Miami: Life in Colour

For those who have never visited Miami before, it’s a young, energetic and colourful place that is full of life. Its unique location at the tip of continental North America, nestled between the Caribbean and Mexico, gives it the unofficial status as the regional ‘hub’ of Latin America.

This fortune of geography plays out in many ways, with none more evident than the vibrant mix of people and cultures that have settled in Miami, bringing a diverse range of varied lifestyle influences in every aspect, from food to music, fashion and much, much more.

In fact, the city is not one place but several places, which helps to make it the thriving metropolis that it is. Most famous of all is South Beach, with its Art Deco quarter with retro boutiques hotels. Downtown is more corporate, with skyscrapers full of offices that have breathtaking views of Miami Harbor. Massive cruise ships and incredible private yachts line the vast inlet-infused shoreline. In fact, each of Miami’s neighbourhoods has a unique appeal and distinctive character, and the best way to sample them is quite simple to get out there and soak them up.

Yet, for everything that makes Miami different, some things are universal and bind it together. Tropical winds, palm trees, smothering summertime heat and a bright clear sunlight that bleaches and blisters. It’s the sun that helps to add emphasis to one of the most noticeable features of the area – the unashamed use of bold, true hue colour that is emblazoned on everything.

Unlike the cold, grey extremes of the Northern hemisphere, Miami is bathed in brilliant sunlight for most of the year, with tropical temperatures to match. This creates the perfect setting for bold colour to come to life in an array of zesty shades that are impossible to escape. Colour is used extensively on buildings, in homes and restaurants, and most noticeably on people – on casual clothing of all descriptions.

Right now, Miami’s shops are full of bold colour. And even though it’s back on trend for Spring 2013 everywhere, in this place it always is. Colour is what creates the youthful backdrop to the region, and is part of what makes it the experience it is.

Click here to see more pictures of colour in Miami.

Valentine’s VM in the States

Valentine’s Day is becoming an ever more lucrative marketing opportunity with every passing year, and has now become one that many retailers on both sides of the Atlantic cannot afford to miss out on.

However, effective Valentine’s VM takes a little more effort than simply spraying everything red and pink. On a recent trip to the US, we snapped a collection of some of the best examples of the theme being used, both for windows and in store.

Click here to look through the best of American Valentine’s Day VM.

How Courtyard Bridal learnt to love, honour and obey!

A lot of people view reality TV shows, and especially those dolling out advice to businesses, as fickle and one-dimensional, offering no real value beyond a quick fix of publicity to those involved. Regular column readers will know that I helped out on the first season of BBC Two’s The Fixer, alongside The Hotel Inspector, Alex Polizzi, and I wanted to share with you the success story of one of the businesses we assisted – Courtyard Bridal Boutique in Kettering.

It’s over a year now since I first met with the business for filming with the Twofour Broadcast team. When we started, Courtyard Bridal Boutique had issues not uncommon with family businesses – where family politics spilled over into the business in a non-too helpful manner. The bridal store itself was dated with no cohesive design theme, had poor branding and the environment as a whole lacked that inspirational edge required to inspire young brides to shop for what many perceive as the biggest day of their lives.

At the time, I proposed a revitalised instore proposition for the business and this was then implemented by Twofour, the family themselves and local contractors.

One year on and a lot has changed – business is booming!

Sisters Rhiannon Moore and Bethan McCall have bought their mother, Anne Preece, out of the business and are now the sole owners, with Mum still involved in the day-to-day operation, providing expert alterations to the gowns. The average transaction value has increased by £600 and turnover has risen by an enormous 25%. In 2012 the business dressed 137 brides and, astonishingly, it already has 120 booked in for 2013. The sisters are expecting this figure to at least double. Finally, the business has been shortlisted for two major bridal awards since the show, has exclusive arrangements with a top designer and its price point has risen from £300-£2000 to £1000-£3,500. Doesn’t sound like a contemporary retail story at all, does it?

