When great design thinking is partnered with a clever, relevant idea, it’s a force to be reckoned with. The outcome can be hard to beat, and in some situations it exceeds all expectations. This design solution from the UK was conceived a few years ago out of necessity. In October 2015, new legislation introduced the 5p plastic shopping bag levy and one retailer responded in a truly unique way.
Booths (E H Booth & Co Ltd) is a family-owned, independently run chain of quality food, drink and grocery stores in the North West of England. Founded in 1847, the company has 28 stores in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cumbria and Cheshire with an annual turnover of £280m a year.
I wanted to write about this project for a few reasons:
Booths worked with their design agency Smith &+ Village, knowing that they had to do something to change their existing range of carrier bags without irritating customers. They worked out that some type of ‘Bag for life’ needed to be created.
Retail shopping bags have traditionally been seen as brand icons with real fans flaunting their purchases. Such a simple item can create a sense of tribalism, status and belonging. This has been the domain of the high-end retail stores in the past – think Tiffany, Chanel, Hermes, Harrods and the like. But in recent years, other retailers have caught on. Booths being a great example.
The design solution was a range of well made, fabric tote bags that are icons for the Booths brand. Beautiful colours, quality, screen printed text and classic northern food puns. Anyone from Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cumbria and Cheshire will immediately ‘get’ the tone of voice and the choice of words. And these really are choice words! And there’s no sign of plastic – these bags are made to last.
Clever design thinking turned a relatively unimportant item into true symbol of the Booths brand. The bags are loved by customers (I can verify that) and they effortlessly communicate the Booths brand values. They are desirable, collectable (again, I can verify that) and truly unique.
A quick Google search for ‘Booths shopping bags UK’ brings up listings on e-retailers Amazon, Ebay, Zazzle and many social media posts and links on Pinterest, Twitter, Tripadvisor, Facebook, Instagram. These bags have truly become iconic through avid collectors and fans.
Five bags were conceived for the first set:
Later bag additions include:
I mentioned exceeding expectations at the start of this blog. The design thinking and central idea is first class and this generated an outstanding result from the sale of Booths fabric bags:
Chris Dee, CEO of Booths says:
“Not only have the sales of bags far exceeded expectation but their success as a branding tool has been phenomenal. The potential they have to say something different and engaging about Booths is extraordinary and we want to make as much use of it as we can.”
So what is it about these bags that creates universal appeal? For me, they serve as a connection to my past – my background growing up, living, studying and working in Preston, Lancashire. Good branding and clever ideas can do that – they conjure up a time, a place or an emotion. And for locals, I suspect it connects with their sense of place and their northern pride and reflects their sense of humour.
Transforming an ordinary item into something this special is the result of great design and I’m left with the feeling of ‘I wish I’d done that’. After 30 years in the world of design and branding, I still get a buzz from seeing very well executed work by other designers.
The personality of this project is witty, down to earth, honest and real – all northern characteristics. This is why I think it has been such a success. I use my bags every week in Auckland, New Zealand. They instill a sense of pride and they still make me smile. As I said in one of my Instagram posts back in 2017:
Booths have just run a northern pun competition online for the public to enter their suggestions for a set of new bags in 2020. How could I resist the chance to be immortalised on the side of a Booth tote bag and swing tag? Here’s hoping…
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Rob Holloway is the Owner & Creative Director of Angle Limited. Angle has clients in NZ, Europe & Australia. Our point of difference is our ability to create a point of difference for our customers. We help people grow successful brands by making them stand out, by solving problems, building customer experiences and driving results.