Inspired by a Legend

In June 1335, a young man of just 21 set out to explore the World. His joinery spanned 24 years and six different lands – Tunisia, Egypt, India, China and Andalusia. Along the way, he survived storms, pirates, served as a judge and scholar, dined with nobles and commoners.

This extraordinary adventurer was Ibn Battuta. His life and travels are an inspiration to us all. This has influenced the design and spirit of the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai. You can see this in the interior themes and names of the shopping courts within the Mall.

At Ibn Battuta Mall, dining and entertainment and retail therapy, come together with history and culture of this remarkable adventure.

In my view this has to be one of Dubai’s most exciting and interesting shopping and retail destinations. It was an absolute pleasure to visit the mall last week, and to enjoy some shopping with High Street brands and learn about the history of this remarkable explorer. China Court was my favourite as it reminded me of my time living and working in China and the Far East.


Death of The High Street.

As someone who has worked in retail for over 25 years, it saddens me to hear that House of Fraser will close 31 of its 59 stores, which include Oxford Street store in early 2019, with the loss of around 6,000 jobs. It reminds me of the song “This Town is coming like a Ghost Town” written by The Specials some 30 years ago. It gives a whole new meaning to Death of the High Street.

House of Fraser started with a shop in Glasgow 170 years ago. It grew to a retail empire with more than 100 stores which included the Famous store Harrods in 1959 until Al Fayed bought the store in 1985.

Although conditions on the High Street have been tough for a number of years, as a Visual Merchandising Consultant I have observed that retailers need to step back and revaluate their business to ensure it moves with the times and generally keep up to date with trends and store presentation. Many retailers in our towns and cities have not changed or updated themselves in many years. So how does a retailer expect to be ahead of a fast-moving environment and remain profitable if you are not going to adapt to changes in retail?

John Lewis is a great example of a store group that has moved with the times. They have revamped stores, opened new stores and invested in its store experience. They are continually thinking “customer”. It spent £13million on transforming its Oxford Street store and the results speak for themselves.

Harrods and Selfridges are other examples of stores where sales and profits are rising. For the year to January 2018 sales at Selfridges rose 16% to £1.6b while Harrods are head with a 23% increase to £2.1b. So, what are they doing right?

In order to keep customers and attract new customers, stores must continually re-invent themselves. Not only sourcing new and exciting merchandise which can been seen at trade fairs such as Top Drawer in London, Maison Objet in Paris and Ambiente in Frankurt but sourcing directly from suppliers and wholesalers around the World. Coupled with this, stores should be producing their own branded merchandise. A good example is the Harrods Christmas Bear which is renowned around the World. It has an excellent selling price and a good margin.

In addition to this Visual Merchandising plays a massive part in retail. Sadly, there are those C.E.O’s and Senior Managers who think that Visual Merchandising is a luxury however it is a luxury that they cannot live without. Retailers need to understand and realise that their windows are the cost-effective form of advertising. Your customers can sample ‘the menu” so to speak that you are offering. A potential customer only has a few seconds to stop, look and enter the store. Not only do attractive windows help bring in new and existing customers, they allow retailers to increase foot traffic to the store, display new products, highlight promotions and enhance its brand image. Once in the store then excellent store layout, with good product layout is a must.

Visual merchandising is a retail concept that focuses on enhancing the aesthetic appeal of a product or store to attract customers and increase sales. Understanding how a customer browse’s and shops a store is key to revenue and profitability.

Customers want to feel that shopping in your store is a pleasurable experience, They want to be excited by the range of merchandise on offer. Products need to be presented in a way that brings quality and style. The merchandise must represent a “must have purchase”.

Professionally executed Visual Merchandising will give the store huge potential to distinguish the Brand and excite customers. Poorly executed, it will downgrade the store immediately. Give the customer a unique shopping experience, something to remember their visit to your store and ensure that you are the No;1 Destination Store. It certainly works for Selfridges.

