The Rough Guide To Retail

Rough Trade's Stephen Godfroy talks about his new multi-story retail concept in Nottingham


by Ian Sanders

Step inside Rough Trade‘s new store in the creative quarter of Nottingham, a city in the English midlands, and it feels unlike any other of the long-established retailer’s outlets. Last year the company opened a vast store in Brooklyn; this one couldn’t be more different.

Rough Trade is typically known for stocking an extensive range of vinyl, CDs and books. However in this three-story Victorian building there are three other guest retailers under the same roof. Co-owner Stephen Godfroy explains that he’s set out to make an “oddity,” featuring seemingly disparate ingredients, a concept he hopes to bring to other cities. Up the Victorian staircase are the other stores: Objects of Use, an Oxford based retailer selling well-made long-lasting household items, the Swiss recycled bag company Freitag and the Australian skincare company Aesop. CH took the train to Nottingham to meet Godfroy, who may well have the answer to spicing up retail and bringing people back from the online experience. The Nottingham prototype—where one size doesn’t fit all—may be what’s needed to get people falling in love with independent retailers.


This feels very different from your New York store. Why’s that?

We don’t want to create identical stores. To a large extent, look and feel is led by the DNA of the building. In New York, we’re in Williamsburg in a former HBO props warehouse. It’s a huge space: 15,000 square feet with 16 shipping containers to create the structure. Here in Nottingham it’s completely different: we’re in a Victorian building that was empty for years and it’s the first Rough Trade over different stories.

Why did you decide to move away from your usual format and put multiple retail offerings under one roof?

In retail we compete for people’s time, so we have to justify the time a customer spends in our store. If people can predict the experience, then they’ll just buy online, so we need to create something that can’t be predicted. This store aims to surprise and delight. You can’t do that online.


What’s the unifier across everything in the building?

Curiosity is the thread that unites everything, whether it’s being curious to discover a new beer in our cafe or exploring our guest stores. As well as the music, books, cafe and the live performance area we’ve got ethical, high-quality and quirky, well-made objects. At Rough Trade there’s no typical customer; we have a wide range of tastes and ages, but they’re all curious of mind. Curiosity is key.

You’ve only been open a few weeks, what reaction have you had so far?

People like it. But I always think it takes a few months for a Rough Trade store to take shape and settle in. We’ve got the ingredients, but it’s very much a work in progress, an ongoing experiment which will develop in line with the community and what it needs from us. I like to see what evolves.

I think the ability to experiment in retail is crucial. So far all three guest stores have had a good reaction. Many people coming in here for the first time will be surprised and the experience takes customers into new territory whether buying a new album or discovering a German black horsehair cobweb brush.


Is this what the future of retail looks like?

In this new Nottingham shop, we’ve approached the experience as an editor who curates and mixes all the different retail ingredients. What’s driving the edit is a sense of discovery, from smelling something new at Aesop and tasting a new beer in our cafe to reading new writing and hearing recently released music on a listening post downstairs. The guest shops are almost the sub-editors and they help shape the space, get involved in the cafe/hub and organize events and workshops.


Do you think other retailers and brands can learn something here?

A lot of retailers focus on themselves and are quite myopic, seeing retail offerings in isolation. I think there’s a great opportunity for retail to be a great deal more daring and playful than it is just now. Every town and city needs a ‘petri dish district’ to try this new stuff out, away from the High Street. We opened our first shop in 1976 so we’re drawing on our 40 year heritage to enable us to be on the edges, to stand on the outside and have an alternative perspective on how things can be done.

Experience the newest Rough Trade (5 Broad Street, Nottingham), or visit one of Rough Trade’s other locations in London and Brooklyn.

Images by Ian Sanders