Retail Lab @ Glee: Creative Director, Romeo Sommers

Company: Glee

1.  Please tell me more about your role as Creative Director of the Retail Lab @ Glee. What does your role entail, and how will it work at the show?

I like to think of myself as an ‘inspirator’, meaning I draw inspiration from all aspects of life and my surroundings. My job is to listen to the latest trends, and to interpret them into tangible and workable concepts that can work in a commercial environment. I love to get people outside of their comfort zone, getting them thinking differently about how products are presented, how retailing can be shaped and what this means for the future. It’s great taking people on this journey of discovery.

My role at Creative Director of the Retail Lab @ Glee is quite simply about putting these skills into action. I am working alongside a team of dedicated and proven professionals, who work, live and breathe the garden retail industry, and together we are able to take the latest trends and themes and put them into concepts and information that have immediate ‘take home’ for visitors to the show. My role specifically is to create a direction for these themes, and ensure they have longevity.

During the show, I will also be getting my hands dirty, from helping to build the area to leading tours of the show, and meeting with garden centres to discuss the Retail Lab concepts one-to-one. The fun doesn’t stop there though! Post-show I will be on hand to help retailers to implement ideas in their stores, whilst continuing to work with the Retail Lab team to build the ‘next steps’.

2.  How did you come to be involved in the project?

My career has been incredibly varied, including everything from being a concept designer, marketeer and stylist, as well as working in TV, floristry and horticulture. In doing so, I have been exposed to a number of different markets, but ‘green’ trends have always been at the heart of what I do. Glee has been on my radar for some time, having first attended six years ago, working with an exhibitor to launch edible flowers as a fun and exciting concept for garden centres. However, it was through my work with the Retail Experiences section at the HTA National Plant show in 2016 that kick started my involvement in this year’s Glee.

3.  How have you decided on the range of content? How important is it to use a range of mediums?

With 30 years’ experience under my belt, I have been witness to hundreds and thousands of ‘the latest trends’. It was during my time as a category buyer for a large Dutch garden centre chain, Intratuin, that I saw how trends could be incorporated into consumer product ranges. Excited by this, I later set up trend consultancy, ByRomeo, and have since gathered even more ideas on how trends can be taken from the page into reality. For me, this skill is almost subconscious, supported by a huge amount of research. Over the last few months I have been gathering trend ideas in my head, and it was only when the Retail Lab became a reality that I knew that these trends can be put into action. Luckily for me, WGSN, who has also identified future trends in garden retailing, matched my own thoughts, meaning we were most definitely on the right track!

In regard to using a range of mediums, this is truly vital. Trends and design concepts are not flat, instead they are three-dimensional, fluid and expressive. Without a range of mediums we would not be able to effectively communicate each trends, and more importantly retailers would not be able to understand the thought behind each trend, nor how to put it into practice in-store. The mix of medium also works to do what I believe is hugely important, and that is to take people out of their comfort zones. Obviously, not to the point of detriment, but certainly enough to get them thinking differently about how they interact with trends and how they implement them in their business. Garden centres currently suffer from a disconnection between the physical store and online, and we shall be working to create content that attempts to bridge this gap for them, encouraging them to become omni-channel retailers.

4.  How do you translate trend info into hardworking content that retailers can draw inspiration from? How will the Retail Lab @ Glee benefit retailers?

Translating trends is all about considering how they will best fit in both a consumer and retail environment. It’s not just about high-level thinking, but more about how trends can affect mid-level price points and below. It’s also essential to focus on those trends that offer both short-term and long-term opportunities.

The trends that we will be focussing on within the Retail Lab @ Glee, are best suited to garden retailing, whilst also offering consumers a number of ways to interact with the way that we live. For instance, the trend of ‘Re-wilding’ is all about how we can get back to nature. With 90% of our time spent indoors, this trend looks at ways we can reconnect with nature whether we live in urban or rural locations. From better merchandising and retailing, to incorporating nature into our retail environments through more natural materials, to utilising outdoor space as places to relax or meet.

It’s also important to look at how trends are influenced by geography. The trends we are focussing on are worldwide trends, but we have been sure to put them into context of the UK and European markets. As the home of garden retailing, the UK is already miles ahead but now is the time to take the next step and look beyond the now, and focus on how these trends can shape retailing in the near future.

The Retail Lab @ Glee will be designed to educate and inspire retailers. We’ll be encouraging retailers – no matter their size or bank balance – to take off their blinkers and open their eyes to fresh thinking and innovative ideas. From POS and merchandising ideas, to general trend info and design ideas, retailers will have plenty to take back with them – from big ideas to small changes that will make instant impact.

5.  In our opinion, what is the most exciting future trend set to shape the garden retail market?

Responsible gardening is one trend that I am particularly excited about. It’s all about having a consciousness for nature, incorporating everything from grow-your-own to creating environments that allow nature to thrive. My favourite aspect of this trend is that it can be achieved in even the smallest spaces such as apartment windowsills. It’s a trend that matters but is so easily achievable by all.

The achievability of trends is one area that impacts retailing the most. It’s not about dazzling people with jargon, but more about debunking common myths and misconceptions. Often people shy away from trends because they believe that they should be interpreted in one way and one way only. Creating inclusive content, only makes people feel excluded. It’s vital that trends are presented in an accessible and realistic way. Inspiration not dictation.

It’s also incredibly important that garden retailers don’t just focus on ‘standard’ trends such as colour or material. Bigger trends that address lifestyle choices are a fantastic way of capturing a much younger audience, a challenge that has plagued many garden retailers in recent years. With access to the latest trends, coupled with the added-value offering that is synonymous with garden centres – such as cafes and speciality foods, outdoor entertaining, garden centres as ‘destination centres’ – youngers consumers will naturally be drawn to the store, and will return. Access to a mixture of trends is undoubtedly one way to increase profitability both now and in the long-term.

In addition to trends, garden retailers have some great wider opportunities to increase their reach within their community and beyond. From improving their online presence through web-based retailing and social media, to echoing high street stores through cross merchandising and store flow, and creating environments which incorporates all the senses, the possibilities are endless. It’s an exciting prospect to be stood at the precipice of tit all.

6.  What is the future for the Retail Lab – what is the long-term vision?

The Retail Lab @ Glee is just the beginning of the journey. The trends that the Lab will focus on do not have an expiration date. Instead they will grow and develop over time, which is why the Retail Lab has been designed to follow this journey with them. First stop, Glee. After that we’ll be taking the concept on the road to provide as many retailers as possible with access to the information, inspiration and education on offer.

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