Welcome to the Ruck Blog!

Hello and thanks for visiting our blog - here you will find interesting articles on what's happening in the world of point sale, visual merchandising and display innovation.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Panic! Buy Stamps, Pasties & Fuel Now...Or Shall We All Just Keep Calm And Carry On?

What a week! The country seems to have worked itself up in to a frenzy of panic! Queues at petrol stations, fighting breaking out at the pumps, rationing and road closures ...all for the suggestion that there may be a strike in couple of weeks time!

The tanker drivers union is not meeting until Monday to start negotiations and after negotiations have finished they still have to give seven days notice before they strike making this weeks behaviour at the pumps pointless. A woman was badly burnt today as the fuel she was transferring from into a jerry can from a jug set alight in her kitchen whilst the oven was on nearby. I heard some people being interviewed on the radio after they were asked why they were queueing and the reply was because they'd seen everyone else queueing! The Union has also said today that it won't strike over the Easter weekend.

Of course now everyone is realising it is a storm in a tea cup (or as our tabloids are calling it ...a storm in a jerry can) the blame game begins! With government and opposition wrangling over political motives and public bodies criticising it just fuels the fire further. The media as usual has over dramatised everything and played a big part in creating this hysteria as the Guardian's photo gallery of the main tabloids front pages shows.

Friday, 23 March 2012

All Time High Shop Vacancies - Quarterly Rents Due ... What To Do?

With a report coming out today that the number of empty shops is at its highest rate, what does this mean for retail in the UK?

According to a survey published today by the Local Data Company (LDC) town centre vacancies increased to an average of 14.6% February, up slightly from January and is the highest since they started collecting information on this four years ago..that's one in seven now shut. The LDC visit town centres, shopping centres and retail parks all year round to gather this information and have noticed a drop in occupancy levels since Christmas. They say they expect closure rates to continue especially as GAME Group are going into administration and another 600 or so stores are potentially at risk, although it continues to trade whilst looking to solve its debt and supply chain problems.

To put it in context though some areas are thriving but there's a real north /south divide on this with many shopping areas in the south doing well whilst areas in the north are clearly struggling. Their report showed that some of the better performing areas in the south are Cambridge, Camden, Exeter, Kingston, Salisbury and St Albans and Taunton. Some of the worst hit areas are Bradford, Derby, Hull, Sheffield, Southampton, Stockport, Swindon, Nottingham, Warrington, and Wolverhampton.

There's a lot of reasons this is happening, reduced consumer confidence amidst our economic problems means people are paying off debts rather than borrowing and saving rather than spending. Spending figures are down since Christmas but retail sales are actually up on this period last year by 1%. With the cost of living rising and petrol prices higher than they've ever been people have less money to spend beyond the cost of living, preferring cheaper deals online or at supermarkets.

The quarterly rents due this weekend are often the tipping point for companies struggling with cash flow as they stump up millions of pounds of rents in advance. Part of the Mary Portas review is to look into landlords providing monthly rents, making it easier for companies to retain more cash within the business as well as wider business community investment, but as the tumble weeds whistle down some of our high streets is it too late to inject some life back into them?

"It is a timely reminder to the government, who are due to respond to the Portas Review this month, of the significant challenges facing town and city centres up and down the country," Matthew Hopkinson - Director, LCD.


Thursday, 15 March 2012

The Popularity of the Pop Up Shop! Here to Stay or Passing Fad?

With Pop up shops literally popping up everywhere, what's behind this surge over the last few years in pop ups shops? Is it just a sign of the times or are they here to stay?
It's not just the UK - there is a worldwide increase in pop up shops. As well known high street stores and independents close landlords are finding it difficult to find long term tenants, so accepting a short term lease whilst they are looking for the long term tenant makes sense. You could say it's linked to the economic downturn and I certainly think that was the catalyst that kicked it off, however it's got a real buzz around it now and is gaining momentum.

 What's in it for the brand? It's not just small aspirational companies who are enjoying the flexibility of the pop up shop but big name brands are getting in on the action for a fresh and different approach than they take in their mainstream stores, often making it an interactive experience. Brands such as Liberty's have embraced the idea of pop up shop with Hermes and online retailers are using it as a way to entice bricks and mortar shoppers, with ebay opening its first pop up shop this Christmas.

For smaller brands it gives them the opportunity to showcase their products, drive traffic through to their website and gain brand exposure. Expensive business rates and long term leases prohibit this type of business from getting a shop on the high street more permanently, but the entrepreneurial spirit of small up and coming  businesses makes the most of the recession, turning negative downturn into positive innovation.

