The Fixer revisits Kettley’s

Those of you familiar with Karl’s involvement in last year’s series of The Fixer with Alex Polizzi may remember Kettley’s, the Yeadon furniture retailer that was given a new lease of life on the show.

In the months after Karl helped to turn the store around, it enjoyed a 22 per cent like-for-like sales increase on the previous year.

Click here to read about what Karl did to help Kettley’s.

On Tuesday 30 April BBC Two will show The Fixer Returns, in which Alex revisits Kettley’s to see how it has done over the past 12 months, and how well Karl’s advice has been carried out.

Click here for more information on the show on the BBC website.

Karl in Aspire magazine

Karl has been talking to Aspire – the inflight magazine from Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways – about the benefits of subtle sensory cues in retail.

This approach has been seized by major world brands as a means of engaging with shoppers in new and more effective ways, ensuring they meet their customers’ needs rather than bombarding them with misdirected sales messages.

You can read the full article in the April edition of Aspire magazine.

Retail Focus: Is Trinity the jewel in the crown for Leeds?

Trinity Leeds has been attracting some good headlines for retail, taking some of the focus away from the now trotting pace of the horsemeat scandal. I visited on the opening day and I have to say that I was impressed overall, if a little surprised by its small size.

One thing that stood out in Trinity Leeds is that you couldn’t fail to notice how Arcadia is investing in its brands there. Dorothy Perkins, Burton, Topman, Topshop and even BHS have each opened new retail concepts here. For me, it represents a big shift in what the company has done before. It’s like Arcadia has finally woken up to the fact that better retail design can be a profit driver.

My only criticism of this welcome move is that it appears that these brands are being innovated together, perhaps even using the same design agency. As a result, they seem to have lost their individual brand identity as, for the most part, they now seem to compete using similar design thinking, themes and ideas. These new concepts all tread a familiar path of attractive store design simply using new fixturing, décor and lighting, with graphics and more displays. In my opinion though, each is a ‘me too’ copy of themselves, which cannot be right. Blurring the lines between brands can potentially cannibalise sales (for example, Burton looks like a mini Topman). Given the scale and opportunity with the Arcadia business as a whole, personally, I’d appoint several top-notch agencies to manage the design evolution and customer experience for each brand. In my opinion, this would retain identity, exclusivity and edge.

Back to Trinity Leeds itself, it may be the only UK shopping centre to open this year, but by the usual standards, it’s a small centre. It’s an infill of land in-between the historic Briggate, Commercial and Trinity streets. This has caused several large, unoccupied gaps to open up in the surrounding streets, following Next and River Island’s relocation to Trinity Leeds.

It’s clear Arcadia has learnt from investing in Topshop. Whether it will invest further to refurbish older stores across the country remains to be seen.

Leeds was already a great shopping city, and while this new development has added a few new stores, on balance, will it be seen to have taken something away? Development is good generally, but only if it has an overall positive effect.

It has to be said that Trinity has an attractive design, an iconic glazed roof, restaurants and a city cinema etc., but in five years time it will have aged like any other city mall.

That said, individually and taken as a whole, this is still big news. The question is, to what extent do the stores represent a series of one-offs, or a serious commitment to upgrade the estate and refurbish what are, for me, so many tired old shops with these better concepts? I witnessed a similar story a few years back when the once retail goliath Sears UK innovated several brands together shortly before some of these fascias were put up for sale. While there is no suggestion that this is in Sir Phillip’s thinking, a cynic would argue that before any disposals took place, investors would expect to see a new retail format producing positive performance results before they too sought to make any investment in these brands in future.

Physically, it’s left its mark on the rest of Leeds’ shopping districts, with lots of big old stores now lying empty. With so many retailers now having gone to the wall, who’s going to fill up this space? I suspect that many shops will lie empty for some time – downgrading the rest of the city. For example, the area closest to Debenhams and Harvey Nichols looks tired already, with the Trinity Centre having shifted Leeds’ centre of gravity by a couple of streets.

