Kirsty’s story of creating VM best practice

Visual Thinking’s lead retail specialist Kirsty Kean shares her story of how we’ve helped to deliver VM excellence in fashion retail over the last six months. 


Kirsty’s Story… New Look ‘Best Dressed’ Guidelines

Here at Visual Thinking, we’re often called into retailers to identify and address issues that are having a negative impact on store performance. Specifically, the way that VM execution is being managed instore.

Getting VM right is often the difference between whether a shopper chooses to buy instore from the brand, or shop elsewhere. The hub of instore brand delivery, it’s all about what the customer sees, and experiences – bringing product, marketing, service and retail strategies together.

This is the part of the job that I really enjoy.

During what can be troubling times for a retailer, having access to proven experience and a reliable, trusted source to advise and guide senior leadership teams is vital. In my role as lead retail specialist with Visual Thinking, I have a responsibility to ensure we present fair, objective and balanced feedback about a retailer’s stores: the good, bad and the ugly. And importantly, that we provide informed insight and practical support to highlight where and how retailers can make immediate and visible improvements. This is the part of the job that I really enjoy.

When New Look first approached us for help, we were presented with a brand that needed to change, and quickly. Simply put, sales performance was in steep decline and key changes were needed. Intent on getting their stores back on track, New Look gave my team an open brief to review and challenge establishing instore practices, and propose changes to reset VM delivery, in ways that would meet the needs of its realigned customer profile and restore brand appeal.

Over the last twelve months, the team I’ve led have worked tirelessly to support the brand in rebuilding the foundations and mechanisms for more effective VM delivery within New Look. Much more than a cosmetic exercise to make the stores look better, it had to deliver better trading, with clear commercial KPI’s for us to achieve. This meant introducing changes in retail processes, replacement VM and retail communications, and a range of practical training to support the use of new, more flexible VM policy.

We’ve helped New Look to look again.

It all came together in the form of a new store presentation guidelines programme called ‘Best Dressed’.

To be clear, this is not a strict VM rulebook or as is elsewhere termed, a ‘VM Bible’. Developed as a proactive, practical tool kit, ‘Best Dressed’ provides store teams with a foundation of VM knowledge, skills and guidance to apply as freedom within a flexible framework, and covers all aspects of space planning, presentation and display and standards.

As a principles-based guidelines programme, it provides VM information for equipment use and configuration etc., and company wide retail standards to follow, based on retail teams’ store specific circumstances and local product assortment. It’s truly revolutionary.

We’ve helped New Look to look again, providing the confidence to break conventional wisdom and previous approaches of providing VM information, store instructions and retail compliance expectations. By looking, listening and understanding how store teams needed this to work for them, the result gives people the knowledge they need to know to make a difference in a way that’s both flexible and empowering. Now that really is the new in VM.

The bigger the brand, the more complex the challenges.

When people ask me where and how we make the difference, they’re surprised to hear my response. For me, it’s not about chasing the new or latest on-trend ‘fix’. To make a visible and lasting difference you have to develop a retailer’s internal culture to support ‘Better VM’. And the bigger the brand, the more complex the challenges of delivering change become.

More than any other recent project I’ve supported, our work for New Look has reconfirmed the need for great teamwork and high levels of stakeholder engagement to deliver effective change. Fostering a collaborative, long-term, strategic management approach is vital. For improved store performance to be sustainable, it has to be properly supported and endorsed business wide. When I look at those retailers who are some of the world’s most successful they all demonstrate qualities of leadership in VM, consistency of approach, and the drive for high quality in the execution of their in-store experience to grow performance. Fundamentally, it’s because they believe in VM and show their commitment for it.

Driving the ‘constant and the permanent’ harder: the culture for VM.

Success is all about driving the ‘constant and the permanent’ harder: the culture for VM. Only by affecting this can a retailer fully get behind the bigger goal of delivering a great customer experience everyday. Here, integrating the limitless power and immense selling potential of better VM, as part of their corporate DNA and daily retail life can be truly transformational. It is the key element in their shopper attracting, customer retaining, sales driving, loyalty building, value adding, competitor beating commercial strategies.

Working with New Look, I’ve been challenged to do this every step of the way. It’s been tough but, ultimately, hugely rewarding. I know we’ve made a significant difference in the retailer’s own demanding commercial circumstances. Seeing the changes we’ve made, and knowing this has delivered against all the KPI’s we were set, reconfirms my deep belief in the value that effective VM can achieve for our clients.

To read more about the New Look ‘Best Dressed’ programme, and how you can rejuvenate store performance, download our latest report ‘Better Fashion Retail’.

Click here

By Kirsty Kean

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