So why have things been so successful? In the main, it’s due to the fact that the sisters took on board the advice given to them by Alex and myself and made this their absolute focus. We provided them with the vision of what the Boutique could look and run like, got the ball rolling for them and off they went, sticking to the plan with discipline and making it work for them and their customers. Like all business improvement projects, reality TV projects can work if the advice is realistic, sincere and proven and the business owners are focused and committed to the end results.

Here’s what Rhiannon says about the things that have changed in the business, as a result of The Fixer.

“We have done everything that people asked us to do in the show. Following the advice of Karl and The Fixer team, we vastly improved our store layout to make it shop in a more ordered and inspirational manner for customers.

“We find that people really enjoy the new layout, and they especially like the statement window that we were advised to create. We keep this fresh and simple, last month adding some wellies to the mannequins to reflect the weather we were having, which had an enormous impact with people stopping to take a look.

“We have worked hard to create the exclusive but not excluding look discussed on The Fixer and, as part of this, customers now have to ring a bell to enter the store and they’re greeted likes guests when they come in.

“A piece of advice that Karl gave us to help improve the customer experience was to get rid of any element of time. We took out the clocks to stop customers feeling time pressured and we have staggered appointments to ensure that we can spend the right amount of time with our brides.

“One improvement that we have still to make is to buy LED lights to show off the gowns with an even better effect. Everything has changed for the better with the store – the financials and sales as Karl has mentioned, but also the new found order and focus has even meant that our family has changed – we actually get on again!”

For me, it’s always great to see how a simple retail improvement project can work so well for an independent family retailer, using the same methods and best practices as the big brand stores. It’s about focusing on the customer, carefully targeted investment, delivering a great store experience through VM and service, and ultimately about getting the small details right.

I’ll be working alongside Alex Polizzi again in the new series of The Fixer, and you can be safe in the knowledge that when the world of retail throws its experts into reality TV – I’ll get results! And, if you need any more convincing that the reality TV format can work, just take a look at Kettley’s – the furniture store in the last series that we also transformed. Their business has boomed since appearing in the show and have commissioned their first run of big budget TV adverts.

Both Kettley’s and Courtyard Bridal will also feature on a ‘where are they now’ Fixer catch up show to be aired soon. Another business that we transformed in the series, Props and Frocks, the Essex based fancy dress store, has just opened a sister company, offering a one stop party planning service. It seems like the good times are only just beginning for all the families involved.

The new series of The Fixer starts on Tuesday 12 February, 8pm, BBC Two. 

Love is in the air?

Year on year it’s becoming ever more apparent that the Valentine’s Day opportunity is being taken up by more than just retailers of chocolates, flowers and lingerie – and this year is no exception!

On our travels we have seen a lot more of the less obvious retail categories jumping on the Valentine’s bandwagon, including homewares, watchmakers, chemists, independent beauty shops and even garden centres.

It seems that Valentine’s Day is worth investing in, with retailers committing to bold in-store graphics, innovative window displays and bespoke props – a very definite step up from the usual cardboard POS update.

Click here to see a selection of the Valentine’s displays we have seen already this year.

Sainsbury’s new look, with help from VT

If you’re a reader of Retail Week, you might have noticed a feature on the fantastic new Sainsbury’s store in King’s Lynn.

This store’s rather unorthodox approach to VM is, I believe, a fantastic showcase for supermarkets’ potential, and one that I’m proud to say Visual Thinking assisted with.

Along with Twelve, Pope Wainwright and Sainsbury’s in house team, we have together given the store a creative and authoritative new look for several different product categories including product presentation and overall VM delivery for Kitchen shop, Paper shop and TU Clothing.

Take a peek at the pictures on the Retail Week website to see the finished look… 

Seeing Red

There are many explanations, religious, historic and cultural, on why the colour red is used (along with green, gold, silver and white) as one of the key colours for Christmas. Certainly, red was the most widely used colour for Christmas 2012 in almost every window and instore display in New York this year.

From the use of single colour monotone schemes, to those with a bold tone-on-tone execution with traditional scarlet, ruby and berry shades, to vibrant vermillion and crimson, retailers in every product category had picked up on the trend.

