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.

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.

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. 

Karl on The Apprentice!

Karl gets many requests to appear on TV shows with a retail theme, but this was a TV appearance with a difference – being invited to be an expert on the judging panel of BBC One’s The Apprentice. Here, he sheds a little light on the experience and what can be learnt from it.

You were a judge, were you in good company?

Definitely, there were around 15 other judges in total. Representing grooming were the head of lingerie and beauty at Debenhams, the MD of Nails Inc, the head of menswear at House of Fraser, and some independent spas and salon owners. Confectionary called upon the MD from Green and Blacks, a number of independent chocolatiers and a packaging expert.

I think they saw me as representative of VM, brand delivery and retail – along with Ed Burstell, MD of Liberty, of course.

What was the task?

There were two tasks and two teams. Each had to develop a new product (male grooming or confectionary) from scratch and create a retail environment to sell it from. This ‘shop’ was realised in a contemporary office space in the Docklands and they had two to three days to put it together.

What did you do?

I saw both retail environments and was given five minutes to review each, make notes, test the products and draw my conclusions. Then as judges, we sat together in the concept area and the teams presented their business plans to us. They then left the room and Lord Sugar asked us for our views and opinions to assist him in forming his decision on which team had performed best in the task.

How did they pitch?

The male grooming team were very good, with a highly polished presentation. The confectionary team delivered an impactful retail concept but lacked clarity and impact in presenting their business plan.

The male grooming idea (Modern Gentleman) was simple, focused, easy to understand and essentially delivered the brief. However, considering their solution from a branding and retail delivery perspective, it lacked impact, originality and was somewhat lackluster in execution.

For me, the confectionary team (Sweet Thing) had a more distinctive branding and retail shop concept. This had a distinctive look, featuring a pale blue box with feminine typography and a heart motif.  Whilst the design was somewhat unconventional for a food product, somehow it worked, and many of the judges were impressed by the overall visual impact they delivered.

However, presentation of their business plan was less effective when compared to the male grooming team, being clumsy and disjointed with shaky facts and figures about the concept.

Who did you think would win overall from that point?

At the time I thought one of the male grooming guys would win without a doubt – and I was right!

What did you take from the day?

Overall, It was a great experience and I was delighted to have been asked to take part in the show. I really enjoyed meeting Lord Sugar, and the other judges, and in sharing our thoughts about the candidates’ business ideas and pitches. It was a positive and inspiring atmosphere.

I was also really impressed by the production team – Talkback Thames. Everyone involved in the day was extremely professional and really well organised. Things ran very smoothly and without any hitches, something that was appreciated by the both candidates and judges alike!

I was also approached about another new project on the day – can’t say for who though, but watch this space!

Does this pitch scenario happen in real life?

Yes, VM people often need to present their ideas for seasonal schemes and promotional events etc. People need to demonstrate great ideas, present these in clear pitches and with a confident, passionate style. It’s also important to demonstrate their subject knowledge and any specialist expertise too. Importantly, the pitch should be able to stand up to scrutiny from their managers and others internally with questions about any aspects of the proposed ideas.

Overall, if an idea has been sold in effectively, it will have a much greater chance of actually happening. It’s about having good ideas, great planning and preparation and delivering this with an enthusiastic (realistic and honest) style which makes the difference.

How Karl helped dress Props & Frocks for success

Karl was working for an American brand in Singapore when he received another call fromTwo Four Broadcast, this time to see if Visual Thinking could help Alex Polizzi with the retail strategy and visual merchandising improvement for Props & Frocks, an Essex based fancy dress business.

As in previous episodes of the hit BBC Two series at Courtyard Bridal and Kettley’s Furniture, Karl was asked to give his feedback on the store, to identify the improvement priorities, and, importantly to carry out the complete store transformation with his team at Visual Thinking.

The shop was housed in converted stables at a family house in a rural location, and unless people were familiar with it, they wouldn’t know it existed. Add to that poor signage and a ‘discrete’ exterior, and it wasn’t obvious that a shop was there at all. In fact, the blacked out windows and visible latex boobs, bums and ‘naughty play outfits’ made Karl think he’d arrived at a sex shop by mistake! The owners were horrified and concerned on hearing this.

Karl concluded that a new visual identity was needed, and one that was more in line with what the business was supposed to be all about – selling costumes and accessories, to children and adults, to enjoy fun parties and family celebrations. Good clean fun!

