Special Report: Virgin puts va va v-room into retail

Special Report: Virgin puts va va v-room into retail

Virgin Holidays opened its first v-room concept store last week. Hollie-Rae Merrick visited the Kent outlet to hear about expansion plans for the brand

Virgin Holidays says its new v-room lounge stores are more about getting customers immersed in the brand than selling holidays.

The operator is set to open eight of the concept stores – branded Virgin Holidays – at “destination shopping centres” around the country by the end of this year.

The first opened in Bluewater shopping centre in Kent last week and, according to sales director Lee Haslett, it will allow customers to learn more about the brand.

“The v-rooms are all about experiencing Virgin Holidays and allowing our customers to dip into our brand,” he said.

Bluewater was chosen because it has already proven to be a “strong catchment area” for Virgin Holidays. The operator had a concession in the shopping centre’s House of Fraser store that was among its best-performing outlets in the country. The concession is being closed and the staff relocated to the new store.

Haslett said the store would be “less transactional than the concessions on the high street”. And, for the first time, a concierge has been recruited to ensure the mood of the store is positive.

“This store is informal and that’s what makes us different from our competitors,” he said.

“It isn’t about transactions – 
and that’s different from what others are doing. There’s no bureau for currency, there aren’t banks of desks and screens, and you won’t see a lot of points of 
sale. There will be no deals in 
the window and no offer cards.

“The 12 staff include full and part-time consultants and a concierge. The concierge isn’t here to make bookings but to manage the mood of the store, serve drinks and entertain customers.”

He described the store as “sensory” because it had been designed to let guests smell, see, hear and feel the different elements of a holiday.

With scented air conditioning, similar to that used by most Las Vegas hotels, customers will smell coconuts and sun cream as soon as they enter the shop.

A ‘discovery wall’ features a map with peepholes, through which customers can watch videos highlighting different products and destinations.

To capture the ‘feel’ sense, a Virgin Atlantic Upper Class seat has been installed in the shop. The operator recently ran a pop-up in

Bluewater that allowed customers to try out the seat, which resulted in a 30% increase in customers upgrading to Upper Class.

There’s also a bar area where drinks are served. As the drinks are complimentary, no licence is required. Haslett said he hoped the bar would attract customers to visit the shop even when they weren’t booking a holiday.

“You can grab a drink and just sit at the bar,” he said. “We want people to come in here and dwell – if they want to just sit and watch the football results, that’s fine. We want our store busy because we believe this will immerse our customers in the brand.”

Virgin has teamed up with Disney to create a fancy-dress area for children, where they can play with giant cuddly toys.

Although tech is reasonably minimal in the store, Google Cardboard does feature, using virtual reality to show guests holiday destinations.

As well as investing in new stores, Virgin has refreshed 24 of its 50 Debenhams concessions this year. A further 24 will be revamped next year as part of the operator’s “big commitment to the high street concessions”, Haslett added.

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