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P-O-P focus: the search for best practice

The sheer diversity of P-O-P displays is one of the strengths of the discipline, showing there are numerous ways to grab the attention of shoppers. But that diversity, covering all store types and product categories, can also make it difficult to establish best practice guidelines that span the industry, says industry experts.

Design guidelines for perfume displays may not be viable for a grocery store; return on investment measures for technology displays may not be appropriate for wine merchants; and displays created to perform well in a specialist store might not even be given floor space in a hypermarket. Every aspect of the development of a unit, from the materials used to the delivery times required, can differ by sector.

Nathan Dennis, EMEA retail marketing manager for Callaway Golf Europe, works to a calendar dictated by the golfing season and the brand’s product launch schedules, and finds that understanding what customers – both retailers and end users – want is key to developing successful in-store materials.

The brand’s sales team is essential in feeding back this information from the wide network of 3,500 retailers which stock Callaway’s products, says Dennis. Frequent briefing sessions allow him to plan ahead, making sure that all the in-store marketing materials required are designed and manufactured in plenty of time.

“As a result we don’t ‘finish’. There isn’t a down time,” says Dennis – but detailed forward planning means the brand can benefit from economies of scale by ordering its displays from suppliers that manufacture displays in China, as well as meeting operational needs in-store.

Among the key objectives of Callaway’s in-store displays are the need to stand out from its competitors, and to highlight key product features. The displays also need to fit in with the imagery created by the brand’s US head office, but tailored to consumers in other markets.

The brand has just experienced its best year yet in Europe – at a time when the wider golfing sector is seen as declining – thanks in large part to the success of its recently-launched Epic Driver product. Dennis says that clear product attributes – the club helps players to hit the ball harder and faster – and in-store visibility helped keep the Driver selling at full price (£459) throughout the year, while many golfing products are discounted as the end of the year approaches.

A key issue in best practice in developing such effective P-O-P displays is supplier relationships. Since Dennis joined Callaway the brand has slimmed down the size of its supplier roster. “We used to have ten or 12 companies, and now we have four P-O-P suppliers and two printers,” he says, explaining that close relationships with a small number of suppliers allows greater efficiency, and easier briefing for large volumes of material.

With such a wide variety of languages spoken, each Callaway display or poster may need to be made in dozens of different versions with market-specific straplines and information. This is tackled in part by providing an online resource from which Callaway retailers can download a variety of marketing material, to use on their own websites, or to print locally. This is in stark contrast to Dennis’s previous role – at automotive group Audi – where strong central controls were applied to all materials, but is appropriate to the sporting goods market, he says. “Retailers are quite easy to work with if you give them what they want,” he says.

Car care brand Autoglym operates in a very different market to sporting goods. The brand advertises extensively in specialist car magazines, but can have a lower profile among the wider population. This makes the in-store environment a key opportunity for it to gain awareness and grow market share, and makes it important to work with P-O-P designers who understand the brand, says brand marketing manager Gemma Lancaster.

“We don’t have a roster of agencies. The main challenge with any kind of design agency is to find one that understands our brand. When we find one that does, we tend to stick with them,” she says. The brand had been working with Carters Design – recently acquired by Kesslers International - for some time.

Lancaster says that a detailed design brief is key to getting the right results. “We do things in a certain way, and we are very design-led. We don’t have a set of formal guidelines, but there is a specific style to it,” she says of the premium look that Autoglym is seeking. “We design the displays to be a beacon in the car care aisle.”

Autoglym’s biggest retail customer is Halfords, where it displays its ranges in large full bay, or two-bay, displays. It commissions large, permanent displays that fit into the Halfords merchandising system, and which can be updated for new product launches. Variants of the displays are used in independent retailers, and are used as best practice examples for retailers in other international markets.

“Visual referencing is very important to us and to the customer,” says Lancaster. The brand’s ranges need to be easy to find and, crucially, easy to shop, so that customers can find the right product for their needs. “It needs to stand out, that’s the biggest challenge – not just doing what the other car care brands are doing. We want theatre in-store, especially when we are launching new products… but it can make it difficult for a new agency coming to the brand.”

Despite their differences, brands like Callaway and AutoGlym must tackle some common challenges.

Compliance has always been a difficult subject for the P-O-P industry. Put simply, not all of the in-store material supplied to retailers makes it to the shopfloor, even – as can often be the case – when brands have paid to undertake a promotion.

But solutions can be simple. Callaway developed a ‘pizza box’ system, which saw packs sent to retailers containing all of the material required for products launches: posters, strut cards, and counter stands, for example. It found that the pizza box would frequently be put to one side, or saved for a particular member of staff before being lost.

“We now put a great big Callaway sticker on top,” says Dennis. The simple tactic lets store owners and managers know that useful, branded materials are inside. “It costs nothing, but has been the most impactful thing we have done in a long time. At this time of the year we [brands] are all sending in displays. How do you stand out?”

Autoglym faces entirely different challenges. With most of its products displayed in large, permanent fixtures, it can be relatively simple to send a merchandising team in to ensure products are in the right place. “But on projects where we have installed a complete new bay it can be difficult. And we have had situations where perhaps a cleaning trolley has hit the display, or perhaps it has been shopped very heavily,” says Lancaster.

But if compliance is a problem that can sometimes be solved simply, measuring Return on Investment (ROI) seems to have stumped some of the brightest minds in the sector. There is no agreed industry-wide measure of ROI for in-store displays; indeed it is even difficult to apportion a sales increase to a display because so many variables come into play. Did a customer buy a product because they saw an in-store display, or because they saw a TV ad last night? Is the P-O-P display in a control store in a comparable location to one in a test store? Could a display have performed better if retail staff restocked it more often?

“I’ve tried to look at a ‘share of shelf percentage,’” says Nathan Dennis at Callaway. “My role is about supporting the product because, let’s be honest, product is the most important thing. But ROI is always a difficult question to answer. For me, it is about being the most prominent brand in-store… and if you give the retailers the P-O-P units they want, they put you at the front of the store.”

For Autoglym, ROI is measured on sales uplift within a specified period - but there is more to the calculation than just sales. “In-store is our best brand touchpoint… so it is not just about sales, but about exposure to consumers. We see it as an investment in the brand,” says Lancaster.

Industry body POPAI UK lists a number of best practice points that can help clients to get the most from their P-O-P projects, and produces guides for its members to help them write effective briefs and to get the most from suppliers. But there remains a significant barrier to effective implementation of good P-O-P.

“This whole sector has a problem with knowledge retention,” says Day. “People who do well when they have responsibility for P-O-P are promoted out of it, and those who follow have to learn everything again.”

Day points to a 1962 film of the Superette supermarket in London’s Soho, shown by Co-Op customer and POS design manager Ben Belkacem at a recent POPAI event. It still has relevant lessons for those making in-store displays today, because knowledge hasn’t been passed on to them.

“It never ceases to amaze me that the same issues occur again and again, and that the same lightbulb moments where we solve them keep happening,” says Day, pointing out that the relevant knowledge is invariably held within companies – just not where it can be accessed.

To comment on this article email matthew.valentine@reedexpo.co.uk

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