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Retail wizardry

By Mark Faithfull
August 13, 2012

Photo courtesy of Jason Smalley
For those expecting the immersive theme park world of Harry Potter in Orlando, Fla., to be replicated in the U.K. incarnation, think again. Instead, Warner Bros. opted to open the doors to the original Leavesden studios, just a short hop north of London, where nearly a decade of Harry Potter films were shot and created. A behind-the-scenes tour focuses on the technological and creative skills used to bring the films to life, including a nearly 7,000-sq.-ft. retail space dedicated to the fun and wizardry the films emit.

Warner Bros.’ Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter debuted in March, and the tour allows paying visitors insight into how the sets and the amazing creatures that populate the iconic movie series were developed and brought to the screen.

Of course, die-hard devotees will get their Harry Potter fix by wandering through the studio tour, admiring Hogwarts’ dining room, riding a broomstick or even trying a little wand wizardry, among other things. But, the key to the attraction is as much its homage to the telling of the story as the story itself—and that also informed Warner Bros.’ view of how the merchandising opportunity at the end of the tour should be created.

“Seamless” is the first word that Callum Lumsden, creative director of London-based Lumsden Design, uses to describe the execution of the Harry Potter retail space. Warner Bros. tasked his firm to make the retail experience at Leavesden cohesive and complementary, rather than jar it in with the main purpose of the visit.

The whole space has been designed with familiarity from the films, while at the same time referencing traditional retail requirements, such as categorizing the product zones. The look and feel is deliberately atmospheric to encourage customers to meander. “Zoning was the obvious way to cater for the very different product categories,” Lumsden says. “We thought carefully about how each zone would flow and also what would sell in Europe, which was not always the same as what sells successfully in Orlando.”

The resulting zones include Quidditch, Wand, Creatures and Forbidden Forest, and a Honeydukes area for confectionery. Each is distinct in look and feel, and the whole space is sprinkled with touches of Harry Potter, incorporating chandeliers, owl cages, flying oil paintings and a vaulted ceiling with floating candles. “In the film, Hogwarts had no electricity,” notes Lumsden of the obvious need to use electric lighting in the store, so here bare bulbs modernize the space while resembling candle illumination.

At 6,800 sq. ft., it also is no small retail space, and Lumsden had to marry the not-always-
harmonious needs of diverse memorabilia with the same authenticity applied to the Harry Potter legacy throughout the tour.

The design team took care to recognize the need for the approach to be in homage, rather than pastiche. “This is not a theme park store: it is an opportunity for visitors to buy a little piece of the studio tour experience,” Lumsden says. “It is very important to understand why people will come to visit and also to appreciate how many are very knowledgeable about Harry Potter.”

To that end, Lumsden included key markers to make the approach overt, notably one of a pair of stage-set Gothic arches boasting messy, handwritten block letters: “METAL SUPPORT FRAMES FOR LEADED LIGHTS THRO’OUT SEE DRWG No 19.” The arches actually serve as mid-store features with shelves integrated to display soft-toy versions of Hedwig the white owl, plus magic wands. Indeed, wands form a major part of the product offer, with some store units solely devoted to the “massive seller,” Lumsden notes. Aged wood and multiple drawers make these areas feel straight from the movies, and David Kendal, retail and commercial director of Warner Bros. Studios, says that the wands in boxes piled on the cabinets are kept deliberately messy to evoke the film. This, of course, requires merchandising staff to remember not to tidy them.

The space also had to be suitable for selling rarer and more expensive items. The Collectables Zone displays limited-edition prints, as well as other products and replicas highlighted in stained ash cabinets lined with snakeskin and worn leather. The final touch is the cashwrap, which sits in front of a section of the original set from Gringotts Wizarding Bank. The whole space is unified with a stained black oak floor, atmospheric lighting and gondolas inspired by film crew flight cases.

“The backdrop is one of my favorite elements,” reflects Lumsden, who also points to the reactivation of one of the original animatronics characters from the archive for use in the store. “One of the great things about the project was that we got to work hand-in-hand with some amazing movie craftspeople. That authenticity and skill is what we wanted to bring to the store.”