We all appreciate that on-line has increased and had a serious knock on effect with the High Street, however its time that retailers started to fight back and attract those customers back in store.  In our history books retail entrepreneurs at Selfridges and Harrods were taking advantage of thinking ahead and the dividends paid.

In 1883 during the build-up of the busy Christmas at Harrods, calamity struck as a fire burnt store down to the ground. In typical fashion Charles Digby took the opportunity to build a fresh, extend the departments and modernise the layout. He fulfilled every Christmas order on time using temporary premises across the work and with the help of his staff, his reputation and that of the store was enhanced.

In 1909 the French pilot Louis Bleriot’s flew from Calais to Dover. Harry Gordon Selfridge took advantage of this and the plane was on display in the Oxford Street department store the following day.

Sadly, there are other retailers I feel who are heading for trouble. They need to take advise from professionals who are at ground level noticing the effects of retail.

It is not just the UK that is suffering. Having recently completed a 4 month project in Singapore, I noticed that several retailers on the island are struggling with their sales and store presentation. I did hear of one store that will be removing its windows in order to create more selling space. This is incredibly sad that this store feels that removing window space to create more selling spaces will generate additional sales. From a visual point, this store will lose its kerb appeal as potential customers walk past.

In New York, Lord & Taylor estimates that a whopping 500,000 people walk past its windows each day, while Macy’s clocks in 10,000 people per hour. Can you imagine if these stores removed their windows?

The future will continue to be bleak however as mentioned, unless retailers start to fight back if they want to succeed. As a Director of The British Display Society, I recently gave a talk to VM students at the Nanyang Poly School of Design in Singapore.  I have never seen so many students who were passionate and enthusiastic about Visual Merchandising and Retail. These millennials are the next generation of the retail movement so let’s take advantage and ignite their drive to succeed.



Prepare for Take off – Bangkok’s Terminal 21 Mall.

Continuing from last week’s blog, while in Bangkok I also visited the Terminal 21 Shopping mall. This mall offers designer brands, international cuisine, a gourmet supermarket, boutique shops, and more. Each floor is decorated based on a “world’s best-known shopping streets” theme.

Terminal 21 brings the dream to travelling the World to downtown Bangkok with its cutting-edge concept that places several World-famous ciites under one roof.  You can find yourself wandering around the maze of shops in Tokyo to walking down the famous Canaby Street of London while grabbing a bargain in Istanbul or San Francisco.

The floor signs that signal the arrivals in a particular city, crisscross the network of escalators are all part of the shopping experience at Terminal 21.


Siam Discovery Mall, Bangkok

While in Asia I travelled to Bangkok and took the opportunity to visit the many malls and stores that this city has to offer. Siam Discovery was top of my list and offered the most pleasant and leisurely shopping experience of any of the major malls in Bangkok.

With its sophisticated concept on how it presents merchandise, it is an experience like nowhere else in Thailand’s shopping-mad capital.

The Ground Floor has its chic boutiques and anchor stores from Issey Miyake, Diesel and Comme des Garcons but as you head to higher floors, you will notice a distinct lack of shops. Instead, merchandise is laid out naturally, as you would expect to see in someone’s home. This is a trend which has been popular in Japan and Korea for several years.

Each floor (called a “Lab”) is given to a general theme and a particular interior décor which make Siam Discovery a sort of retail exploration.On the 3rdFloor, they have kept the large Loft and Habitat Anchor Stores, as well as adding some interesting fashion, jewellery and homeware concept stores.

If you are passing through Bangkok, then Siam Discovery is definitely well worth a visit!


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50 Shades of Green……

Retailers appreciate the importance of store environment in enhancing the customer experience within their store.  The outdoor landscape can be an extension of the shop interiors, providing a positive shopping and memorable experience. So with the introduction of plants into a store, this helps softens the merchandise and engages the customer with a sense of calmness.

