Friday, November 6, 2020

Christmas Creep


Yes, we’re all aware the Silly Season has started. Groan! It started in September when we noticed the supermarkets starting to move the fruit mince pies, bonbons, advent calendars and plum puds onto the shelves. The official term is “Christmas Creep”.

Have you noticed that from now till mid May we really don’t get much of a break from the seasonal promos that the shops run? The Christmas merchandising and stock will disappear as of Boxing Day and we’re bombarded with hot cross buns and Easter paraphernalia. From Easter it runs into Mother’s Day. After that we finally get a break till the Father’s Day pitch, which is never quite as strong as Mother’s Day. In the middle of all this are the 2nd tier promos for Australia Day, Valentine’s and Halloween.

The big culprits in the heavy-handed seasonal retailing are the supermarkets. Everyone takes their lead from the big boys. But does putting Christmas product in our face 3 months out make that much difference? The marketing gurus tell us it does and that the lead in to xmas is the biggest quarter in the retail year. But what amount of selling happens 3 mths out compared with the last few weeks? And what happens in other countries?

Go back a generation and in America the focus was on celebrating Thanksgiving at the end of November and more recently the Black Friday sales (also end of November) before the xmas shopping began. Britain used to wait till after Remembrance Day, but large parts of Europe and other countries have now also embraced Black Friday and it seems that Christmas creep has spread worldwide.

Last year Australian Christmas expenditure fell below the forecast. It was the lowest expenditure growth in 28 yrs. This year will not be an accurate gauge compared with past. Many families are watching the expenses with one or both bread winners out of work. At the other end of the spectrum are families who have profited in varying ways from the corona shutdowns. Many areas are still struggling with the aftermath of the summer bush fires.

Smart independent retailers who embrace promotional events to kick start their xmas trading, report favourable results. The reality is that the majority of shopping in done in the last 2-3 weeks. It’s no surprise that food is the biggest of all retail categories, making up almost half of Christmas expenditure. And for obvious reasons sees its largest expenditure in the last few days.

CBA research shows that ¾ of women start shopping only a month out from Christmas and that a quarter of men shop in the last 24 hrs.

What about the other seasons- Easter Creep? In Australia who wants to buy chocolate eggs in January or February and risk finding them in April as disgusting melted messes? Yuck. I’ll wait till closer to the date thanks. Although hot crossed buns are a great school lunch box item, if only a non easter version could run all year.

There’s even what I call the “school book list creep”. Parents are given the stationery and textbook list in November for the following year. OMG- overload. School books on top of just trying to get the kids to finish those last few weeks when everyone is so tired, and we’re being told to start our xmas shopping!

Why has Creep come about? Bottom line, a marketing gimmick to try to compete in an ever more difficult climate. Retail has been tough for a few years now. People have so many more choices for their money compared with 20 years ago. Our lives are so much busier and it’s common to feel stretched to the max. We have more choices for discretionary spending i.e. online, subscriptions, experiences and other non-physical items and payment schemes such as after pay.

Frequent exposure lessens our response to things. Just as swear words have become more tolerated in society and advertising, we’ve become blasé to seasonal creep. We know Christmas and Easter happen every year. Having it forced into our lives gives an annoying niggling feeling a bit like that annual check-up at the doctor. Usually something we try to put off for a bit longer. Shoppers don’t want to be dictated to; they will do it when they’re ready. They don’t want the guilt trip of feeling they are not organized. They also don’t want to feel spoken down to. Early seasonal promotional is here to stay, but over the years we have become conditioned to Creep and its lost the shock factor.


Sunday, September 27, 2020

Colour in Kitchens


For a long while now white kitchens have featured prolifically in home magazines and digital images on Pinterest and Houzz. Very often people associate the Hamptons style with white kitchens. Carrara marble and the other similar veined marbles have been really popular. Last year I had 5 consecutive house renos where the clients requested these stones for their kitchen benchtops.