It’s down to Leeds City Council and Leeds’ retailers to ensure that it doesn’t suffer like Derby did in the wake of its own super mall.

So finally, to the best stores. Next has a very attractive new concept. This multilevel space has a lighter design aesthetic and a sophisticated, aspirational feel. With this, Next seems to have come of age. It’s not gimmicky and reflects the brand’s ‘quality credentials’ better than the showy ‘black’ store design phase.

Love it or hate it, Superdry demonstrates some great VM, powerful merchandising and colourful displays, although it’s big, sprawling and confusing layout and endless sea of ‘samey’ products very quickly lost its appeal.

As I mentioned, Dorothy Perkins was good with its long overdue new store design – the first in ages for the brand – with the resulting effect being lighter, sophisticated and feminine. Similar things could be said for the new Burton, but with more emphasis on product VM and displays. Finally, River Island was a very attractive store with areas of particular note being the men’s denim area, women’s footwear and accessories, and women’s trend area.

So, overall, an interesting trip up north. Trinity is attractive, human scale and appealing. Smart and tidy, just like the brands that have set up shop there. Leeds, beware though. Trinity is good, but you WERE great. You need to do more than this to retain and improve your retail crown.

The Fixer: Helping the Oak Garden Centre to show its customers the way

The Oak Garden Centre is based in affluent Chatteris, and is owned and managed by Brad White, who runs the business with his fiancé Jo and his mum and dad – David and Lynn White. In spite of its location and previous success, recently the business became unstuck – a common story for many retailers today. Oak is a business selling plants, landscaping and gardening products, which the recession has left looking and performing far from its best. That’s why the owners got involved in the hit BBC TV show The Fixer with Alex Polizzi and myself.

When I was first called in, it was as a secret shopper. I visited at Christmas and was amazed that so little had been done to develop a seasonal gift and décor offer and coffee shop – both great ways to get people to visit garden centres in winter.

As a shopper, the place was underwhelming and unappealing. It was understocked, disorganised, without character and unloved, a chaotic mess within four forlorn greenhouses. Outside was even worse. I thought the recent bad weather had given everything a thorough battering. Alex had started to work with the family and there were some encouraging signs of improvement. Overall, it was evident a catastrophe had taken place, but they seemed to be getting back on their feet.

One of the biggest issues was the shop layout, it was like a frustrating maze and impossible to shop. Twofour asked me to give my feedback to the family. I brought the issues to life, explaining how counterproductive these were, and how we could fix them.

So I started to experiment. I closed off doors, introduced new signage and focal points etc. My intention was to create easier, more effective navigation using a ‘race track’ layout to get shoppers to visit all parts of the space. To prove the effectiveness of the revised layout, we installed hidden cameras and a private viewing area, where I sat with the family and Alex to see how a group of invited shoppers moved through the revised space – both before and after my changes. Both were filmed.

The results couldn’t have worked better. Alex shrieked with delight!

The first people in the pre-experiment shopper group drifted without purpose and didn’t buy. The second group who shopped my new, experimental layout followed the precise route that I had created. Not only that, but 50 per cent of them bought something! As an example, a collection of candle holders, which had not been previously well displayed, sold out during the experiment, having sold none in the whole of the previous year in their former position. By improving the visibility and appearance of these items, they became an attractive ‘must have’ gift item, with one customer buying six pieces at once.

My experiment showed the family that effective signage and a better layout could get customers to follow a planned journey instore, to maximise sales from all parts of the shop space. The customer benefits were clear: less confusion and a more satisfying experience.

I then considered product presentation. The family were worried that they would have to spend money on new fixtures etc., and I set about dispelling that myth. I explained that some of the most profitable retailers are market traders – they have to be. Every day they set out their stalls with perishable products that, if they don’t sell, they send to waste and with it the money invested in stock. These people really understand product presentation, service and retail theatre. To demonstrate, I set up a market stall for the family and showed them how it is done. My example confirmed that storeowners don’t need costly fixtures to sell more – they just need better retail practices, executed with great expertise.

