All too often "flagships" become white elephants: expensive, purposeless, neglected because the organisation is fed up with the costs and has forgotten why they did it in the first place. This is obviously a vicious cycle that ends with an ignominious store closure that dents the morale of the team and tarnishes the brand in the marketplace.
So, what then are the key attributes of a true flagship store?
A clear role in the store portfolio
This shop will almost certainly not drive profits in and of itself. It's about brand presence, brand values and should, done right elevate the brand in the market. It can also provide a "laboratory" and training environment for associates and franchisees/partners. This should not be its primary function, however, as that will lead to different operational decisions. It should also be a source of great pride for the organisation and serve as a reference point and rallying cry for the business. If it doesn't do this then you've got it wrong.
The "zero compromise" principle must be applied here. Don't think that being just off-pitch will do the job. It won't. Inevitably you'll be paying near top dollar rentals to be on the periphery of somewhere you really want to be. Cross the road from Myungdong in Seoul and where are you? You're invisible. Leave Hankow Rd and head towards the ferry terminal in HK and you find yourself in no-mans land. Go too far down Cat Street in Tokyo and you've made yourself a "discovery location" which can be very useful and effective but it's not what we are discussing here. It's not a good look to be just off-pitch and you won't get the traffic you need to get the impact you're looking for.
Downstairs? Forget it. I once assessed a business for a major British Health & Beauty brand with a beautiful store on Meiji-dori, Tokyo. On a map it was super-prime retail real estate but it the store itself was invisible as you had to go downstairs to get to it. Result: no traffic and an expensive early closure. The adidas store in Shibuya, however, had amazing visibility (right there on the famous crossroads) and operated very successfully for years. A flagship needs a facade that can be seen from a long way away. The RL store in Tokyo is a great example of this.
Bigger (event space, added value services)
A flagship needs more space. Not just to have a more indulgent feel but to house all of the great stuff that will go on there (see the points below). A consumer must know immediate upon entering that this store is something different. Bigger, better than the others. Then that space must house value added services, product exclusives, events and so forth otherwise it's just a very big shop!
Not only must there be limited editions, exclusive imports, exciting limited distribution collections but the store must shout about them. Communicate these clearly and proudly. Don't expect the consumer to work stuff out themselves: tell them all about them with POSM, fixtures and your very well trained sales associates.
Dedicated marketing program (windows, events, offers)
There must be a seasonal or annual plan for special events, offers and the windows must be even better than usual (think Selfridges at Christmas). This requires investment in people and marketing. Fail to do this and your flagship will fade into the background and that expensive additional space you're renting won't get used (or even worse, will get subsumed into the daily merchandise display floorplan).
Elevated service experience
You need your best associates in this store. The team should aspire to be assigned here and should be seen as a path to career advancement. Consider paying them a little more to underscore its perception as prestigious posting. The store manager needs to be the level of a senior area manager and be a rising star in your organisation with eyes on the store operations director role. The highest operational standards to be maintained at all times. The last experience the consumer has of your flagship is the check-out.
Senior leadership oversight
The store manager should probably report directly to the store operations director or the retail director. The marketing needs to be overseen by someone high up in the marketing organisation. The organisation's leadership needs to visit often. Only bu structuring it this way will your flagship get the proper attention, focus and commitment it needs.
I am firmly of the view that a properly executed flagship is game changing for a brand. But it can also go very wrong and be a negative. The points laid out above, whilst not exhaustive, can help an organisation get it right & navigate its flagship's way to brand leadership.