Not big, but they are clever

In-store advertising seems to dominate most department stores and supermarket aisles, but smaller retailers also offer a range of opportunities for innovative PoP strategies, says Matthew Broadhead

The difficulties of point-of-purchase (PoP) marketing are well known. It is never easy to make advertising stand out in visually overwhelming supermarket aisles, and enforcing compliance on wilful store managers can be a real headache.

But what if, in addition to these problems, the retail space was tiny? And, rather than being under the stewardship of a manager, the store was run by its owner?

The UK’s small shops and local convenience stores present a unique set of challenges for marketers. But it would be a mistake to think that they can be ignored as a dying breed, being slowly trampled by the giant grocers.

For we are many

“Small shops” is a category difficult to define, covering as it does everything from petrol station forecourts to independent jewellers and taking in newsagents, florists, supermarkets’ “local” variants and a whole host of other stores. Even market stalls and sandwich shops could be counted. As a consequence, reliable statistics about the importance of small shops are hard to come by. The Association of Convenience Stores, however, does have some revealing data. Its market overview, compiled by IGD in August 2004, suggests that the UK has 53,653 convenience stores (defined as stores of less than 3,000 sq ft, specialising in food and drink for consumption off the premises and selling at least eight of 15 “core products”), between them turning over £23bn, or 20 per cent of the grocery market.

But the environment of a corner newsagent or family-run sports shop is nothing like that of an out-of-town supermarket. A wide range of goods is likely to be crammed into a relatively small, and often irregularly shaped, space, often with quite bad lighting. In many cases, the fixtures and fittings are a little more careworn than those of the local Tesco.

Nor are small shops virgin territory for PoP marketers: the UK’s high streets and housing estates are abound with awnings carrying the well known brand names. Outside are swinging signs advertising lottery tickets or ice-cream, and in-store drinks are kept in a branded refrigerator. And, of course, PoP material is the only avenue left open to tobacco advertisers.

Indeed, some of the UK’s biggest advertisers are heavily involved in small-shop PoP activity, and their battles for territory can become quite vicious. In 2000, the Competition Commission ruled that Unilever’s Wall’s ice cream brand, which along with rivals Nestlé and Masterfoods supplies branded freezers to retailers, could not prevent retailers selling other manufacturers’ products from the freezers.

And in 2004, Coca-Cola agreed to allow retailers to use 20 per cent of the space in its branded coolers to stock rival companies’ products, in response to a European Union probe.

Making the most of PoP activity in a small space is about more than cramming in cut-down versions of supermarket fixtures. Brand Design managing director Tony Walton says: “Size matters. The first point to make is the importance of matching the PoP material to the space it is in. Too often, oversized, complex PoP activity is used in situations where a simpler, more targeted item would work better.”

The shopper’s mission

Producing effective small-shop PoP campaigns is difficult without an understanding of the mindset of the consumers using such stores.

Nunwood client consultant Ian Addie says: “Space is not the only consideration. It is not necessarily a case of just communicating the same messages that are communicated by campaigns in larger stores. The messages may need to be different.”

He adds that good small-store PoP material can help shoppers find what they need. “The mission in a small store is likely to be focused on urgent ‘commando raid’ purchasing. In such instances, the role of PoP material may be to make it easy to locate products quickly.”

Gary Deane, managing partner at Barrows (UK), a retail display specialist that has produced PoP material for KP and Cadbury, echoes this: “Customers in convenience stores are usually in a hurry and therefore need to find what they want quickly, having less time to browse. This means there is a smaller time-window in which to stimulate impulse purchase.”

Addie explains that “the appropriateness of PoP material designed to trigger impulse purchase may vary between store formats. Customers probably wouldn’t respond impulsively to strong promotional mechanisms for washing powder when shopping in a small store, because the mindset of the shopping mission they are undertaking does not naturally stretch to consideration of products in that category.”

