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Lies, damned lies and statistics.. - 13th February 2019

Attributed to the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Nice one Ben, but sadly no formal record exists of him ever actually saying it – but heck, “never let the truth stand in the way of a good story” (Mark Twain allegedly for that one but don’t bet your savings on it).

Did you know for example that 73.5% of statistics are made up on the spot? Well, now you do and you can quote me on that – except of course I did just make that up too….on the spot…

See if you can spot the right one here:

Diane Abbott says we can get 10,000 new police officers for about £300,000

Donald Trump says the Mexicans will pay for the wall

7 out of 10 cats prefer Kit e Kat

100% of Benchmark’s customers experienced increased sales as a result of using them

Okay guilty as charged M’Lud, but the truth will out (Shakespeare – Merchant of Venice) and we genuinely do have evidence to support this bold claim. We do not profess to be experts in the field of every product or range we support, that is our clients’ role but we do know what we are talking about when it comes to retail operations and how best financially and physically to support your products in the big wide world.

It is these clients with whom we have worked for many years who have experienced the most benefit from our services. One had another record Christmas in the Homebase estate, beating not the lacklustre 2017 numbers under Bunnings’ rule but 2017’s results and from many fewer stores. Another’s relentless focus on core line availability has driven double digit growth for them, substantially outperforming their sector in a key retailer’s estate.

It’s tough out there right now, we understand that as well as anyone and the retail sector particularly has had a horrible year. These pressures mean fewer store staff and less attention to detail and all too often we find saleable stock languishing in overstocks or cages where time pressures mean they are not prioritised to fixtures. Don’t let your year pass you by with frustration as you struggle to hit budgets but not having a clear understanding of your presence in the retailers you supply. At least be able to say – “I did what I could” to grab every last valuable sale.

Call us – Mark Alexander on 07966 341601 or Andrew Marley on 07966 341620

New Year – same old challenges…. - 14th January 2019

Well sort of would be my position on that, 2018 certainly threw a spanner in many a retailer’s works and this sets up challenges for suppliers of course. Job losses in the retail sector last year were prolific and of course the payroll of any large company is a target for cuts in difficult times. But fewer store staff still have to work all the activities of a busy store and when suppliers support their ranges, extend that helping pair of hands, we see tangible benefits to their offer and suffice to say, increased sales.

Let’s take an example of a supplier bringing a new range to market in 2019…here we go – innovation to shelf in a few easy steps…

New tooling – not cheap but fair enough – 5 new SKUs – £1m for tooling, trials and completion

Production – on existing lines we’re good to go, but stock build, WIP and inventory – let’s call it £500,000

Distribution – 4-5 weeks from China at $2,500 per container, port charges, UK transport from port to warehouse, receive, put into stock – UK warehouse costs – then finally out the door, more trucks, more pick, pack and despatch – stock for launch – how about £75,000

You’re on the shelf – or at least you hope you are, compliance can be suspect at the best of times across large retail estates – but benefit of the doubt – you are in 150 shiny stores and firing on all cylinders….

Unlikely – because despite all those costs, all that investment, when the customer is standing in front of the fixture, you are trusting that final step to someone being paid the equivalent of two cups of Starbucks coffee per hour to support your products – and that is not a slight at the cracking staff many stores have who are totally committed to delivering great customer service. But do they have the tools needed to support your products?

It’s all too easy to forget the final link in the chain after all that effort, the retail environment:

  • Is your product available for sale?
  • Is it in a great position?
  • Could it be situated in additional positions in-store?
  • Is it priced and any supporting POS placed?

And of course, that most vital element of the whole chain – your customers…

  • Are store teams familiar with your products’ features & benefits?
  • Do they know why they should recommend it against competitor offers?
  • Do they feel they can endorse it knowing their customers will have a great experience?

If the answer to any of the above is no (and we are pretty certain that this is the case) then give us a call – we have amazingly effective solutions across the UK at a cost that’s insignificant in the scale of what you’ve already spent – but we deliver the most valuable part of the entire chain – the end game – sales and then everyone’s a winner.

Christmas Cheer… - 3rd December 2018

I’m a fan of Christmas! There I said it and now it’s in print it cannot be taken back.

I like the time off, it’s a given that by the time Christmas Eve comes along I’m ready for a few days off. I like the family time, we all lead frenetic lifestyles and now the kids are older time together seems somehow more valuable, there’s nothing like a cute video of a 3 year old at Christmas when the 19 year old version is sitting opposite you to remind you of time passing. Or indeed the 32 year old version spending his 14 month away from the UK is Asia as a diving instructor.

