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Interview: Lakeland ops director Gary Marshall on making the most of store space

New technology, the growth of click & collect and the fast-changing requirements of customers highlight why stores can never have a rigid format, according to Lakeland operations director Gary Marshall.

Marshall has been leading operations at the kitchenware retailer for the last 13 years, and says Lakeland’s store format is continuously changing.

The introduction of mobile tills, which will allow the completion of transactions away from a fixed checkout, is one of the retailer’s next plans. And Marshall says there are potentially multiple benefits to this approach, as well as significant store layout implications.

“We’re aiming for mobile tills but with the ability to attach the tablet to a work station if necessary,” he says.

“However, for more aspirational products where we have to demonstrate the item, you want to be able to make that transaction straight away, rather than tell someone to go and join a queue – so selling on the hip will work here.”

Lakeland already offers mobile-assisted selling in some of its stores, where tablets are used by staff to showcase additional information or product videos, but the long-term plan is for transactions to be completed on the devices.

Marshall says mobile payments capability will provide greater staff flexibility and additional merchandising options.

“Instead of till space I’d rather sell products,” he says, although he acknowledges it is impractical for some larger items to be sold in this manner.

A new retail system supplied by PCMS has given Lakeland the opportunity to consider these new methods of selling in store, while also paving the way for the launch of a new loyalty card scheme in the months ahead.

Using the new technology, the retailer has linked up its website ordering and in-store point-of-sale systems to enable better stock level visibility, and tie together click & collect orders and in-store purchases within a single transaction.

The rapid growth in click & collect orders is another in-store issue retailers have had to react to in recent years, and Marshall says Lakeland has had to give it serious thought from a store layout perspective.

“We’re not a traditional square box store format retailer – we have quite a few low floors on shopping centres but we also have Grade II listed buildings which are unique,” he says.

“We’ve had to think how to structure click & collect in store, so we’ve automated it as much as possible while recognising there is still a physical task that has to take place.”

Marshall adds: “We’ve always been set up in the past for what we call ‘lay-aways’, where a customer can ring up and ask for an item to be set to one side, and in a lot of our stores it’s a case of extending that facility to allow storage of click & collect items.”

Dealing with this type of order in-store looks set to be an increasingly pertinent issue for retailers, with business intelligence group GlobalData predicting the number of click & collect transactions in the UK will grow by 64% between 2016 and 2021.

For Lakeland, click & collect already accounts for approximately 15% of web orders, and this rises above 20% during the peak Christmas trading period. How this impacts store operations and layout is being monitored by the retailer.

The changing look of Lakeland’s stores in an ongoing process – but “the big one” in terms of its new design was the refurbishment of the retailer’s flagship store in Windermere in 2016.

Lower shelving to improve product visibility, and new visual merchandising techniques that help customers see the products within a mocked-up kitchen layout, are major features of the £1m project.

“It provides a fresher, lighter feel to the store,” Marshall explains of the store, which was created in collaboration with design agency Household and shopfitter Platinum Projects.

Last year also saw Lakeland expand into Australia via a franchise partnership – and it is now operating over 30 store-in-store branches within consumer electronics chain The Good Guys.

The plan is to open standalone stores down under, as the company looks to increase its share of the AU$2.3bn Australian kitchenware market. But in the UK the focus remains on keeping up to date with the latest consumer behaviour and setting up stores accordingly.

“Retail is changing – for some customers, stores are more about showrooming for online but there are shoppers who still like to touch, feel and go to the high street to purchase goods,” says Marshall. “We are continually developing our format; there’s no rigid format – it’s an evolution.”