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CEO Talking Shop: Museum CONTEXT building “Aladdin’s Cave” in HK

Museum CONTEXT, a Scottish brand focused on home interiors, accessories and quality giftware, has set its foot in Hong Kong’s Prince’s Building last month. The brand focuses on retro and vintage style, bringing a wide range of classic treasures to the city. Andrew McRae, Founder and Collection Curator of the brand, tells Retail in Asia the story behind the Aladdin’s Cave-like store. He also shares his business idea and opinion on Hong Kong’s retail market with RIA.

RIA: Can you talk us through the brands CONTEXT Interiors and Museum CONTEXT? What are the concepts behind the two brands?

Andrew McRae (AM): I founded CONTEXT Interiors five years ago with my wife Alice in the Morningside district of Edinburgh.  We offer an authentic collection of retro and vintage style products focused on home interiors, accessories and quality giftware. The assortment is hand-picked and constantly evolving but always focused on craftsmanship, practicality and classic elegance. As a chartered architect I have used my experiences and interests to curate a unique collection and the response has been outstanding. A year after opening we won the emerging retail for Scotland award and now trade from two prominent sites in Edinburgh and online. Museum CONTEXT is a new brand taking the best parts of our UK business and creating a new concept that we feel has great potential to trade across the Asian-Pacific region.

RIA: Museum CONTEXT’s pop up store was first opened in Hong Kong last November. Can you talk us through this store? What is the sense behind the move?

AM: For an independent retailer from Scotland, opening a pop-up store in Hong Kong was no marketing gimmick and a big risk however it offered a unique opportunity to trial our concept in a great location before committing to a long term lease. We had conducted extensive market research but until we started trading we could not be certain of success. We have always felt the collection we have been developing in the UK had international potential and in terms of global economic and retail trends Asia and Hong Kong in particular is the best place to launch the concept.

Museum CONTEXT at Prince’s Building

RIA: We heard that the new store of Museum CONTEXT recently opened in Hong Kong. Can you tell us the detail about the new store? 

AM: Our new store opened on the second floor of Prince’s Building 10 Chater Road on 28 March.  At 550sq ft it is a great size to work with. We have incorporated a number of elements from the pop up store whilst refining the design to reflect experiences and customer feedback. The general feel is quite difficult to describe but Aladdin’s Cave is a phrase we often hear! Our focus on quality natural materials, hardwoods, brass and aluminum creates a very masculine atmosphere, somewhat like a Gentleman’s study from a British stately home. We focus on letting our products and merchandising telling a story and to achieve this they are set against a simple palate of materials and finishes. Bold red walls act as a backdrop for artwork and clocks, vintage newspapers is used as a feature wall covering and a Victorian Jeweler’s in London gave inspiration for a bespoke black cabinet complete with mirrors and open mesh doors. This fills an entire wall and provides great opportunities for displaying our eclectic collection. Distinctive colonial style furniture, tripod lamps, hanging mobiles and vintage flight models complete the interior design.

RIA:  Why do you choose this location for the new store?

AM: From the outset of the project we aimed to convert the temporary pop up into a permanent presence in the city. Shortly after opening we had several approaches from interested landlords but our priority was to develop our relationship with Hongkong Land. After several months trading in The Landmark we were certain that the bustling rhythm and international allure of Central Hong Kong was the optimum location for Museum CONTEXT.  Hongkong Land was very pleased with our performance and they reviewed the portfolio to look for a suitable site. In many respects the 2nd floor of Prince’s Building with its existing mix of well established lifestyle and home interiors names is our ideal base.

Shop interior 

RIA: How will you promote the new store to local consumers? What are your marketing and branding strategies for Museum CONTEXT?

AM: The long term goal for our brand is to be the unique name for quality retro lifestyle accessories, all connected back to our British heritage. In our experience the best way to build our reputation is to constantly strive to offer the best products and service. When customers visit Museum CONTEXT we aim to interact and offer an informed insight into our collection. We are also keen to find relevant partners to sell our private label Life in CONTEXT product range.  This is produced in collaboration with acclaimed artist/illustrator Iain McIntosh and our initial bespoke Hong Kong collection has been very well received. We also aim to engage with local customers through traditional and digital media via our Hong Kong PR agency who are helping us spread the good news and raise awareness of our new concept.

RIA: What do you think about Hong Kong’s retail market? What challenges and opportunities are you facing here?

AM: Hong Kong is without doubt one of the most mature retail markets in the world, with the finest malls and brands to rival any global city. However I have detected a growing sentiment among both locals and visitors that at times the retail offer can feel rather anonymous with excessive repetition of the same luxury brands who can be found in every major city. The record breaking rents and the general lack of availability is probably the biggest challenge facing any retailer looking to become established in Hong Kong. The biggest opportunity for Museum CONTEXT is that we can offer customers a genuine point of difference with a truly unique collection of quality heritage inspired home and gift products.

RIA:  What is the next step for your business? Will you open more stores in Hong Kong and in Asia?

AM: Given the amazing response we have had since launching last November there are several key sites across Hong Kong of interest. We are also developing plans for expansion across the region, using our new Prince’s Building as a flag ship to demonstrate how our concept can work it a top end mall environment. An online selling platform is planned to compliment our UK online shop and we aim to collaborate with architects and designers to help furnish and accessorise both residential and commercial projects.

 

For more information about this company, visit Museum CONTEXT.

CEO Talking Shop is the Retail in Asia section devoted to interviews with brand CEOs and retail industry leaders.