But I also like the potential to do something good, it might be a gift to a loved one they’ve long lusted after, it could be making an extra effort to visit and be nice to people to whom ordinarily you might give a wide berth…

Or it could this year be taking time to consider others not only less fortunate, but in the face of terrible adversity, seem to take every opportunity to live life to the full and for the benefit of others. I have spoken of Kevin Webber here before and I know he will find humour in the fact that by now I should be referring to him in the past tense! Kevin was our commercial bank manager who became a friend and 4 years ago was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer and given a 2 year horizon. Now in November each year on the anniversary of his diagnosis, he releases his fundraising plans for the next 12 months – as usual he caveats his plans with the fact you could end up “just giving” as his health could take a turn that prevents his plans coming to fruition.

For me Kevin is an inspiration every single day, he puts our daily struggles into perspective and manages to live life to the full – when you see his plans for next year and what he has already achieved, nearly £500,000 for prostate cancer research, you know he’s either a human miracle or on a cocktail of drugs we’d give our eye teeth for! As you read this he is half way through a 220km race in the heat of the Cambodian jungle…

Anyway here’s my plea – visit his just giving page, take 2 minutes to read his story and plans for the next year and consider how even a fully fit 20 year old could possibly take on these challenges. Remember too he pays all his own entry fees to these events, so every penny raised goes to the charity to find a cure for this terrible disease and genuinely, within a generation a cure could be possible – imagine our children and grandchildren not having to worry about this cancer any more. And even if your own circumstances or charitable preferences mean a donation isn’t possible, no worry, Kevin’s message will always be the same – if you feel or notice any change “down below” – get yourself checked!

Have a wonderful Christmas wherever and however you spend it….

35 years and counting… - 10th November 2018

It is said time seems to pass even faster as one gets older, you can tell I’m getting older by the correct use of ‘one’ in this sentence and proper punctuation. When you work in an environment where activity is always being planned in advance, it can feel like you are wishing time away. The thing is, the advance planning is getting somewhat shorter but for all the wrong reasons..

Multiple retailers have detailed planning and implementation calendars, bringing product and promotions to market involves multiple departments before they arrive on the shop floor. Oddly though these timelines are getting chaotically shorter and whist I cannot be sure why that would be, I have an idea or two. Let’s start with the fact a vessel from Asia still takes 4-6 weeks to get here and a few days through the port, that’s been consistent for many years. Digital 3D printing I guess has shortened development time for some new product areas but by and large product development and build timelines will not have changed substantially. The chaos seems to be this end..

It is now commonplace for our team to be allocated to a launch/promotion etc with the quite usual 3-4 month horizon, for it to then slip, and slip…..and slip……..and GO! We continually have to stand the team down at short notice and re-deploy with almost none at all as deals get the green light. Suffice to say it creates work, cost and confusion and if that’s the impact on our little piece of the jigsaw, there must be substantial impact in other areas of the supply chain. Systems that should work sympathetically with us, seem to make the straightforward complex, how many times do we still here “I don’t think the system will let me do that” Well that’s a well-built piece of kit then!

35 years on since I started with Burtons’ Biscuits, we seem to be slowing down – slower at bringing innovation to market, slower at battering systems into submission to get what we want and as a consequence, slower at giving consumers a reason to shop. Surely that can’t be what we set out to do all that time ago when we embraced the technologies we enjoy today…or perhaps I’m just getting old

We’re back… - 3rd November 2018

In an age where social media and your online presence is apparently ‘everything’, here at Benchmark Towers we have been shall we say a little tardy on getting our act together. To be fair it has taken nearly 3 years to update the site at all, a task completed last weekend and I think it now reflects the business we have become over some 17 years trading.

So much has happened since I last posted that if I were to cover all the interesting bits I’d be bashing away at the keyboard for hours and anyway, what’s the point, it’s all be beautifully covered by acres of coverage elsewhere. Bear in mind the last time we posted here Homebase had never heard of Bunnings….and I bet there’s a few people there who wish that was still the case. But as we charge headlong into Christmas 2018 we are shall we say, mildly hopeful that 2019 will see some sort of return to form for Homebase and better still, the wider UK retail sector. It’s been a shocker, can’t think of any other way to describe 2018 and I sure don’t plan to dwell on it here.

I am keeping this post intentionally brief, partly a bit of time pressure, partly because I’m still not entirely sure I remember how to put a new post on the website at all! But if it works, crack the champagne and look forward to more ramblings coming soon..