However we are slowly seeing some colour creep back into kitchens, which from my point of view is exciting. I do like the look of white kitchens if they are done well and have good detailing in the joinery and are complemented with nice feature pendants and beautiful splashbacks. I love working with clients who are not scared of colour and happy to embrace a new direction for their kitchen.

When I refer to colour, I don’t just mean paint colours. Colour comes from many sources such as timber tones, whether that is a red, yellow or black based timber. It can also be introduced with stones in greys, black, creams. Solid black has also become very popular as a new accent colour and there are a wonderful range of fingerprint free laminates available now. I’m also seeing blues appearing in 2 pack paint finishes.

There is an industry guide that a kitchen has a 10-year life span. The reality is kitchens are expensive and often 20 years plus before people do a reno. My design goal is to create a kitchen that is in keeping with the look of the house, is on trend and will last the distance and not age quickly.

If you are looking at a kitchen reno or building new and want some colour, I would advise to look at the colour sources suggested earlier. Select splashback tiles that whilst modern will age well. The classics such as subways and penny tiles have endured over time. Don’t use garish colours in 2 pack. You may love lime green for the first 12 months, but it’s an expensive type of surface to replace. Take into consideration the colours used near your kitchen, especially if you have a more open floorplan. Installing feature pendant lights can also introduce pops of colour. There are lots of beautiful cane and natural fibres available in pendants and these can add a warm yellow colour to your scheme.

If you are still feeling nervous and wishing for some colour, speak with a designer. In this industry we are constantly seeing the current trends and watching the lifespans of looks and finishes. A good designer will guide you with choices and help you obtain a finished look that you love.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Instore Experience Post Iso

Pre corona virus the term “instore experience” had a slightly different meaning to what I think the new post isolation version will evolve into.
As a retail designer giving BC (before Corona) examples, I would list

-make up demonstrations as your walk thru a department store
-staff that can suggest the exact type of clothing that suits you so well you end up buying the whole outfit.
-cranking music in the hip clothing stores that perfectly matches the image they wish to portray
-the luxurious smell of perfumes as you enter a store and elevates you to another level.

-trendy hair salons were the staff are the same level of cool that you aspire to when you walk in for your big transformation

- food tastings/demos in the supermarket
- your favourite furniture store showing room settings and vignettes in exactly the way that you would like to recreate them at home.

- amazing staff that greet you on an such a personal level that you feel you’ve instantly gelled with them.

Instore experience is often spoken about in the highest echelons of retail board rooms, but not always successfully achieved on the actual shop floor. All retailers think they can offer it, but they don’t always have the magic X factor to pull it off. I can design great looking stores but if the staff have bad attitudes the customers will remember that long after the incredible fitout.

So how might post isolation instore experience pan out? The staff free Amazon stores have ideas that can be built upon. Let’s put the thinking caps on for some more ideas!

-          Provision of entertainment outside the store while people are queuing. Keeping potential customers happy is important and keeping them happy and remaining in the que is key. Perhaps a busker of some type.

-          Taking temps pre-entry is becoming more normal, perhaps this can be done in some fun step in booth that doesn’t make you feel like you are having a medical examination.

-          A buzzer system on your phone that tells you when a change room is ready, so you don’t have to que.

-          More counter-less stores. Having staff that move around with tap and go handheld devices to prevent queuing at counters.

-          Self-serve wrap bars that dispense bags to minimize on handling.

-          Convenient pick up points, whether it’s counters, dedicated car spots outside for staff to run out or the embracing of free local deliveries.

All the wonderful senses like smell and sound can still be incorporated. Having great staff will always be a positive. I’m looking forward to seeing what ideas retailers come up with.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Onlined Out

When lock downs were first being discussed many people/ businesses and community groups started brain storming about how they could maintain a sense of continuance. Schools were already making plans for online learning.

In my own life and house hold we had online school, online scouts, online music lessons, online networking groups and talk about online art lessons. A few other local businesses that I visit or purchase from were offering online bar sessions and online trivia.

