Retirement living marketing is a long way from the high octane Grand Prix circuits in Europe, or working with Woolmark to create an Australian experience that showcases our greatest export product to visitors at the Olympic Games. Throughout Andrew Walton’s career there has been a common thread—he is great at producing an experiential customer experience that is second to none.
Let’s chat with Andrew Walton from Pennygreen Marketing to find out more.
1. Share with us a little about your background before Pennygreen Marketing.
My first exposure to retail was after leaving school. I went straight into the merchant cadetship program with John Martins. It was good hands-on training on the ground, and I ended up as an assistant buyer and then buyer.
That was my early days in retail. Fast forward a number of years, and I went through the fashion industry on the other side of things—running design programs for sales and marketing and the like, in the jeans industry in particular.
I then got into merchandising. I started with experiential retail when I moved to England with a company that had the global rights for the Williams racing team, who at the time were world champions. One of the first things I found over there, working with key sponsors and the like, was the poor standard of retail presentation in the trackside merchandising. They had a strong hospitality business and a big brand reputation to protect, though it was a let down by not having a tangible takeaway and retail presentations.
I came up with a concept based on effectively building a High Street retail concept that could be moved around and transported from race track to race track. It’s really about delivering a memorable experience for the customer, even going a little bit deeper than just having a product to sell. It obviously starts with the tangibles upfront, from the appearance and the aesthetic and going the extra mile, to really bringing in some enriched content that’s a memorable experience. In the case of working with Williams, that included asking the team principle to make a half-sized car that could be put up and moved around. This was a new concept around Europe, and it has now developed into a moving feast with three-story buildings and brand immersion.
Looking behind the look and the feel, you must have the right merchandise program and develop products that the customers want. The other key ingredient there is the staff, in terms of the presentation of the staff. You need to give the staff training and use selection techniques in picking your staff so they work hard as a team. Retail is hard work. A lot of people forget how hard retail is. Standing up through the day is not an easy thing to do very early on in your retail career. So you need people who want to be there, who are passionate about what they do and can work well in a team situation.
So beyond that I set up similar programs with Ferrari, and then moved into the entertainment space, where I experienced not getting the merchandising quite right. I had not imagined when I opened a major travelling Star Trek show that 5,000 people would come dressed as Klingons on opening day in Germany. We then set up the European tour for the Titanic movie, and that was a memorable experiential experience even though it brought its challenges in terms of the merchandise mix. Everybody knows the movie, but we had to create something that sat alongside that in a commercial appeal situation. It’s not the sort of event where people buy t-shirts and caps. We really had to think about how to come up with a program that included an Edwardian High Street feel—florist shop and chocolate shops—and took the love story side of the program.
Back in Australia I looked at a program with the Woolmark Company around the Olympics. One of the challenges was how to engage people that were coming to the games from all over the world and to get the message of versatility of wool across. I built an experiential journey around a very futuristic looking shed that was biodegradable and made out of encapsulated cardboard. We had real sheep as well. We developed a whole snapshot of wool right back literally to the grass roots where it came from. We interviewed growers, and gave a visual representation to the international audience of the vast countryside and the different areas it came from. We applied that to all the different products, including banks of tumble dryers and tumble dried wool, which was new to Australia. We had over 200,000 people come through that woolshed who on average were spending a little over fifteen minutes there. So in terms of brand engagement and product engagement, it was 50,000 hours’ worth of customer satisfaction. It was a wow experience, and that’s what we were looking to do.
Fast forward a little bit longer to the Australian Grand Prix. Initially we were working with a merchandising program there, but we were also looking at the whole visitor experience. In major events it’s all about the whole experience and customer flow and customer engagement.
Currently, I’m working on taking the same skill sets and moving it into the area of retirement living.
I’m putting together a customer show next year which is about navigating a care system and giving people the information needed to help their loved ones make the right choices, and giving them the tools to empower decision making and understanding how the whole system works and breaking it down.