We’re only human.. - 10th April 2015

I admit to being a bit of a gadget geek, not that I need the latest version of the ones I embrace (iPhone, iPad – well, all things Apple basically), but I generally like the increased speed newer versions offer to anything over 2 -3 years old. I will not though be rushing to be first with the Apple Watch, my eyesight makes telling the time on my wrist a challenge too far sometimes, as for pushing various buttons, swipe and touch gestures – forget it.

But it’s when tech gives up you see and feel the consequences far more I think these days. You want a hotel room – easy, book online, a train, a plane, a restaurant – all too easy – until that it, the system packs up. Try the fall back position of phoning them, assuming that is you can find a phone number which is generally well buried on any website, they really don’t want to speak to you. My experience is generally 10-15 minutes, endless menus and sub-menus, key punching card numbers, expiry dates, date of birth, shoe size, hair colour – you get the drift.

Pre-internet, picking up a phone and booking something was the norm, took a couple of minutes – human to human, but now we know there are no humans to speak to – well, very few and they’d rather not. I do wonder how much time individuals and business waste on the phone when systems collapse, to me it feels like an eternity.

Which leads me to another pet hate – online booking fees. By way of example, if I walk into my local Everyman cinema in Walton and book a couple of tickets, it’s face value even though I have taken a few minutes of a staff member’s time. If I go online for the same seats, I pay a £1.50 booking fee for the pleasure of doing it all myself and printing my own admission tickets – exactly what can be right with that? Airlines can be even worse and I accept it is the norm across the internet, but it isn’t one I either understand or accept, particularly when they then add a further credit card fee just to rub it in..

Benchmark though – we are human, all of us, no automated menu driven phone systems, no barriers to access, you want to find us it’s easy, every email and page of our website has our number and email details on it. We like the human touch, so here are our mobile numbers too – give us a ring, it’s fine, we like it….

Mark – 07966 341601

Andrew – 07966 341620

Matt – 07770 440721

What Goes Around… - 28th February 2015

I was checking in at reception of a major retailer last week and chatting to one of their long serving (suffering?) team who over the years I’ve got to know well – they really are a friendly and professional bunch.

Anyway, “how long have you been coming here” I was asked and after a pause to engage my now ever worsening memory, “22 years” I said, followed by visions of how old I’ll be if another 22 years beckon…..I’ll be honest, it doesn’t bear thinking about. So sitting waiting for our meeting, I ran through some of the last 22 years of working with this retailer and came to the conclusion that absolutely nothing changes – ever…

Years roll on, but the cycle of initiatives to re-invent the future, re-energise the displays, re-engage the customers and re-lieve (sic) the suppliers of cash, are all re-hashed versions of things we’ve seen too many times before. The fact that the face of retail is changing at an ever-increasing pace, seems to have bypassed many of the players within it and they are constantly playing catch up, trying to guess where the consumers’ whims and fancies have moved onto.

I was trying to remember all the ‘projects’ over the years to enhance complementary sales, attachment rates and average transaction values, but got as far as 2004 and my head overheated. Since none of them have worked, it’s kind of fun to see them being trotted out once more under a new banner, one day they’ll launch “Project Use Your Common Sense”, but I doubt it’ll be in my lifetime.

Until then, me and the clutch of account handlers who have been around far too long for our own good, will experience Déjà vu on a cyclic basis. Underneath our formal clothing, we wear the “been there, done that” T-Shirt and the slightly glazed expressions of someone living in a time-warp.

Or… could give us a call, one major client told us recently he could accurately account for a 14% sales uplift as a result of engaging Benchmark to service their category. There now, doesn’t that at least sound like trying something new?

Planning for Christmas… - 17th January 2014

OK, before you think I’m getting somewhat ahead of myself, many readers of these ramblings will be in businesses as suppliers or retailers where the autopsy of 2013 will be completed and preparations for next year in hand. Far East sourcing extends planning time between 4-5 months anyway; let alone NPD where new tooling and moulds might be necessary.

I will also come clean now, by stating if I had the answer to accurate forecasting and global sourcing 12 months hence, I probably would not be sitting here right now doing this!  But, having seen so many of our dominant and cherished retailers submitting disappointing numbers for Christmas 2013, it did make me wonder what suppliers can do to try and get it right – or maybe a better way of saying that – more right than wrong.

Time after time in the last few weeks, major high street retailers have wiped out margin by promoting early, but what are the consequences of their actions up the line? They will often look to support from suppliers to fund reductions, or start cancelling orders into the new year impacting on Q1 sales and inventory, stock that needs to be stored and funded – it all comes at a cost. So, what can be done….

