At the end of a hectic five-day Retail Study Tour of London in September 2012, some 250 K-Mart Australia employees let their inner child loose as they donned the long robes of Hogwarts for a Harry Potter-inspired gala dinner.
"It was a surprise Harry Potter-themed gala dinner at Middle Temple Hall, which was used as a set in the films," says Guy Parsonage, managing director at Jack Morton Hong Kong. "With much excitement, guests discovered a re-creation of the films’ delights such as a stunning dining hall with floating candles, live owls delivering messages to the head table and a ‘frog choir’ entertaining between courses. There were even edible quidditch balls and magic potion desserts."
At the start of the evening, participants were given robes and taken by their "house captains" on Routemaster buses to the venue. They were greeted on arrival by characters from the fantasy franchise – among them were K-Mart Australia senior management in full costume including hair and makeup.
Hearty greeting from Hogwart's Hagrid for K-Mart Australia participants
First of its kind
K-Mart organises annual store manager engagement events with the goal to inspire as well as encourage knowledge sharing through a motivational and educational programme.
Jack Morton Hong Kong was tapped to be involved with the creative development, logistics and onsite management for the five-day event. While the global brand experience agency had previously produced a store manager event for the retail firm in Beijing, Parsonage says this Retail Study Tour for K-Mart’s Australian arm is the "first of its kind both in content and location".
The majority of the trip focused on visits to retailers across 22 locations in the Greater London area, managing the schedules of 26 groups in 15 minibuses and 11 pre-assigned bus and tube journeys. "There was a heavy emphasis on the store managers learning from their in-store experience of successful European retailers. The delegates had a heavy schedule of working sessions to digest their observations and formulate how to apply these to their own stores and teams. They had a chance to see an entirely different perspective in retailer strategy and let this inspire their ideas for the future," Parsonage says, adding that London was chosen because senior management believe there are particular UK-based retailers that K-Mart Australia could learn from at this crucial stage in their growth.
Cruises, comedians and cockneys
In between work commitments, K-Mart Australia delegates where taken around some must-see sights and must-do experiences in the UK capital. These included a sightseeing cruise dinner on the Thames aboard the luxury yacht Silver Sturgeon with food catered by Jamie Oliver; watching a bespoke performance by comedy musicians "Four Poofs and a Piano", famous from the BBC chat show Friday Night with Jonathan Ross; and specially designed walking tours such as the "Famous Square Mile", "Cockney London", "Old Westminster", "Historic Greenwich" and "London Olympics", all hosted by local Londoners.
There were also tours further afield focusing on landmarks of particular interest such as Lords Cricket Ground and the Tower of London, as well as a specially commissioned London open bus tour, Parsonage says.
Taking in the Thames' attractions on the Silver Sturgeon
Planning the trip at a time when London was preparing for, then hosting, the Olympics was Jack Morton’s biggest challenge, even with a six-month timeline. Tackling the execution of a logistics-heavy programme in an Olympic year was a huge undertaking. Suppliers and venues were extremely busy on Olympics projects during key milestones in the production timeline, which had to be factored into the planning stages, says Parsonage.
To compound the task, all preparations were made across different time zones and geographies with Jack Morton’s project team spread across their Hong Kong and London offices and the client being based in Australia. "The sheer scale of numbers and required movement within London involved meticulous planning with built-in contingencies to travel delays, bad weather, public transport strikes and so on," Parsonage recalls.
He adds that full support on the ground had to be provided to all the K-Mart Australia teams during their store visits. "The delegates were on the whole unfamiliar with London, with less than 15 per cent having been to the UK prior to the event."
The complex logistical efforts that had to be overcome were not lost on the event delegates. "They spoke very highly of the efficiency of our retail visits, and this is largely thanks to the logistical and detailed planning by the Jack Morton team," says Trudy Pow of K-Mart Australia.
"Naturally, holding any international event requires detailed logistical planning and coming off the back of the Olympic Games certainly made adequate planning of our event more critical," she adds. "The team at Jack Morton were fantastic in supporting our internal team throughout each stage of the pre-event planning, and then executing the event at a high standard during our time in London.
EVENT K-Mart Retail Study Tour
VENUE London, UK
DATE September 17-21, 2012
NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS 250
ORGANISER Jack Morton Hong Kong