Retail environments can harness nature’s inherent powers to put people at ease by decorating their space with lush greenery. There is no doubt that colours affect a customer’s mood and green reflects nature, relaxation, health and freedom. We all feel connected with nature and using plants and foliage in our stores brings the outdoors indoors.

Retailers are always looking for any opportunity they can to rival the competition. So by creating a shopping experience that consumers enjoy is paramount to the long-term success of the business. Ensure your retail space is inviting and a place that shoppers feel comfortable. This helps builds loyalty and increases the likelihood of return visits.

So from the stunning “living wall’ at West Elm to the clever use of plants around the store at Anthropologie, to the beautifully created Petersham’s in Covent Garden, to the fabulous exterior of Jo Malone in Sloane Street, London, here is a selection of photographs that create inspiration and help with the story telling of your merchandise.

VM is not always about Fashion!

I started my Visual Merchandising career at Harrods as a Junior and quickly progressed to VM Manager.  The department was then known as Display as oppose to Visual Merchandising. Within the department you were known by your expertise, so you were either a “Fashion” or a “Pots & Pans” person! So basically Fashion or non-fashion.

During my long and established  career, I have worked with many product mediums from Fashion, Food, Interiors, Gifts, Homewares, Beauty, Stationery through to Luxury Brands and Accessories. It is always a delight to work with non-fashion items as you have to use your creative talent to merchandise tables and shelving fixtures. Not forgetting to be artistic when creating a strong focal point which will make the customers stop and say “WOW!

So for those Fashion stylists who think dealing with plates and crockery is boring, here is a selection of photographs that hopefully inspire you to branch out and work with other product mediums. Have fun and be creative!

From the regimented layout of Bloomingdales and Fortnum & Mason through to the mish-mash of Anthropologie, Merci in Paris and the most famous China & Crockery shop in New York, Fishs Eddy.


The use of ladders in window displays.

From the previous blogs, I have published articles about the use of Circles, Bicycles and Chairs. This time, it is the turn of ladders. Even the simplest of props such as a pair of ladders can create theatre in your windows and make the customer look and stare. It creating something quirky, different and eye catching. Give your customer something to remember your window as they walk past. Sadly in retail, VM budgets are getting tighter and we have to make the budget stretch further so this is smart way to bring life into your windows. The use of ladders is fun, quirky and very inexpensive. As you can see from the photographs, ladders have such a variety of uses from displays homewares, low to high end fashion even through to jewellery.  These ladders can be seen at the most icon department stores, fashion houses through to your independent gift shops.


Jet Set Go Travel Windows

As we fast approach the holiday season, many retailers will be focusing on a travel concept for their windows.

Through the power of imagination, your travel concept can whisk your customer away to far flung and exotic destinations. Thats after they have shopped in your store!

With clever use of Signage, Graphics, World Globes and even Ice Cream, this can be fun concept to put together and install. A travel theme can work for so many different types of merchandise from Fashion, to Jewellery to Stationery through to the obvious Suitcases and Travel Bags.

Here is a selection of ideas of push your imagination.

The use of Chairs in Visual Merchandising.

Your windows need to ‘pack and punch’ and make the customer stop and look. As Visual Merchandisers, we all know that this is paramount. In today’s society people’s attention span is shrinking. They are busy walking by your store either chatting to a friend, or too busy on their smart phone to even notice your window display.

So from the past couple of blogs, which used circles and bicycles in visual merchandising, give some thought into the use of chairs. When VM budgets are tight, then once again, this is a ideal solution. Be bold and exciting with the colours and shapes of the chairs. Not only are they a great prop, use them as a hanging prop or dress your merchandise off them. If you are a furniture retailer, then why not hang all the chairs in the window to make an art installation.

Why not continue the theme of chairs within your store by mounting them onto the wall? Use them as garment rails, ideal to show off fashion, but do remember Health & Safety and ensuring that these chairs are fixed correctly to the walls.

Here is a selection of photos, which I hope will give you inspiration.

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