Retail review: Topshop/Topman at Queensway Plaza
14 months after it first arrived in Hong Kong, Topshop opened a second location at Queensway Plaza, which includes the city’s first and only Topman store. To understand how the new stores ended up in Admiralty, a bit of background is in order.
Pacific Place, the crown jewel in Swire’s property portfolio, went through a major facelift three years ago. Dickson Poon replaced Seibu with the glitzier Harvey Nichols and Burberry put up a massive two-storey Hong Kong flagship. Amidst the retail reshuffle, long-time anchor tenant Lane Crawford drew the short straw and ended up with an eviction notice. Perhaps Swire no longer believed in having two department stores on the same premises, or perhaps lease negotiation with its major competitor Wheelock (owner of Lane Crawford) got a little personal. Whatever the reason was, Lane Crawford needed to find a new home.
The fallout prompted the department store to approach Queensway Plaza’s landlord, the government’s Property Agency, to reboot the 64,000 sq ft retail space above the MTR station. It was then Lane Crawford proposed a new retail idea called Lab Concept (not to be confused with the men’s skincare brand Lab Series), positioned to be a younger, more casual version of itself. The new mall opened in spring 2012, filling the sprawling single-storey shopping mall with beauty and cosmetics consignment counters and cult brands like American Apparel, Cheap Monday and Free People. But Lab Concept has been a complete dud. It generated very little buzz and never warmed up to local shoppers. Worse still, it was starting to cheapen the venerable Lane Crawford brand.
The location is partly to blame. Whereas most people consider Queensway Plaza a glorified footbridge that connects Pacific Place to the rest of Admiralty, some find the windowless, low-ceiling space dated and depressing. It might even be cursed. From the ill-fated Matsuzakaya department store in the 1980s to the non-descript local arcade run by the government in the two decades since, nothing seems to thrive there. Separated only by a single street, Pacific Place and Queensway Plaza are worlds apart in terms of revenue and cachet. It must be a fengshui thing.
The failed experiment at Queensway Plaza raised a red flag for senior management. Plans to put another Lab Concept at Asia Standard Tower on Queen’s Road Central were scrapped. Instead, Lane Crawford handed the space over to its new retail partner Topshop, Britain’s hugely successful fast fashion chain that had been looking for an entry point in Hong Kong. Topshop finally opened in June 2013 with pomp and circumstance. But the Queen’s Road Central location is small by UK standard. It only carries the women’s line and a men’s store would have to wait.
That brings us to Topshop/Topman at Queensway Plaza. Opened this past Wednesday, the twin stores take up a chunk of prime Lab Concept space. It was a strategic decision on Lane Crawford’s part to deepen an important cross-border partnership as well as to improve its own bottom line. A smart move notwithstanding, Lane Crawford didn’t go nearly far enough. Instead of giving the stores the proper space they deserve, the mall continues to waste precious real estate on redundant beauty counters (most of them already have more established outposts at the nearby Pacific Place) as well as silly ideas like vending machines for hair products and laundry detergent (which no one ever uses). Sometimes letting go is easier said than done.
Meanwhile, Topshop is making the best of the small area allocated to it. At roughly 2,500 sq ft, the men’s store stocks a bit of everything from basic tees and jeans to business suits and dress shoes. Prices are comparable to Zara’s: long-sleeve shirt at $359, jeans at $399 and blazers between $850 and $1,200. Even though most of the designs look indistinguishable from those of H&M, the quality appears slightly better. With an emphasis on skinny fit and sizes that go down to the 34-inch chest and 28-inch waist, the store will appeal to the petite Asian man. But Topman will always be an afterthought for the British label – it doesn’t come close to the women’s store in terms of colours and designs.
Topshop/Topman is expected to face stiff competition from other casual clothing chains like Uniqlo, Forever 21, Zara, H&M and Cotton On. If the new stores fail to revive the struggling Lab Concept, then Lane Crawford should seriously consider cutting its losses and giving up on the retail experiment altogether. One popular suggestion is converting Queensway Plaza into a large food court, which would not only boost revenue, but also do a major service to the salary men and women in Admiralty who struggle daily to find decent, affordable lunch. A Din Tai Fung or Cheesecake Factory (which is rumoured to come to Hong Kong later this year) would make everyone very happy indeed.