The kinds of pop ups vary quite considerably too, from retail outlets, art galleries are also now popping up in retail spaces with fringe artists getting on the band waggon, to restaurants, interactive gaming and seasonal stores.

Many of the print and retail agencies now specifically offer POP up shop services, there are companies that exist to solely service this market matching tenants and landlords. These are not the shabby Christmas pound shops we are seeing but modern, stylish stores in popular shopping districts, showcasing the best of British and international design. They offer interactive fresh new ideas, an experience as well as the chance to purchase.

This looks like it's more than just a short term trend and becoming a way for retailers to engage their customers on the high street again, and are often performance spaces as well as retail outlets. I think they're here to stay - as big brand retailers move off to retail parks out of town high streets and public spaces are going to be used in different ways and the landscape will change. This is the just the beginning of a different way of retailing as consumer tastes change and online and multi channel retailers and brand marketers see an opportunity for further reach to their markets. I think it may be here to stay for some time yet! 

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Retail: The Truth About Job Pledges & Retail Job Snobbery

This year the supermarkets are pledging thousands of jobs, joining schemes to address youth unemployment, and invest in skills and qualifications. Sainsbury's yesterday launched a campaign called 'Youth Can' to address snobbery in retail careers, especially in supermarkets, and attract young people into careers with them. As there are job losses elsewhere in the both the public and private sectors government is hoping that growth in supermarket jobs will help to partly address the balance.

The Current Pledges:

Tesco are planning to create 20,000 jobs over two years as they invest in improving existing stores and open new ones. They are the country's largest retail employer and the third largest in the UK after the NHS and Ministry of Defence with more than 293,000 employees and 2,715 stores in the UK.

What's it Like to Work at Tesco - Matt Simister of Tesco Group Food Sourcing (GFS)

Asda has announced earlier this year the creation of 5,000 UK jobs with a £500 million expansion plan that includes opening 25 stores, refurbishing 43 stores and opening three new depots. This expansion will support 5,000 new positions on top of the 30,000 staff it took on last year through new store openings and the acquisition of the 147 Netto sites and staff. Overall they currently employ 180,000 people in 528 store across the UK.

What's it like to work at Asda: Sarah - Head of Strategy and Strategic Planning at Asda

Sainsbury's rather ambitiously last year pledged to invest £1 billion in creating 50,000 jobs by 2020, creating 20,000 of those over the next three years. They currently employ around 146,000 people with 577 supermarkets and 377 convenience stores.

What's it like to work in Sainsbury's - Trainee Manager Scheme - Round Table

Past Pledges vs Hired:

However its hard to take this seriously in the current climate when past promises are not being delivered on, according to research by the Financial Mail:

Sainsbury's, Tesco and Asda collectively pledged to create 67,000 jobs between 2008 and 2010. After gathering information from annual reports and data filed at Companies House the research suggests that only 28,217 jobs were actually created permanently as they shed existing jobs through efficiency drives and cycles... so the actual amount of jobs created was just 42 % of the positions pledged. This created a short fall of 38,783 of the jobs promised, which has some critics understandably cynical about the jobs that will be created over the next couple of years.

There's no doubt that supermarket retailers are hiring in significant numbers and there is growth in profits year on year. There are lots of opportunities for young people who shouldn't just view it as it as a dead end job. There are so many different roles for young people either through apprenticeship schemes or for graduates coming into the sector. I think the 'Youth Can' initiative is an excellent way to engage with young people and get them in to careers in retail, debunking the preconceptions and myths that retail jobs are just low level, unambitious stop gaps.

Friday, 9 March 2012

The Mobile Shopper - Online and In-store

Shopping habits are changing faster than ever before. Some retailers are very quick to catch on to this and others are slow on the uptake just doing what they've always done, but they are missing a big trick here. Since the smart phone revolution people access online information wherever they are, and shopping is a big part of this mobile information age.

As consumers browse round the shops they want to make informed decisions and check out reviews and product specifications before they purchase, and most importantly check they are getting the best deal, easily finding this information without even leaving the store.

Some retailers are offering information facilities on in-store screens, mostly they have developed apps which allow users to quickly find the information they need on smart phones or tablets, as they realise more and more traffic is via mobile phone platforms such as Andriod or Apple. Consumers want to interact with their favourite brands more than ever since the smart phone, they'll share information via social networks, want to hear about innovation in technology, talk about their experiences with products and brands, and find the best local deals. It's easier than ever to lose a customer to lower price competition when they have all this information at their fingertips. We're not nearly as far along as the American market but this interesting film by Google shows us just where we are heading.

