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.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Merry Chritsmas - The Best & Funniest Christmas Ads of 2011

It's only three days until Christmas and I thought a run down of some of our favourite Christmas ads and messages from brands and retailers would be a rather festive end to this years blog!

To get us all in the mood for merriment Burberry treats us all to a simply wonderful piano and string quartet version of 'Stop the Cavalry' by Dan Gillespie Sells:

Carrying on the piano theme! Every year I look forward to the Famous Grouse ads - always worth a wee chuckle:

John Lewis capture the magic of giving with another sentimental ad that tugs at the heart strings again this year. Set to a version of The Smiths 'Please please please let me get what I want':

Set inside a snow globe - this ad is very classy and would be deserving of a high end retailer. A great imaginative way to show off Christmas goodies at Matalan:

Harvey Nichols 'Walk of Shame' ad is just hilarious. If you've ever done the walk of shame with a massive hangover on New Years Day, or any other day of the year for that matter, this will tickle you:

And finally this promotional ad from google really does round up the year! So much happened in 2011 the google zeitgeist film captures some the worlds most important moments. 2011 - it's one to remember!

May 2012 bring us all peace and prosperity.

Monday, 19 December 2011

What's 'in-store' for retailers in 2012?

With the last week of shopping upon us will retailers find that spending remains consistent or will people be pulling the belt in? The predictions seem to be that people will continue to spend and make sure they have a good Christmas but won't go mad. As concerns and worries about job security, another recession and inflation nag away at shoppers their will to spend declines. So the retailers can only hope for the best for the next few days of trading and through to the sales.

The biggest concern I think is what will 2012 look like? With growth slowing in the economy and predictions of another recession next year, the picture is not looking rosy for the retail sector.  Some will fare better than others I suspect as companies like John Lewis continues to grow year on year (as of Sunday 17th Dec had taken a record breaking £130 million for the week). Whilst HMV are reporting pre-tax losses of £45.7 million and shares down by 12.1% it is a different picture entirely.

Whether Greg Clark, the MP appointed to implement the recommendations that Mary Portas made as part of her review will be able to make any difference or not I don't know - we shall see. I certainly think the landscape is changing when it comes to retail sales and retailers really do need to make sure they are offering something that is more of an experience to attract shoppers in store. I was in Hollister in London last week and it felt more like some classy nightclub than a shop with its low lighting and sweeping staircases. The amount of people in their stores constantly shows how popular the concept is - who'd have ever thought shopping in the dark would catch on?  The point is it is different; it is a shopping experience and everyone wants to go and shop there.

I think 2012 will see a few more big name retailers struggling and equally we will see the winners emerge that have the vision and drive to keep people interested, that make their stores a destination and an experience...and not just do what they've always done.

Friday, 16 December 2011

The PDA Christmas Story - How Do the Shelves Stay Fully Stocked?

With just over a week to go before Christmas and shelves and stock being renewed at a faster rate than any other time of the year a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) management system really does prove itself as an important and useful tool.

As in house merchandisers try to keep up with demand and keep shelves replenished as shoppers descend for their Christmas shopping, real time information allows store managers to ensure they never run low or worse run out of a product on the shelves. We all know this is the easiest way to lose customers - they will simply go elsewhere to find the product they want.. which is a retailers worst nightmare. The logistics of maintaining stock levels is so much easier with the use of PDAs and will identify low stock levels together with video technology and bar code scanning will prompt the push of product from warehouse to store.

One of the other major benefits is capturing valuable sales data - looking at value per square foot of a particular product or category and identify what is performing and what isn't. This has allowed retailers to maximise on selling space and identify areas to increase category profits.

For companies working at providing these services within a large retailer a PDA system allows real time management of displays and merchandising. To be able to manage remotely and respond immediately across multi sites all over the UK so efficiently increases service levels massively. To then capture and analyse category performance and suggest alternatives for use of selling space is an excellent advantage.

Ultimately it means our shelves remain full and stocked and we get everything we need for Christmas. Having to make an extra trip hunting for cranberry sauce or goose fat because our usual store has ran out at this time of year is the last thing you want as a shopper. More so than ever before retailers and their supply chain are ensuring stock levels are consistent and available.  So a very Merry Christmas brought to you by PDA technology!

Monday, 12 December 2011

The State of the British High Street - Does Mary Portas have the Remedy?