In this show, there was no big budget to create a fancy makeover, but I had to pull one off as Oak had so much potential. This started with new branding and signage. Two days before Christmas I got the call to help. I briefed this into my team at 4pm on Thursday and by 2am, we had created three new branding and signage options, which were shown to the family at 8am Friday. They liked these so much, they asked me to pick the final design on their behalf!

With new branding and signage completed, I thought about how to transform the shop on only a shoestring budget. My intention was to create a store that would inspire shoppers to get outside, celebrate the joy of gardening and to maximise enjoyment of outdoor life.

I decided on a ‘shabby chic’ theme and planned a total store makeover. In three days, with my Visual Thinking team, I implemented innovative ideas and retail best practices to improve store design, space management, product presentation and to improve customer services.

We created an updated and unified ‘look and feel’ using visual merchandising to present products more effectively. We created new payment and information desks for better service. Blackboards were introduced to promote a gardener’s calendar, gardening club workshops and local events. Overall, we dug the foundations to show the business as more professional, a real destination and relevant as trusted experts to satisfy all their customers’ gardening needs.

Brad White said of the experience:

“The work of Karl and Alex has given us a completely new outlook. We have worked hard to keep adhering to the good practices that Karl and his team have put into place. We have kept presentation front of mind and maintained the route around the store, whilst improving the coffee shop and thinking more about what our customers want from us.

“We never expect anything in terms of sales in January and February, but we have seen that sales are already up on last year, and more and more people are coming to look around, with few leaving the store with nothing. They are enjoying what they see and taking in the whole shop. We’re expecting a huge March, not mention summer, as even with the bad weather, things are looking much better.

“I would say to anyone that’s struggling, look for a total change to get out of the rut. Stop being a conservationist, come out of your comfort zone and try to be creative. By learning from some of the mistakes we made, and following the advice on the show, a business can go a long way without spending a fortune. Just come up with ideas and act!”

Click here to see more images of the Oak Garden Centre before and after Karl’s work.

Karl on BBC Radio Solent

If you’re based around Southampton, you might have heard Karl on BBC Radio Solent this morning. He discussed different sensory marketing tactics that retailers use to engage shoppers, from different styles of music to other noises and smells that appeal to different customers for different products.

Missed it? Click here to listen to Karl’s interview again on the BBC iPlayer, at around 37 minutes in.

Heal’s London store gets a makeover

Heal’s is an iconic independent British furniture and furnishings brand. On 7 March the chain relaunched the flagship London store on Tottenham Court Road, after the main section was given a low-cost makeover to enhance new product lines.

The bed shop on the ground floor features themed areas from famous movies, whilst the charming bed and mattress selector area is based on the Three Little Bears to get customers in the mood for sleep.

Other areas in the store have a more specialist feel and departments have been moved and refurbished to suit their new product ranges. Both the home accessories and home fragrance areas are divided into branded specialist sections, whilst the legendary cookshop has been relaunched with focal points and improved shopping ease. The other floors, dedicated to home furnishings and interior design, also have much-improved layouts and themed areas.

This is a low cost VM makeover where the emphasis has been placed on new product displays and subtle but important changes to decoration. Impactful focal points and interior displays are areas where Heal’s has traditionally always been strong. For me, it is a successful example of the showstopping impact that VM can make, especially when budgets are tight.

Click here to see more pictures of the new-look Heal’s store.

Miami: Street Art

Theft of an original artwork created by the UK’s anti-establishment political comment artist Banksy, ahead of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, has aroused international interest. The piece depicts a small boy manufacturing a British Union Jack bunting, and is thought to be a commentary on the use of sweat-shop labour.  Its creation on an outside wall of a branch of the UK’s Poundland store chain seems deliberate to make the point (albeit without accusation).

In a continuation of the story, no sooner had the Banksy piece been taken in the well planned theft, the quickly repaired wall on Whymark Avenue had a new piece quickly daubed by another anonymous artist to take its place.

