Oliver Dall, owner of Oliver’s Brighton, a Harry Potter-themed toy and gift shop situated along one of Brighton’s most popular shopping streets, finds itself in the unique position that it no longer needs a front door.
In fact, such is the nature of the business that takes place within the ambient orange glow of this treasures and trinkets emporium, that a shop front has become less of a necessity and more of a hindrance. Oliver’s is no longer a destination that relies on passing trade of tourist footfall, but one that accommodates its daily visitor numbers via an online booking system.
In essence, Oliver’s has become an experiential day out for fans of the Harry Potter franchise, and one that finds itself fully booked – with groups of up to six visiting the store for half hour periods throughout the day – from now right up until December.
Things weren’t always this way. The multiaward winning independent retailer – that insists, by the way, that it holds no corporate affiliation with Harry Potter, Warner Bros. or JK Rowling – used to operate like any normal high street store. It was a moment of time off from the day job through the Government’s furlough scheme and the ensuing measures taken by Dall to make his store Covid-secure that put the latest evolutionary step of his business into its forward motion.
“We saw the need to evolve and that’s what we have done,” Dall tells ToyNews. “Initially it was for health and safety, but straight away from day one of re-opening, people were like ‘We love this!’ and from there, the spending doubled.”
For Dall, modern retailing is about constant reinvention and the ability to roll with what the consumer is demanding from its shopping experience. Notable is the matter that at the heart of the sentiment, experience has become the focal point for what being an independent retailer in 2020 is really about.
“We’ve realised that through the booking process, and the limited group numbers, we have turned a visit to Oliver’s Brighton into an immersive experience for our customers,” continues Dall. “What’s it like being an indie retailer in 2020? For me, it’s always been about standing out.
“You’re not just a shop anymore. You can’t just put products on the shelves and that’s that. It’s boring. It is so easy for people to buy something from Amazon at the click of a button that you need to make it worth their while to come to something physical; for me it’s about every inch of the experience to be perfect.”
Walk into Oliver’s Brighton and you’re instantly hit with the smell of butterscotch, produced by a machine that Dall has set up as part of his mission to deliver the ‘wow factor.’ The furniture and decor of the shop is themed to the Harry Potter lore, a touch put in place to make the immersive experience all the deeper, while one corner of the store features an ice cream machine – to the particular delight of the children and the grandparents that visit.
“For me, if the shop was always the same, I would eventually give up. The customer would say ‘Oh, there’s no point in going to Oliver’s Brighton; it’s boring, it’s the same thing,’” says Dall. “What we do now, ideally once every week minimum, is we bring in new items and it keeps it fresh. We use social media to showcase the new stuff we have coming in, because you have to make the audience want to come to your shop.”
So what about that front door? Is there really a future for a high street shop without one? One half hour conversation with Dall will convince you there is. In fact, it’s now part of Oliver’s Brighton’s plans to do away with the shop front as it is, completely.
“We’re actually moving the Oliver’s Brighton business to the back of the shop, and the front of the shop is where I am planning to open up a second business within the building. Oliver’s Brighton is doing really, really well, and I have always had the idea of transforming it into a book-to-visit experience, which will firstly make the front door redundant, and open up the entire shop front to a new business venture… something in food, is what we’re planning.”