With the busiest shopping day of the year just passed this weekend and records broken, retailers are breathing a huge sigh of relief...the shoppers are back! It has been such a slow start to the Christmas buying season that retailers have all panicked themselves into early sales! As I walked round a busy Sheffield city centre on Saturday, almost every single shop was in sale:- 20% off 25% off 30% off 50%
Sales may be up but profits are down if they are all in sale this early. The money made at Christmas covers the late March rents as spending slows after Christmas and January sales are out of the way. I can't help wondering which will be the next casualty of the quarterly rents.

Odd empty shops are apparent on the high street and Sheffield City Council has done a good job of hiding that by encouraging window displays in empty shops by local designers. It doesn't hide the fact that it's a shaky time for the high street and it's the same story in every high street in every town up and down the UK, some worse than others.

This has been a concern for retailers and politicians alike and Mary Portas has her long awaited review ready and due to be delivered to Downing Street tomorrow with her recommendations. It will be interesting to see what she comes up with - I have heard that she is encouraging councils to allow market stalls on the high street and she is absolutely right to do so.

Macclesfield Treacle Market is a prime example - going for just over a year this has brought life and soul in to the town on the last Sunday of every month. A mixture of food and craft stalls in gazebos run along the pedestrian walkways leading into the main market square.

"Macclesfield is known as Treacletown,referring to the centuries old accident when a horse drawn wagon overturned, spilling its cargo of Treacle onto the cobbles"

The shops were mostly shut until they realised the few enterprising cafes and shops that opened were often doing their best trading day of the month! Not only has it brought life in to the local economy for the local producers on the stalls, who all agree it is one of the best markets they attend, the local shops are benefiting too. It is literally heaving with people in a once empty and sorry looking Sunday town centre. Quality stalls, live music and activities make it a day out and not just a shopping trip.
There's no doubt Mary knows what she's talking about - and I really do hope that her review will lead to action that will inject some life blood in to our high streets. With competition from online shops, shopping centres and get 'everything under one roof' super markets the high street really does need to up its game and offer something a little bit more.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Harry Potter and the Point of Purchase Display

As the Harry Potter phenomenon comes to an end this year a look back at the incredible journey this brand has gone through seems appropriate. It's a British success story unrivalled; a classic rags to riches story for the author who has become a national treasure. JK Rowling will remain in our hearts for not selling out entirely to Warner Bros and insisting on British actors and British companies for the production of the books into films.

The impact for the UK film industry has been huge and all the suppliers to that industry. Equally the retailers and their supply chain have benefited from the success. Seven books and eight films later the best selling franchise has broken many records despite adults in the literary world initially dismissing the Harry Potter books. Children and their parents buying power dictated the success, despite the critics it has become the best selling series of all time.

The brand is said to now be worth in excess of $15 billon…. all from humble beginnings as a mum set to write a children's story in a cafe in Edinburgh.

Initially rejected by several publishers Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was eventually taken up by Bloomsbury's in London.

Down the chain somewhat the knock on effect for our industry started to happen. The hype around the book launches and merchandising brought so many installation jobs in as retailers 'Harry Potterised' their stores. Every child - and often adult wanted a piece of Harry Potter. We all remember the long ques in bookstores all over the world when a new book was launched. Behind of all this was an incredible amount of point of purchase materials that were installed in cinemas, book shops, toy stores, supermarkets, media outlets and department stores worldwide.  It has quite simply been a merchandisers dream. We have all worked for so long installing Harry Potter displays it has become second nature ... and as the series comes to an end this year Christmas 2011 seems to be the last we'll see of Harry Potter displays.

In April we were called upon to make sure 900 FSDUs were delivered in to a major supermarket in time for the launch of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 film. The stores have recently installed display for the DVD release on the 2nd December. I can't help feeling a little sadness as this December the DVD displays for the release of the last Harry Potter film signals the end of 14 years of Harry Potter merchandising and display.

I'm sure there will be something else that comes along to replace it - the next big thing! However from a commercial point of view Harry Potter has been a big part of the POP display industry…and will be missed.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Most Popular Christmas Gadget 2012 - iPad 2. A View on Apple POP Display

Following on with our 'techy' theme I was looking at the top 10 Christmas gadgets for 2012. I discovered I am amongst the masses that want an iPad 2 this year. According to several electrical retailers it is set to be the best selling gift this Christmas, followed by the Kindle.