As to the fate of the missing Banksy, it subsequently turned up in Miami, reportedly being offered at one of the city’s auction houses with a guide price of several hundred thousand dollars. For reasons that remain uncertain, the sale was pulled (concerns about ownership, the theft and who had rights to the original no doubt).

Its apparent arrival in Miami, though, was in some ways intriguing. Not because Miami would not be a worthy home for the piece, but because the region already has a thriving street art scene. Such is its abundance that, rather than a small two-metre-square work drawing such attention, the scale and quality of street art here is immense. Welcome, yes, but required? Probably not. Destined to take up local residence, but most likely a simple transit stop before moving on again.

Miami street art happens in the former fashion warehouse district of Wynwood – a vast area that for many years was in decline. The area is being rapidly transformed into new apartments, shops and offices as the new ‘Midtown’ area grows and converges with the former commercial zone. Its location, bordering the newly defined Miami Design District suggests how creativity has found a new location in the city.

Walls, in fact whole buildings, are richly decorated with both planned and spontaneous artworks. Vast in scale, brightly coloured and highly impactful, many make striking and arresting visual statements. Touring a few city blocks reveals a rich seam of imagination and inspiration in a huge variety of creative styles, making comment and creating talking points on the street.

Unlike the mindless graffiti which blights many European cities with anti-social spray painted tags and their threatening and negative undertones, here the work is uplifting, thought provoking and makes a positive addition to improve an otherwise bland and characterless area of the city.

Right now, the work is inspired by the street, and the loves and lives of the locals who make up the area. I have not find any ‘branded commissions’ as yet, but you can be sure this is only a matter of time. As outlets from international names such as Prada and Dior Homme have started to take up residence locally, they no doubt want to make an easy peace with the neighbours. In moving in, they will inevitably move others out and so change the profile and value of the area over time. Brands also like to associate with cool and edgy, so an address here will no doubt impress.

I suggest visiting soon, before all the old buildings are torn down for new malls and offices. As for the missing Banksy, who knows where it will end up? Given its immense weight, being crafted on a section of cut cement wall, wherever it turns up you can be sure its book value will be similarly matched by excess baggage charges.

Click here to see more pictures of Miami’s street art.

Miami: Retail’s Looking UP!

America is the home of the single floor, large footprint retail store. In a country with so much space, unlike in Europe and Asia, brands here do not have to think about developing several floors in one building to showcase their entire product range.

But if America is the home of this type of store, it is also the undisputed home of the outlet store, where brands offload previous seasons’ collections for a fraction of a cost. Such is their popularity that the outlet store sector in America is now a massive and booming business, with entire malls and shopping towns dedicated to selling discounted ranges.

Many of the biggest retail brands such as Timberland, Gap, Calvin Klein and Banana Republic actually manufacture products directly for their outlet store divisions. Here’s a tip – look for the three diamonds underneath Banana Republic woven garment labels to check if items are a reduced price mainline product or have been specially made for the outlet.

However, there is a tricky challenge for brands to manage in these low price, high traffic and typically low staff resource environments. Namely, how do you deliver an authoritative ‘on brand’ VM message and maintain high retail standards? Especially when the product range consists of mainly fragmented end of lines, has limited availability and needs to work in a vast space on a single floor level. The answer for many brands, it seems, is to develop an advanced level use of the high level display space.

Here, specialist use of this ‘above the shopping line’ area has been done with a combination of compelling brand graphics, photographic imagery and product displays. These work to aid navigation and support clearer layout planning. Above all, they provide VM presentation and display credibility that is out of reach to the consumer, helping the store to look better for longer and allow retail staff to focus on replenishment and tidying activities.

It’s a great example of how these retailers maximise their visual presence, without using ineffective and expensive presentation and display activity where shoppers could simply pull it apart.

Overall, it shows that great VM isn’t just about creating great product displays, but about the operational and commercial thinking that goes into it. In this case, demonstrating highly effective visual thinking too.

Click here to see more pictures of high level VM in outlet stores in Miami.