Karl in Pet Product Marketing







Following our work to help transform the fortunes of Wimbledon-based pet store, Creature Company, on the hit BBC2 TV show Alex Polizzi – The Fixer, Karl was recently asked to share his visual merchandising tips to help improve pet retailers’ businesses. From the importance of thinking like a shopper and helping shoppers avoid choice and navigation angst during the purchase journey, to creating instore theatre and the value of upcycling existing fixtures, to revitalise the shopping experience on a small budget. The magazine also featured a detailed case study on the Creature Company project and an interview with its owner, Sebastien Latour.

If you’d like to see what happened behind the scenes of this season’s The Fixer, visit: http://bit.ly/1JLch4H

Retail Focus: TV could do more to help fix UK retail

The FixerTV show, where I help Alex Polizzi to fix struggling family businesses, has once again come to a close for the year. I have given advice on many TV programmes over the years, but in each series of The Fixer I enjoy the close involvement with real businesses, where the emphasis is as much about real life business assistance and tangible results as it is about viewing figures.

In spite of their obvious benefits to business, reality TV shows have always been in the firing line for criticism, as at their core they cover peoples’ lives and challenges and inevitably capture individuals’ successes as well as failings. I think from a business angle though, these shows have a lot to offer the companies taking part and the viewing public – even if for the latter, they are just taking bite size pieces of best practice.

In The Fixer, like many other business improvement shows, we have only been helping businesses that are struggling; imagine though if we were to help to find, nurture and further build an already successful business. How great would it be if we could use a TV show to create a future high street national treasure?

The popular zeitgeist at the moment seems to be about pitching one business, craftsman, artist etc. against the other. Think The Pitch in the US or The Great Interior Design Challenge and Portrait Artist Of The Year in the UK, where participants take a brief and apply their craft/strategy. We could take a proven format like this and pitch three small but successful retail start-up businesses against one another.

Dragons’ Den this would not be, but a process where businesses would initially pitch their growth idea, concept and action plan to win one of three places on the show. Once in the show, they would trade for a set period with staged challenges with the help of a panel of expert advisors – marketing, financial and management experts. The winner by public or panel vote could win a year’s support of Government grant money or the like, to provide ongoing expert guidance and establish successful habits for the business to ensure that it goes on to be the success it should be. All three retailers would benefit hugely from the ongoing publicity and probably build brand evangelists and revenue along the way.

In many walks of business life, there are surges of small businesses being established, with no shortage of fledgling entrepreneurs that want to throw themselves and their exciting business concepts into the market. A Government package of support for expert consultancy, channelled into some of these winning ideas and businesses will minimise the percentage of failure. Perhaps this funding could even come from some of the now publicly owned banks? By setting these businesses up not to fail, taking their business plans and ideas and putting them to scrutiny, I believe that retail success would be the outcome.

A programme like this would be beneficial in so many ways. For example, David Cameron wants Britain to be the centre of excellence for dementia care, as he knows it’s going to make more money for the country in the long run. Creating what could be another stellar retail brand for the UK could also create jobs, tax revenue and perhaps even export opportunities and increased manufacturing. We could create other great brands like White Stuff, Joules or The White Company and unlock many more benefits across the country for shoppers, store staff and their many suppliers alike.

We need to celebrate and support great ideas and innovation more, and a show like this would demonstrate how the seed of a great idea could be nurtured to help regenerate the high street. The UK may be coming out of the recession with bigger and stronger brands, but are they that innovative and creative? Beyond the use of digital technology and improvements in customer service initiatives and cohesion in the context of ominichannel, we have yet to see flourishing innovation in new retail experiences that were abundant before the downturn.

Whilst a programme of this type would have TV appeal with jeopardy, human emotion and the all crucial journey, it would also have a tangible return – perhaps one new successful high street retailer for each season that the show runs. The Government’s Growth Accelerator programme has worked wonders for UK high growth businesses, and I think that what I’m suggesting could be as valuable, as whilst it will work on a smaller scale the learnings for other businesses will have enormous reach through the channel of popular TV. This would not be an ill-conceived investment like say (in my opinion) the Portas Pilot towns, this would be an outcome-driven innovation and investment vehicle for the good of retailers, their supply chains and the UK high street.

If you’d like to see what happened behind the scenes of this season’s The Fixer, visit: http://bit.ly/1JLch4H

Click here to read more of Karl’s regular monthly column pieces in Retail Focus magazine

Karl in Convenience Store magazine

If you were thumbing through the latest issue of Convenience Store magazine last week, you may have noticed Karl’s name featured, as he shared his thoughts on the tactics that convenience retailers can use to improve retail effectiveness and shopper engagement.

Read the full article here

Karl returns to TV in BBC2 series, Alex Polizzi – The Fixer

Featuring in the third consecutive series of BBC2’s The Fixer, presented by Alex Polizzi, Karl and his dedicated project team at Visual Thinking worked their magic on family businesses in need of guidance to improve the customer experience and increase retail performance.