I was in the Trafford Centre in Manchester a few weeks ago and the place was fairly empty except for the Apple store which was full of people intently trying out products on the long central tables that run down the length of the store. All the products in Apple stores are linked to the internet so can be tried out. It is modern and slick with minimalistic POP display. In keeping with the clean lines light boxes are used along the back walls to advertise the features and benefits of the products being tried out on the central testing stations.

Windows users always accuse Mac users of paying over the odds for the style and kudos of the brand. Being a Mac user myself I have to disagree, however I can see the point. When you step in to an Apple store it feels almost futuristic; stylish in a 2001: A Space Odyssey kind of way - you just don't get that feeling in any other computer shop. Perhaps that is why the Apple store is always full with customers willing to pay. It's strength of brand combined with a shopping experience that makes the user touch and feel cutting edge technology in their hands..as they check their email and browse online they almost own it. The cult status of Steve Jobs, apparent after his death, has him viewed as a trail blazer of innovation which has added even more to the brand, and Apple customers want a piece of that.

Apple are top of their game and their time is now. The point of purchase display is indicative of the innovation within the brand. Light boxes are used in all the high end fashion stores too…they do bring a certain amount of class to POP display. They are relatively easy to install and not massively expensive - we have fitted several in stores over the last few years..and I do think they will become more and more popular with high street retailers as a stylish way to display.

Dear Santa…...

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Future of POP Display - Augmented Reality.. Where is it Heading?

The world has gone digital! In today's world we interact online and on screen, and expect information to be at our fingertips. So it's no surprise that retailers such as Tesco's are using Augmented Reality (AR) screens to free up shelf space in store and have a whole interactive touch screen menu of products with access to real time demonstrations.
The consumer is ever more demanding and technology is moving at a pace. As online sales increase retailers are starting to realise they can offer the kind of interactivity that online e-commerce websites offer in store. If I think of an advantage one of my favourite online clothing stores has it's the demo' video of models wearing the outfit. I enjoy that website because I can see how it moves and looks in real time, but I don't always want to wait a few days for the item to arrive; so will often purchase in store after viewing online.

Combining that experience in store with details on the product, particularly useful for electronic gadgets with a lot of technical information, as well as large bulk items is good for retailer and customers alike. Lego use AR in store in the USA which allows children to pick up the product (with built in RFID technology), hold it up to the camera and see how the Lego bricks will be virtually built up to demonstrate what the toy will look like in 3D - see below:

Studies have shown that consumers often viewed online before going in store to purchase so it's not just me. This allows that whole cycle to happen in store, giving consumers a more informative interactive experience upon which to make their purchasing decisions.

Currently being rolled out and trialled in Tesco Extra stores, I have no doubt this will be more than just a novelty factor that dies out as I think this is different from the apps for smart phones which so far haven't really worked for brands. Online shopping has changed the way in which we purchase and as media channels merge, the evolution of internet ready smart TVs, and cutting edge innovative media shopping applications continue to change and shape how we shop we will embrace AR as part of our shopping experience.

The supply and installation of 'Point of Purchase' display materials will continue to move in to more digital formats to work alongside and enhance traditional POP display. The use of LCD screens in retail outlets is something we have been involved with and have regularly supplied and fitted over the years. However we are all excited at Ruck about our latest offering of AR technology!  Watch this space!

Monday, 28 November 2011

Black Friday vs Mega Monday - The Logistics

Today is Cyber Monday or Mega Monday in the UK! What has been the overall impact of online sales for bricks and mortar retailers? As we can see it is a mixed picture, people are still pounding the tills but from today onwards online sales reign supreme, with over 3,000 online sales a minute predicted for today. Online sales will peak on the 6th December!
Last Friday was what is known as 'Black Friday' and records showed it was the best ever year, breaking all records despite the economic down turn and weakened economies. People were still hitting the stores to get their bargains. Today they go online - this being the most unproductive day of the year as workers spend time online purchasing. 10-14% of retailers sales are now done online and this will continue to grow.

Predictions are good for today - with online sales peaking this lunchtime:

With increased online sales the courier network is the behind the scenes link in the chain, the all important cog that keeps internet sales turning. Consumer confidence has been knocked with the last few winters seeing roads closed and warehouses piling up with purchases for Christmas. Many items just didn't arrive in time last year as we saw roads closed and some of the worst weather for decades.