2. Can you please tell us more about the experiential side of the customer experience in a retail business?
Shopping is a human experience and the human experience is about sociability. So obviously there’s a mode of convenience found in the internet that’s quite true and research is fantastic in that area. But you can’t get that same experience of hand-in-hand, face-to-face emersion through the internet. So where retailers have the strength is that we have a physical form to deal with and it’s really about making that visit memorable. We all know that convenience is one part of that purchase cycle, but it’s more about the memorable, the wow factors of how we go about our lives, and I think they’re the fundamentals.
I often look at other areas. I look outside the space. And I do that in this retirement living project. I think a fantastic example in the hospitality space for those living in Melbourne is Brunetti. What Brunetti on Lygon Street does fantastically well is create an amazing piece of authenticity. They have a great staff that works really long hours and works hard. The coffee in there is incredibly quick, so they’ve got the back end of IT systems completely sorted, and that’s considering that they’re dealing with hundreds, probably thousands, of people every hour, at peak times. The product mix is authentic. It’s got a real flavour of Italy. It’s not the sort of place you go to and forget about. When you go there, it is a memorable experience. Everybody needs to look at that. It’s the analogy of hospitality in a coffee shop. I’m sure everybody can think of their favourite little hole in the wall coffee shop in Melbourne or elsewhere. An example is Gill’s Diner in Little Collins Street. It’s the complete other end of the scale to Brunetti—a tiny little hole in the wall—but again it delivers a great product. The staff is engaged and it has a really nice feel about it. It’s about the sum of the parts and those parts can be done on a shoe string budget or they can be done with a massive budget.
3. What can retailers do to give the customer a better experience when they enter their retail store?
So many places looked okay, but they were let down by poor staff. As retailers we need to ask ourselves these questions. Do we really respect what our staff does? What do we expect out of our staff? A really good retailer, regardless of size or scale, will have a really committed staff that wants to be there. They get along as a team and delight the customers; so many retailers don’t do that. They focus on the brand or the visual merchandising, but if customers look for some help, they can’t find it.
So I think getting the staff—regardless whether it’s 1 or 10 or 20—is a key element.
Clearly there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about what is authentic and how you deliver service. Think of the little details that make your store stand out and a little bit special. Walk down through the lime lights in Melbourne. Starting at the top end of Flinders Lane, walk down and then come back up at Little Collins Street and you’ll find a whole heap of little retailers that are doing it clever and doing it well.
I think you probably have a sense of passion if you build a business, then clearly you need those line managers who can deliver passion and take the message down to the grass roots. But that’s clearly easy when you run your own business and you have the passion and instill it in others. But that doesn’t mean that larger businesses can’t have a mix that comes back to that respect and training aspect and deliver passion in the business. The other thing is thinking about those little things, the little details. Obviously getting stock mix right is an important component; getting all those pieces to work together.
4. Andrew, if you can say anything to retailers right now, what would you say to help them?
I’d say don’t fear the internet. Use it to its advantage. In other industries they say 70% of the purchasing decision is already made before somebody sees the first salesperson. That’s going to be the same in a retail sense. People do that online. They do their research. They have compared. Down the road is what you deliver in terms of the experience when they come into your store. Yes, people look for price, but really what they look for is value. And they will pay a little bit more for better value and an enriched experience. We see that in all sorts of areas.
Even things like the program that Magnum did clicked last summer with their ice creams. Yes, you can buy and make them in a box of four down at the supermarket. It will cost you a dollar or whatever. You can also custom-build one in a pop-up store for $7 and have your photograph taken. So there’s plenty of stretch there in terms of product and it all comes down to the experience.
Social engagement is another one that is important. The coffee shop where I live in the north east has average coffee. But it’s probably the best retailer within the strip in that area because they have a strong focus on customer engagement. Whilst their coffee may not be great, you can’t argue with the fact that they have a lot of people in there. They do it well in terms of engaging with the locals.
An engagement strategy that goes a little bit deeper than just being in the store is certainly worth looking at.
For more information go to www.pennygreenmarketing.com.au.
Written by Penny Votzourakis and Photographs supplied by Andrew Walton