Obviously, suppliers spread the load, always trying to have a manageable risk within any given trading sector. Some will source very specific quantities, WIGIG, but this can limit sales if they are understated and run out a month before Christmas. There are obviously many more techniques adopted, but where can a store marketing service provider help?

Well, the answer is in more ways that you might think! Pre-Christmas, we work with client teams ensuring any activity or seasonally specific stock is well located, POS in situ, clear pricing and any promotional messages and support well communicated to store teams. We give your stock the best possible chance to sell through during the event’s planned timings. We have seen every year, stock languishing in stock rooms or overhead storage that would have sold had it ever made it to the sales floor.

And after Christmas? Well, we can support any activity such as price mark-downs, ensure prime clearance locations are achieved, new POS is placed and stock pulled in from any and all previous locations to get it through as fast as possible.  Why then am I putting this out in mid-January? Simply because the planning starts right now! We know we make a measurable difference to the impact of in-store activity, both promotional and day-to-day, all year round. By using our UK wide resource at such a key time as Christmas, we might make the difference between a good year, and a fantastic year.

Give us a call to discuss your plans for 2014 – you will be amazed at how inventive, flexible and cost effective we are….

Welcome to 2014… - 6th January 2014

It’s 12th night as I write this, time to strip down the lights and decorations, pack away the stockings and cards and maybe finish off the last portions of turkey lingering over from the Christmas and New Year break. It’s also time when we take stock of the seasonal trading, the winners and losers and just as importantly, look forward to the first quarter and heading into the key Easter trading period.

JLP were fast off the blocks, announcing an anticipated solid set of numbers, underpinned by great ranges, competitive pricing, fantastic staff and ease of purchase routes. Click and collect now includes the ability to pick up your JLP purchases at your local Waitrose – nice touch, another hellish trip to Kingston saved for me! Debenhams however, seemed to have blinked early, slashing prices to get out of stock prior to Christmas and damaging any positive results the period would have delivered. My wife has a Debenhams card and we can say we cannot remember a week in the last year they did not have sale prices in some category or another – you do become blasé about never paying full price there for anything. Over the next few weeks, all the majors will announce their results, we will be watching with interest at Benchmark Towers…

What we do know however, is how succesful and targeted activity can make a huge difference to a supplier’s trading. We cannot of course, name the client involved due to confidentiality, but they recorded their best ever Christmas sales, thanks to multi site activity, pro-active stock management and clear, concise but striking POS materials. It looks like this seasonal result will deliver a game changing 2014 for this supplier and we look forward to working alongside them for the 7th consecutive year.

For many, the broad strokes of any Easter campaigns will now be defined, attention then turns to the details, distribution, stock, support materials, locations and implementation. Always a busy time for Benchmark, we relish the challenge of delivering this key seasonal period for many clients. If it goes the way of our previous 12 Easters, it will involve late changes to plans, availability issues, and worrying about the weather. Miserable and it’s all indoors, painting and decorating; sunny and we are in for garden furniture and BBQs.

Whilst we cannot shed any light on the weather in April, in fairness, with half the UK underwater right now I wouldn’t like to predict even next week, we can guarantee flexible and economical support across the Country. If your plans include national distribution in multiple retail estates, give us a call and see how we might be able to help deliver your plans this year.

Christmas is coming… - 15th November 2013

Clearing away the debris of Halloween, our thoughts turn in a blink to Christmas and the bountiful sales opportunities the festive season brings. Recent weeks have seen the usual media frenzy surrounding the major retailer’s christmas advertising campaigns, but this year, it seems to me the hype is ramped up even more than previous years.

I’m sure deep in the bowels of John Lewis & Mark’s & Spencer Towers, a team of geeks work through the financial benefits of endless column inches ahead of the adverts first outing, usually during Coronation Street. Of course, recent years have necessitated they factor in the You Tube hits and other social media commentary  – all of which does no harm to building their profile ahead of such a key sales period.

I have no doubt these multi-million pound, beautifully crafted mini films are significant traffic drivers for those that can afford them, although if I was the JLP bear, I might be a bit miffed at being woken during hibernation by a hare with an alarm clock….

Back in the real world confronting our core markets in DIY, Homewares and Garden Centres, the spreadsheets are done, the orders are placed and stock is through the chain and either on fixture, or in ballooning stock rooms awaiting the eager buying public. Getting this right can make or break some suppliers, too little, and every lost sale can never be recovered, Christmas really is the ultimate WIGIG. Too much, and the order book dries up for weeks into the New Year, awaiting what can be a very challenging sell through of residual stock.

