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Make to Treasure - A Conversation with ex-Timberland Steve Salt

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Make to Treasure is an attitude. Simply put, the idea any brand-related promotional tool we produce should add value, so we need to make it last. Promotional materials that belong in a brand’s ID should add texture, weight (metaphorically and possibly literally), or some sort of emotive quality to their imagery. 

‘Longevity’ and ‘reuse’ are the top of the materials versus waste matrix, so in sustainability terms, this is where we should be aiming in trying to escape a throw-away culture.

But of course working this way is not a new idea. Steve Salt – Owner of XL-5 In-Store Physical Retail Brand Development - is one of TonyG’s longest-standing business friends, and someone I’ve conversed with about ‘nickable POS’ since the 00’s. 'Nickable POS' of course being the kind of iconic branded objects that people would be happy to have displayed on their shelves at home. 

I spoke to Steve about this kind of solid and sustainable design thinking and where it’s cropped up in his career working with premium brands, and tapped into his thoughts on the future of retail – a subject close to our hearts. His view on that being physical retail is viable but needs a return to classic visual merchandising values combined with customer service and a passion for brands. The magic combination so many of us discuss in our industry.

Here's how our conversation went...

HG: I’m not sure how many years it is since we first worked on a project together. Do you have any idea when, and who it was you were working for?

SS: I believe it was around 1999 - 2000 ish when I was the Visual Manager for Timberland UK and you guys were at Vital.

HG: You’ve been in various roles for different brands since. In your experience, has the industry got better or worse at conscientious production, longevity, or just being savvy with waste and materials?

SS: Being honest I think when it comes to offering the customer recycled products things have improved. However, it sometimes still seems that these kinds of credentials are a brand’s best-kept secret, which is a shame. A small hang-tag on a garment is often all that can be seen describing the products great environmental features. I have also witnessed brands sending old product samples to various charities, so in my experience the reuse and recycle mindset is most defiantly on the radar, however, we still have some way to go to bring it to the fore. 

HG: You were at Timberland for a long time. They stick in my mind as pioneers regarding sustainable practices and production. Would you agree, and do you have any examples? 

SS: They were most definitely in front of the curve when it came to all aspects of C.S.R. I commenced my employment with them in 1998 and during this time the company had committed two days a year where the entire TBL global business closed its doors to commerce and focused on community. (These days called Earth Day and Serv-a Palooza.) On both days, all the TBL global teams pulled on their boots and served the community in various projects around the world. We were also paid 40 hours a year to give back and support charities within our relevant market in the UK. I participated in various charitable projects from renovating old animal shelters through to tree planting! All of this was happening 23 years ago! So yes, Timberland was seriously committed to giving back and doing good.

HG: Do you think there’s a cost to being ahead of the curve?

SS: Not really, if there is one small cost it was around time and how being earth-conscious could affect project delivery. Sourcing many of the items was extremely time-consuming, especially when it came to shopfitting infrastructure. Lots of brands supply an approved corporate fixturing concept however, with recyclable fixturing/POS projects it’s a case of look, find, and convert, so from a business perspective more time was often required for the project delivery timeline.

HG: Are there any memorable projects for good or bad from a sustainable goals perspective?

SS: I remember giving a brief to Tony regarding a wholesale branding POS project. My brief contained terminology like ‘think the great outdoors, think natural, think recyclable, think timeless’. The finished project was simply a piece of recycled natural timber shaped into the Timberland tree logo and it was an instant hit across the entire UK Wholesale network with some retailers telling us their Timberland tree logo had been stolen! Or customers asking to buy the wooden tree... I would not bet against that little iconic piece of POS still being visible on someone's home shelving! 

As time went on, the whole reusable and recyclable focus progressed during the mid-2000's. All the brand’s main shopfitting infrastructure was from recyclable materials: cash desks manufactured from old pallets and free-standing floor units sourced from salvage yards were all visible within its wholesale, franchise and retail stores.

HG: I know your experience is extensive with brands in department stores, a type of retail I hope will be reimagined in a far superior way – though likely at the cost of some less successful examples. What do you think the future department store has to offer to brands and/or customers?

SS: Extensive is the word. Recently I have supported Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein within these environments and before that over 5 years with the Eastpak brand all within UK department stores. In my experience, its now more important than ever to raise the bar. Both brand and store need to have strong business synergy and agreement to supply the best brand/store experience to the consumer.

HG: And what would you advise brands wanting to get noticed in this sort of environment, whether it’s shop-in-shop or a concession?

SS: The days of a brand sending its products into these environments and hoping for excellent sell-through are in my experience, over.

It needs to be a fully immersive experience for the customer to engage with a brand and its products, even a shop-in-shop or concession is not a guarantee for great sales. The VM experience needs to be on-brand but also relevant to the store’s customer demographic. The brands need to story-tell more. I often see brands with great history and heritage, yet it’s never communicated to the customer. So once we have the brand and its products looking exceptional, then ask yourself, does the person/s working in your area know about your brand? Its history? Its best-selling and latest products? Are all your key product lines highly visible or still in the stock room? So for me, it’s not just about a great location with great branding and VM, it's about leaving no retail stone unturned. Brands and stores must offer and deliver the full 360-degree customer experience.

With these environments now losing shop floor staff, brands need to service and fully support the shop floor teams. It’s about placing your brand at front of mind with the store teams, giving them knowledge and confidence to sell your products, ensuring the customer achieves best in class service and advice.

HG: Wise words. Thank you so much Steve!

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