Our website uses cookies

Cookies enable us to provide the best experience possible and help us understand how visitors use our website. By browsing Retail Design World, you agree to our use of cookies.

Okay, I understand Learn more

Body service centres and the future of the high street

What is happening to the UK’s high streets? According to Savills, it’s all about a dearth of banks and glut of ‘body service centres’.

Bang Bang by Jesse McGowan
Bang Bang by Jesse McGowan

"Banks were the previous pull of the high street, but as branches have closed, the high street has changed and is increasingly dominated by vaping shops, barbers, cafés and coffee shops, and hair, nail and beauty salons,” said Savills at its Annual Big Shed Breakfast in November 2018. Hence the phrase ‘body service centres’.

Last year, Which reported that the UK had lost nearly two-thirds of its bank and building society branches over the past 30 years, from 20,583 in 1988 to 7,586 in 2018. The latest bank to slash its branches is Santander.

Meanwhile, a decade ago, vape shops were unheard of. There are around 2000 of them now, alongside a mushrooming of tattoo parlours and nail salons.

Evapo by Lyon & Lyon
Evapo by Lyon & Lyon

If ‘body servicing’ is a response to the things you can’t get online, as Ian Johnson founder of design agency Quinine puts it, then it’s no surprise that the sector is flourishing.

And while occupied outlets are better than boarded up shopfronts, few of these businesses have design front of mind.

“A lot of these people are entrepreneurs, and don’t spend time on the aesthetic,” says Johnson.

“There’s no identity other than it’s a convenience and it’s a service, customers aren’t going in to have an amazing experience or dialogue,” adds Jeff Kindleysides, founder of Checkland Kindleysides.

Pete Champion, partner and creative strategy director at I-AM, echoes this: “Aesthetically, a lot of what you see at the moment will have negative impact on street scape, but the role of branding design is not needed yet. There’s a good reason it looks untidy, it just needs to provide a service. These operators are filling a void while the high street shifts itself.”

Bang Bang by Jesse McGowan
Bang Bang by Jesse McGowan

Aspirational tattooists could look over the pond to Bang Bang. Located in SoHo, New York City, the studio – designed by Jesse McGowan – is all marble-clad minimalism. McGowan is working with the owners on more outlets, and “each space will be completely unique but subscribe to the brand vision,” he says. 

Nail bar owners and their ilk can also learn from mobile phones. In the early days, “independent dealers didn’t have fancy shops,” says Johnson, whose clients include EE, “they weren’t driven by branded environments.”

iSmash
iSmash

Now, some independents in that sector have woken up to offering a branded experience. Champion sites screen repair chain, iSmash. “A lot of such providers started with no branding, then iSmash looked sort of designed and branded.”

So rather than viewing the current state of the high street as a design disaster, it should be seen as an opportunity, the designers believe. As such businesses start differentiating themselves by offering an experience, design will get involved. Caulder Moore-designed express-salon chain Blow is an example of this.

Facegym by Checkland Kindleysides
Facegym by Checkland Kindleysides

And as conventional retailers and other services disappear, there’s the chance (or imperative) to reinvent the high street.

“The value of the high street has always been face-to-face contact, and the internet can’t provide that,” says Johnson. Or as Champion puts it: “The high street is going to become the answer to ‘what can you not do brilliantly online?’.”

Dentix
Dentix

Sectors that could reinvent themselves to offer education, entertainment and an experience could include dentists’ surgeries, suggests Johnson. He cites the chain Dentix as a chain with an increasing high street presence.

Another is technology, says Champion. “It’s ripe for reinvention beyond laptops and TVs and phones.” When it comes to selling robots and AI, customers will need to “speak to someone who is an expert”.

B Works by I-AM
B Works by I-AM

In the meantime, Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank is attempting to change the rules of its game. B Works in Manchester, created by I-AM, is a place to “talk about your life, goals, dreams”, says Champion.

Kindleysides, whose agency worked on the brand strategy of Coal Drops Yard, thinks it goes beyond individual sectors. For the last decade, he has been battling with the question of who can lead high streets into the future. “It would take a massive collective view to sort things out,” with issues such as legislation, transport, tax, infrastructure, and streetscapes all considered in the mix. “The whole thing would have to be managed as mutually beneficial, so it would become a question of how you make sure that everybody looks out for everybody else, to create a community that has an identity in itself, with the right sort of infrastructure and right balance to make you want to be there. If you could do it, then the whole thing becomes a reason to visit. Somebody somewhere as got to change the rules.”

What’s Hot on Retail Design World?