These unique conditions allow marketers to be imaginative with their PoP ideas. Publicis Dialog promotional marketing creative director Shnoosee Bailey says: “In smaller retail spaces, there is less competition – hence less restriction – giving more opportunities to site interesting, smaller PoP items. Offering novelty, humour and excitement is vital. In smaller spaces, the positioning of PoP material, as well as the use of lighting, sound or movement, can greatly increase the chances of catching shoppers’ attention.”

There is no need to get carried away, though, says 23red project manager Kathy Kielty: “Retailers need to bear in mind that in a small, intimate space, bold PoP messages interrupt this process of engagement between product and consumer.”

Wearing the brand

One company that is heavily involved in small-store PoP marketing is Trader Media Group, which publishes Auto Trader. As well as producing standard accoutrements of PoP marketing, the company brands entire shops, striking deals with individual newsagents to “dress their shop as long as we can do the branding on it”, according to head of marketing Tony Goodman. He explains the rationale: “We can’t predict when someone is going to buy a car, so it’s good to have a gentle ambient position in the market. And because Auto Trader is a local publication, it’s important for us to be involved in local retail stores.” Although Trader Media concentrates its PoP activity in stores where its publications are sold, some marketers have discovered that the medium can be used for less direct purposes. Agency Iris, for instance, has teamed up with the Department of Health to run a “safe sex” campaign using PoP activity in Ann Summers stores. Called “Condom Sutra”, the campaign uses racy visuals to encourage condom use. Condom brand Pasante has supplied 50,000 free condoms, and online activity will tie in with the campaign.

Another company that has discovered the benefits of small shops as a marketing medium is Bag Media, which puts clients’ brand messages on a variety of bags, packaging and even kebab-wraps. These are then distributed to newsagents, sandwich shops, pharmacies and other retailers, which then pass them on to customers. By using independent retailers, Bag Media is able to facilitate highly targeted campaigns, selecting retailers by area, purchasing habits or demographic group in order to “saturate” a specific region or area. In addition, it says, independent retailers have very loyal customers, are free of advertising clutter, can implement a campaign quickly and, importantly, are eager to try new things.

Getting in their sites

A recurrent problem for all PoP marketers is compliance. When, instead of centrally appointed store managers, marketers are dealing with owners and franchisees, the problem might be expected to be greater. But many marketers suggest otherwise. Where a piece of PoP material is useful, such as a freezer or display unit, compliance is almost a given, but the correct tactics can ensure healthy take-up of other promotional material.

Goodman says: “We are one of the only publishing companies that still has a regional merchandising force, based in 13 centres across the country. We have a strong relationship with the independents, with a great deal of personal contact. The teams go round on weekly runs, talking to shop-owners and often putting up PoP material for them.”

He avers that this, combined with keeping PoP material simple, ensures good take-up.

Walton also emphasises the personal touch: “Staff need to be advised on the correct implementation of the PoP materials they have been sent. This can be done by sending in a merchandiser who will install the material, by providing easy-to-follow instructions for store staff or even by providing a helpline.”

Marketers must take particular care when the material is more complicated. Intelligent Marketing discovered this when adapting a US campaign for TaylorMade golf products. Designed for warehouse-style American stores, the material had to be heavily adapted for smaller UK outlets. Intelligent Marketing managing director Tricia Weener says: “We have found PoP activity to be more successful when kits are supplied already assembled. Too often, agencies expect store managers to be merchandising experts.”

Deane sums up the issue of considering shopkeepers’ needs: “If you want to encourage smaller stores to use the PoP material you provide, you must ensure it meets the individual requirements of the stores. This means building in flexibility as well as performance and consumer appeal.”

With its old, disorganised cities and ageing retail estate, the UK is full of small, idiosyncratic shops, many of which are family businesses that have hugely loyal customers. Their combined revenue is huge, and they can be powerful partners. And as many marketers have discovered, there is hidden treasure to be found by exploring nooks and crannies.

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