Humans are social pack animals. And whilst all the online offers sounded great and some people did participate, we were getting “onlined out”. Online also brought the doom and worry of the world to us. Lots of people chose to retreat into their cocoons. Whilst we had more “free time” during isolation, many people created lists of ways to fill that time and it didn’t involve swapping the previous physical activity for the new online version.

Just because we couldn’t physically participate in something didn’t mean we wanted to do the online version of it. The translation from real life to screen lost a lot of the senses that made the real version so great. Many of these online offerings have always been available. I love having a drink at my local pub with friends and soaking in the atmosphere. Somehow it just doesn’t have the same feeling sitting infront of a computer screen. 

Drinks at the local became watering my garden with a wine as the sunset. Enjoying live music changed to catching up on my pile of ironing with the stereo turned up and a scented candle burning. Things that had been on the “do to list” were suddenly being ticked off. The increase in hardware sales is testament to this. Or people found new online ways to fill their time. I have friends who have always wanted to learn yoga and their new spare time allowed them to learn online.

During isolation we’ve adapted our lifestyles. We know online everything will always be there for us, but its been nice to switch off and make the choice to use this time for what we really want.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

And Out again...

The light at the tunnel seems to be appearing- slowly. Although I am still concerned that we will be hit with another peak of corona cases.

Whilst locked down at home I have been very thankful that I live in a house with a decent sized yard, as I love gardening and that has kept me busy, often to the detriment of housework. I have also been thankful that my children are all good ages that they can do their schoolwork online without heavy supervision and can also easily entertain themselves, unlike the baby and toddler days when they were very labour intensive.

On the retail front one of the things that I have most loved seeing is the rise of click and collect. My first experience was with Bunnings and within half an hour after placing my order I had an email to say it was ready to be collected and to book my time for pickup. I wish this service was around back when I was struggling with a baby, toddler and young child and overall finding life very difficult.

We live in a great country that the government has been able to put financial steps in place to help with the huge amounts of people unemployed. However the 6-7-week delay from announcing this to people starting to receive their money has been sad to watch as I drive past Centrelink and see the ques lengthening. I’m very sure many of those people are walking in pleading to get some money urgently as they have not had any payments and are struggling to feed their families.

I think one of the main things we’ll see into the future is a see-sawing economy. Any industry that works on long lead times will be affected. My own industry is a perfect example of this. At the moment I have builders who have been very busy since the start of the year doing jobs that I designed as far back as September last year. These builds are almost finished now and after that I can’t offer them any more work to quote. The lull that hit designers and architects a while ago is about to hit the builders. Whilst there are many government and council building projects being initiated to keep the work rolling, not all builders are licenced to tender for this type of work.

The clothing industry is another that I think may be affected by the long lead times. Often orders for a clothing season are placed several months in advance and the drop in sales from shops being closed and some retailers cancelling orders will have an effect on this supply chain also. It will be interesting to see if there will be provisions for extended stimulus packages for these types of industries.

Some of the nice changes we’ve seen may stick, such as people getting out exercising more. People are keen to be able to hit the shops and once cafes and restaurants open, they will be full again (as much as the new restrictions will allow for). There have been lots of posts on social media with people proclaiming their lives will become simpler without all the material possessions. I think the truth is that we’re creatures of habit and want to resume our previous lives, with modification where needed.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Industries of Yester-year

As I watch the latest updates about the precautions the government is taking for corona virus and the safety of our residents, and listen as each day businesses are forced to shut with these new regulations being implemented, I find myself thinking of past industries and businesses that are gone but not forgotten.

My grandparents were both in industries that are largely forgotten in today’s world. These industries still exist, but in a much smaller or different footprint. 

My grandfather was a wool classer. This was between the wars and the job he resumed after returning from the 2nd world war. It was the days when Australia was “riding on the sheep’s back” and was taking its early steps into what it is today. He worked in some of the Brisbane wool stores located in Teneriffe and where in my early 20’s my first design office was located. Back in those days the timber floors were soaked with the lanolin oil as the classers threw the large fleeces and examined them with expert eye to determine their market worth. Wool classers still exist today but not in the numbers of my grandfather’s era.

