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The otherworldly inspiration of Flying Saucers

Flying Saucers sells giftware and clothing out of two stores – one in Botany, and one at the Milford Centre, which opened at the start of May. MacVicar did almost every aspect of the new 120-square-metre store’s fit-out herself with help from two long-standing staff members, and estimates the project cost around $15,000 in total.

“I just felt that after 25 years, if I didn’t know how I wanted the shop, nobody would.”

MacVicar says she hasn’t shied away from investing in fit-outs over the years, recalling the days when retail fit-outs would top $200,000, but believes the return on investment for a fancy fit-out is no longer worthwhile. She’s also concerned at the wastage involved in modern fit-outs, which are typically in place for less than five years.

“I’ve put a lot of money into fit-outs, and that was fine when the economy was buoyant,” she says. “You don’t have to spend big on fit-outs, because the margin isn’t there.”

MacVicar also much more confident in her own design choices these days. She says she wanted the Milford Centre store to stand out amongst the centre’s other shops, and create a distinct atmosphere of its own. The store features a different bold colour on each wall – a deep orange at the rear; a lighter apricot on the left side; and a delicate duck-egg blue on the right.

“I’ve gone for colour, because I’m a colour person,” MacVicar says. “With each colour, you can tell a new story.”

She ran the colour scheme past a retail designer she met casually while sourcing stock in Sydney, and went ahead after securing the designer’s approval. The initial effect was alarming, but MacVicar is now pleased with the way the colours complement her stock and draw customers’ attention.

“When we first painted it, I thought, ‘Oh my god, what have we done?’ because it did look horrendously bright.”

MacVicar designed the store lay-out to be easily adjustable: “You need to be able to change the structure all the time to keep it looking different.”

For shelving, she sourced strip brackets from surplus traders, and shifted as much shelving as possible over from the store’s previous location. The lighting was already in place when Flying Saucers moved into its space, and the flooring is polished concrete.

“I find the concrete floors are really good,” she says. “They don’t date, and no-one looks at the floor.”

MacVicar moved Flying Saucers into the Milford Centre from another small shopping centre, Shore City Takapuna. Another store of hers remains there – Duck Limited, which sells homeware and gifts. The Milford Centre is aimed at creating a boutique-style experience, and prioritises independent “point-of-difference” retailers.

This description fits Flying Saucers well, and MacVicar says the change of scene has given her an opportunity to revive the store’s brand.

When she moved, MacVicar pulled the signage and display ladders down from the Shore City Takapuna location and repainted them at her home.

Her aim with the new store was to create an in-store experience which couldn’t be bought online. A small boutique like Flying Saucers can’t compete online, she says, and she has an ongoing concern with suppliers setting up direct-to-consumer channels online.

“If bricks and mortar [stores] are going to survive, we’ve got to offer something different,” she says. “There is still a demand for this kind of retail, but not in a boring-looking shop.”

MacVicar thinks Flying Saucers might be the longest-standing small independent retailer in Auckland that’s still run by its original owner. Hartleys Fashion is the only business she can recall which preceeded hers. She says the colour and texture of bricks and mortar retail is central to her business, and her own identity.

“To me, colour’s my life. I’d hate to not have colour in my life, and that’s why I find online so boring.”

This story originally appeared in the June / July 750 issue of Retail NZ.
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