Category Archives: Retail format

Its silly season in the retail food sector!

I don’t normally waste my time drawing attention to specific examples of advertising that are plain rubbish, but it seems like silly season for the UK retail food sector at the moment and I simply can’t ignore it.

The new campaign for Sizzling Pubs leaves me speechless its so ridiculous, but nowhere near as mindless as the commercial for Harvester.  What the blazes are these people trying to do?  Together, these two campaigns prove the point I was making a few weeks back that marketing is dumbing down.  These simply have to be examples of inexperienced marketing managers who lack the confidence to tell their agencies, when they present this crap, to stop having a laugh!

I can imagine the scene.  The agency guy making out that a rap, which in Harvester’s  case doesn’t rhyme or scan, is the kind of “groovy” solution that will appeal to a hip new target market and the client failing to notice that they had buried any product benefit there might have been beneath the awful treatment and not having the balls to draw him a route-map to reality.  Is the story here the diversity of the menu or is it just a case of having to come up with a commercial to disguise the fact absence of a proposition?  Whichever, it failed.

The Sizzling Pubs agency guy has clearly allowed self-love to obscure the fact that even if they can work out what the blazes is supposed to be happening the behind-the-scenes antics of the ad. business is about as enthralling to the target audience as a day watching paint dry.  Its neither funny nor interesting, but because I know how hard food retailers like these two are working to come up with a point of difference these days, its particularly galling to see what could be a genuine opportunity flushed down the toilet.  If Sizzling Pubs are successful it will definitely be despite their advertising and that’s a shame because, without breaking sweat I can think of a number of entertaining ways of getting the idea of sizzling food across.

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Go shopping in the East End!

Not surprisingly, shopping centre development in Europe plummeted by 30%, to a 27-year low in 2010.  This much has been confirmed by new research from property consultants Cushman and Wakefield, but things are looking up … or are they…?

In cities throughout Europe the skeletons of would-be retail paradises have stood testament to the economic downturn for the past year with no visible sign of completion work, but there are stirrings once again and the same report predicts 6.9million new square feet of Gross Leasable Area by the end of 2011.

You may be asking quite where all this is likely to be.  I for one have been speculating that the optimism of some Central European cities has both been responsible for a disproportionate amount of the recent growth in GLA and left the developers concerned with the high risk of un-let retail space.  In cities like Prague the profusion of new malls that retailers’ traditional policy has compelled them to take occupation in, has left some retailers competing with their own stores only metres away from each other, but retailers are being forced to face reality and my guess is we’ll see them rationalising their estate at a cost to centre owners and managers.  I know of one new centre that has all but closed down after a couple of years of trading, simply because of this.

2011’s new square-footage looks like being further East in places like Turkey and Russia which are expected to account for as much of 40% of total European growth.  In the West, we are far more reserved.  Even though our variety of retailers in each sector is significantly higher than counties in CEE there’s a limit to how many coffee shops you can cram into one centre, a reality that is underlined by the modest 2.5million of new square-footage we’ll account for this year.

Europe is clearly dividing into two retail zones.  The easy short-term money looks like being in the East while retailers in Western markets have to get in shape for the battle to secure revenue.  Either way, there’s a challenge for retail marketers.

In the retail – e-tail war detail could be the decider.

So, HMV is in a state of meltdown yet again and with today’s profit warning following a Christmas trading period that turned out to be more of a turkey than a gift, it all looks pretty glum for this once retail icon.

In fact HMV is one of two high street retailers that I feel deserve a kick up the arse right now.  Both are frustratingly short of a few tricks that would counteract the biggest threat to their future.  The other is no-brand WH Smith, whose stores are dismal, amateur, badly lit, over stocked, over-priced and poorly staffed.  There’s an irony somewhere in the fact that HMV’s sister business Waterstone’s is the one showing WH Smith how its done.  Smiths may be in growth mode right now, but it looks like the short-term market-trader kind of success that begs questions like “So what do we do for our next trick?”.

Compare the two – On the brightest day a visit to WH Smith can make you feel like ending it all.  A bit like a church hall jumble sale, the mess of books, school equipment, magazines and sweets(?) and lord knows what else, trying hard to be all things to all people and succeed in being nothing much to anybody.    Waterstones, on the other hand, with their founder back at the helm, have single-mindedly established their authority in a sector where authority is everything.  These days Waterstones are ticking all the boxes, with knowledgable and intelligent staff and meaningfully stocked shelves (no pick n’ mix sweets in grubby pots here).  They have even mastered the trick of using their High Street presence to establish the authority they need to succeed on-line and with a million plus e-book downloads under their belt I have no doubt that both clicks and mortar numbers will follow.

Like Waterstones, WH Smith and HMV have both encountered the Internet challenge, but while WH Smith firstly buried its head in the sand, hoped it would go away, then muffed the response, HMV, like Waterstones, are focussing on doing things in-store that only in-store can do and using on-line as a sort-of take-away format – well almost.  And that’s the rub.  They aren’t getting down to the detail quite as I would have hoped.

For one thing, despite the live music elements they have added, they haven’t really mastered the brand community thing and they are missing some of the small practical things could make doing business with them easier and more fun.  Take for instance the art of the demo.  A focus of all record stores in the past and certainly a useful community building tool today.  Remember the Saturdays (That’s the day of the week not the band!) spent in the listening booth at your local record store listening to Friday’s releases and deciding what to spend this week’s pocket-money on?

When vinyl went out of the door, so it seems did the listening booth – replaced, admittedly by HMVs listening posts, which were fine, but then … silence!  Sure, they’ll play a CD in the store if you can get close enough to the check-out for your request to be heard, but it’s not the same as sharing a set of headphones with your mates in a sweaty booth.

