Gothenburg, now the second largest city in Sweden, is also one of the most culturally modern, and it would be easy to forget the centuries of history that have made it what it is today. Yet the city’s past is a constant influence on its present. In fact, two of Gothenburg’s most successful department stores, Gillblads and Ströms, are not just influenced by the city’s history, they’re part of it.
Gillblads, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, has stood at the same location on Korsgatan since its founding in 1866, when it filled six floors – an enormous space at the time – with a wide variety of goods. In its early days the store offered fashion along with a range of accessories, beauty products and interior design objects, as well as producing its own hats, furs, jewellery and more.
Focus on fashion
Today the focus is more firmly on fashion, but the founding principles remain the same: excellent quality and service, and the best range of products possible. From international names including Armani Collezioni to emerging Swedish brands such as Stylein, the range is expertly curated. ‘It has always been important that there are unique brands and products in the store that are not seen everywhere,’ explains Gillblad’s owner Mikael Olsson, whose family acquired the store in 1983. For Olsson, there is one crucial element that has ensured the company’s longevity: customer service. ‘It’s number one, no more, no less,’ he says.
This is what keeps visitors returning time and again. Staff members are expertly trained, and its most loyal customers know that they will be greeted on each visit by a friendly face who understands their personal needs. An in-store tailor adds to the feeling of luxury. It is these details, the extras that come as standard when you shop at Gillblads, that set the store apart. With 150 years of experience in pleasing discerning clients, the team naturally excels, and great service will never go out of style.
Ströms may be a little younger than Gillblads – it celebrates its 130th year in 2016 – but is still one of the city’s oldest retail spaces, and also something of an institution in Gothenburg. In 1886, founder Carl Hilmer Ström opened a small tailoring and clothing store on Torggatan. Over the next few decades, it grew to become one of the city’s largest menswear specialists; so much so that a change of premises became necessary, and in 1935 Ströms found a new home, in the six-storey building on Kungsgatan where it can be found today.
Only the best
For Ströms, the secret of success has always been similar to that embraced by Gillblads: to offer only high-quality, modern goods, a simple but effective approach that continues to hold strong. Top international names from the luxury market, including Boss, Max Mara Weekend, Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, can all be found here, as can the best local brands, such as Björn Borg and Tiger of Sweden.
For Ulf Rudhag, managing director at Ströms, it is not just the products but the service that sets them apart. ‘We aim to have nothing less than the best customer service in Scandinavia,’ he states confidently. As well as being served by expert salespeople and a team of skilled tailors, the department store’s best customers are classed as VIPs and treated to special services and events, a host of which have been scheduled to celebrate the anniversary this year.
A year of celebrations
Both stores, in fact, will be inviting customers old and new to celebrate with them in 2016. From shopping events to new brand launches, each is using its anniversary to celebrate and reinforce the great quality and service that have carried them through the decades. Gillblads is renovating its entire space, beginning with a stylish upgrade to its well-stocked women’s department. Ströms will hold special events, as well as offering discounts and even giveaways.
Looking to the future
So what do the next 150 years promise for these two Gothenburg stalwarts? For Olsson, the winning formula that Gillblads has developed doesn’t need changing, it just needs to adapt to changing times. ‘We will continue to strive to deliver the best personal service … using the latest techniques combined with a unique assortment [of products], custom picked for our clients.’ Rudhag replies in similar vein: ‘Ströms will renew itself and always be updated, but the fundamentals will not change.’ And neither will the location. ‘We could hardly move from a spot that is called “Ströms corner” by locals!’