connect with customers who had nowhere to go during lockdowns. Online shopping has always been a great place to buy ‘safe purchases’. However, retail is the environment for people to experience human interaction and conversation. It is a space for tactility via product testing and the manipulation of lighting and materials. Our post-covid retail experiences have really sought to understand the relationship between the physical and digital and how to capitalise on the two.
We are proud to say that during our forty years of operating, we have helped brands to communicate their identities through beautiful design whilst also developing retail experiences that engage with and excite their customers. We have worked on projects in both domestic and duty free retail in many countries across every continent for all the major retailers worldwide. Whilst the retail landscape has changed drastically since 1983, with greater expectation from customers with regards to how they shop today, one thing that has not changed is the need for experiences. This will always be the blueprint for great store design.
At core we are a family business. Supported by many amazing colleagues, alongside me, my wife Julien and three children Freddie, Bertie and Araminta are passionately involved and contributed greatly to where the business is today. We have worked with some of the most amazing knowledgeable and experienced people within the brands we have been entrusted to work with. On the family’s behalf, I take this opportunity to thank our stakeholders – retailers, clients, staff and suppliers for all of your support. We have been trusted to design and deliver many amazing projects over the last 40 years and for that we are eternally grateful.
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