Reclaiming the Å gives retailer a capital future
Åhléns is a Swedish institution. Founded in 1899 as a mail order business in the small town of Insjön, it grew over the next century into Sweden’s largest chain of department stores, with a branch in almost every Swedish city and 17 in Stockholm alone. As it approached its centenary, though, Åhléns prepared for a major change of direction.
Åhléns had become known as a large-scale trading-post-style retailer: a supplier of everything from TVs and towels to toys and food. The change it had in mind was to become a more modern and refined department store, that focused on just a small number of selected, premium areas: beauty, fashion, homewares and media. Our role in this was to develop a design programme to revitalise and restore pride in the Åhléns brand.
On the advice of other identity consultants, the brand had been assuming a more generic, European image. Our strategy advised the opposite. Åhléns’ identity was getting lost: it was time for the retailer to reclaim its Nordic-ness, with pride and confidence. The key was in its name: the anthropomorphic, uniquely Scandinavian letter, Å (pronounced like the ‘a’ in ‘called’). We devised a design programme, logotype, typography, colour palette, photography, store environments, signage system and packaging design strategy around this single, simple mark of Swedishness.
The Å mark gave Åhléns back its pride and set the retailer on a new course as a modern department store. So positively was it welcomed that Åhléns developed a line of Å-branded products. Åhléns is now Sweden’s fourth largest fashion chain, and a recent update of Åhléns City in the heart of Stockholm has positioned the retailer as an even more contemporary and relevant brand, with increased sales and a younger target audience. Nearly 20 years after its introduction, while other retailers have chopped and changed, the Å is going stronger than ever.
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