There are no simple answers to this, Far East sourcing which is still prevalent in almost every trading category, means stock has been committed to, one way or another, months ago so what will be will be. Retailers generate data at a truly phenomenal rate and are usually willing to share this with suppliers to help forecasting and smooth out supply issues around peak trading periods. But we know of many suppliers with limited in house resources, who rarely get the time to really dig into the data and spot the issues and anomalies that could help them significantly.

At Benchmark, we have the skills in house to untangle that data and highlight the issues and opportunities. This can be combined with our field team activity, to check accuracy and validity of the source data. Add in our 30 years commercial experience and we provide a valuable extra resource to our clients in supporting their sales analysis and forecasting models.

Of course, it’s all over bar the shouting for this year, we need just rely on the bear and the hare and other massive campaigns to deliver a fantastic set of Christmas and New Year sales, with 6 or so weeks to go, let’s hope for a bumper season for all. Remember, it’s never too early to contact us to start looking at Christmas 2014!

Great service is a conscious decision you make.. - 22nd October 2013

Not for the first time, I’ve been thinking about the service we provide our clients but in the context of the service they provide theirs. We are part of the chain that is all focused on the most important person in the whole system – the end user. Only when a customer is standing in front of a fixture, making their final purchase decision in our client’s favour, does everything we do make sense.

Spending time in stores as we do, thousands of hours in fact, it is fascinating to just spend a little time watching people shop, how they navigate a store, ponder and finally select, or not, their desired item. It is alarming in large retailers, how many people leave without making any purchase at all, you’d think that impossible with the vast range and depth of stock carried these days. But, without getting into the issues of accurate stock management (I try and keep these items readable within a day!) why do so many leave without buying?

Certain categories have in many ways, become next to impossible to shop, through brand proliferation generally, but also when faced with a bewildering array of choice, lack of support in making their mind up is a real issue. Of course, packaging is the first line of support, but frequently, multi-language packaging can be hard to read (and yes, I know I’m getting old) but using symbols can be just as confusing. So step forward, a sales assistant….

Or not as the case often is, head count has fallen substantially in the last 3-5 years and for obvious financial reasons. But think of the more pleasurable experiences you have in retailers yourself, chances are at some point, you had a succesful and pleasant interaction with a human, a knowledgeable, polite and helpful person.

Which brings me back to where I started this piece, at Benchmark, we have a mind-set that starts with our clients’ needs and as a consequence, our actions are driven by a desire to support their goals. Responding quickly to calls and emails, providing sound and robust advice and answers, ultimately, delivering on time and in full every time.

In providing what we believe is great service every day, we enable our clients in turn to provide great service to their clients, major retailers’ commercial teams and their store networks. Locating eye catching promotions, ensuring useful POS materials are available at all times, training staff on key features and benefits are all functions of delivering great service.

We all like to be on the receiving end of fantastic service, so I’ll end by suggesting you ask yourself the question ‘am I providing exceptional service to my customers”, if so, well done and keep it up, if not, think what you could do to change that, or even better, ask us at Benchmark – we really think we’re quite good at it.

I’ll sign off with a little anecdote I heard the other day, about a senior partner in a major accountancy company at a hospitality bar at The Oval for the Aussie test match this summer. Ordering a bottle of white wine he had not heard of, he asked the assistant, “can you tell me what grape this is made from?” After a short ponder and conference with her colleagues, the young server came back with “A white one sir”.

Roll on Christmas - 1st October 2013

I am the first to admit I’m not very good at being disciplined where matters of the digital age are concerned. Reliable sources tell me I should be “blogging every week at least”, and “work your back-links” (sounds slightly dubious), all geared to making our social presence felt.  So you can imagine my chagrin to find it was 23rd June when I last tapped the keys with an update on our website – ho hum….

So, what’s happening or more to the point, what’s happened since June we can speak about. Personally, I’m always pleased to report we’re still here! Might not sound much to many people, but old habits die hard and I still keep a large stick nearby to smack approaching wolves (HMRC) on the snout if they get too close for comfort. Summer in the retail trade is still very much the ‘silly season’, most decision makers take well earned time off and in DIY at least, outside the garden sectors things quieten down for a couple of months respite. Benchmark however, rumbles on, and we have worked steadily through the last quarter across a variety of sectors completing installations, compiling audits, and delivering top notch in-store standards for our lovely clients.

