September 2015


Pretty towns and attractive brandscapes - Vital share their take on local brands

Craig Spivey, Creative Director of Leamington-based design and marketing agency, Vital, looks at what he considers to be some the strongest independent brands in the area.

Pretty towns and attractive brandscapes

Warwickshire, and Leamington in particular, prides itself on the proliferation of independent retailers that rub shoulders with the big chains on the high street.

Maybe it’s the glorious Regency aesthetic of the main shopping thoroughfares, or the big city influences that come from being in commutable distance from London and Birmingham, or the mix of affluent locals, foreign students and the many workers that the area’s creative industries attract that has produced such a vibrant mix – though I imagine it’s a combination of the three that has resulted in such a high standard of design-led local brands.

But who am I to judge?

At Vital I have created branded communications for some of the biggest names on high streets up and down the UK – Vodafone, Timberland, Barclays and Marston’s pubs, to name just a handful – but there’s always a bit more of a thrill in developing an identity for a start-up or promoting a small ambitious company when you’re in a position to witness their successes in real time and watch them grow on your own doorstep.

As a Creative Director and a local bloke I am drawn to the region’s cool brands, sometimes out of passing professional interest, but mainly as a punter who likes to grab a coffee on the way to work like everyone else.

And in Leamington I’m spoiled for choice.

Coffee and cake to (lo)go

I’m sure the sheer competition in town must force the local coffee shops, bakeries and cafés to up their game in the design and branding stakes as exquisitely-badged eateries seemingly pop up on a weekly basis ready to impress the town with their own unique take on the fast/casual dining sector.

Top among these for me are Coffee Architects, Ginger Ace and The Larder, though I have a particular soft spot for artisan bakery Haddie and Trilby, who take their name from two circus elephants based in Leamington in the 1800s. A brand with a bit of a story will always elevate you from the competition and owner George Casey was keen to have something local ‘without being too obvious’, besides, the way elephants move reflect his approach to his craft. ‘We bake our bread very slowly’, he told me when I asked about his logo’s origins.

Artistic Licensees

The independent bar scene in any town is usually a hotbed of creativity as owners fall over themselves to out-quirk the competition in a bid to attract younger, more brand-savvy drinkers to their venues. And Leamington has a fair few bars that are getting it just right.

With its DB logo echoing the DC Comics’ logo of old, The Drawing Board on Newbold Street wears its geek culture heart on its sleeve as well as on the walls. With framed comics and piles of old annuals, the pub’s playful character is carried right through the bar.

Though branding of course is not just about the sign above the door or the knick-knacks on the on the shelves, pubs that rely heavily on chalk boards to convey their offers and social media to connect with their communities often adopt an appropriately chatty and sometimes irreverent tone of voice.

Take the time to read the A-boards outside the The Royal and Fat Pugs next time you’re passing. Invariably smile-raising (and occasionally cringe-inducing) they have nailed a tone of voice that carries right through their offer (one genius item on their menu is ‘Whoa Black Betty Bam-a-Lamb’) and are certainly a cool little pub chain to watch, though I do wonder how the brand will adapt once pugs inevitably fall out of fashion.

Top of the mom and pops

While Sarah Horne and Aubrey Allen have to remain Leamington’s benchmark brands, the streets that criss-cross their way around the Parade are packed with well thought-out and executed independent stores.

And a select few give my designer fancy an extra little tickle: Beryline (whimsical, crafty and backed up by events and blogs that bring their offer to life) and Lilac Rose (exquisitely curated and immaculately merchandised) spring to mind, though it’s the all-natural lotions and potions store Elixir on Regent Street who present their wares to the world so coherently I always assumed they were part of a larger group. From the clean and minimal store fascia and a tidy, user-friendly e-commerce website, right down to the friendly, knowledgeable staff, Elixir is one of a few local retail brands strong enough to support their own label products.

And it’s not our shops, bars and cafés

The independent spirit isn’t limited to the High Street. The vibrant games cluster has spawned a lot of small teams with strong brands essential for them to cut through in a competitive market. It’s all too easy (and forgivable) for a games company to be overshadowed by the strong look and feel of the games they produce but both Team Lumo and Monster and Monster stand out as developers with incredibly strong styles and personalities that mark their creations out like no one else’s.

Local voices, global reach.

Some local brands really come to life online too. Whether that’s the clear and timely instagrams of Chapter Clothing or the crowd funding success of Leamington Comic Con, to rise above your peers these businesses know you need to express your brand across all the channels at your disposal.

Our vital role

We have helped a number of great local independents get up and running, including an identity for Lear Fitness and business mentoring for Jenny Hudson at Sweet As.

A couple of years ago we created a brand for a Kenilworth-based start-up physiotherapy company, Halo, that founders Michelle Henry and Rachael Adams really got behind. With so much budget-bothering outlay when starting a new venture, it must be tempting to scrimp on a new identity for your company but Michelle and Rachael were adamant that they wanted something that set them apart from their competition. After some initial work defining their brand positioning we created them a logo and set of assets for them to roll out across all of their customer touch points. They now employ over 10 staff at their clinic in Camden House and are always quick to acknowledge the confidence their professional-looking, coherent brand gave them in their early days.

I always admire and take inspiration from these people building brands unhampered by risk-averse, big company behaviour and creativity-zapping sign-off procedures. All the companies I have mentioned appear to have got the basics right:

  1. They have considered who they are and what they want to stand for
  2. They have worked with professionals to create effective identities that bring their brand to life
  3. They apply their brand consistently right through their business and back it up with great products and services.

Their thriving businesses are proof that the investment in all that ‘fluffy design stuff’ has been very worthwhile.

These are my favourites; let me know yours at 




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