After beginning her career as a dressmaker to a high-class couture workshop in Brisbane, my grandmother trained further to become a milliner. She learnt her trade alongside many other women to service the fashion industry where women always needed a hat to meet the formal dress codes of the day. The wealthier women had multiple hats to suit more of life’s social appointments. As technology in looms and knitting machines grew and dress codes became more casual, handmade hats became a luxury bespoke item with a price tag to match.

Even as recently as my mother’s own high school years the girls not wishing to pursue a university degree were taught typing because women predominantly went into nursing or secretarial jobs. Very few people now lack the ability to type their own documents, whether it’s a 2-finger fast stabbing effort or the proper touch typing. The traditional secretary who would type everything for their boss is long gone.

In the past 18 mths or so I’ve watched with fascination as a particular business was virtually wiped out in front of my eyes. You may have also noticed that shopper dockets are no longer used by the major national grocery outlets. I used to love checking my shopper dockets. There were a couple of local restaurants and pubs who advertised frequently, and they had great deals with sometimes a 2 for one meal. Great for those nights when you felt like some pub grub, but also felt a bit guilty as you’d been out for several meals already that week. A half price meal deal on a shopper docket could clinch the decision for you.

I thought it was interesting and sad that almost overnight their 2 biggest customers stopped purchasing from shopper docket and the business almost varnished. I don’t know the reason for this, and my investigations have not gleamed much insight for me.
As I listen to the latest round of business closures and restrictions due to corona, I keep thinking back to shopper dockets and how 1 or 2 decisions can have a huge impact for a business.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Is Bigger Better?

If you were a retailer what would “big” mean to you? Would it mean that you are able to move into a store that is twice as big as your current one, because business was going well? Would it mean that that your name and reputation are known nationwide? Or would it mean what a lot of people immediately think of, that you have opened multiple stores because your business is so successful?

For most people when we hear about a “big” retailer, we immediately think of the later. But as we often see bigger is not always bigger. With the amount of retailers that have closed in recent times, downsized or gone into administration, it really is a case of the bigger they are the harder they fall.

 If we look back at the past couple of years and the brands that have closed there seems to be a pattern that these were all stores that had undergone large expansions over the years. In their quest to grow and find more customers it seemed that they lost things along the way. Some had too many similar retailers to compete with, some of them opened too close to their existing stores. For others economic factors took their toll. While some retailers did not understand the cultural differences of the new markets they were expanding into.

I have watched some interesting and inspirational interviews with smaller one-off retailers who have created wonderful successful stores. By being a smaller independent store they have learnt the power of personal individual service, they know where their customers are coming from, if they are responding to advertising promotions and their ages and the mix of demographics. This is because the owners and management are speaking with them and asking questions to help tailor the right product mix.

Reed Gift Fairs have an interesting YouTube series with their ambassador Tara Dennis visiting gift and homewares retailers and discussing their stores. I love looking at how they display their stock, hearing how they select it and about their customers and seeing what they’ve grown their businesses into with a few years of hard work. 

Very often the fact that they are a one-off store creates that destination factor. If it’s a good store, people don’t mind travelling- within reason. The journey becomes part of the hunter/ gatherer process.

However, the flip side in the quest to grow and conquer is the risk of loss of personal service standards, decrease in product knowledge with the staff, workers for whom it’s “just a job”, stock flow management issues and increased overheads to name a few negatives. Very often businesses are gauged in monetary value but take away key people or compromise your standards and ethics and suddenly a business can become worthless.

Success and achievement are common aspirations of human nature. For some the desire to grow bigger is well worth the work, for other businesses remaining as a one-off destination may be the solution. Dreaming with stars in your eyes is wonderful. Less exciting can be when you need to face reality and ask yourself “what is the cost and what could be lost in the quest to grow?”