However the some of the stories that came out of the chaotic problems of last year were the most touching - postmen and couriers working round the clock in dangerous and freezing temperatures to make sure items arrived on time and food was delivered to remote areas, often risking becoming stranded themselves.
                                                                                          Deserted A31 Jan 2010

Part of the problem was gritters running out of salt, and keeping our infrastructure open proved to be a challenge. The impact on the economy was massive.  Last year being located next to a salt mine was a huge advantage for us; it meant locally there was easy access to grit - the trucks could get out and deliver and pick up pallets for our retailers, keeping shelves stocked and getting bulk items into warehouses ready for distribution. We utilised our range of trucks differently - opting for smaller mid sized lutons that could navigate the roads more easily and the same day service meant pallets weren't piling up in warehouses but were picked up and dropped off by the same driver, allowing the network couriers to distribute to the consumer.

This year will be different - the milder weather means that the UK won't (hopefully) have the same problems as the last couple of years. Will consumer trust be regained in the delivery network? Today will tell..if online sales break all records like Friday's in store sales then the phones shall be ringing off the hook!

Ruck Courier Service

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Impact of FSDUs - Partner Branding to Increase Sales!

After posting the last blog my colleagues and I got chatting about the impact that past Christmas POS materials have had on sales. There is no doubt that a well placed Free Standing Display Unit (FSDU) can have a massive impact on sales, especially with seasonal produce.

One very early example which is seasonally topical was the Christmas dinner add ons. The brief originally came from Bisto Foods, which was then part of RHM Foods several years ago.  Their project manager was Philipe Roucoule and the task was to visit circa 3,500 JS, Asda, Tesco, Somerfield, and Kwik Save stores over a period of 6 weeks to install free standing display units.  The object of the brief was to promote impulse purchases by linking brands that sit alongside each other on the plate; so in the fresh meat aisles we were asked to build and merchandise FSDUs to promote Bisto Gravy and Paxo stuffing.

The idea was that when a shopper bought their chicken or beef they would then see Paxo & Bisto and purchase alongside.

The impulse nature of these units was so successful they increased sales by 66% and we were asked to go back in, merchandise new and additional stock and replace or install new units if the original ones were damaged.

Early Bisto FSDU 1999

At the time it was acknowledged that these temporary units had a maximum life span of 4 weeks as they incur the use of shoppers, water from the cleaners, etc. So we looked at extending the shelf life of these units by adding plastic skirting or footers to protect the cardboard bottoms from daily cleaning as this was where the stands suffered the most.

Getting an installation company to deliver, install and merchandise the units ensures that there is at least one turn of stock on the unit. If the unit is just delivered to the store, it is then up to the store to build and merchandise the unit and as can happen they just decide to bin it as they don’t have time. Therefore we improve the return of investment (ROI) in their marketing spend by taking care of everything for them!

Merchandising a Sharwoods FSDU in Tesco, Northwich 

There are many more examples of how well thought out POP materials increase sales. I thought this one was particularly appropriate and worth sharing. It continues to be a leading method of increasing sales by partnering brands alongside one another. We regularly install FSDUs in supermarkets for brands and promotions as we have every Christmas since.

...and just for nostalgia remember this Bisto Gravy ad from the 80's?

Monday, 21 November 2011

What is the Impact of Point of Sale Merchandising?

We are hearing that in the run up to Christmas retail footfall is down by 2.3% in the last three months. The lasting impact of a period of recession, an increase in online sales, the milder weather etc is being blamed for putting people off putting their hands in their pockets and spending. As retail sales decline in the run up to Christmas when they should be increasing the picture starts to become all the more worrying.

What should retailers be doing to make sure the pounds are being spent in their store?

If people are spending less then it becomes all the more important to get it right and make sure what they do spend is spent in your store. The science behind merchandising and how it influences buyers choices is a well trodden path, but consumers are more and more aware of the 'tricks of the trade' and drive a harder bargain these days and expect a lot more value for their pound. How do you create perceived value? 

I read in an article recently that out of the 22 grocery brand leaders in the 1920s, 19 are still brand leaders today*. Looking at some of these leading brands such as Kellogg's one thing they have in common is they have had sustained marketing campaigns, good point of sale and presence on the store shelves... people will quite happily pay and extra pound for cornflakes with the Kellogg's logo - it is perceived quality.

Re-inforcing the message of the brand with good point of sale promotional materials is essential in keeping that perceived value and leading brand edge with your customer base.