As a colour, it has more associations and connotations than any other shade, with numerous studies suggesting that humans react more powerfully when they see red. Its values are universal and understood by people of all ages, cultures and nationalities. It evokes impulsive behaviours where confidence, daring, passion and risk are commonly observed. Cars are perceived to go faster, food to be more appetising, and things generally younger, happier and more alive.

Over the years, much has been written about the colour red. Some gory, much romantic, others scientific and lots anecdotal and personal. Poems, songs, letters and prose have all recorded our affection for red. It is the colour that endures and, just like the weather, it seems everyone has something to say about this most seasonal of colours. Quite simply, red is a ‘one size fits all’ shade. It works when and where others don’t.

For these, and a multitude of other reasons, it’s not surprising that red is the colour of choice instore for Christmas. Every retailer wants to make the highest sales and most profitable results from the huge surge in numbers and the opportunities that the season brings. Why risk a quirky or unconventional Christmas shade when red is a universal and popular favourite? Therefore, it’s only sensible that brands would want to place their most certain bet, and to de-risk to reap their rewards at this crucial time.

Retailers refer to Christmas and its ever earlier run up as the ‘golden quarter’, but this year even more than ever, I think it is all about red. Red in the creative promotional activities before, and red in the discounting activities afterwards, where left over goodies and seasonal clearance events will start in earnest depending on how things perform in the vital hours before the big day itself.

Without doubt, Christmas is synonymous with red. Birth, joy and love are embedded into its DNA – all part of the very essence of the festive period. What would choosing to celebrate the season with any other colour be like? Not Christmas.

Visit our Facebook page to see a selection of images featuring red displays in New York this year.

Karl’s Visual Review of 2012

January – Hard Rock Cafe, Prague
An unusual choice, perhaps, but one of the most successful examples of a retail operation being run alongside food.

Read more…

February – Patchi, Dubai
Patchi is a feast for the eyes, with indulgent, abundant and stylish displays. The stores are like little temples of luxury!
Read more…

March – Joe Fresh, New York
A clean and sharp value fashion brand, which drew hoards of shoppers to the opening of its store on 5th Avenue in NYC.
Read more…

April – C&A, Köln
C&A’s updated VM and instore design may be a move in the right direction, but it’s not the revolution that the business needed. For me, it points to significant changes in the value fashion sector.
Read more…

May – M&S, Shanghai
M&S’s impressive Shanghai showed how this historic British brand is taking over the world.
Read more…

June – Happy Pills, Barcelona
One of the most innovative and complete retail experiences I have ever seen. Happy Pills is a ‘pick and mix’ sweet shop with all the best retail practices of a pharmacy.
Read more… 

July – MINI, London
July 2012 was all about the London Olympics. Amongst the many notable stores that were improved, upgraded or simply ‘dressed for the occasion’, the MINI store in particular stood out.
Read more…

August – Reserved, Gdansk
In 2012, I have found myself working in central-eastern Europe quite often, and Reserved was one of Visual Thinking’s key projects in this emerging market.

September – Tokyo’s Tokyo, Japan
A sort of cross between Paperchase, Muji and the now-defunct National Geographic store. It reminded me of a ‘museum store’ but in a mall – executed with thought, care and expertise.
Read more…

October – Hermès, Osaka
This was Hermès’ unique new take on marketing – a mini art exhibition in Osaka’s Hilton hotel, entitled ‘8 Cravates’.
Read more… 

November – Zara Home, Munich
I have been a fan of Zara Home stores since the first opening in 2003. Building on the already successful store design and retail formula, this new outlet is an update of the original concept.
Read more… 

December – The Land of Nod Toy Shop, New York
Simply one of the most effective examples of a pop-up shop I have come across. Proof that a huge company can still ‘think small’.
Read more… 

Click here to see all of the images for my visual review of 2012 on the Visual Thinking Facebook page. 

December – The Land of Nod Toy Shop, New York

One of my final trips of the year is always to visit New York. It’s always great to return and especially at one of the busiest times, when stores are full of people and decked out in their finest.