Karl recommended that the shop needed comprehensive refurbishment – a total makeover.

The old stables presented many issues with a complex layout, patched up and non-descript interior design, poor lighting and a mish mash of old shop equipment – topped off with dull and uninspiring visual merchandising. Also, important customer service areas such as the changing rooms and cash desk had become ineffective and were no longer fit for purpose.

Karl thought that the owners had started to forget what the shop was all about. People came here to plan for fun, but the look, feel and instore messaging said ‘don’t touch!’ Customers were not encouraged to buy; overall the shop was seemingly an exercise in sales prevention!

The store needed to be drastically improved with a better layout, visual merchandising and display to tell product stories, make shopping easier, silent sell and to drive linked sales of the store’s great range of costumes and accessories.

Visual Thinking carried out the makeover, using our own suppliers and working with local contractors. First we developed a vibrant new visual identity, including a new logo, colour scheme and various design elements to use throughout the store. The ‘look’ featured a bold carnival theme, using red and white stripes and humorous speech bubbles. Alex presented our creative concept to the family, who really loved it – immediately approving the designs.

The VT team planned all other aspects of the makeover including; exterior signage, an improved layout, interior decoration throughout, new interior signage, improved lighting, updated changing rooms, and of course, much improved visual merchandising and display.

At the end of October, we spent four days on site to transform the store for Halloween – the company’s biggest selling period of the year.

The family loved the end result and even asked for additional items to be carried out, whilst we were implementing the makeover, to maximise the finished results. The resulting retail environment led to fantastic sales performance increases, making for a very successful Halloween that beat all previous years’ results for the same period.

Sales of products featured on the new mannequins were incredible. The same products that had previously sold just two items in a single month now sold 30 products in just two days after the VM improvements that we made.  Overall, there was improved sales performance in all product categories, confirming the success of the changes that Visual Thinking advised.

Customer comments have been WONDERFUL. Everyone noticed, and feedback on the improvements has been extremely positive. Adele Wiseman, the store owner, said: “Sales have increased and we were delighted to see how Karl and his team have helped to make the shop entertaining to be in again.

“The biggest change, though, was how Karl, Brendan and the team helped us to transform the store, in terms of ‘feel’ as well as ‘look’. We were a little worried about letting everyone play with the products so freely, as they can get damaged that way and then we can’t sell them.

“Karl set a bit of seed change in motion though, by convincing us to get rid of the ‘don’t touch’ ethos, which then made the shop fun and gave customers more freedom to try on and play with the costumes and accessories (within reason!). I’m pleased to say that the sales now far outweigh any cost of the damage to goods though!”

This is a great example of how ‘try before you buy’ and ‘retailtainment’ can give new energy and sales impetus, as customers interact with the products and each other, giving people the confidence to buy and making the retail environment so much more appealing for shoppers.

Click here for a programme synopsis and to watch the episode on BBC iPlayer.

Karl on Superbrands

Karl appeared on BBC Radio Coventry & Warwickshire to discuss the merits and methods of the Superbrands list – the 2012 version of which was released today.

During an interview on Annie Othen’s morning show, Karl explained just what makes a Superbrand, and discussed with a jeweller from Coventry how small retail businesses could use some of that magic themselves.

Karl can currently be seen on BBC Two programme The Fixer, alongside businesswoman Alex Polizzi, turning around small family retailers such as Kettley’s Furniture and Courtyard Bridal.

Karl has offered his advice – which is usually given to global brands such as Harley Davidson and Marks & Spencer – to small retailers who are looking to improve their standing on the high street.

If you would like Karl’s advice on how to improve your retail business, please send an email to:

You can listen again to Karl’s interview on BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire on the BBC iPlayer by clicking here.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll shop.

Kettley’s sits pretty with 22 per cent like-for-like sales increase after VT’s TV makeover. 

The production team of the BBC Two TV show Alex Polizzi – The Fixer were so impressed with Karl’s input into the first business to feature in the series, Courtyard Bridal, that they asked him to help with a Yeadon (Leeds) family furniture store, Kettley’s.

As retail consultant to the show, Karl was asked for his expert feedback and advice on how to improve the customer experience and product presentation instore. But this time, Karl and his Visual Thinking Team were also asked to develop the improvements to branding and store design and to carry out the store makeover including visual merchandising and display.

