Karl returns to TV in BBC2 series, Alex Polizzi – The Fixer

Featuring in the third consecutive series of BBC2’s The Fixer, presented by Alex Polizzi, Karl and his dedicated project team at Visual Thinking worked their magic on family businesses in need of guidance to improve the customer experience and increase retail performance.

For the final episode of the series, TV production company Twofour sought Karl’s retail expertise and advice to help Wimbledon-based pet store, Creature Company, find ways to reinvigorate the store and customer experience, in order to realise its long-term commercial ambitions.

Missed it? Watch again here

Read the full case study in Retail Focus magazine here

Karl in Stadia Magazine – Retail win-win

This month, Karl was asked by Stadia Magazine to share his thoughts on how sports venue retail concession spaces can add real value to the visitor experience, and apply retail best practice to push performance and develop brand loyalty.

Read his opinion article in full below:

Anyone who works in sport knows that success is hard won. Retail can be just as unforgiving. So, while sports teams may enjoy a level of loyalty that is far from the reach of your average high street retailer, stadia and arenas keen to invest in concession space and improve retail performance can still learn much from established retail practices.

Soccer, the national game in the UK, is often linked to the phrase “a game of two-halves” – in which each half of the match has a very a different character. Most sporting venues are also divided into two distinct periods – fixture and non-fixture trading days.

When sports venues draw their biggest crowds, shopping is invariably not the main event. As a result, dwell time in-store is often limited, with customers more focused on finding their seats and soaking up the atmosphere. However, outside of the big event, retail concession spaces can help venues to establish themselves as a genuine destination and meeting place. This requires concessions to exhibit a warmth and personality that invites people in – making them feel welcome and encouraging them to stay.

To achieve this balance, venues need to create a shopping environment that is commercially and visually focused towards the needs of the shopper. This means learning to ‘think like a customer’, developing a critical-eye and embarking upon the relentless pursuit of the highest retail standards.

Visual merchandising’s (VM) role in delivering retail success is often thought to be limited to creating impactful window displays. It’s not. Put simply, effective VM encompasses everything from store layout and product merchandising to point-of-sale (POS), choice of fixtures, price ticketing and even good housekeeping. For me, it is, and always has been, about delivering a truly great brand and customer experience at every touchpoint along the shopping journey.

Within sports retail concessions, as within department stores and malls, many of the general principles of retail apply, in that an effective promotional layout will drive footfall and additional sales. With tens of thousands of people descending on concessions in such a concentrated period of time, bad retail practices can quickly be exposed such as weak layout planning, poor use of space and inefficient customer flow. These can make concession spaces far from practical, or enjoyable to shop.

Retail concessions can help divide physical space into different specialists zones, giving visitors a clear destination for their needs. But, more importantly, they can allow customers to clearly segment product offers and present them with small groups of product choices – essential to securing sales conversion when customers have limited time to give to their shopping mission.

Promotional space must also make sense – customers can be easily influenced if they are presented with logical promotions that they feel they must buy. And, importantly, displays must be able to support the day’s sales while maintaining visual presentation standards. Visually poor displays will negatively impact on the shopping experience and, ultimately, damage the wider venue brand. POS must also be implemented correctly or it may drastically weaken the impact and purpose of promotional messages.

Increased visitor footfall also brings with it the need to maintain POS standards doubly hard. Disheveled displays won’t show products at their best – resulting in lost sales. It is also important to add uniformity to the retail experience within a venue without detracting from the individual identities of the brands operating concessions. Furthermore, the overall space has to offer an environment within which each individual brand is allowed to express itself.

The most important thing to remember is that retail success, like any team sport, is often a result of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Retail teams with the knowledge and skills needed to implement improved product presentation standards, can be the cornerstone of enhancing the brand experience, inspiring customers and driving sales.

To see the original article, click here

Karl in El Pais

If you happened to visit Spain before Christmas, you may have read his comment in daily newspaper El Pais talking about retail psychology and the shopping experience.

El Pais journalist Leticia Garcia approached him for comment on the back of the high profile international VM work that he and his team at Visual Thinking have completed for several leading retail brands in recent months. For those of you in the UK or elsewhere in the world who didn’t see it, he offered retail insight on the influence of visual merchandising on shopper engagement and, in the ever-evolving world of multichannel retailing, the need for brands to provide shoppers with real reasons to visit a store and encourage them to browse in new ways.

Click here to see the full article

Just another winter’s sale?

The festive season just wouldn’t be the same without the post-Christmas sales.

Even before the last of the Christmas Day turkey had been digested, some shoppers were preparing to brave the queues to pick up a bargain. One store manager we spoke to talked of how some shoppers had been waiting outside Highcross Leicester since 11pm on Christmas Day night, to ensure that they were first in line to benefit from big retailer discounts. Whilst we weren’t gripped by the post-Christmas sales to quite that extent, our own Boxing Day store visits provided an interesting insight into differing approaches to both communicating and managing end of year retail sales.

As you would expect, the colour red still largely dominated stores. But the different tactics used to deliver sale message executions were noticeable. Many retailers again kept things simple, although largely unimaginative, with large red sale window decals. Unsurprisingly, it is these stores that, whilst perhaps offering the biggest discounts, often also deliver the poorest retail standards. We didn’t  have to walk too far to find stores where little attention had been given to how sale product was presented, leaving shoppers to wade through discounted stock that, in some cases, was literally piled in a heap – surely harming the likelihood of maximising sell-through. The likes of Zara and River Island were just a couple of examples we came across.

Despite this, there were some highlights on our Boxing Day travels. Urban Outfitters has used a “hello 2015, goodbye 2014” message for its winter season sale along with visually strong typography in the form of an iconic percentage symbol – creating a bold and impactful campaign throughout the store.

Schuh was also particularly strong, delivering a consistent sales theme in-store and online that looked and felt beautifully ‘gift wrapped’ – using sales tape and digital screens in their window displays to great effect. The growing number of retailers now embracing digital technology to help drive real cut-through in a crowded retail environment was perhaps the most notable trend this year. Schuh was one great exponent of this, but we saw others that stood out too, such as Smiggle – bringing a sense of playfulness to its in-store sale through the use of digital. Top marks for creative digital content, however, must go to Three. The mobile retailer’s series of offbeat sales messages that included “Anyone would still think it’s Christmas” and “It’s never too late for presents” made for a witty retail activation and provided a welcome change from the norm.

Elsewhere, Levi’s patchwork denim sale message and Superdry’s “Winter. The Event” knitwear sale provided some eye-catching window and POS displays, whilst Reiss anchored its in-store sales with an emotive and positively refreshing “with love” tagline – demonstrating that retailers and shoppers alike should still care about the shopping experience, even during this bargain-frenzied season.

Click here to see pictures from the post-Christmas VM travels of the Visual Thinking team on the VT Facebook page.

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.

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: 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.

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.