What is your role? How is the Indigo visual team structured?
I am the Director of Field Visual. The way our visual department is divided up, we have a team at the head office that’s responsible for working with our merchants, our buyers, and allocators, to come up with the visual direction for all of the stores. I lead the team of Regional Visual Managers, and Zone Visual Managers that support the stores with training and execution to ensure that our visual direction comes to life in stores.
When it comes to visual presentation of stores, what would you say are your biggest challenges in terms of merchandising and compliance?
I think it is the fact that each store has a different layout. The stores are the most challenging because when we send out the direction, it captures the most common denominator. We try to capture the stores that are the most similar. There is so much interpreting that needs to happen in stores, and adjustments because of their unique architecture or fixtures, or whatever the case may be. That’s probably where they still struggle the most.
We are going through a big growth right now in terms of renovating and opening new stores in the next few years that will be different from our current stores. Between renovations and opening, I think the number is between 20-30 in the next couple of years, including this year. This year we’ve got 5 we are doing and then in the next few years, it will be somewhere between 20-30. So, in addition to managing our current locations, we’ll be taking on a lot in terms of new store openings and given that they’ll be a bit different from the stores we’ve already got, that’ll be a challenge for sure.
How do you manage some of your more remote locations?
Our “C-stores” are the ones that are more far-flung since they tend to be outside of major urban areas and are located in our most remote markets. In the past, I’ve felt that sometimes they had lost touch of what we were trying to do, and the intention of our visual merchandising direction wasn’t clear. It didn’t always read-through in what they were executing, but we now have a new process for that so it’s been changing.
Tell us a little about the new process.
We’re using Foko Retail to share photos and send out directives. Basically, it allows us to send out directives and request photos of the completed displays, so we can determine store compliance. It allows us to communicate directly with each store, and make sure everything looks exactly the way we want it to.
Right now we’re using it for three groups of stores. The first is our flagship stores, obviously our most highly visible and the most important stores from a brand perspective. The way we use Foko in these stores is really about inspiration and taking the presentation further so that it’s more exciting. For example, when we add props in, we’re able to share that across the country with our flagship stores. It’s a little more inspiration/aspirational visual merchandising with that group.
We also use Foko Retail for our C-stores. These are stores that are our lowest assortment grade from a product perspective. All of them have unique layouts and challenges, and they are the stores that we see the least often because in most cases they are in remote markets. It’s an additional support for C-stores because they might have a harder time interpreting the directions we give in order for it to fit their unique assortment and space. I think because we’ve been able to give real-time feedback and comments, they understand more of the “why” of what we do, and how that applies to their store. I would definitely say the level of execution and adhering to the brand vision is much stronger, especially in those stores.
We use Foko Retail in the same way with our 400-series stores. These are a group of stores that we renovated 4-5 years ago. They all have similar layouts, but again, are very unique compared to the layout of our other stores. They also have a bit of a challenge to interpret the directives to fit their architecture. Because they are all similar layouts, it’s beneficial for them to see what each other is doing, and Foko gives us a means to provide feedback one-on-one in these unique layouts.
“Getting the store teams to really understand the importance of visual merchandising has been a journey, and Foko Retail has helped us build this community of people who are passionate about merchandising.”
Apart from higher compliance, have you noticed any other advantages?
I think the biggest advantage has been that the Regional Visual Managers (RVMs) have up to 20 stores across many provinces. The reality is, over the years we’ve built this dependency that the stores wanted the RVM to be in their market, but that just can’t happen from a logistics standpoint. This now gives the RVM the visibility into so many more stores, and the ability to communicate with them quickly, which means their reach and impact is larger. That’s probably the biggest advantage for us.
The other thing I would have to say with visual merchandising at Indigo, because we are a book company at heart, visual merchandising isn’t top-of-mind the way it is perhaps with a clothing retailer, where you have window displays and whatnot. Getting the store teams to really understand the importance of visual merchandising has been a journey, and Foko has helped us build this community of people who are passionate about merchandising. We use it a lot to share inspiration and best practices. So that has been maybe something we didn’t consider when we first adopted it but has been a definite benefit and we can feel the impact of that stronger merchandising culture piece.
This new system has made our life so much easier and, like I said, the biggest thing is that with the resources in retail being so limited, companies aren’t usually adding a lot more employees. They definitely aren’t really doing it in visual merchandising and is often the last department that ends up growing, but Foko Retail has allowed us to extend our reach to more stores without adding people to our team.