A Sign of the Times.

Have you ever noticed how much signage, ticketing and graphics are now an integral part or Visual Merchandising?

Whether it’s a graphic panel in a window display or ticketing promoting a new product or a branding block, these elements enhance the store image and the appeal of the merchandise.

Graphics play a vital role in the design of the store and in the communicating a promotion or Brand message.

Gone are the days when stores used no signage, nowadays it all about creating theatre. Large graphic panels in windows or the signage on the doors will guide you into the store, while in-store signage/ticketing do more than inform you as the price of an item. A ticket will educate the customer about the product, reinforce a promotion and will ultimately make the decision as to whether the customer buys the merchandise.

In this digital age in some stores, you are now able to scan your smart phone on the QR Code and receive information about the product.

Apart from having an in-house VM team, many large stores will also employ a team of Graphic Designers who role is to devise new and exciting graphics and tickets for the shop floor. Coupled with this, many stores will have facilities to print all ticketing, signage and graphics in-house.


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Ho Ho Ho…..Merry Christmas!

With temperatures in London hitting over 30 degrees, you’ve probably forgotten Christmas is only 4 months away. But Selfridges has launched Christmas, well a soft launch, predominately promoting London themed Christmas merchandise. The store will hit peak stock in September when shoppers will be able to purchase from the full selection of Christmas as the shelves will be packed with garlands, trees, baubles and Christmas goodies!

Naturally customers will have divided opinions, but I know from experience from my days as VM Manager at Selfridges that sales are driven by early Christmas shoppers and tourists. Given the volume of Christmas merchandise that Selfridges purchases from suppliers, it makes commercial sense to launch Christmas now.

Retail is all about creating the wow factor, creating retail theatre and more importantly educating customers as to what’s new in merchandise. While in Selfridges yesterday, shoppers were certainly happy to browse and the tills were certainly ringing which has to be good for revenue.

Harrods will be the next to launch Christmas which is usually within the first two weeks of August. This is closely followed by Fortnum & Mason which is usually early/mid-September.

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10 Reasons to shop locally.

10 reasons to shop locally, keeping those important independents retailers alive.

Wherever you live in the UK, there will always be local businesses whether a Coffee Shop, Home & Gift Shop or even a Fashion Boutique on your High Street. Choosing to shop locally instead of the major Chain Stores has many advantages for both the local economy and giving the customer that all important memorable shopping experience.

The need to improve your local economy

Local businesses are the backbone of our economy and have been for many years. Shopping at a local business, rather than a large chain, is better for the economy of your community. It brings a local neighbourhood together and shopping on a Saturday afternoon in your local High Street will be less stressful than hitting the Chain stores in a city.

The need to create jobs for local people

Shopping and investing in local businesses means they can employ local people  which has a positive effect on the health of local jobs and the community. By helping to grow the number of jobs in your area makes for a better place to live.

It creates a warm character and personality

The advantage of dealing with independent businesses is that they are run by people. As they are run by local people, you will find that the business/shops add character to the community with a warm and welcoming personality. This has to be more popular than a chain store, no matter where in the country you are shopping.

That all important memorable shopping experience

While many chain stores do have good customer service, it’s nice to have that  personal touch of a local owner who takes an interest in you. The relationship between customer and the local business is improved and goes further than just the purchase. Local shops quite often stock an inventory based on their own customer’s choices rather than national fashion trends.

Your health and the environment

There is definitely a positive impact on the environment by shopping locally. If you are in a position to walk to your High Street rather than drive, then this reduces the dilemma and stress of finding a parking space. Naturally walking has more health benefits and will certainly reduce traffic and air pollution. It makes our High Street more customer focused without the need to dive between the cars while trying to cross the road.

It creates originality and individuality

In a world that is becoming increasingly dominated by chain stores, independent businesses bring much-needed originality. It is so vital that local shops to have good window displays and in-store presentation. It is just as important to keep that “wow” factor to attract the passing customer. They can be a real breath of fresh air ensuring that the shop is refreshed regularly with its window display and even the merchandise. By employing a professionally trained visual merchandiser, the shop owner can then focus on sourcing new and exciting merchandise. Quite often you will find merchandise that is not available in the Chain Stores.

Help to create the identity

Some local businesses will actually help shape the identity of the area. A high street filled with unique, vibrant and colourful shops will attract more footfall and help to make the community a more popular and financially healthier area in which to live and work

Is On-Line the future of retailing?

Many people believe that the best deals can only be found online. You might be surprised to see just how competitive the prices are in your local shops and businesses. Are we becoming a nation of lazy people by ordering on-line, not wishing to leave the house and having no interaction with other people? And if the item is faulty or needs returning, it is good to know that by returning the item to the shop you will have face to face interaction instead of calling a premium telephone number and hear that familiar voice “Your call is important to us”

The budding entrepreneurs

There are so many independent shops that have started from scratch. For some of these owners, this is a complete career change, so choosing to shop locally encourages them with their business and they are more than happy to deal with your shopping requirements. By supporting your local businesses, you are helping to support local entrepreneurs who grow their business. Examples are The Langport Stores, Langport, Somerset, Taylor Jane in Reigate, Surrey, Edit Lifestyle in Petts Wood, Kent and Aida in Shoreditch, London.

