The Fast Lane jolted back into high gear again after this columnist hit the highway to Bangkok after a week of healthy living (no alcohol, 1,200 calories a day, personal trainer) down in Hua Hin. Part of the personal improvement week also involved no electronic devices in public parts of the resort – a message completely lost on certain Russian guests, who seemed to delight in being told off.
Feeling lighter and faster on my morning run, I’ve decided to shake things up with a new service, starting with a quarterly frequency. It’s designed for those dedicated readers who write in looking for tips on where to find new retail formats to tell their superiors about, new brands they should sample or even acquire, and enhanced service experiences to which they should alert clients and colleagues.
Rather than just offering up a laundry list of random things worth sampling, I thought it might be more useful to chronicle my week of exceptional service and solutions.
Bangkok Thais know a thing or two about retail and also how to deliver excellent service, anti-government protests aside (these need to find a new way of getting their message across that doesn’t involve crippling businesses big and small). The Central Group is pushing ahead with its flagship Central Embassy project in the heart of the capital while The Mall Group is working on a mega-project a little further along the Bangkok Mass Transit System line. Other standout brands in Thailand include the food retailer Villa Market with a refreshed concept at K Village, the Greyhound Café group (now spreading north through Asia), the soon-to-debut Barkyard (a complete rethink of what a pocket park meeting a parade of shops and services can be) and, finally, the exceptionally tasty restaurant Appia for superb Italian bites.
Bangkok-Frankfurt I’m not a fan of a whole aircraft cabin of adults dressed in the same pyjamas unless there’s room for everyone to style things their own way and there’s a bit of dignity in the design. While Lufthansa could do a better job of highlighting which routes are flown by aircraft with old interiors (the A340-600 in question was quite tired), the airline deserves full marks for offering the best-looking and most comfortable pyjamas in the sky.
Düsseldorf-Cologne If one has to go to a trade fair, then it’s best to go to a good German Messe, complete with Bratwurst stands, clean toilets and battalions of builders with overalls, earrings and mullet cuts. I found myself wandering the halls of Euroshop, the world’s biggest retail expo, marvelling at how competitive the shopping trolley business is, how many serious players there are in chicken rotisserie manufacturing and how shameless some Chinese can be at invading “closed” booths and snapping photos and taking measurements. Retailers in need of a rethink of a grocery store business, fashion chain or jewellery outlets might want to pay a visit to the Schweitzer Group and meet its designers, who have done everything from gourmet grocery concepts in Kiev to the new food hall at Le Bon Marché in Paris (more on the latter in a moment). At Cologne’s main station, the Eckert Group’s Ludwig Book Shop is a stellar example of what book retailing can and should be at a major transport hub. Covering three floors, with comfortable places to sit, helpful staff and a dizzying collection of German books and magazines (international press is at a sister shop around the corner), St Pancras, Victoria, Penn Station, Changi (and many more) could all do with such a store.
Paris The transformation of Le Bon Marché continues with the reconfigured La Grand Epicerie foodhall. It is so tempting I fantasised about moving to Paris, before reminding myself there are good reasons why half of Paris seems to have taken up residence in London. Nevertheless, the new foodhall (conceived by Schweitzer) is so mouth-watering that it makes London’s Harrods and Selfridges food offerings look positively downmarket.
Out on the streets, the revitalisation of the capital’s kiosks is another example of how newspaper and magazine formats are such an essential fabric of daily life and can still thrive if you give consumers plenty of choice and challenge expectations.
Before heading off to dinner at Kunitoraya (it serves some of the best Japanese food on the continent), I stopped at a kiosk to pick up the Corriere della Sera’s design supplement Living, the French edition of Vanity Fair and L’Officiel Voyage.
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine
More columns at ft.com/brule