Maybe they think they have that one covered with their in-store radio (Is it live? – I’m not sure), but they kinda’ come out of that looking like the guy who invented 6-Up – just a natz short of success – not enough interaction, which they could have built-in even with an AsLive solution.  They also miss the same trick on-line because, except for a few albums like Jessie J’s latest which features her brilliant Price Tag video, you can’t listen to even samples of selected tracks before you buy.  In the store they make great play (excuse the pun) of introducing new acts with short, on-shelf biogs, but if you can’t listen to the music, you have to risk £10 to buy the album blind (or is it deaf?) which, when we are all being austere, is a non-starter really.

To WH Smith I say, before turn yourself into a Moroccan bazaar, I suggest you don’t copy Woolies, because we all know where that gets you, pop across to Wilkinson instead and see how multi-category retailing is done cheerfully and tastefully (and with staff that you’d consider striking up a conversation with).  Oh and switch the lights on.  Reading in bad light is bad for anybody’s eyes.   HMV on the other hand need to write a thousand times “retail is detail”.  Put yourself in your customer’s shoes, get the little things right, tackle these and I’m sure you’ll find your days will be brighter.

The wonder of Wilko

In what appears to be an increasingly grey and mundane landscape the occasional ray of sunshine is more than welcome.  My personal shining star right now is the retailer Wilkinson who seem to have suddenly awoken to become everything that Woolworth failed to be.  They are even doing it in the very shop units in which Woolies crashed and burned.

It’s hard to fault the new look Wilko.  Great new logo that manages to be both contemporary and friendly in equal measure, stores that despite their stack-it-high-sell-it-cheap approach to merchandising still appear orderly and inviting and whether it’s just my local branch or common throughout the chain, the staff are friendlier, and more helpful than those in many premium stores.

Their array of categories offer the diversity that Woolworth failed to cope with and rationalised away long before their eventual demise.  Wilko’s homewares sit better in the store than those of Matalan or TK Max and partner with decorating products more comfortably that Homebase.

Wilkinson, remarkably, was top of mind for me when buying a few stationery items today, even though in Newbury High Street, WH Smith are directly opposite (But I always think of Smiths as a venue for a wrist-slashing anyway!).  I bought de-icer from there a few weeks ago in preference to Halfords, and a few homewares items that I could have picked up from Tesco, had I been so inclined.  Admittedly there is a chasm between the old Wilko stores and the new smart format, but with a roll-out planned I’m sure it won’t be long before everyone will be able to experience the wonder of Wilko!  Even their web experience is good.  Frankly, I can’t see how they would fail.

e-tailing has it Made.

If you ever doubted that there is a future for retailing on-line there’s a new kid on the block that might just convince you that retail clicks!

The thing that I have always enjoyed most about retailing is the involvement that exists in the “brandships” between stores and customers.  Retailers have, often inadvertently it must be said, always been avid brand builders and the fortunes of the most successful are set in a history of establishing and building relationships with customers that pre-dates the acronym CRM, which is now on everyone’s lips.

I have always felt that retail was the first sector to recognise the element of community in brand-building, but when you take the store or meeting-place out of the equation there’s always a danger that you could be throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Not if Made.com have anything to do with it!

This isn’t a first by any means, but I really like the way they have used the scope of on-line to involve their customers.  This is real brand-building (in other words community).  Its a limited range, but I see no reason why that shouldn’t expand, which can only be good.  Customers, get a real sense of involvement in design and there’s a pioneering spirit about the individuality of the range that provides the essential community ingredient that is further enhanced by the opportunity customers have to vote for designs.  The people at Made.com clearly don’t need me to tell them where the opportunities lie, they are screaming at us all over this concept.  I particularly like the potential for a clicks and mortar model that’s similar to one I have in a bottom drawer right now.

Of course e-tailing isn’t the panacea that a lot of its evangelists make it out to be.  I’ve raised issues of customer service overheads in other posts and I’ll be interested to see how this essential element is handled by Made as time goes on, but Made is an idea, and we can’t have too many of them in the new economy.  Ideas are what will set the world spinning again and these people may just have it made!

Tesco raise the bar for Czech retailers

12586_Tesco my1main

We Brits may not have invented the department store (that was the French of course) but we can pat ourselves on the back when it comes to developing exciting new variations on the theme.

Somewhere on my list of “neat formats worth a look-see” would be the new “My” store in the centre of Prague that was developed by Tesco with a little help from Fitch.  A couple of years ago the owners of the only Czech department store operator worthy of the description Kotva were planning to breathe new life into the corpse of their central Prague store by turning it into a showcase for Czech retail franchisees – a challenge in itself when you consider the dominance of foreign retailers in the Czech marketplace.  They had a stab at it, but it really didn’t come off too well and I’m sure they are still scratching around for “plan B”.  Tesco, on the other hand, have achieved a spectacular away win with My by delivering the promise Kotva made and some.

Tesco have brought their full retail might into play with a model that extends well beyond the creation of a showcase for local retailers.  In assembling this store using available Czech retailing components they have contributed massively to the understanding of the participating local operators of what retailing is all about.  This is more than a store, its an education from which I am sure the Czech retailers who participated will benefit and hopefully never look back.  Talk about raise the bar!  OK, so they supplemented local resources by bringing in a few mates like the long-awaited (as far as I am concerned anyway) Costa coffee people (until now Czechs thought the height of coffee art was Starbucks – heaven help them!) to get the mood going, but it all adds to the formula.  Every little helps and this is no small contribution to Czech retailing.  Congratulations Tesco!