The Ripples MD reveals how they took a long hard look at their showrooms and made important changes to give customers a more enjoyable and relaxing experience. And it’s paid off with increased orders

‘We set out to entertain our customers’ T

Our designers looked like estate agents – sat behind a computer

screen on a wood- effect desk and business chairs that screamed ‘sales environment’

Interactive mood board

Primark has just opened its largest store in the world and it’s in Birmingham with a whopping 161,000sq ft over five floors. It will employ 500 people. This for a business that does very little advertising, despite its huge social media following. People have not lost the love of shopping, there are just fewer places they love shopping in. Understanding that love is key. The Primark story confirms that value matters. They are not piling it high and selling it cheap, they are presenting it well, making it relevant and also selling it for great value. Their stores offer cafés, wi-fi and places to charge your phone. They know their customers and exactly what they want. And so do independent traders. The starting point for any business is to understand its own culture. Often this is driven by the owner and if not, it certainly should be. That culture has to be clearly defined and something every member of the team has bought into – supply partners, too. The tone of voice, character, colour and even smell of that business must be something that is deliberate and obvious. We have had to make some tough decisions on how we continue to adapt at Ripples. We’ve maybe been too formal in the past, too snobby even have appeared too expensive. Yet most who visited our stores were surprised at how reasonable our prices were. That meant we’ve had to have a complete rethink on how we present ourselves. We’ve set out to entertain and educate our customers, as we know they need to be stimulated when they visit. We have learnt that some people like to play with products – turn on the lights in the display with Alexa, slide tile samples around on a table like a jigsaw puzzle or play with working shower heads. Some people like to use us to unwind and grab a coffee, so we’ve started introducing tables and chairs in our showrooms so that they now stay longer. These are known as collaboration areas – a safe ‘first base’ for the customer without feeling like they are committing to giving us anything other than their time. The once-hidden coffee machine is now on full view, alongside Ripples-branded biscuits. People like these.

Collaboration area in a Ripples showroom

he demise and re-emergence of Better Bathrooms has prompted a whole new debate on the role of showrooms, their importance and why they need to be better protected. The reality is, though, we must all protect ourselves and to do that, we’ve got to start by getting a bit better at what we do.

We also realised our designers looked like estate agents – sat behind a computer screen on a wood-effect desk and business chairs that screamed ‘sales environment’. Now we have white desks, comfortable, relaxed chairs and behind each designer is a colourful mood board that we change to suit the customer we have the appointment with. Mood boards have become the buzzword for our designers over the past few years as we move more towards the working methods of more ‘regular’ interior designers. Our designers were always good at coming up with schemes, but now our clients want to have more of a say in the process, so we’ve created physical interactive mood board areas for them. The moment we did this, we found they understood our added value much more quickly and order values increased. We all know the right music matters. Just try to match the mood to the customer you know is coming in and perhaps even the time of day. Likewise, another area we were lax on was the aroma of the showroom. And, yes, at times we wrongly greeted the customer with the smell of what someone was having for lunch. Retail guru Mary Portas attended our franchise conference and told us that while she loved buying from Ripples, she felt it could have smelt more like a spa. So we introduced relaxing aromatherapy oils into the showroom. Our display settings were good, but they weren’t great

and neither was the visual merchandising. It was fair to say that 99% of customer bathrooms we sold were better than some of the showroom displays and that wasn’t good enough. We were guilty of building the displays around certain products, manufacturers or even personal preferences, whereas now we have a strategy to ensure that we focus on certain ‘looks’. We have a total of nine that we now aim for, with a 10-point checklist. Technology is obviously playing a big part in the

retail experience and is essential, particularly in a small showroom. We are rolling out areas for customers to view case studies on TVs and even play on our iPads. The final piece of the puzzle is that the whole experience, however you choose to make it work for your business, has to be branded. I’ll bang that drum forever, because I truly believe in it – and we’ve put our money where our mouth is. It’s vital that your company has an identity that is represented throughout your store and all your marketing. For what it’s worth, I believe independent retailers do it better than multinational giants like Primark ever could. Usually the reason is that the product in our stores is better and, above that, they have you working in them.

• For more on this, see our experiential retailing focus pages 34 - 39

June 2019 · kbbreview kbbr 21

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