Archives for posts with tag: Williams Sonoma

West Elm opened it’s first UK site today in Tottenham Court Road.

WE window

I have to admit that I have not shopped a West Elm in the US but I am a huge fan of their owners Williams Sonoma and there is clearly a standard and attention to detail that permeates the whole company.

The first thing you recognise is the difference in the staff attitude and approach. There were loads of excess teams there as you would expect on opening day but what was lovely was the interaction they had with the customer. It was one of genuine excitement to be opening here in the furniture/homewares heartland of London and also a clear understanding of soft selling.

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The other element that translates so competitively from the US model is their ability to catalogue and visually merchandise. They manage to combine these two elements to create wonderful stories which are stimulating and enjoyable to shop. Every corner has something to discover and whilst some product is familiar to me, lots is new and interesting. They are also pretty competitive price wise at the mid level range with clear intro key prices as well as some at the luxury end. In support of all this is a great tone of voice that fits their brand well keeping signage and communication something simple that makes you smile.

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At the centre of the shop is a living wall which is something that has been done many times before, but it is still attractive. It adds colour, vibrancy and a sense of outdoor space which helps to define a relaxed tone within. The natural wall wraps around the central staircase which leads downstairs to a more conventional home floor but with nice room sets and an ordering zone which was very efficient when I put it to the test.

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The fun zone upstairs is their market area which has a funky coffee shop, a mixture of kitchenware and food plus some well thought out toiletries. Studded throughout the whole ground floor were little highlights which showed product combinations and stimulated nice ideas to enable visualisation of the product in a home environment.

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It will be interesting to see how this first foray goes for the Williams Sonoma team. I believe they are looking at other sites for their other brand – Pottery Barn. I personally think it is a welcome addition to the UK high street and I wish them well.

New-York-Christmas

As Christmas approaches, I am once again pondering the great gifts for this year. Inevitably I like all the food related gifts and now that I am in the US, I am indulging in their take on the ‘holiday season’ and the wonderful offerings over this side of the pond.

My parents went into a shop the other day and were greeted by a guy on the door who smiled, welcomed them and then added: “Don’t deny yourself anything”. Only in the US, I know you are saying, but I love the fact that our experience has been that everyone is engaging that way with us. There are a load of cynical Brits who automatically hate the US way, but personally I would rather have that man greet me in the shop than the majority of people I see in the UK. There is no doubt that the yanks do Christmas so well, combining sights, smells, colours and flavours in each and every shop adding in a huge dollop of great service plus incredible offers to tempt.

So in the spirit of no denial, here are a few ideas and places to inspire.

I tend to prefer small one off independents to shop in but when in the US, there are a few places that I frequent. For gifts, we are now blessed with Anthropologie here in the UK so that treat is available here now. Still to venture over here are my three other favourites: Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and Williams Sonoma.

Pottery Barn has lost its sparkle in recent years and whilst Crate & Barrel do a great job, it is Williams Sonoma that really do excite me. Their merchandising skills are second to none telling great stories and bringing products together in an interesting and shop-able way.

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The first thing I saw on entering the shop was this gorgeous little boy. How cute is this? and of course, he wasn’t alone as he was standing amongst a whole waffle display with waffle mixes, waffle makers and stirrers and bowls. What a welcome at the front door.

Popcorn

One of the displays that struck a cord with me was the popcorn. This has to be the product of 2012 on both sides of the Atlantic. Whether it is a popcorn making machine, a stove top or microwaveable popping vessel, the corn itself or the many accessories to go with it, popcorn in all its guises makes a great family present. For interesting corns, try Zaramama. And if you are feeling adventurous, I can recommend Bill Granger’s caramel popcorn recipe which is a lovely home-made addition to any popcorn gift.

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The other range of products that interested me in Williams Sonoma was the many branded products coming from top chefs such as Tom Colicchio and Thomas Keller. It amazes me that chefs of this calibre feel the need to produce long life retail products. They follow in the footsteps of places like Sprinkles and their cupcake mix but I am just not sure that this is a route to take. For me it cheapens their brand but maybe the money is worth it.

williams sonoma mushroom logThe range of food gifts that most interest me sit under the banner DIY and Homemade Kits. Homemade is clearly a big fashion and this year there have been many books published to tell us how to do it along with a range of gift packs and Williams Sonoma showcases the best here. The butter and cheese sets are lovely, but the one that drew me were the mushroom logs which allow you to cultivate a range of different mushrooms. Delivered in chilled boxes, these are just wonderful. Go online and peruse the shop yourself. They do ship internationally even if Christmas is rushing towards us.

Ginvent-CalendarFinally, I need to make special mention of this Ginvent calendar which I first heard about on The Foodinista’s blog. She always has her finger on the food and wine fashion pulse so is worth looking into and invariably I will take her recommendations. When I looked into this calendar, I found that you can buy it, or a whisky version, here in the UK. I just love the fact that they chose gin as this is by far the trendiest spirit of 2012 and these samples cover tried and tested as well as interesting brands to try…and all in this lovely packaging. I will definitely earmark this for next year.