Rapid Retail interview with Panstadia Magazine – Rapid Retail’s MD, Nick Daffern, details how the company designs, builds and supplies standard and bespoke portable retail units for merchandise, F&B, ticket and programme sales.

Can you give a brief overview of the services that Rapid Retail offer, and what was the inspiration behind you deciding to work in the sports venue sector?
Rapid Retail, designs, builds and supplies standard or bespoke portable retail units, shop kiosks, ticket and programme booths. Rapid Retail’s larger units are made from steel, with the kiosks fabricated from weather- and temperature-resistant polycarbonate. We supply venues all over the world, from Scotland to Qatar, so we know that the units are tested to extremes! Co-founder Andy Moss and I launched the business in 2007. Prior to that, we had both worked in motorsport; I owned a logistics company working with F1 and sports car/rally teams, and Andy worked in operations for Prodrive on the World Rally Championship. We were both appalled that at many high-end sporting events, fans ended up buying an £80 shirt from either the back of a van or from a tent. After researching the sports and events markets we discovered that this lack of proper merchandising and negative fan experience was not unique to motorsport. A niche market had been identified, and Rapid Retail was born. Our first customer was Manchester City FC; we still work with the club today.

Today’s fans are increasingly demanding in terms of facilities and their overall experience at a match or event. Long queue times and restricted access to club shops can often result in fan dissatisfaction but would you argue this can also directly lead to revenue losses for a club? If so, in what ways?
Revenue is important, but so is the whole experience for a fan or spectator. They will soon let you know if they are dissatisfied and frankly they deserve to be treated with respect. This applies at all levels, not just with the top stadia or venues. If a fan cannot buy the merchandise he or she wants, they will just save their money or spend it elsewhere, so yes, revenue will be affected. People want to leave a stadium feeling they have had the best day out and have not had to spend hours in queues, whether for clothing or to buy food or drink. From a revenue point of view, that means they’ll come back next time.

Would you say that clubs are increasingly aware of the need to have an effective merchandising operation?
Especially if the stadium or club shop is undergoing refurbishment, the club’s merchandising operations need to continue. By using portable shop units they can spread the sales operation to other areas of the ground to facilitate the flow of customers. If sales revenue in one area is not as good as it should be, the unit can be shifted to an alternative space. Some clubs place our units outside the ground to give fans time to browse before they go into watch the match. Other clubs sell food and beverage from our units, which are branded equally strongly. These are all units that sell ‘official’ merchandise or quality partner brands that are key to a club’s success.

How can your modular retail units help in terms of increasing venues’ revenue optimisation and do they also have benefits in terms of fan engagement and brand awareness?
We don’t just offer a top-notch product but also help our customers to find solutions to their retail challenges. Take shirt-printing as an example: the last thing a club wants is to have people queuing out of the door waiting for a shirt to be printed while other fans, who just wish to buy a baseball cap, are held up. The two have to be segregated to optimise revenue and for the fans to enjoy the whole match day experience. Awareness of a brand will only become positive if the quality of the goods and service support it.

Can you give 1 or 2 examples of clubs you have worked with where you were able to help to transform their merchandising and retail experience and consequent revenues?
Our client list speaks for itself, with many of them working with us for six or seven years because commercially the units and kiosks are successful. All customer needs are different – some may ask us for help in selling more programmes, others wish to set up fanzone meeting and entertainment points. Very popular are our polycarbonate cube units, which look fantastic branded-up and can be simply moved around a stadium on a pallet or with a forklift. Paris St Germain has a collection of our concourse units, which look fantastic in situ. Rapid Retail units are all designed and supplied fully fitted with state-of-the art interiors. All the club has to do is supply the stock, or bring in the food/beverage operator.

In addition to fans with large stadia, can your units also benefit lower league clubs?
What is more attractive is the fact that there is an option of not only purchasing the units but instead to hire them, to avoid having to find capital up front. Concourse units can be hired from us for as little as £75 per game or event, with one of our Retail Cube units at just £150. At the end of a unit’s life we will take it back for refurbishment or recycling and supply the club with a replacement. Clubs at all levels need to look at their retail operations. ‘Click and Collect’ is set to become popular in the high street and we believe that sports venues should be considering this as an opportunity rather than keeping open a large club shop that is empty for most of the week, unless there is match. The fans could then order online, collect the merchandise from a number of small retail units, with the former club shop turned into a food/beverage outlet or bar for match day.

What about your experience with non-football sports clubs? Do the same factors apply there or do they have more specific challenges depending on the sport?
Both businesses are active in most other sporting sectors, including horseracing, cycling, motorsport and tennis, so the venues vary considerably and are not always static, as in the case of the Tour de France! Our ethos is to develop a close relationship with the commercial and marketing people in the particular sector and work with them to optimise the spectator or fan experience and the revenues. I suppose we like to consider ourselves as an extension to the ‘in-house’ team; this approach works very well. Rapid Retail works with clubs around the globe.

Do you see significant international growth opportunities for yourselves and are there different factors involved in dealing with clubs internationally, such as cultural considerations?
We work with venues and stadia all over the world, including: France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Iceland, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. France is a very important opportunity for us; we have employed a bilingual member of staff to help us to develop that market. Before we visit any overseas market we always research the cultural differences as well, as it can be all too easy to make a ‘faux pas’ through ignorance. We have to respect other cultures and ways of doing business.

Are you currently working on any enhancements to your merchandising units or other additional innovations which will be of real value to clubs in the future?
R&D is part of our lifeblood and we are making constant improvements, such as the use of solar technology. We’re also looking at what can be done to improve the working environment within the units, as well as ensuring that so far as possible we refurbish and recycle units at the end of their life. Other than that we have some exciting developments ‘under wraps’!

This Rapid Retail interview was reproduced by kind permission of PanStadia & Arena Management ©, not for reproduction

Article published in PanStadia & Arena Management ShowCase Special (December 2014)
Read the full article here (page 106-107)