Special feature by Patrick Avenell in Berlin, Germany

The second day of autumn was like the deepest darkest winter in Berlin overnight as RetailBiz.com.au visited four brand concept stores and one general retailer to get a taste of how suppliers market themselves in Germany, the second biggest country in Europe.

Our first stop was the Miele Gallery on the busy Unter den Linden, between Museum Island and the Brandenburg Gate. This thoroughfare is currently undergoing major roadworks so it was not an ideal time to visit what is otherwise a very elegant setting.

Sitting prominently in the anteroom at this Gallery is Miele’s new Generation H 6000 range, in ‘Obsidian Black’, ‘Brilliant White’ and ‘Havana Brown’ (to be marketed as ‘Mink’ in Australia). These really are stunning appliances: complete touch control operation via a multitouch panel on the outside and the latest in modern cooking technology on the inside.

As in Australia, this Gallery is used to entertain retailers and their customers, at a long dinner table set next to a fully functional Miele kitchen, complete with a Salamander, a previous winner of Appliance Retailer magazine’s Appliance of the Year Award.

Company co-owners Dr Miele and Dr Zinkann often speak of the Miele experience – the agency system is all about protecting Miele, from both price and brand erosion – and that influence is certainly evident in the spotless benches, perfectly aligned vacuum cleaners, fragrant flower bouquets and the staff’s impeccable manners.

It is a testament to the management at Miele Australia that this columnist still favours the local subsidiary mothership Gallery in Melbourne and the exquisite, redesigned Frenchs Forest locale, which includes a wonderful refrigeration annex and recently hosted the cream of Australian retailers at the decadent local launch for H 6000.

Around the corner from Miele on Friedrichstraße is Berlin’s Nespresso Boutique. Set inside a classic 1920s Berlin cornershop – a time when the city was the cultural hub of the world – this Nespresso store was the launching pad for the self-service capsule system that has been introduced to the Sydney flagship ‘Embassy’ on Pitt Street Mall.

It must be said that when we visited this Boutique, we could not find the self-service counters – the amazing wall of coffee was being staffed and consumers were having their purchases processed manually.

At the dedicated Coffee Counter, I enjoyed a lovely free cup of Kazaar, even though I am not a Club Member, and was entertained with the story of this blend.

Launched for a limited time in 2010, Kazaar was so popular in Germany that it was brought back for another limited run in 2012. Once again, demand outstripped supply, so Nespresso decided to grant Kazaar fully-fledged grand crus status. The blend has also just arrived in Australia alongside Dharkan as part of the permanent grand crus collection.

Does any company do merchandising as well as Nespresso? This Boutique was carrying the ‘Berlin’ collection, packaged in a bespoke white sleeve adorned with the distinctive city skyline. A similar Sydney or Melbourne collection could be equally stunning.

As with the Miele Gallery, the Nespresso Boutique just doesn’t quite match the grandeur of its Australian counterparts. In some ways, Australian retailers are spoiled with the incredible effort and expenditure local suppliers are exhausting in order to create marvellous showroom experiences for the customers of their retail partners.

The MD of a major appliance brand told me earlier this year that such showrooms are “a million dollar a year cost with no return on investment”. It is fair to say any return for the supplier comes through utilisation by the retailer – considering the Australian efforts are shading urban mecca Berlin they deserve to be permanently packed with potential purchasers.

Inside the Berlin Nespresso Boutique: Image Gallery

Ten minutes on a bicycle across the city takes you to Potsdamer Platz. Totally destroyed during World War II and left desolate by the incursion through its heart by the Berlin Wall, Potsdamer Platz is a relatively modern development that has been home, since 2000, to Berlin’s Sony Center.

Set underneath an enormous awning that was apparently constructed to resemble Mount Fuji, this Sony Center became a tourist attraction in its own right during the 2000s, and the wider, wedge-shaped complex is also home to Sony’s European headquarters.

As a sign of how complete the Sony-fication of this block has become, and a cheeky reminder that it is gaining mindshare credibility in Ultra HD, Samsung chose the building opposite to remind any visitor that other brands do exist.

Inside the Center are three levels of classic Sony: so many, many pairs of headphones; Ultra HD TVs; some pretty cool Vaio notebooks; those 3D binoculars; very few consumers and a lot of chairs that nobody could ever sit on.

When I asked one of the store employees about Sony OLED, he said he hadn’t heard anything about new products and proceeded to remind me that Sony did indeed release the first OLED TV – the XEL-1 – way back in 2009.

The rain was really coming down when I got back on the bike and slow-pedalled the 4 kilometres to Berlin’s main shopping drag in Kurfürstendamm to visit the Apple Retail Store.

It has become cliché to heap praise on Apple for its retailing and this précis will only add to the iCacophony of ovation: it is remarkable.

Set inside an old theatre, this Apple store is a single-level, open plan outlet populated with those signature wooden tables, a platoon of staff and hundreds of customers.

The entire store would be a single room if not for a small adjunct housing third party brand accessories, from brands like Beats, Bowers & Wilkins and Bang & Olufsen (all the speakers in that room were switched on and connected to various iPhones and iPods, creating an amusing chorus of pop, rock and classical).

An impossibly friendly Genius told me the upstairs level has been restored and retained as an auditorium for hosting presentations. He said it was typical of the store to have so many tyre kickers and that while I probably shouldn’t take photos, he was prepared to look the other way. He said the Sony Center I had just come from was “lame”.

The most intriguing aspect of this Apple Retail Store, or for any store of any type, was the complete absence of POS terminals. All staff were equipped with handheld personal sales processors and were transacting on the spot as soon as they closed the sale.

The obvious benefits to this system are that consumers get great one-on-one service, staff are accountable and their actions measurable, and there is no opportunity for consumers to reconsider their purchase.

It was only later that I realised a less obvious advantage is generated from this system: there are no queues, which frustrate consumers and provide an unsightly mass of bodies in one section of a retail premise.

Inside the Berlin Apple Store: Image Gallery

Following a life-threatening 40-minute ride through driving rain and the delightful Tiergarten (literally, ‘animal garden’), the final destination was reached: Saturn.

Marketed with the slogan “stinginess is cool”, Saturn is like a mixture of Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi, with major appliances, consumer electronics and FMCG software media products.

Poor customer service at major retail brands is an omnipresent complaint by Australian consumers and an increasingly common one among suppliers. Considering the great interpersonal experiences at Miele, Nespresso, Sony and Apple, it is no surprise that those companies have developed global bricks and mortar brand-to-consumer retail experiences to complement-cum-supplant the traditional retailer.