Women's fashion brand Phase Eight holds two events each year to launch the spring/summer and autumn/winter collections to managers from its 240-plus stores and concessions around the UK.
"In the old days, our staff events consisted of a fashion show with key presentations from the chief executive and financial director," says Jenny Glen, PA to the corporate board and the firm's events organiser. "But it just felt that the managers weren't getting enough from it and we needed to offer more," she adds.
So Phase Eight dropped the fashion show and introduced a new workshop concept for its events. The retailer had previously used the five-star Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington twice for its workshop-style events, first in July 2010 for the launch of its autumn/winter fashion collection and again in February 2011 to debut its spring/summer range.
Glen says that the venue had scored highly across criteria including service, cost, location and quality of its facilities and catering. "We originally got talking to them when we were trying to do something on a tight budget and they really worked hard to keep us within it," she explains. "We felt they were completely on our side."
While the workshop format was a success, Glen says that the managers "were crying out for the fashion show".
"They missed the atmosphere and buzz," she adds. Consequently, for the launch of the autumn/winter 2011 collection, Phase Eight decided to reintroduce the fashion show and combine it with workshops and presentations.
After discussing Phase Eight's enhanced needs, the Royal Garden explained that it could recommend a supplier that could rig the catwalks and coordinate the staging. Such was Glen's faith in the efficiency of the hotel's events staff, she only required one face-to-face meeting with them. "We then followed up with email and phonecalls up until the event's delivery," she says.
Phase Eight's objectives were to launch the autumn/winter collection via the catwalk event and to run a series of workshops designed to inspire and motivate staff and update them about the retailer's corporate strategy.
The challenges faced by Phase Eight and the Royal Garden Hotel teams were purely logistical.
"The space was the biggest challenge," says Glen, "and then trying to work out how to move people from one workshop to the next."
Each workshop had to seat an allocated number of people, and as the company had expanded since its February event, the hotel had to cater for an increased number of delegates. The addition of the fashion show to the mix also meant that the Royal Garden's Palace Suite had to accommodate the catwalk.
"The team at Royal Garden worked out the logistics of this," says Glen. Food was another challenge, she adds - feeding the 250 delegates within an hour's timeframe.
The event was held on 12 July and attended by 250 delegates - mostly store managers from Phase Eight. The fashion show had been kept a secret from staff, who were expecting just workshops. But upon their arrival at the venue at 10am, it became obvious that the fashion show had made a welcome return.
After a morning reception, the day's itinerary was outlined to delegates and workshops started at 11am, in both the newly refurbished Palace Suite and the smaller Kensington function room. Themes including store developments, marketing, finance, e-commerce and HR were explored and discussed, with each session being led by the relevant Phase Eight manager.
After lunch, delegates congregated in the Palace Suite for presentations from Phase Eight's retail operations director Ian Wallis and chief operating officer Lee Harlow, who talked about Phase Eight's performance and its business plans.
Presentations were followed by an employee awards ceremony. "The prizes are awarded to recognise great performance on a team and individual basis," explains Wallis. "We find our managers really work towards these as they are then recognised in front of their peers."
Categories included best sales year to date, best average transaction, top regional manager, long service awards and store manager of the year.
Aside from store managers, around 30 additional guests were invited, including key suppliers, concession partners from retailers such as John Lewis House of Fraser and Debenhams, and Phase Eight investors.
The climax of the day was the return of the fashion show at 3pm. Ten models strutted the catwalk, accompanied by a thumping soundtrack, dressed in clothing, footwear and accessories from Phase Eight's autumn/winter collection.
Glen says the show that the Royal Garden team helped put on "felt like London Fashion Week, but at a really good price".
The day ended at 4pm, when delegates, including key Phase Eight partners and suppliers, attended a drinks reception.
Glen has nothing but praise for staff at Royal Garden Hotel, whom she describes as "extremely efficient and accommodating - nothing is too much trouble as they always go out of their way to please us".
Wallis adds: "We had a great event at the Royal Garden. The workshops always work well as the managers are in smaller groups and therefore can get the detail of the messages being presented and feel comfortable in asking questions.
"However, we are a fashion business and the best way to show off amazing product is on a catwalk with professional lighting and great models. This went down really well with the managers and was a great end to the day."
Glen says that feedback from delegates was entirely positive. "An inspiring fashion show that left me excited and proud to work for Phase Eight," says one store manager. "So many fantastic pieces that are so on trend and just my style."
Another store manager adds: "As a new manager to the business it was great to see all of the top trends on the catwalk, and it has created such excitement in-store, as I am able to describe and tell customers about all of the fab products on their way to us.
The fashion show was definitely my favourite part of the day."
Testament to the efficiency of the Royal Garden Hotel is that Phase Eight is planning to hold its next event there in February 2012.
February 2011 Date secured with Royal Garden Hotel
May Logistics of fashion show - including layout of catwalk and sound system and soundtrack - finalised
End of May/June Delegates sent invitations
12 July Event takes place
Company: Phase Eight
Event: Store manager team-building, workshops and autumn/winter fashion
Group size: 250
Date: 12 July 2011
Venues: Royal Garden Hotel, Kensington, London