Big Interview: JML on why stores still mean sales

JML is a hard brand to categorise. Since launch it has pursued a strategy of developing innovative products across multiple categories, and then selling them through multiple channels.

But, despite launching its first transactional website in 1999 and running a TV shopping channel, the brand remains firmly committed to the physical store, says CEO Ken Daly. “Around 75-80% of the business is still physical retail as opposed to online,” he says.

While some JML products are merchandised in-category, it is the company-branded gondola ends that most consumers will think of, when they think of JML, which sells 1.5 million products every year. Popular products range from handy plug-in heaters, clothes driers, and the Miracle Bamboo Bra to cookware, pillows, and cosmetics.

JML’s product development has evolved into the creation of new sub-brands, such as Copper Stone pans, one of the most popular products of the year so far. Noting US cookware trends for ceramic-coated copper pans – but also judging that the products were prone to deteriorate over time – JML worked with a manufacturer to create its own solution. These combine the conductivity of copper with a stone coating, which is longer-lasting.

“We only launched it in April, and we’ve sold a quarter of a million pans so far… We’ve just started advertising it again, and we’ll probably sell another quarter of a million before Christmas,” says Daly, who believes the brand has taken around a 7% market share in a matter of months thanks to a positive response to the range in stores.

Many of JML’s in-store displays have integrated video screens, playing promotional content that explains and highlights products on sale. There are around 6,000 screens in the 20,000 UK stores its products are stocked in, and their effect on sales is substantial – and also helps the brand to secure better in-store locations.

“Typically, we say a screen trebles the sales,” says Daly, though he cautions that it is becoming more difficult to differentiate sales driven by in-store screens from those driven the by JML’s increased TV advertising.

“And for some products, the relationship is more binary,” he adds. “If there is no screen there it just doesn’t sell at all. And then you put the screen there and it sells in big quantities.” This can be especially true of new and unfamiliar products that require a degree of explanation, he says.

The videos feature product demonstrations and showmanship to create some buzz – the promotion for Copper Stone pans shows them being used to ‘cook’ a bag of wood screws, to show how resistant they are to scratches, for example.

In-store technology

For an early adopter of both online sales and in-store screens, JML takes a practical view of in-store technology. While experimenting with new features it relies on tried and trusted technology to ensure consistency and reliability.

“Workhorse” screens, with JML branding, are manufactured in China by a German supplier. Due to connectivity challenges, new content is generally loaded onto the screens via a USB stick by field marketing teams. Retailers, while happy to let consumers use their Wifi networks, are reluctant to grant access to other companies, says Daly. Meanwhile 4G connectivity would require the company to have a SIM card for each of its 6,000 screens – “a cost” - while signal strength inside stores is often poor.

The robust screens are virtually free of controls and buttons. “All you have to do is plug it in… you don’t have to get a remote and press ‘play’ or anything. It just goes,” says Daly.

In the past, trials with touchscreen displays found low levels of interaction, while a trial of QR codes proved only that shoppers do not scan QR codes. Current trials involve incorporating a camera into the screen units, with software that can gauge the gender, approximate age, and dwell time of customers. Ever-practical, the cameras also look at the stock on the unit – this is to combat the age-old challenge of making sure that it is actually on display, rather than sitting in a store room at the back of the shop.

Meanwhile, the company’s eyes are on growth. “We’ve just launched a plan to double the size of the business over the next three years,” says Daly. While organic growth features prominently, there will be diversification too.

JML has acquired cosmetics start-up Brand Evangelists to launch disruptive products into the beauty market, and moved some earlier lipstick brands into a separate company, JML Cosmetics. The move is partly a recognition that such products may be better-located next to similar ranges than next to saucepans, and partly a move to capitalise on new categories.

And in a bid to drive sales on TV shopping channels in markets such as the US and Japan, JML has acknowledged that international audiences respond better to American content than British. “They are used to watching American content… and the JML UK content just doesn’t work,” says Daly, who notes

JML spends £16 million per year on UK ads alone, and Daly notes UK content is also restricted by tight rules on what can be claimed in advertising – “some of the strictest regulation of TV advertising in the world, probably,” says Daly – that do not apply in other markets. The company is now testing new content, made in Los Angeles with US talent, to take its message to the world.

This article was first published on Retail Design World. To read the original article, click here.