For the final episode of the series, TV production company Twofour sought Karl’s retail expertise and advice to help Wimbledon-based pet store, Creature Company, find ways to reinvigorate the store and customer experience, in order to realise its long-term commercial ambitions.

Missed it? Watch again here

Read the full case study in Retail Focus magazine here

Karl in Stadia Magazine – Retail win-win

This month, Karl was asked by Stadia Magazine to share his thoughts on how sports venue retail concession spaces can add real value to the visitor experience, and apply retail best practice to push performance and develop brand loyalty.

Read his opinion article in full below:

Anyone who works in sport knows that success is hard won. Retail can be just as unforgiving. So, while sports teams may enjoy a level of loyalty that is far from the reach of your average high street retailer, stadia and arenas keen to invest in concession space and improve retail performance can still learn much from established retail practices.

Soccer, the national game in the UK, is often linked to the phrase “a game of two-halves” – in which each half of the match has a very a different character. Most sporting venues are also divided into two distinct periods – fixture and non-fixture trading days.

When sports venues draw their biggest crowds, shopping is invariably not the main event. As a result, dwell time in-store is often limited, with customers more focused on finding their seats and soaking up the atmosphere. However, outside of the big event, retail concession spaces can help venues to establish themselves as a genuine destination and meeting place. This requires concessions to exhibit a warmth and personality that invites people in – making them feel welcome and encouraging them to stay.

To achieve this balance, venues need to create a shopping environment that is commercially and visually focused towards the needs of the shopper. This means learning to ‘think like a customer’, developing a critical-eye and embarking upon the relentless pursuit of the highest retail standards.

Visual merchandising’s (VM) role in delivering retail success is often thought to be limited to creating impactful window displays. It’s not. Put simply, effective VM encompasses everything from store layout and product merchandising to point-of-sale (POS), choice of fixtures, price ticketing and even good housekeeping. For me, it is, and always has been, about delivering a truly great brand and customer experience at every touchpoint along the shopping journey.

Within sports retail concessions, as within department stores and malls, many of the general principles of retail apply, in that an effective promotional layout will drive footfall and additional sales. With tens of thousands of people descending on concessions in such a concentrated period of time, bad retail practices can quickly be exposed such as weak layout planning, poor use of space and inefficient customer flow. These can make concession spaces far from practical, or enjoyable to shop.

Retail concessions can help divide physical space into different specialists zones, giving visitors a clear destination for their needs. But, more importantly, they can allow customers to clearly segment product offers and present them with small groups of product choices – essential to securing sales conversion when customers have limited time to give to their shopping mission.

Promotional space must also make sense – customers can be easily influenced if they are presented with logical promotions that they feel they must buy. And, importantly, displays must be able to support the day’s sales while maintaining visual presentation standards. Visually poor displays will negatively impact on the shopping experience and, ultimately, damage the wider venue brand. POS must also be implemented correctly or it may drastically weaken the impact and purpose of promotional messages.

Increased visitor footfall also brings with it the need to maintain POS standards doubly hard. Disheveled displays won’t show products at their best – resulting in lost sales. It is also important to add uniformity to the retail experience within a venue without detracting from the individual identities of the brands operating concessions. Furthermore, the overall space has to offer an environment within which each individual brand is allowed to express itself.

The most important thing to remember is that retail success, like any team sport, is often a result of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Retail teams with the knowledge and skills needed to implement improved product presentation standards, can be the cornerstone of enhancing the brand experience, inspiring customers and driving sales.

To see the original article, click here

The Fixer – Behind the Scenes

If you enjoyed watching the recent series of The Fixer on BBC2 starring Alex Polizzi turning her attention to family firms that have reached breaking point, take a look at some of our behind-the-scenes footage of Karl and the Visual Thinking team playing their part in the business transformations.

Karl in El Pais

If you happened to visit Spain before Christmas, you may have read his comment in daily newspaper El Pais talking about retail psychology and the shopping experience.

El Pais journalist Leticia Garcia approached him for comment on the back of the high profile international VM work that he and his team at Visual Thinking have completed for several leading retail brands in recent months. For those of you in the UK or elsewhere in the world who didn’t see it, he offered retail insight on the influence of visual merchandising on shopper engagement and, in the ever-evolving world of multichannel retailing, the need for brands to provide shoppers with real reasons to visit a store and encourage them to browse in new ways.

Click here to see the full article

Just another winter’s sale?

The festive season just wouldn’t be the same without the post-Christmas sales.

Even before the last of the Christmas Day turkey had been digested, some shoppers were preparing to brave the queues to pick up a bargain. One store manager we spoke to talked of how some shoppers had been waiting outside Highcross Leicester since 11pm on Christmas Day night, to ensure that they were first in line to benefit from big retailer discounts. Whilst we weren’t gripped by the post-Christmas sales to quite that extent, our own Boxing Day store visits provided an interesting insight into differing approaches to both communicating and managing end of year retail sales.