This was a furniture business firmly stuck in the past. For many years Kettley’s had focused on a narrow customer base, principally serving the elderly and people with health related comfort and mobility needs. Over time, the business had established its self-styled reputation as the ‘North’s leading chair specialist’.

Kettley’s hadn’t updated the store for many years and it showed. The dowdy, cluttered and uninspiring retail environment did not communicate what the business was all about or play to its strengths i.e. it did not say products for a ‘comfortable home’, more like a ‘care home’.

Grubby carpets, strip lighting and magnolia painted breeze blocks defined the look instore.  Showrooms were over stocked with beige patterned upholstery, dark wood furniture, plastic covered mattresses and non-coordinating home accessories. Furnishing ideas and specialist products were not well presented to show ideas or to promote the features and benefits.

Window displays lacked impact, furniture was poorly grouped, room sets were not used and the chaotic store layout was confusing, off-putting and potentially hazardous for customers.

And whilst the family members provided high levels of service themselves, signage and point of sale instore lacked professionalism and did not effectively communicate the service offer. Overall, Kettley’s did not offer a convenient, easy or inspiring shopping experience. Joyless!

Visual Thinking developed a new brand identity for Kettley’s, working with designers to create a modern, appropriate and thoughtfully considered new look and feel. This included a smart new logo and visual identity package for the business which could be applied to signage, interior design elements and service messaging. We replanned the layout, and refurbished and reorganised the three floors and ten showrooms which make up the store.

Throughout this process we encouraged the family to think about the products being sold. We helped them to remove excess choice and to reduce duplication to improved space use and increase clarity to the offer choice. Part of the process was to make fewer products have better space to create a perception of higher quality and reflect the price positioning. This was a big challenge for the family, who firmly believed in filling up every inch of the space! Overall, there was a strong case to recommend and adopt a ‘less = more approach’.

The Visual Thinking team and contractors completed the makeover in a total of four days. New carpets were fitted, the last ones being put down over twenty years earlier, the shop was redecorated throughout using the updated brand look, with new signage inside and out.

Our visual merchandising and brand delivery improvements also included implementing dedicated living, dining, sleeping areas with room sets for ideas and inspiration. Specialist mobility chairs and beds were given their own dedicated areas. Overall, our team delivered a new environment with sensitive rebranding, updated store design and visual merchandising.

The biggest effect of the finished makeover was on John Butler, the owner of Kettley’s. Throughout the process, John had many reservations about the changes being planned to his store.  Ultimately, John was asked to stay away from the store whilst the makeover was taking place. This created anxiety amongst the other family members who were nervous of his reaction to the changes that they were helping to implement without him scrutinising their every decision and watching every move, as was his normal style and way of working.

When the makeover was revealed, his reaction was incredible and he LOVES his new store.

The first sale of the day was a £1,000 mobility bed from the new ‘mobility sleep shop’, thus proving that the grouping of these specialist and high value products was the right decision. To add to this, overall there was an extremely positive reaction from customers old and new, with most people asking if the all the products had been changed too. NO, it was just presented more effectively!

TV Producer, Naomi Templeton, of Twofour Broadcast said of the makeover: “You did a fantastic job and the results were breathtaking. It was by far the best interior makeover I have seen in my long career of TV makeovers and I felt completely confident in you all.”

See the pictures of Kettley’s new look on Visual Thinking’s Facebook page.

You can watch the episode on BBC iPlayer here.

A Valentine’s Day boost

The time for romance is here again, with the chance for Valentine’s Day to provide a welcome boost to retailers, by encouraging the British public to open their wallets as well as their hearts!

It’s the first significant seasonal event of the year and an important opportunity for retailers to kick-start their 2012 promotions. Eye-catching window displays and original and innovative in-store VM techniques will be what separates the good from the bad, and what gets the shoppers inspired to spend their hard-earned money on something special.

Click here to see a selection of some of the better Valentine’s displays we have seen over the years.

The 14th also has added importance for us as it’s when the next episode of The Fixer airs on BBC Two, featuring the Visual Thinking team working alongside Alex Polizzi to completely revamp a family furniture business in Leeds. See the episode on BBC Two at 8pm.

Click here to view the episode details on the BBC Two website.