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The rise of the Pop-Up Shop.

Have you noticed the number of Pop Up shops quite literally popping up? With the increase of on-line shopping, Brands are now fighting to attract customers back by creating the pop-up shop experience that will hopefully leave a lasting impression with customers.

Pop-Up shops were introduced in the early 1990’s in cities such as London, New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo. These retail event spaces create theatre, create a fun place to shop and generate new customers, while building Brand awareness. This is a great opportunity for the Brand to educate customers, as well as connect with customers who normally shop on-line. It gives the Brand an opportunity for a Pop-Up shop without signing up to a long, expensive and complicated lease on a property.

While most Pop-Up shops are in Malls or on the street, some pop-up shops still remain physical bricks and mortar stores. In many department stores such as Selfridges in the UK, Pop-Up shops are installed and become part of the overall department store environment. It creates excitement and anticipation when a new Pop Up shop is being launched and is an opportunity to for Brands to promote a new product, or something that is on trend or even a Wedgewood Tea Shop in Peter Jones in London.

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Watching paint dry?

As we know, retail is tough at the moment given the general economic climate and the current On-Line business. Retailers need to start fighting back to attract customers back into their stores. With tight VM budgets,  Visual Merchandisers need to create a concept that is inexpensive to produce and install. Window displays and VM sites around a store need to attract the attention of the shopper, create some retail theatre and give the customer something to remember their visit to your store.

As Martin Pegler (Author of Store Presentation & Design) said, “The buzz word is Presentation: it is all about the theatre in retail design. The curtain goes up on a new, different and enticing show. Presentation make the difference between whether the store is serving up ‘comedy’ or ‘tragedy’ and how the show will be judged by the shoppers.

The use of paint pots, paint brushes and over sized Pantone cards are both bright, colourful and something out of the ordinary. So if you are wanting a bright, fun concept then this will certainly catch the eye of the customer. Here is some inspiration.

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Work, Travel, Save, Repeat…..

When you see a vintage suitcase sitting in an antique store or flea market, there has to be an inspiring story about who owned it and where it’s been. Perhaps it once made a voyage to Bali or carried a soldier’s belongings or maybe an immigrant brought into a country, holding lots of personal possessions. Suitcases have stories, and that’s what makes them amazing conversation pieces, especially when they’re covered in stickers representing far-flung destinations.

There are so many tropical/travel window concepts in stores and windows at the moment particularly given the hot weather the UK is currently experiencing. Why not install an inexpensive theme, based on old suitcases to give your window that slight twist?

As we know, retail is tough at the moment given the current On-Line business so retailers need to start fighting back to attract customers back to their stores.  VM Budgets are tight, so the use of old suitcases that can be bought very cheaply, is a good way to give your window impact without breaking the bank. Here are a few ideas to stir your imagination.

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Back to School ……..

Although the schools and colleges are just about to finish for the summer holidays, retailers should be finalising the details of their Back To School windows. As with any concept, VM teams should be thinking and planning 6-9 months in advance.

In fact Marks & Spencer here in the UK have installed their Back To School concept acting as focal points around the store.

Here are some excellent inspirational window concepts from my files. Anything from fashion to chairs to over-sized pencils. The concept does not always have to relate to kids and stationery products. Back To School windows should be fun and a riot of colour and props. These windows should be inspiring and creative, as kids hate going back to school!

Given the strength of On-Line shopping retailers, with the help of the VM teams, stores should be stepping up a gear to ensure that all important ‘wow factor’ with creating retail theatre with both the window concepts and in-store presentation. It’s very much like the phrase “You Don’t Get A Second Chance To Make A First Impression”


A Tuscan town in Dubai?

While on a recent visit to Dubai, I visited The Outlet Village which is located in between Dubai and Abi Dhabi.

Luxury Fashion Brands are showcased in this scenic and charming high-end Tuscan style mall with architecture inspired by the medieval hill town of San Gimignano.

The architecture of The Outlet Village is inspired by San Gimignano, the walled medieval hilltop town in Tuscany that was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1990. The attention to detail is quite impressive with the replicated stonework, archways and pebbled streets.

Dubai certainly likes it shopping malls to be big, bold and glitzy but this one is in complete contrast to The Mall of Emirates or Dubai Mall.

Brands include DKNY, Dunhill, Ted Baker, Tommy Hilfiger, Diesel alongside multibrand stores such as Priceless and Etoile that will sell all their designer brands including Fendi, Tom Ford, Jimmy Choo, Valentino, Tory Burch, Givenchy, Dolce & Gabbana and Kenzo.

It is a 30-40 minute drive from Dubai but an ideal mall to visit to escape the heat of Dubai and walk in streets of this Italian hill town!


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.