Sitting in airports allows time for some reflection too – on the subject of which, whoever designed the layout airside of Minorca airport needs a seeing to – on our markets and sectors. Great news that Homebase have posted positive figures for consecutive quarters, I have to say their new layouts, such as Horsham and York Road, Battersea are fantastic. A real return to form and focus on home enhancement, with premium paints and wallpapers, Laura Ashley and Habitat with a strong presence.

It appears though, that another of the competitive advantages of traditional retailers is now under serious pressure, that of ‘instant gratification’. Certain sectors of DIY will always be immediate needs, such as replacement door locks, or decorative sundries half way through a Saturday afternoon! But the justification for stocking thousands of lines in depth and breadth is being overhauled by the speed of the seasoned internet retailers. We almost expect next day delivery as a standard now, and in many cases, would not expect to pay a premium for such service. But same day is gaining traction and I have to believe the next couple of years will see an expansion of such rapid services across many trading sectors.

I am by nature, a huge fan of traditional retail and the High Street, but find it hard to sign up for some much heralded initiatives to “Save our Shops”. Have a compelling offer, well presented, well priced, supported by well trained staff and you will drive sales, fail these basics and your competitors will grant you no grace before delivering the killer blow.

At Benchmark, we invest thousands of man-hours on our clients’ behalf working to deliver these basics, and much more. Our transparent online reporting system gives them eyes and ears across the UK, and their commercial teams can respond quickly to changing markets, competitor activity or basic distribution issues.

That’s it, thinking time now over as we run headlong into Christmas, the evenings are drawing in, there’s a chill in the air after sunset and over the weekend, I nearly bought my advent calendar, but the chocolates would never survive to December! I might try and spend some very constructive time wondering what the hell I’m going to put on here before 3 months go racing by again…..

Benchmark Sponsored Cycling Team News - 23rd June 2013

A few months ago, Benchmark were proud to sponsor a 20 strong team cycling from Grandborough in Warwickshire to Paris, raising funds for a number of National and local charities. The ride is over, and the team has raised £20,127 as of today, generously donated by 390 sponsors.

Here is the shirt they had made for this event – great achievement by all the team – congratulations

Benchmark - Sponsor Logo

Homebase LFL up 1.4% in Q1 - 13th June 2013

Excellent news, I really cannot remember the last time a major DIY retailer posted positive quarterly results, HRG, well done!

Read more through this link to the fantastic team at InsightDIY

Spring? Still waiting… - 12th June 2013

Finally a chance to put fingers to keyboard and post another newsletter to the Benchmark website. I admit that my lack of IT knowledge, combined with new security measures by our ‘Host’, whoever they are, meant I have been locked out for the last 5 weeks – hopeless I know!

Spring has, theoretically at least, well and truly sprung, yet this week has seen consistent rain and gloom more associated with March than June. Of course, Wimbledon starts soon, so any chance of nice weather in the near future is a complete write off..

Watching as we do the weekly output of financial experts telling us either “the worst is over” or a day later “we’re not going to see recovery until 2020”, I never really know where to turn to for solid advice – when in doubt, trust your instincts I think.

Speaking to many clients and contacts every week, I get to hear a variety of opinions and sage advice from all quarters, on balance, I’d say most are still very cautious about the future. Specific sectors seem to be working fine and one or two in horticulture tell me of record May sales – great news! But, until we get houses moving again and prevent the creation of a gulf between North and South economic recovery, consistent good performance seems to still be some way off.

Our work involves many clients who have business exposure in Europe too, and the continuing bleak outlook there is less than helpful. However, there can be a glimmer of light in the gloom. We are seeing new product launches, innovative promotions and displays and the top end of the market surprisingly resilient. Consumers are particular and considered in their purchasing decisions, but will pay a premium for top quality, service or functionality when put to them.

This demand for information makes joined up thinking very important for suppliers and manufacturers. The Internet really can answer any question, and satisfied customers can be the best endorsement you could wish for in gaining new ones. So, make sure your own website is cleaned up and current, use your databases to inform customers of what’s happening in your company and make sure your in store presence, reflects the quality and standards you would want your customers to experience in any contact with you.

Speak to us to see how we’re working with a wide variety of clients with not only in-store marketing support, but also sound commercial vision too, it all adds up to what makes Benchmark a real extension of your business.

Spring has arrived…..maybe - 1st May 2013

As I write this, the sun is shining, the grass is growing and I even sense the faint whiff of a BBQ drifting over the garden fence.

Speaking with friends across the trades, the woeful Easter weather and very late start to the season has done untold damage to many of the truly seasonal suppliers. This is business that does not get pushed back to later in the season, it’s simply lost and causes major issues to those affected. We can only hope that a diverse range of products will give the resilience to withstand the lost sales and allow for the year to be recovered in time.

