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How to plan for ‘monetisable’ & engaging VM

By N Jayalakshmi | January 19, 2023

Brand Hamleys’ VM initiatives for the recent Christmas season is a case study in effective planning and cost management. Avanish Saroj, Head-VM, Hamleys, shares the details with Retail4Growth.

The brand is almost synonymous with toys. And, at a time when engagement is the order of the day, 260 year old brand Hamleys is indeed pulling out all stops to make sure that its stores turn out to be experience hubs for its target audience. For the brand’s Visual Merchandising (VM) team, it sure is a challenging and exciting task to convey the brand story in a visually engaging and exciting manner. The recent Christmas season was no different.

The brand is almost synonymous with toys. And, at a time when engagement is the order of the day, 260 year old brand Hamleys is indeed pulling out all stops to make sure that its stores turn out to be experience hubs for its target audience. For the brand’s Visual Merchandising (VM) team, it sure is a challenging and exciting task to convey the brand story in a visually engaging and exciting manner. The recent Christmas season was no different.

VM impact on numbers

Avanish Saroj, Head- VM, HamleysAvanish Saroj, Head- VM, Hamleys, tells Retail4Growth while talking about the recent Christmas season’s VM initiatives, ”This was the first year post-Covid when we had pre-Covid footfall in the store. It was in fact 10-15 % higher in most of the stores. All the stores where we did special installations recorded their highest ever sales. We saw an increase of 14% in sales compared to last year and we were 110% on target with our sales projections. VM contributed significantly to the numbers.”

The buzz was particularly evident in the Hamleys Play stores, located in Gurgaon and Mumbai, which feature four to five play zones. But the real highlight was the larger- than-life 36-ft teddy bear installations at the brand’s store in Indira Nagar, Bangalore. It was visible across a distance of 150 meters and resulted in a 3x rise in footfall in the store, which also registered the highest sales since its inception, informs Avanish.  

Strategic planning for cost recovery

One of the most critical factors for a successful VM project, says Avanish, is planning and he cites the brand’s recent Christmas VM as an example. “All the VM materials were bought way back in April 2022 and by October all the decoration materials were in. Also, this time we took the initiative of having saleable Christmas merchandise along with the installations. This not only helped in boosting sales but also helped generate a lot of buzz on social media.”

As Avanish explains, strategic VM meant having more elements that could be monetized and which could engage the customers. This included installed clusters within the stores, Christmas, Countdown Calendars, Giant Wheels, etc., which carried prizes for participants.

Of course, all of these came with their execution challenges. For example, Hamleys being a global brand has its distinct store facades, which are paint based and therefore cannot be tampered with. So for this Christmas season, the brand’s VM team had to get special frames installed at the entrance to ensure the store's entry points had bright and engaging Christmas elements. 

Manpower and vendor management

One of the other things that helped a small VM team manage large scale implementation was

the onboarding of localized vendors, besides nominating store staff across the country to play the role of visual merchandisers. They were in fact the first point of contact for vendors, “Earlier we had different zones, but this time we created city-based clusters of vendors which would cover nearby areas.”

Avanish adds, talking about the role of vendors, “Vendors play a crucial role, especially when it comes to installations. And that is where having regional vendors makes a difference. In the VM industry, time is money and time can be best managed by having a good vendor network and proper planning.”

Spending less and getting more

On the whole, the VM initiative is an example of doing more with less and reaping the returns. This is especially significant, given that the brand’s VM budget was reduced, while the number of stores has gone up.  Says Avanish, “Much of the cost was recovered using monetisable VM elements. Also, we made sure to use sustainable materials and media, which could be reused. 

He adds, summing up the whole project, “The whole pandemic situation helped us understand how we could plan, and strategic planning helped in this case. Also, I believe that in VM, 60% should go into planning, 20% for budgeting and other aspects, and 20% for implementation. If the planning is done well, then everything else will fall in place.” 

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