Pri-mania as world's largest Primark opens in Birmingham

By: BBC
World's largest Primark opens in Birmingham
Crowds ran into the new Primark store carrying balloons
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THE world's biggest Primark has opened its doors to shoppers in Birmingham.

Covering 161,000 sq ft over five floors, it occupies the entire site of a former shopping centre and comes complete with a Disney-themed cafe, a barber shop and beauty studio, as well as Primark's standard fare - affordable fashion.

It sounds like it has redefined the department store in an age when the high street's future is far from certain.

So, with big names such as Debenhams and House of Fraser in decline, Primark's vision begs the question - can people be attracted back to bricks and mortar retail?

In one way, Primark already has a leg-up when it comes to getting shoppers through the doors, as the retailer has no online presence.

About 5,000 people are expected to visit the store at the former Pavilions Shopping Centre on High Street on its opening day.

It is four times the size of Primark's old home round the corner.

But what happens when opening-day clamour is a memory? How busy will the 430 workers who worked in the previous shop - and their 500 new colleagues - actually be? And if they are rushed off their feet, what lessons could Primark's peers learn?

The development is thought to have cost about £70m, an eye-watering sum at a time when high street heavyweights are in peril. Earlier this week, Debenhams was taken over by its lenders as part of an administration process.

Analysts have previously claimed a lack of investment and innovation were contributing factors to why traditional department stores were in decline.

The allure of Primark, though, continues to grow. And that is despite criticism over staff pay, and the environmental and social impact of so-called "fast fashion".

Last year it reported higher UK sales and plans for more stores.

It justifies its low prices with claims it spends nothing on advertising and has tight profit margins.

Heiner Evanschitzky, professor of marketing at Aston Business School, said part of Primark's success was its clear business model - which is focused and means "people know what they are going to get".

"It is not like Debenhams and M&S, which struggled because they were trying too many different things. They were not positioned in a meaningful way - they have discount elements, high fashion elements and were all over the place," he said.

Primark's lack of online presence means shoppers still have to go into stores to make purchases, which can encourage impulse shopping, Mr Evanschitzky added.

"In store you have the chance to inspire a customer, you get to say 'look around, browse, think of things you weren't planning on buying'," he said.

The new store has snatched the "largest" crown from Manchester and Mr Evanschitzky said its opening would be a "huge gain" for Birmingham city centre.

Mother-of-six Charmaine Straker, 32, from Springhill, queued to enter the store with three of her children - Shae, 12, Xaviel, two, and six-month-old Harmony-Jai.

Charmaine Straker said Primark was "an iconic brand"

She said: "Stores like this only ever open in places like London.

"Because we're the second city and we've got this now, it's like we can finally live up to that title because Primark has become such an iconic brand.

"I'm not concerned about prices - if I like it I buy it. But Primark is cost effective if you have growing children."

Irene Warrilow, from Great Barr, was also part of the crowd waiting to go into the store.

Irene Warrilow said she preferred to go into stores to shop rather than buying online

She said: "I like to go into a shop and feel what I'm buying rather than shopping online.

"I think the cost of [Primark's] products makes them attractive.

"Places like Debenhams and John Lewis are just too expensive."

Michael Higgins, 23, travelled from Herefordshire to visit the new store.

Michael Higgins believes Primark has "moved with the times"

He said: "I think it's a novelty at the moment. I'm looking forward to see the cafes and things like that.

"I think Primark has moved with the times to cater for different people, whereas other stores and companies maybe haven't so much."

Fashion blogger Hayley Warren said she thought the new superstore would attract people from outside the West Midlands.

The 29-year-old, from Birmingham, who runs Strangeness and Charm, said: "I know there are a lot of cafes in London which people will visit specifically to take pictures for Instagram, because they have things like flower walls.


Blogger Hayley Warren, seen wearing a skirt from Primark, said she thinks the "experience" element of the new shop will bring people in from further afield

"I know people from down south who have said they want to come up and visit Primark just because of Disney."

Claire Cavanagh, 28, from Coventry, who is behind Vanity Claire, added: "Although I wouldn't traditionally think of myself as a department store shopper, Primark is the only shop I go where you do pick up everything in that way.

"I think it is a store people will do that for, even those who wouldn't normally physically shop in stores - because you can't get it online.

"I think it will be really good for Birmingham as a destination."

Ms Cavanagh said that when she was a teenager and student, Primark offered her what she wanted in cheap and fashionable clothes - but she now also used it for homeware.


The Disney cafe is one of three places to eat in the store

Primark's retail director for the UK and northern Europe, Simon Gibbs, said it was proud to be part of the "fabric" of Birmingham.

During an advance tour of the centre on Wednesday, Tim Kelly, its director of new business, said: "We have seen the changing face of retail globally and locally.

"When we were offered the location we jumped at the chance.

"We believe this is an opportunity for Primark to do something really special."

The store opened at 10:00 BST on Thursday.