At Benchmark, we have seen a marked increase in promotional activity, in fairness, probably only to levels we have seen in previous years. But the decision making process within retailers seems more protracted than ever, and the resulting short notice to pull together displays, materials and stock to support promotions, results in some real “seat of the pants” activity. Where we believe we provide valuable help in these situations, is our flexibility and response times, we have mobilised the team sometimes within 48 hours to support POS placement and secondary site activity across major estates – no complaints from us, it’s what we do!

As Spring rolls into Summer, now is a great time to clear the decks, dust off those old displays, refresh tired POS materials and check databases are replenishing correctly – get the sale when the opportunity arises. We cannot drive the consumer to your displays, but we can help give them a great experience when they get there and if subsequent sales are online, click and collect or straight from the store, customers will remember a good experience when they get one.


Get your instore presence right - 26th March 2013

Great article by Danielle Pinnington at Shoppercentric illustrating the value of getting the instore element of product launches right first time.

Enjoy the item, then contact Benchmark to see how we can support your NPD and promotion programs

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Feeling the squeeze - 19th March 2013

I have put a link here into a piece from Insight DIY today, following JLP’s admission over the weekend that they will be seeking improved terms from suppliers this summer, Topps Tiles now pitch in with a ‘request’. JLP, at least from the positioning I read, does seem related to suppliers enjoying increased turnover with them and a relationship between that increase and the terms improvement expected.

Topps however, as Insight DIY so rightly point out, is on the back of worsening conditions in their market, so I’m not clear what compelling reasons there will be for suppliers to stump up the cash. Of course, some will be dependant on Topps for their existence, others will have a substantial but survivable exposure to them, for many it will be a part of their margin mix. But over the years, sales directors everywhere have tried to defend the basic principle of “biggest buys best”, so yielding to pressure from Topps, I admit a substantial player in their sector, may open a whole new can of worms for them.

Putting out these items, I am always aware that prevailing retail conditions is a running theme and it is easy to sit back away from the coal face, and pontificate about the dilema and offer advice. But at Benchmark, we still see examples of good retailing every day, great NPD, brilliant promotions and events, and motivated staff. Having been with a supplier when B&Q ran their 5% Y-O-Y CPR program in the late ’90s, I have lived this pressure first hand, so firstly, good luck to all sales functions about to tackle this latest development. What I can say, is moving the financial woe down the supply chain is not the answer, it merely shifts the problem, actually, it exacerbates it, as product development dries up and marketing programs are pulled to meet the demand.

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Store support helps win supplier award - 7th March 2013

Tor Coatings have received a coveted Supplier Recognition award from Homebase at the retailer’s Roadshow Event, which took place in Warwick at the end of February.  This was the only award received by a supplier in the decorative category.

Homebase made the award to Andrew White, Sales Director at Tor Coatings, citing their outstanding account management support and commitment to the Homebase business, which included the support of a store service package provided by Benchmark Retail Services.

Homebase said they recognised the quality of implementation of a challenging range review, which in Homebase’s own words, “went without a hitch”. Andrew White said, “The review was implemented in full by Benchmark Retail Services, a business I have worked with for over 10 years now and which has partnered Tor Coatings for the last 4 years.”

He continued, “our close relationship with Benchmark, along with their thorough understanding of the retailer and category enabled us to make a complicated range review very straightforward and no doubt contributed to Tor Coatings gaining the Supplier Recognition award”

Mark Alexander, Managing Director at Benchmark added ”The whole team at Benchmark Retail Services are proud to be associated with Tor Coatings and the Homebase decorative category and add our congratulations to Andrew and his colleagues on an outstanding year with this major retail client”

Where have the last 30 years gone? - 6th February 2013

A common enough remark these days, I accept generally applied to days, weeks or months, but this month is significant for me – it’s 30 years ago I started selling for Burton’s Gold Medal Biscuits! Yes – “There go my Wagon Wheels” and “Jammie Dodgers, Kids Love ‘Em” were the slogans emblazoned across the sides of the trucks across the UK. I started as a trainee rep in the Medway Towns and Mid-Kent, a territory I took on properly six months later.

Many very happy days were spent in my first company car, a Vauxhall Chevette, calling on independent stores, but also providing stock and order for Fine Fare, Tesco and Savacentre too. I was one of 100 reps on the road for Burtons, my mentor, Nick Palmer gifted to me the very best training a new salesman could ask for and we remain friends to this day.

