Whippet founder and Principal Director, Steve Stoner LOVES retail. What goes through his mind – someone the biggest names in retail have trusted for over 20 years for advice – when he’s doing his shopping? What excites him? What irks him?
In part one of a two part series, let’s find out from our self-confessed ‘retail nerd’ what ticks his retail boxes.
What do you look for when you walk into a store?
I’m a big believer in being led by your eyes so I just look around and see what I notice and in what order. The smartest retailers construct a pattern of behaviour in their communication and design that continually reminds you of where you are and steers you on a journey of their choosing. That doesn’t mean logos plastered everywhere or bold directional signage, it’s more about understanding how we as consumers shop and what our thought processes are. Product placement and density, material textures and finishes, floor plan and layout, plus the teams that run a store have as much a part to play as graphics, design and branding.
What excites you most about retail marketing?
The excitement that comes with a new design idea and imagining the potential it may have in helping our clients. I love relationships built on mutual trust and a genuine desire to improve a brand long term, beyond the time we may be working on it. I enjoy not knowing what’s around the corner. I’m very much a realist but that doesn’t stop me having dreams.
What frustrates you about it?
We have worked with some wonderful people that have been ruled by corporate politics and the fear of ‘getting it wrong’ in the eyes of their management. It’s prevented them from potentially achieving some great things and that’s a shame. Often, bold, innovative ideas are ignored in favour of tiny tweaks that make no difference. Sadly, sometimes people hide their real opinions and make very safe decisions rather than making decisions that might make them great.
What made you fall in love with retail design?
The realisation that even the smallest design idea we bring to a store environment can have a measurable effect and touch millions of customers. Even the design of a simple flappy ticket on a shelf edge should be considered and designed to work to the best effect.
Who’s doing it best right now?
There are many retailers out there with great ideas but few that consistently deliver across their entire store fleets. Cotton On are interesting because they focus on improving the customer store experience rather than spending a fortune on above-the-line advertising. Each store has it’s own identity but it’s clear who the brand is. Point-of-sale is clean and not overthought, but still has plenty of personality. A customer’s opinion of the brand is shaped by the experience of shopping there, not by advertising telling you how great it is. I’ve always been a fan of JB Hi Fi because they generate a ‘bargains to be discovered’ excitement with a look and feel that suggests they are closing down, however the consistency across their stores, in pricing, merchandising and personality is fantastic.
What’s one thing every store should do but doesn’t?
Have the right product in the right place at the right price. Plus, have friendly team members to help customers.
Steve Stoner is Whippet’s original founder in the UK and Principal Director. Over the past 25 years, he’s worked closely with some of the world’s best retailers like Coles, Tesco, Target and many more.