Retail Focus: Pitching Perfect in VM


Some of you may have seen me on TV recently, but for the majority that probably didn’t, I was invited to be an expert on the judging panel of BBC 1’s The Apprentice. It was a great experience, where I got to meet some other industry experts and play a small part in helping to influence the decision on the winning Apprentice.

I am pleased to say that the winner of the overall competition, Ricky Martin, was one of my overall winners on the day too.

Ricky and his partner were pitted against a rival team on the show and had to develop a new product (male grooming or confectionary) from scratch and create a trial retail environment for this. Of all of the attributes that Ricky showed to his potential employer, Lord Sugar, throughout the show, the one that stood out to me on this day, was his ability to pitch.

All VM professionals from management level up periodically have to pitch; be it for a new store concept, ideas for a major seasonal event, or just for a new in-store or window scheme. But what makes a good pitch? It’s not just about your ability to present, but about the quality of your planning, preparation and business head too.

I have spent more time than I care to mention pitching ideas to clients of Visual Thinking, and to internal teams earlier in my career at retailers such as Next and Paperchase. Here are some tips that I would offer to help deliver the most successful presentations to achieve the results you want.


The idea itself

It’s essential to have a clear and focused idea. This should be distinctive, differentiated from competitors, and importantly, easy for others to understand. If you’re following market trends, for me, it’s important to make the idea ‘brand relevant’ and not simply to present a derivative ‘me too’ version, despite this being the easier option.

In The Apprentice, to some extent it was a surprise that Ricky’s team won the task set by Lord Sugar. Their retail concept and the delivery of this was not the most innovative or impactful, with their success being down to the preparation, communication and consideration of other key factors – such as marketing, implementation and the financials within their pitch.

From my own experience, I understand that coming up with ideas is often the easy part for marketers and VM people, who can draw on their imagination and creative talents. However, where people can be less confident, is in the key areas such as planning, preparation, project management, communication and the financial aspects. These are often the areas where other people want to be reassured and thoroughly convinced about the viability of your plans.



This concerns all the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s’ and ‘what’s’ that will make your VM plans a reality.  Consider all the aspects that will be involved in delivering your ideas successfully, including the operational and financial elements too. Will external contractors or additional equipment be required, will it require out-of-hours working or store security? Work through the logistics, retail communication and implementation considerations too. Here, if you clearly demonstrate that you have thought your plans through carefully, people will be better informed and more prepared to support them.



Cost estimates must be detailed and robust, with everything in your plans budgeted for. To gain approval, people will expect you to show quotations and ideally how a positive return on any investment can be achieved by implementing the plans. Evidence can be very beneficial, if possible, run tests and trials to collate any financial data that can be used to support your proposals. If using suppliers and external contractors, obtain price quotes through a tender process to show you are in control of the budget. It’s also a good idea to allocate contingency funds for unforeseen costs or budget over runs.


The presentation

The most effective presentations are those that appeal to and connect with their audience.   Establish who is attending the pitch and develop the presentation around what people are likely to want to hear.  When pitching a conceptual ‘visual’ idea think how best to demonstrate this to the audience. Prepare visuals, models, samples and prototypes to show as realistically as possible, what the end results will be like.

Presentations should be clearly structured. Use a simple three-part format – a start, middle and end. The start should be all about the idea itself, i.e. the rationale behind what you want to do and what’s involved, it’s your opportunity to bring the idea to life, so go for it! The middle must clearly set out the facts, figures, technical, operational and financial details about delivering the plan. A concise and punchy ending will summarise key points and next steps.

To deliver the pitch successfully, it’s vital to be personally well prepared! The best presenters win people over with a knowledgeable, relaxed and confident communication style. Rehearse the presentation to refine the running order, content and timings. Check and learn the facts, anticipate any questions which may be asked and consider your answers in advance.   Remain calm and focused on the day.

Tidy grooming and clothing will project an air of professional confidence. It’s a must to demonstrate belief in your big idea, but do not become overly emotional and keep a professional approach. Be enthusiastic and positive about what you’re proposing at all times, if you express any concerns expect others to follow.

These tips will help you to deliver your ideas with clarity, conviction and credibility and if people like your plans, you’ll know soon enough as their body language and comments will confirm.

Good luck!

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.

The Apprentice candidates face Karl

Did you see Karl on last night’s episode of BBC One’s The Apprentice? Lord Sugar asked him to critique the teams’ business concepts from a branding and presentation perspective, and Karl was only too happy to offer his advice.

The remaining five candidates, tasked with creating a retail concept for affordable luxury, weren’t in for an easy time with Karl and the other experts, as this was the task to decide the four candidates to go through to the final interviews in Sunday’s episode.

If you missed Karl’s appearance on the show, you can watch it again on BBC iPlayer here.