The fog was setting in again throughout Lakeside as the night drew ever closer. I’d been invited to have a look around the Kiddicare store and I’d arrived early.
Having parked a short walk away and made the decision to stroll to the shop, the haze of traffic lights and the continual sound of engines was a constant reminder that where we were heading was in a busy retail estate.
Against a background of the usual collection of neon signs for restaurants, outlet stores and fast food establishments that you expect to see occupying such a space, the colourful sign for Kiddicare stood out as a welcome beacon. Set on a hill overlooking the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge in the distance, and various outlet stores around it, the new competitor to the baby market seems slightly aloof given the raised platform it sits on, almost regally.
That’s quite fitting too, as from what I saw of Kiddicare yesterday they are heads and shoulders above their common competition.
My initial impression on walking through the door was that there wasn’t enough stock.
The walls and shelves that were home to pushchairs, buggies and car seats seemed strangely spaced out.
On closer inspection it occurred to me that this was done on purpose. The store was set out for you to actively play with things and test them out - a Godsend when it comes to things like pushchairs.
I’ve lost count of the amount of pushchairs we seemed to go through as my four grew up, though had I been able to test them out thoroughly I know with hindsight that I would never have bought the double buggy, which was a side-by-side logistical nightmare, and there’s every chance that I would have been able to avoid the pushchair that I could never get to collapse and often used to resort to throwing in the back of the car still fully upright, with shopping in the base as there was no room left to put it anywhere else in the car. More than that though, the store was welcoming.
The first two members of staff I saw on entering were arm-in-arm skipping through the aisles, smiles plastered across their faces. With other members of staff milling around ready to answer questions, it felt as though there was always someone on hand if I wanted to ask anything, and they all acknowledged me when I was close by with a nod or a smile, rather than a pushy or salesy introduction.
Kiddicare were bought by Morrison’s for £70m in 2011, and although they are only a tiny part of the Morrison’s empire, it looks as if they have what it takes to become a very important part.
With only a dozen or so stores nationwide they already have a startlingly good reputation, and it’s easy to see why.
At a time of recession, and while Mothercare seem to be filling their stores from floor to ceiling with anything and everything (which is far from ideal as you drag toddlers and pushchairs around, nappy bag swinging wildly from your shoulder) Kiddicare have hit on the simple realisation that if you’re customer friendly and comfortable, people will shop with you.
With an in-store cafe, a play area (albeit unsupervised) for kids to try out the toys, and plenty of space throughout, it’s easy to while away a couple of hours if you want to. The company also have a pro-breastfeeding policy in their stores, and despite an incident that was reported up in Liverpool to the contrary, the retailer was quick to issue reassurance to their customers: “Kiddicare is a strong supporter of breastfeeding and fully encourages mothers to breastfeed regardless of where they are in our stores – it is entirely their choice.”
The bright choice of colours used through the store make it immediately obvious that the place is geared to be kiddy-centric, and even the corridor by the toilets has markers the whole way along indicating the average height of various animals, which I can only imagine would be a beacon to my kids each and every time we went. (For those wondering, I am as tall as a hippo. Who knew, huh?) I really wish that they had been around when my kids were younger, as I’d have spent a fortune here, both in time and money, but unfortunately with my youngest being 7, I’ve pretty much passed the target audience for the store, which is a shame.
For those with babies on the way, or preschool children, you really need to visit Kiddicare. As a final piece of advice, take it from me, if you visit the Lakeside store you’re better off parking in one of the hundreds of spaces outside rather than in the shopping centre car park and walking down.