I’m choosing a pop up shop as the final store in my visual review of 2012. In recent years, pop ups have become a new addition to the ever changing mix of stores on our streets, so it seems only fitting to showcase one of the nicest, seasonally relevant examples.

The Land of Nod, children’s furnishing and toy store, is an offshoot of the massive Crate & Barrel Home chain. It opened this innovative pop up store at 136 Prince Street in the popular SoHo area of New York at the end of October, for only a couple of months, and is set to close at the end of December.

Stocking its own brand ranges of colourful handmade toys, books and learning, creative play and kids’ Christmas decor products, this is a special ‘one off’ Land of Nod Toy Shop – perfect for the festive season.

It was set up in the former Victorinox (Swiss Army knives) store, which recently moved to 114 Wooster Street. Like many pop ups, the retail environment is quirky and low cost and a make-do-and-mend execution.

All former fittings (except lighting) have been stripped out. Fresh paint, decoration and VM treatment has been imaginatively used to create an engaging store interior. Simply using voile, timber, twigs and felt, the shop has been transformed into a enchanting magical garden, complete with the sky, moon and stars. The look has something of an Anthropologie clothing store, where show-stopping creative displays are used to great effect. I’m told the transformation cost little more than $2,000 to implement – low cost indeed!

What I love about this store is how a mega brand like Crate & Barrel has been so imaginative and shrewd with this venture. Be in no doubt, this is a test marketing exercise and one that has MADE money for the company too. For a brand this big, to be thinking and acting ‘so small’ it suggests something very positive about the business culture and practices that are alive in the company overall.

When used effectively, pop up shops can be used to deliver so much more than just the latest product launch. As seen here, they can be deployed to collect important information about the future prospects of a retail concept, local demographics, sales and other vital marketing data.

By opening now, they have given New Yorkers and many international visitors a taste of the brand and its product range. At the same time, they will have learnt important lessons about the potential and future viability for a full line, permanent store in the area. I understand that this may now happen within the next two years.

In my opinion, Crate & Barrel has skilfully ticked all the boxes with this charming and authentic outlet. Innovation is the driver of success for businesses big and small. Here, the company shows that with imagination, a little money and bucket loads of business savvy, it’s possible to be successful in both the short and long term.

Catch it if you can – closes December 27th.

November – Zara Home, Munich

I saw this latest Zara Home store whilst on a marketing trip to Munich, Germany, in October.

I have been a fan of Zara Home stores since the first opening in 2003. Building on the already successful store design and retail formula, this new outlet is an update of the original concept.

Zara have replaced some original features, such as the lilac coloured walls and dark ceilings with a lighter colour palette and more sophisticated finishes to refresh the look instore.

What impresses me about this concept is how as a ‘fashion chain’, Inditex, Zara’s parent company, has been able to rapidly develop and expand this concept outside of its traditional clothing offer. Essentially, it’s because they have a firm grip on their retail processes and delivery mechanisms, allowing them to move efficiently into new categories and markets.

In this, Zara succeeds where countless other retailers have failed over the years. It’s not because their ideas are necessarily any better than other companies’, but because of their recognition and attention to detail in perfecting its slick and successful operational model.

As such, new concepts can be neatly and quickly packaged up, replicated and exported. In business, it is not simply always the level of excellence within a brand concept or innovation – but the speed at which it is rolled out to market. Any kinks in the model can always be ironed out over time.

In Zara’s case, the sometimes disparagingly used phrase of ‘cookie cutter’ retail concepts is perfectly apt and exactly what it does best!

In this new version, Zara has updated the look and feel of the retail environment – making it reflect a more contemporary, ‘grown up’ and versatile look to widen brand appeal, achieving all this without having to change anything about its effective formula and brand delivery methods. It’s recognisable, but new at the same time.

It’s the type of project brief many of our own clients request help with, and an area that’s right up our street! Consistency is one of Visual Thinking’s middle names – along with innovation, development and capability… there’s an acronym in there somewhere, I’m sure.