But by the end of the decade that had all changed, there were no reps left at Burton’s, Key and National Account Managers ruled, centralised stock and order for the multiples and improved quality and lower costs from distributors to the independents made them obsolete. I continued my career at Philip Morris, selling Marlboro and Raffles, Crossley Carpets, Curver and Yale, but I never forget my start at Burton’s – classic ‘steps and tools’ training and developing relationships in many retailers

So, why the reminiscing – quite a few of my peers then are still hanging in there now in some way, either in the corporate machine or ploughing their own furrows. Retail has changed, the current seismic shift to online being the challenge for traditional bricks and mortar today, but those changes and pressures have always been there.

Back when Harry Gordon Selfridge opened his department store in 1909, it put the established large stores under great pressure, likewise, when our first self service supermarkets opened in the early 1950’s, traditional outlets were devoured in huge numbers. So nothing has changed really, the pressure might come from new directions, but retail has seen and moulded itself to relentless change since it began.

And it’s doing the same now, embracing the world modern communications and systems allow, letting established players find new markets and customers, and new arrivals pick off chunks of business in a competitive environment. But marketing to the consumer remains absolutely essential, now as it did then. Window posters, push/pull signs on doors and shelf wobblers may largely have gone the way of counter service grocers, but we are all being talked to by suppliers and manufacturers every day, in more clever and complex ways.

At Benchmark, we embrace change every day, working with our clients to enhance their proposition and sales in clever and exciting ways. Whether I personally will be helming it for the next 30 years is doubtful, but I’ve enjoyed the last 30 and the enduring friendships I have made – here at least, is to a few more.

A Nation of Shopkeepers - 28th January 2013

Napoleon is credited with calling Britain a Nation of Shopkeepers, although without wishing to start a historical debate, it may well have been 18th century philosopher Adam Smith. Either way, it is fair to say we are a nation of traders, driven by commerce and little has changed since Napoleon’s day to alter this mentality or attribute to our nation.

What has changed is the way we shop and the onslaught of online trading has caught many of our shopkeepers off guard. At national level, the roll call of formally big players who no longer grace our high streets and retail parks is well documented. But the reality is all too apparent in our local high streets that beyond coffee shops, estate agents and charity outlets, possibly irreversible damage has been done already.

I am lucky enough to still have a local ‘parade’ of shops, with a skilled butcher, bakery, convenience store and delicatessen and even with the opening recently of a new Tesco Metro, these shops thrive for their local community. There are two basic reasons for this; firstly, they offer choice beyond the pre-packed mass-market produce we face in our multiple stores. But more importantly, they provide service, a real personal service, knowing their customers over the years, providing knowledgeable advice, a friendly ear and a helping hand.

I accept totally that for multiple retailers to emulate this formula it is hard, but the one that comes closest is also thriving, John Lewis. They seem to have mastered quickly selling across different platforms, in store, online, click and collect, delivery – you name it, they do it and do it well.

The one thing you can guarantee, is selling from hundreds of locations all carrying a range and depth of stock, will never compete on price with someone selling in brown boxes from a remote, and cheap, warehouse. You can run any level of discount you like during an event, online will always just track you downwards and beat you on price.

But, it cannot beat you on service, not the overnight delivery kind of service, but the real human service you can only get in a shop with well-trained and motivated staff. So, don’t give up on your local high street, take another look and see if there are local specialists, prepared to go where multiples have given up, providing exemplary services and products – they deserve your support and admiration.

Great displays have a role to play - 9th January 2013

Firstly, a very Happy New Year to our new and regular visitors, all of us at Benchmark hope you had a happy and enjoyable seasonal break

As the majors reveal their Christmas numbers, one consistent for those enjoying a great trading period is the progress of online business. A quarter of JLP’s business is now online and their website traded some 44% up in the 5 weeks to the end of December.

Benchmark’s team worked in a number of department stores in the final quarter of 2012, JLP and Debenhams both getting our attention. With the “everything under one roof” principle being favoured by Christmas shoppers, they along with House of Fraser seem to have fared well.

Our work revolved around suppliers investing in new display equipment and POS materials. These displays gave customers a better product experience and perception, along with more information and advice. It was great to get the staff feeding back positive comments on the products and displays and we know they will have got behind the investment being made to support their sales.

Online will not go away and strategies for driving traffic to websites are a “dark art” all of their own. But investment at the point of purchase in well designed and informative displays still have a major role to play. Suppliers and retailers still need to adopt both an online and in-store offer, so don’t neglect your brand’s presence in store whilst striving for online market share – they can and must live in close harmony.

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Case Studies

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