As you would expect, the colour red still largely dominated stores. But the different tactics used to deliver sale message executions were noticeable. Many retailers again kept things simple, although largely unimaginative, with large red sale window decals. Unsurprisingly, it is these stores that, whilst perhaps offering the biggest discounts, often also deliver the poorest retail standards. We didn’t  have to walk too far to find stores where little attention had been given to how sale product was presented, leaving shoppers to wade through discounted stock that, in some cases, was literally piled in a heap – surely harming the likelihood of maximising sell-through. The likes of Zara and River Island were just a couple of examples we came across.

Despite this, there were some highlights on our Boxing Day travels. Urban Outfitters has used a “hello 2015, goodbye 2014” message for its winter season sale along with visually strong typography in the form of an iconic percentage symbol – creating a bold and impactful campaign throughout the store.

Schuh was also particularly strong, delivering a consistent sales theme in-store and online that looked and felt beautifully ‘gift wrapped’ – using sales tape and digital screens in their window displays to great effect. The growing number of retailers now embracing digital technology to help drive real cut-through in a crowded retail environment was perhaps the most notable trend this year. Schuh was one great exponent of this, but we saw others that stood out too, such as Smiggle – bringing a sense of playfulness to its in-store sale through the use of digital. Top marks for creative digital content, however, must go to Three. The mobile retailer’s series of offbeat sales messages that included “Anyone would still think it’s Christmas” and “It’s never too late for presents” made for a witty retail activation and provided a welcome change from the norm.

Elsewhere, Levi’s patchwork denim sale message and Superdry’s “Winter. The Event” knitwear sale provided some eye-catching window and POS displays, whilst Reiss anchored its in-store sales with an emotive and positively refreshing “with love” tagline – demonstrating that retailers and shoppers alike should still care about the shopping experience, even during this bargain-frenzied season.

Click here to see pictures from the post-Christmas VM travels of the Visual Thinking team on the VT Facebook page.

Mexico: a land of retail opportunity

The Mexican economy is booming. Wealth from the country’s extensive natural resources, such as silver and copper, and many other successful industries (textiles, agriculture and tourism) is contributing to a region which, along with Brazil and Chile, is bucking the great recession that continues to affect many other parts of the world. Where Europe is languishing, Latin America is saying Arriba!

As such, it’s a great time for retailers. New Malls and stores are opening countrywide. In Mexico City itself, the biggest and most complete mall, Centro Santa Fe, has added a big new extension that will open in 2013. New brands will include American Eagle, Benetton, Sears, Gap and Sephora which will be joined by flagship stores for premium International brands including Pink, Hackett, Facconable, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, Coach and Ferragamo.

Local retailers are implementing exciting plans too. The biggest department store chain, ‘Liverpool’, has just opened an exciting Food Court – yes that’s right, exciting and food court in the same sentence! Known as; ‘Gourmet Experience’, this combines a restaurant and deli quality food with international take-home groceries, available to eat in or take away and set within a distinctive contemporary environment. It is reminiscent of Selfridges opening in the Birmingham Bullring, although this venture is all together on a much grander and more impressive scale.

One thing that was also noticeable was how Mexican retailers are embracing digital technology – not just in a small way, but as whole concepts within retail environments. The results of this were dramatic and mesmerising. Digital media is applied to whole walls, focal points, window displays and signage – bringing brand campaigns to life in a way that 2D printed matter simply cannot compete with.

Click here to see more pictures of booming brands in Mexico.

Mexico: Casa Palacio

This store can only be described as breathtaking.

Casa Palacio has three stores, two in Mexico City and one in Acapulco. It sells a unique collection of furniture, home accessories, home decoration and home items. This latest and recently opened example is located in the new Centro Santa Fe Mall extension – due to fully open during 2013. It is located at the end of the mall in a commanding position, next to designer clothing mega brands Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel and Pink.

The design emphasis in this part of the mall is on luxury. Opulent white carrara marble floors, full height contemporary architecture and natural light have been used to create a premium look and feel to showcase the biggest and best in international brands.

Inside this new store, an original Mexican house and courtyard has been thoughtfully incorporated into the new design – creating an innovative juxtaposition between old and new. Built over several floors, the store is a series of small, interconnected rooms that flow seamlessly between each other. Each is themed and decorated with a distinctive product, brand or lifestyle theme – and zoned into traditional South American, European and British, with a mix of classic and contemporary products and themes. Every part of the store has a lavish and carefully curated feel, demonstrating expert attention to detail in VM and retail standards.

VM is exceptional instore. Even the simplest of areas, for mattress and pillow selection, is handled like a luxury boutique hotel. Around the store, it is hard to isolate any particular product areas as the standard is SO high and consistently done. However, the cookshop on the ground floor with its intricate wooden scultpural centre piece that connects through to the floors above is, quite simply, remarkable.

This store embodies creativity and wow factor. It is luxurious, inspiring and ambitious. It is not, however, so exclusive that a potential customer feels ill at ease by simply looking and touching. The staff at Casa Palacio were polite, friendly and engaging, and with discrete service facilities (credit, payment, delivery and wedding list etc. ) carefully woven into the store – the premium experience was maintained throughout. This exciting branch of Casa Palacio is one of the best stores I have visited in a long time.

Click here to view more images of Casa Palacio on the Visual Thinking Facebook page.