Monday, February 24, 2020

Retail in Australia

What the heck is Retail doing?

In the past I’ve mentioned that I get a daily update via Inside Retail- an Australian firm keeping its finger on the pulse of all things retail in this country. Lately there has been an almost weekly article about the latest retailer who will be shutting their doors or has called in the administrators. The types of retail don’t discriminate- clothing, food, electronic and so on.

What is happening?

Let me state that I don’t believe retail is dying. It’s an industry as old as man in some form of barter/ exchange process. I think what is currently happening is a mix of many factors. The economy is not strong, wage growth for average Australians has not been great in the past few years. General living expenses such as utilities and grocery costs are increasing. There are a few world and local factors that are also adding influence such as the Coronavirus, on/ off tensions with America and the middle east and drought and bush fires.

Another factor that I see a lot in this industry which I believe carries weight with the declining retail situation is that we have reached a point with our population and the amount of shops this country can actually sustain. In a broad statement I believe we’re at saturation with shops. Yet time and again I watch retailers signing up to new shopping centre extensions or new developments. 

The leasing industry has a lot to answer for.
Here’s a few examples.
Within an 8-minute drive from my house I have 3 Woolworths and 2 Coles to choose from. Within 15 minutes’ drive I have 2 Big W’s, 2 Kmarts, 2 Targets and now approximately 15 Woolworths stores and a similar amount of Coles and I haven’t counted IGA’s and Aldi stores.

Too many choices-it’s a first world problem. That’s without mentioning the countless double/ triple ups of smaller retailers around my home. Over the years I have watched retailers be seduced by leasing agents and being told how their business needs to expand and open more stores in order to survive. They get lured in with facts and figures about supposedly how many new customers will come shopping at the new location and how this will prove more convenient for their customer base. The anchor stores are also used as bait for the smaller fish.

I can attest that if you have a good store with good product people will travel to you. You don’t need to open multiple stores, because just one store can become the destination if it’s good enough. Many of the big chains now shutting have simply spread themselves too thin. The multiple locations are not drawing new customers they are simply eating into their existing customer base that are already shopping at one of their other stores. Add to that the other economic factors mentioned above that have led to people spending less and that’s when you really start to feel the pinch.

In addition to one retailer having multiple stores there are also the competitors selling very similar products who also have multiple stores. Not only has a retailer increased their outlets, within meters in the same shopping centres will be their competitors who have also opened multiple stores of their own.

I had a hairdresser client who had opened in a Westfield centre from its very inception. At the time there were 6 other hair salons. 20 years later there were 25 salons. Considering that the population had increased and the size of the centre, the increase in hairdressers was not in proportion. It felt to him like the goal posts were constantly shifting.

The leasing department for large shopping centres have targets to meet. They must fill their tenancies and sometimes that can lead to some questionable tactics. I believe there is a lot of adjustment to happen yet until we arrive at the correct balance of retail to population to economic factors.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Australian Retail Wage Theft

Australian Retail Wage Theft.

Yet again this topic is in the news. This time it’s Coles who are accused of it. I am not qualified in any type of accounting or financial aspect of payroll. Nor am I up to speed on income tax details, but as an observer working in the retail sector it appears to me that the payment laws are just too complicated to correctly comply with.

All these cases we keep hearing about are big national brands. They are the ones who are disclosing their own mistakes and saying that they will pay everyone back. We’re not hearing about company directors who have been ripping off their workers and skimming money. They are all saying it was a genuine mistake. We’re not hearing that once they pay back the money owed the company will be broke. They have the money to pay it back.

These companies are all using tertiary qualified and very experienced teams of people in their payroll departments. It’s not the work experience kids who have been making these mistakes. If the qualified specialists can’t understand the rules and laws, what hope have they got?

The government is quick to implement new laws that company directors will go to jail in the future. I don’t think that will accomplish anything except fill our already overloaded court system with more cases.

The answer is that the rules and laws need be simplified so that companies can get it right the first time.