It may be a short sprint in terms of selling opportunities, but running the on-site stores at the Games will be an Olympian effort for The Retail People boss.
A few blokes, some beer and a chance conversation at The Swan pub at Whitchurch, Buckinghamshire, last February is how Simon Rider’s Olympic 2012 dream began.
Dominic Galvin, chief operating officer of accessories concessionaire Icon Live and a mate of Rider’s from their Footlocker days, had mentioned in passing that The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) was about to close the retail tender for the rights to retail exclusively on-site at the various Olympic venues. Rider thought it sounded interesting, so phoned his neighbour Nick Price, an expert in event merchandise whom Rider had come across during his time as European head of sports footwear chain Footlocker. Price had played a key role in bringing NFL American football merchandise to Europe in the 1990s.
Price, a huge sports fan, was seduced by the challenge and scale of the opportunity too, so the duo set about forming a new company, The Retail People (TRP), to pitch for the on-site store rights. If it sounds slightly “back of a fag packet”, that’s because it probably was initially. Rider and Price had just 16 weeks to create a proposal to put to a LOCOG panel said to be so regulated that it wouldn’t consider anything not detailed to the nth degree.
Rider assumed the role of chief executive, owing to his immense retail experience, having also worked in senior roles at womenswear chain Phase Eight and fast-fashion retailer New Look. Price was to lead sales and merchandising, while Robert Porter-Smith joined to head logistics and IT, Sarah McNaughton was appointed operations director, John Harris finance director, Caroline Heaton legal, HR and sustainability director, and Alan Coppin non-executive chairman.
Porter-Smith, a retailer turned entrepreneur with a focus on logistics management and software development, was particularly key given TRP was projecting sales to go from zero to £70m between July 27, when the Games open, to September 9, when the Paralympics close - just over six weeks. To put that into context, if this business was to trade for a full year, its sales would be £1bn.
The team’s combined experience of sports sales, exceptional due diligence in conjunction with accountancy firm BDO Stoy Hayward and solid financial backing from Lloyds TSB meant it ended up first past the post. Rider declines to comment on the competition, but Marks & Spencer is rumoured to have been among those that pitched for the gig.
Rider will be running more than 90 outlets, including three superstores, 70 kiosks at all venues excluding the tennis, and a megastore at the main Stratford Olympic Park, which at 43,000 sq ft will be “bigger than the ground floor of M&S Oxford Street”. Locations spread from Scotland to Weymouth via St James’ Park in Newcastle, and the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Price will be responsible for filling all of them, a challenge in itself given only officially licensed product can be sold on-site. The megastore will carry 5,000 SKUs with a price range from £10 to £6,500. Across the business about 40% of sales will be of clothing with hats, T-shirts and sweatshirts key categories. The bulk of that will come from the Games’ official clothing partner Adidas, but this will include exclusives.
“The ‘I was there’ factor will be a monumental part of the product,” Rider says. “It’s about pub bragging rights. We are working closely with Adidas.”
Price points to the NFL in the US, where tees are printed on-site with the result as the game finishes so punters can buy one on the way out or the very next morning. He says: “We are looking to create a limited number of products overnight or during events with a fantastic screen-printing facility to reinforce that ‘I was there’ factor.”
“Event merchandising is and always will be very entrepreneurial,” Price adds.
There will also be a big emphasis on Team GB product, not least because an estimated 85% of people who go to the Games reside in the host country. Unsurprisingly, this will be built around the red, white and blue team colours.
The megastore will have “somewhere north of 60 tills” to cope with the volume of customers - more than 10 million tickets for Olympic events have been sold. Some 250,000 cases of merchandise from more than 50 suppliers will be delivered to the stores during the games, while the current four full-time staff at TRP - including Rider and Price - must be cranked up to just under 3,000 during the Games. Just 15 of these will work in head office.
Rider says of the recruitment: “We’re working with six London boroughs. We’re lucky because it [the Games] falls in college holidays. There’s a legacy piece in this. Hopefully we can inspire a new generation to work in retail.”
Rider is also talking to his previous employers about seconding their staff for three months next year to give them the experience of Olympic retailing. “There’s an ‘I was there and I delivered’ piece to put on the CV too,” he says.
In terms of replenishment, 80% will be automatically replanned thanks to the system built by Porter-Smith. Four containers a day are due to be delivered to the Olympic Park alone - while ranges will be planned by location. Rider points out that, at last year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver, its main store ended up trading 24/7 to keep up with demand. It is thought to have turned over C$1m (£638,867) a day.
The extra mile
TRP knows it has a serious project to deliver that goes beyond pure merchandise sales. “We are going to provide an integral part of people’s day out,” Rider says defiantly.
Both Rider and Price are adamant that London 2012 will be the best Olympic experience ever, calling it “the statement games”. Rider says: “I was lucky enough to go to the Sydney Olympics. It was extraordinary. 12 years on, the British will be even more welcoming.”
But what will the Olympics mean for UK retail as a whole? “We hope retail will have stabilised in 15 to 18 months,”says Rider. “There will be an influx of non-Brits and generally a retail boost. We will see some really unique product around.”
And what will happen to TRP post-September 11, 2012? “A holiday,” Price chips in. Rider sums up: “But you cannot buy this experience. You can only ever have it once.”
2010 - present Chief executive, The Retail People
2009 - Interim managing director, Mim (New Look’s French chain)
2007-08 - Chief executive, Phase Eight
2005 - Vice-president of retail, Adidas Group
2003-04 - Worldwide president, Speedo
1998 - President and chief executive, Footlocker Europe
1990 - Managing director, Converse
1982 - Various roles, rising to UK general manager, H&M