Brands for profit

As brand and design consultants specialising in the fuel retail sector we are often asked for evidence that branding and design makes a difference to the bottom line, and so I thought it would be worth sharing our experience of a client that we have been working with for nearly 20 years who have embraced the idea of brand and service at the heart of their business. Their strategic offer has evolved over that time to meet the needs of the market and their offer has become ‘more than just fuel’.

We are now surrounded and saturated by brands, brands are everywhere and they are no-longer simply products on shelves. Brands have become places and experiences. Even brands that were developed as products such as Apple see one of their key communication channels as the high street interacting with customers face to face. In comparison to more mainstream retail outlets such as supermarkets e.g. Tesco or apparel retail such as Top Shop, this idea of the ‘place’ as a brand is really in its formative stage in fuel retailing in fact the filling station format has changed little since the 1960s.

Our client is based in Dubai and in some ways the development of their retail offer has followed the rapid and incredible development of the Emirates as a leading global destination. Brand Dubai is truly cosmopolitan and has partly based its development on tapping into many varied cultures and offering the highest quality environments and experiences. Our clients’ brand does the same by offering a wide range of products and services that meets the needs of a diverse community.

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Forecourt of the future

At a recent conference held by Palmer & Harvey in Luton Hoo Estate, Robert Onion, Chairman of Circle spoke about the forecourt of the future. As the UK’s largest delivered wholesaler and supplier to over 70 per cent of the country’s petrol stations, Palmer & Harvey is uniquely placed to see how motoring, purchasing and lifestyle habits are changing.

We are also seeing this shift in consumer trends & attitudes to fuelling. We believe that retailers should think about meeting needs of consumers in the future. The service station experience and environment has changed little in the past 40 years, in some respects it is less appealing with the removal of attendants in the 70’s. Often there are poor service & hygiene standards.

Nearly every other retail experience has been transformed from supermarkets to banking, whilst fuelling is still referred to as a ‘distress purchase’. Our future concept looks at reversing the roles of fuel & convenience, positioning the retail hub at the front of the site to benefit from passing trade in urban locations by making access simple for both pedestrians and drivers.

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An inspiration in retailing

Japanese culture in all forms from art, film and design has always been a rich source of inspiration for designers, myself included. The contemporary architectural visions of Todao Ando and Arata Isozaki appear to bridge an almost mystical sensitivity with daring and structural designs seemingly unimaginable elsewhere.

Likewise fashion designers Issey Miyake, Yohoji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons have over the past twenty five years reinterpreted what we think of as ‘clothes’ into some higher art form.

Japan is a destination therefore that I have always wanted to visit. A recent 7 day retail study tour of Tokyo with particular focus on our area of expertise, convenience and food retailing was a dream come true.

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Small is the new big

Convenience retail is heading for a boom – and there will be winners and losers. Circle Chairman Robert Onion believes the time is right to reinvent the convenience store.

Despite the economic climate, one retail sector is in an upbeat mood. Convenience retailing is tipped for exponential growth over the next five to ten years. By 2015 the market is predicted to grow to a staggering £42.6 billion – up a third on the current size. And it’s a prize everyone has their eye on.

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The opening of Sainsbury’s ‘Fresh Kitchen’ suggests major supermarkets are increasingly seeking innovative ideas to differentiate their offer and attract new customers. The prototype Fleet Street store, dedicated to hot and cold food-to-go, is the first of its kind.

The ‘Fresh Kitchen’ branding suggests a warm environment delivered with quality and expertise, in theory, a truly inviting offer to lunchtime customers. However in realisation, the atmosphere is somewhat ordinary.

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