August – Reserved, Gdansk

In 2012, I have found myself working in central-eastern Europe quite often, visiting markets such as Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. With the massive growth in all forms of Western commerce, and particularly retailing in these vast former communist markets, it’s hardly surprising.

I have selected this image from Poland’s largest retailer Lpp, and the Reserved brand, to represent one such visit as part of a client VM development project. Lpp is based in the northern tri-state region known as ‘Tri-city’. Of the three cities that make up the area, (Gdynia, Sopot and Gdansk) Gdansk is the biggest.

Gdansk is a city more commonly remembered for shipbuilding (not fashion!) and for the activities of Poland’s most famous son, Lech Walesa. Walesa co-founded ‘Solidarity’, the first official Trade Union to exist in the then, Soviet Union. Over many turbulent years, Solidarity and the political movement it spurred, proved instrumental in transforming Poland into the modern country that it is today. This is interesting as it forms a background and context to so much of what is now happening in Poland and other former Soviet states.

Lpp is a family owned business, which owns several retail brands including, Reserved, Cropp, Mohito and it latest clothing brand, Sinsay. The Reserved brand is by far the biggest company, both in terms of store numbers and financials. Arguably, it is also the most important brand to the business, operating 350 stores in a dozen countries within the region. Within the business it is said that when Reserved is good, all is good.

Lpp called in Visual Thinking during the summer. With our international credentials and experience of helping large consumer brands, we were briefed to provide a range of training and development to support various members of the Reserved team.

Initially, we met with members of Reserved Management to discuss the business, stores and evolution of the company. We took time to visit stores together and discussed the key development and learning needs. We agreed to run a week-long VM Strategy workshop to provide a combination of VM and retail theoretical content, and an intense practical activity to stimulate innovation, change and creative thinking for the business.

Our audience included the entire senior Reserved team including; people from product, marketing, operations, VM and communications departments – a complete cross functional group of the main brand stakeholders.

During the week, the workshop explored a stretching range of ‘best practice’ topics for the group to consider as part of its future retail strategy. The event was facilitated entirely in Polish, with dynamic presenter content, rich visual imagery and a series of engaging group sessions. Here, we explored the critical questions facing the Reserved brand as it considered its next ‘step change’ in brand delivery and retail VM policy for the estate.

During the event, we wanted to demonstrate how the brand could experiment more with VM by instigating changes to existing store policy. As such, we designed the workshop around transforming one store, with the participants being encouraged to explore the opportunities for change.

The transformation was carried out in the company’s flagship Galeria Baltyka store in Gdansk.  It was completed in less than 24 hours using only the three Visual Thinking facilitators and twenty-five workshop delegates!

On completion, the level of change was dramatic!  Revised product segmentation, new layouts, use of existing equipment and new VM techniques were deployed to transform the store. Best of all – this was achieved without new capital expenditure.

Two weeks after the workshop ended, Lpp Reserved told us of significant increases in category, product and store performance, giving further confidence in the learning that Visual Thinking had delivered.

Following the event, their team members have new knowledge, exciting development plans and a better understanding of their individual and combined roles for shaping future brand and VM delivery for Reserved. Other positive ‘by products’ were the new levels of cooperation and support that the team forged during the event – and the recognition of how they can work better together, and in more integrated ways.

It was satisfying to see how the approach and content we planned for the workshop worked effectively in practice. It’s why leading brands work with us to address these important development needs, taking the risk out of progressing significant change.

Despite being a stressful week, we never doubted the end results. The combination of our retail knowledge, experience and expert skills were combined with hard work, and application by the Reserved team. It’s said that the Polish have a strong work ethic, it was certainly evident during those five long days and nights back in August.

We look forward to continuing our relationship with Lpp and its retail brands in 2013.

February – Patchi, Dubai

For anyone that hasn’t visited a Patchi Store, there’s a treat waiting for you. Built around what has to be one of the most unconventional business concepts, they sell luxurious chocolates, crystal, porcelain, art and antiques! In 2008, Patchi collaborated with Harrods to create the world’s most expensive box of chocolates. With over 140 stores, in 28 countries in the Middle East and worldwide – for me, quite simply, they offer unrivalled brand delivery.

I visited this branch in the Dubai Mall in February, whilst working with clients as part of a brand delivery workshop. As part of a review of stores within the Mall, we organised for some guided introductions to be delivered by store teams from selected brands, about how they run their own stores.

Patchi is a feast for the eyes, with indulgent, abundant and stylish displays. The stores are like little temples of luxury! With elegant and sophisticated store design, VM is elevated to a high art form. Great attention to detail is paid to how the products are grouped and displayed. Chocolate is handled as if it were fine jewellery, with the same reverence, service and care for even the smallest items. Brand marketing is 100% focused on the store experience, as it can’t truly be described or illustrated elsewhere.

However, much of what makes Patchi so successful are the high standards they deliver instore.

The Patchi team recognise that to sell the best, the store must ‘be the best’ and they work hard to deliver this promise and exceed their customers’ expectations every day. It’s a message that we at Visual Thinking spend much time discussing with our clients each year. At Patchi, there’s an example of ‘what good looks like’, which is deliciously good to share with clients from around the world.

January – Hard Rock Cafe, Prague

I’m kicking off my visual retail review of the year with the Hard Rock Cafe. This may seem an unusual choice. In 2012, I’ve visited several HRC venues around the world in Osaka, Berlin, Dubai, Amsterdam and this one in Prague, Czech Republic. For many, the Hard Rock Cafe is the definitive themed ‘family’ restaurant, with its close connection to music, entertainment and good times, but my reasons for selecting it now are less obvious.

Over the last year, the Hard Rock Cafe has cooperated with us in delivering a VM Leadership Programme for a major international brand.  We approached the chain to serve as an example of best practice brand delivery, and to learn more about their Rock Shops (or HRC memorabilia stores) that operate within the restaurants.

Whilst ‘burgers and fries’ are their core business, they know how to run a successful retail operation too. The food and beverage offer is the principle driver of customer traffic to the restaurants, but their small but very well run retail shops generate over 40% in annual revenue from general merchandise sales, and contribute a significant profit back to the business.

There is something to learn from the Hard Rock Cafe for any business that derives its income from diverse revenue streams. They demonstrate that, to make each of these pay, you have to invest in the best practices and delivery standards for all parts of the company, whether it’s a café, hotel or casino business (as they do) – and all sub components within these operations.

For success, it is essential for companies and their brands to become outstanding category leaders within their respective sectors. This means offering standards of product and service provision that exceed the competition and define the ‘rules of the game’ for others to follow. It is also essential that businesses are underpinned by a clear and simple brand message, which is expertly and consistently delivered to customers. A feat made potentially even more complicated when the business is operated through a franchise or dealer ownership model, and direct control over the brand and its day-to-day operations are not possible.

This is why we asked the Hard Rock Cafe to work with us, and to share details of their success to people working in another business sector. I have shared many enjoyable evenings with our clients in their company over the last year, with highlights that include watching the Battle of the Bands final in London, a tribute concert in Dubai and a night of some of the loudest and most energetic ‘start up’ indie band hopefuls in Prague.

More importantly, our clients were impressed and inspired to learn about the Hard Rock Cafe and how they run their business. Their customers seem to agree, with over 75 million customers served each year, in 53 countries in over 170 locations worldwide. As a result, our clients are now thinking differently about how they approach the delivery, management and performance of their own ‘iconic’ brand too. Rock on!