Shoppers habits have changed - people work longer hours, they have less time to spend shopping and and therefore make less trips; convenience is big factor in where they choose to shop.  For FMCG products they are in a very large space, one of hundreds of thousands of products which the consumer will make a decision in a short period of time on what to spend, often within a budget. It is important that the brand presence retains existing consumers and attracts new ones. If the promotional merchandising works well they will be tempted into spending more on tempting new products, and strong brands will not be outed for cheaper versions, keeping their place in the trolley of loyal consumers.

*Article by Brenda Soars - 'What every retailer should know about the way into a shoppers head'

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Bespoke POS Odering System vs off the Shelf?

The business owners at Ruck have a long history of logistics & warehousing planning & distribution. Before software was available for POS ordering everything was done with a papertrail attached, and all the pitfalls of a manual paper system. Things have changed considerably over the last 20 years and technology has allowed a leaner more stream lined way of operating.

We were asked by our clients Budweiser Budvar to operate with a POS ordering system that was easy to use online for all their retailers at a click of a button. We set about developing a bespoke POS ordering system that met their specific needs and have continued to use this to consistently deliver an excellent service.

Since then we have extended a version of this to all our clients. One benefit of a bespoke POS ordering system is that each client can have their own, modified to meet their unique set of needs which links in to their own stock systems, and RFID warehousing.

Off the shelf packages often have their limitations and cannot be integrated into your clients databases. It can often be more cost effective to have your own system created if you have the right skills in house or can purchase the skills you need at a competitive rate.

One of the down sides of any online ordering system is the lack of human interaction. Making sure that the delivery or installation team is fully equipped with not just a tool box but with good communication skills makes the final point of contact memorable....

 A seamless link between man and machine is maintained, and it's not just another impersonal online transaction.  Combining excellent customer service with a superior tailored online ordering system allows your business to consistently deliver high service levels with the on time - every time accuracy that we all strive to maintain.

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Perfect Roast Potatoes...from Field to Plate!

We have the Christmas roll outs completed this weekend - the nation has been decorated in store and out! The scene has been set in supermarkets across the UK for the buying of goods and food for the festive season. Now we are preparing the warehouse for the imminent arrival of Morrison's potatoes and onions!

The UK consumes so many root vegetables over the run up to and the Christmas period supermarkets simply cannot hold and process enough in time to make sure the shelves remain full. We will hold 15 varieties of onions alone..in ambient storage along with potatoes and other vegetables, all packed and waiting to hit the supermarket shelves for our hungry consumers.

It got me thinking about the route from field to table and everything that happens in between....and how most people are completely unaware of the careful planning that goes into making sure they have everything available for Christmas dinner! 

This little film made by family run potato producers Osbourne Farm demonstrates the harvest last September:

Whether it's goose or turkey, game or nut roast one thing we all look forward to the most... and of course cooked to perfection... are the roast potatoes! Fresh produce has to be planned and timed perfectly:- from field to processing to ambient storage temperatures to ensure its arrival on our shelves in tip top condition. We all work hard behind the scenes, the cogs of industry turning hard and fast to make sure we have those scrumptious 'roasties' on Christmas day.

Yummmmmmm!!  Home grown rosemary finishes them off perfectly!

Whatever your family tradition, the type of spud you use (always King Edwards in our house), the combination of vegetables, arguments over who will peel the spuds and stray bits of tinsel in the sprouts I'm sure Christmas 2012 will be well worth all the planning and hard work... when we all finally relax and sit down to dinner.

How to cook the perfect roast potatoes:

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Feeling it yet? Christmas Installations at Ruck.

Well it's the mad rush with the roll outs for the Christmas decoration installations and here I am putting together our first blog. I am inspired by the wonderful Christmas displays that Libertys, Selfridges, Harrods and Harvey Nichols have created this year.

Behind the Scenes: The Liberty Christmas Windows

Our installations are with multi site supermarket chains and high street stores. Here at Ruck we take a pride in what we do just as much as the visual merchandisers who create these fantastic works of art. The devil is in the detail so they say! Taking time to make sure every installation complies to the specification exactly, that all displays are in perfect condition and fitted correctly to enhance the shoppers experience...and go on admit it we are all feeling a little festive cheer in the retail industry...we start so much sooner with our Christmas projects it can't help but touch us a little bit by now!

Harrods Crystal Christmas 2011

Not that we have started our Christmas shopping yet...we're too busy making sure the retailers have the perfect setting to get shoppers in the buying mood! Have a look at these wonderful videos of how the Christmas window installations evolve...from a blank canvas to capturing the magic of Christmas.