So what are the brands doing about this? Identifying their consumer behaviour and developing a mobile strategy seems to be a stumbling block for many retailers, and let’s face it, so far it has been very trial and error with a lot of brands investing in mobile strategies that just haven’t worked. They've not always looked in to the practicalities of what consumers want - how they want to interact with finding stock, the best deals and store locations. They haven't focused on getting the consumer to the product rather on useless design led fun apps or glorified brochures that leave the user frustrated and underwhelmed. 
Integrating social media and apps with in-store shopping seems to have been a struggle for many, but those that get it right are trail blazing the way for others. Some of the most successful retail mobile apps seem to be the ones that offer customer loyalty or discounts, like Amazon which rewards shoppers with a discounts for purchasing online when using their price check app. This then feeds valuable competitive instore pricing information back to Amazon..a mutually beneficial experience.

Some retailers are now offering wifi in-store as they recognise that customers are online in store and it's a head in the right direction. Retailers are missing out though by not offering both tablet and smartphone versions of their apps but I think after a shaky start in the mobile arena for retail this year we will see improvements come on in leaps and bounds and see more retailers getting it right.  

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The Changing Face of Retail & Local Councils

There was a report out last week saying that more and more retailers are deserting the high street for retail parks. More shops are closing and are either left derelict or replaced by charity shops, pawn brokers, betting shops and pop up pound shops.
Mary Portas has been tasked to come up with ideas to save the local high street but I just don't think there's much hope for some towns with such short sighted councils. Local councils are their own worst enemy, using car parks as revenue collectors rather than a way to encourage shoppers in to town to boost the local economy. I was in Buxton on Sunday, my nearest local town, and it was in such a sorry state - two more large shops had closed down leaving the place looking half empty, and several were just closed for the day including big chain names like Boots. Having paid for my parking  earlier I got back to my car to find I'd been issued with a penalty for not displaying my ticket, which had slipped off the window due to condensation. It was too late according to the ticket inspector to rescind the ticket and I now have to appeal. All this hassle to park in a dismal half derelict shopping area on a Sunday....when I could just go to a shopping centre, all under cover with a choice of open shops and free parking....or drive out to a retail park...like everyone else does. I'd rather support my local town but this kind of thing really does put shoppers off.

Councils need to support the high street, offer free parking and better public transport and help get local economies moving. Encourage people to spend and support independent retailers, keep the demand for high street chains to stay on the High Street, and safeguard local jobs. The money it costs to have ticket issuers pounding the streets could be better spent offering free parking Sundays - shuttle buses and investment in window displays for empty shops, trader licences for food and craft stalls, street entertainment and buskers to liven up the weekends. In some towns residents have free parking schemes to encourage local people to shop locally.

The competition from online shopping and convenience supermarkets is fierce, with an estimated 14 shops a day closing we should be doing everything we can to save our town centres and high streets, not prohibit it with draconian penalties for heading in to town to do a little shopping. Business rates are set to increase again this year, further marginalising independent retailers and putting pressure on cash flow for larger chains.

Is it too late for our high streets? Let's see what the government offers in way of support for retailers in the budget this March 21st following Mary's report!

Friday, 2 March 2012

Easter Installations - Origins of Easter Traditions

We have been busy over the last few weeks with all the Easter installations, now it's feeling spring like time for the Easter Article I think! The birds are singing and the bulbs are coming up, everyone seems so much more cheerful, although it feels like it we're not quite in Spring yet. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon after the vernal equinox on March 21, so Easter falls anywhere between March 22 and April 25 every year.

Origins of Easter:

It is a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, although it has earlier links to Eostre, the Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility. Hares and rabbits were her animals and she is often depicted with a hares head. The Easter celebration actually lasts a long time and starts with Holy Week, which includes Shrove Tuesday & Ash Wednesday (Pancake Day & Mardi Gras) in the run up to Lent which lasts for 40 days and ends on the Easter Monday.

We can see Easter's earlier pagan influence with all the spring like fertility symbols such as rabbits, flowers, chicks and most celebrated in it's chocolate form - the egg! The rabbit comes from a European tradition where children were told that the Oschter Haws bunny would visit and leave colourful eggs in the garden, so children would make nests and hunt for them the next day with baskets. Chocolatiers then later started making chocolate eggs and rabbits to add in to the baskets, which has since taken off all around the world.  Over 90 million chocolate bunnies are made every year!

Of course for the retailer it's all about chocolate sales! The seasonal aisle in supermarkets is almost entirely taken up with boxed Easter eggs, greeting cards and confectionery items. Lots of family's also have a traditional Easter lunch so food sales target the consumer here too, with lamb being a traditional roast.

The installations involve floor and window graphics, hanging signs and gondola end graphics and always look wonderfully fresh and breezy.

An example of an Easter aisle floor graphic being installed: