Monday, March 30, 2009

Nostalgia; "Best of the Best" in APAC

During a recent trip to Kolkatta I met an old friend and well wisher; Mr. S K Chowdhury (or Subrata as he is fondly called) of Music World. We met in 1997, when we were both toiling hard to open the first of its kind music store in India. It was a futuristic store and we have some great memories of the various little incidents leading up to the launch including an awkward moment with a leading star, whom we had approached to launch the store. I used to be involved in the marketing for Music World till I got pulled away into other formats and rolls.

But being in the same office it was but natural that we meet and catch up daily. In fact the day would seem incomplete if we had not done so. Being a part of the start up team we also shared a fierce pride in having started specialty retail in India. When we met recently it was but natural that we should recall one of the most memorable instances and that's what I would like to share.

One of the recognitions for the pioneering effort of the RPG Retail team was being awarded the "Top Retailer of India" and more importantly the "BEST OF THE BEST" award across the Asia Pacific region. Five such top retailers were selected for the "Best of the Best" award out of entries from countries like Australia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, etc.

The then head of RPG Retail directed Mr. Chowdhury and myself to attend the function in Singapore and receive the award on behalf of the team. The function was held on 28th October 2004 and we knew that we had been short listed for the Top Retailer of India. We were both expecting that and quite excited about that itself.
Five retailers from across APAC were selected for the "Best of the Best" award. Imagine our absolute surprise, happiness, pride, etc., etc., when RPG Retail was announced as being one amongst this five! A memorable day for the team and more importantly for Indian Retail and Indian Professionals. We could hold our own and come out on tops while being compared in an industry where operators in all the other countries had years and years of experience as compared to the RPG Retail team, which had been running the show for Just over 8 years!!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Weekend musings

The week that has gone by was a memorable one. Apart from the landmark launch of Nano, we learnt that the IPL now stands for International Premier League and not Indian Premier League. More importantly the stock markets seem to be clawing back and with it the sentiments seems to be improving. Is it the light at the end of the tunnel with regards to this downturn??

I don't think so, if one were to believe what the papers report. In fact, maybe that's the problem. media today defines the mood and nowadays all we read about is the gloom and doom. I remember the heady days of 2007 where the papers were full of upbeat news. It is not as if there were no problems or issues then and similarly it is not as if there is nothing positive happening nowadays. However, the focus is on the downturn and hence our mood that we seem to have a very long way to go!!!

I end the musing with a quote attributed to Mr. Kishore Biyani. At a recent event, when asked about when the recession would end, he quipped; "The day we stop reading the papers!". Now, that's food for thought.

Have a great week ahead.

Store staff; The face of any Retailer

The store is only as good or bad as the staff that manage the same and are the face of that retailer.

Over the last 13 plus years since corporate retail started getting staff, training them and ensuring that they present the right imagery has been a huge challenge and it is not becoming any easier.

Initially in 1996/ 97 the challenge was to overcome the bias of working in a store. Staff would not join or leave in a few days because of the label of working in a "dukan"or "kadai". The reason is very simple. Even today most of the traditional stores are manned by people who are usually relatives of the store owner or from their village. Hence, they are usually illiterate and are not the ideal poster boys for a career in retail!

One of the early initiatives to overcome this issue of getting store staff, especially trained staff was the start of RIRM (RPG Institure of Retail Management). Short term diploma courses with on the job training was given and every batch would be snapped up by not only the RPG retail stores but also other retailers. The idea being that a diploma and some class room sessions would communicate the difference between a job with a corporate retailer Vs being a "dukandaar" or "kadaikaaran". Usually the courses would start off very well and once the students graduated and started working in a store, many would stop after a few days. The societal pressure and conditioning came through very strongly when one person wanted to be posted to another store far away from where his home was or he would have to quit. His parents did not want him to be seen working in store by their neighbours!

Training store staff is a challenge as it is multi faceted. It involves three areas of inputs -
- Retail knowledge such as how to stack, how to do FIFO, etc.
- Product knowledge, which is crucial is some categories like electronics
- Attitudinal training and service orientation.

The key challenge is the fact that that most store staff come from a very economically challenged background and most of the inputs are not only alien to them but something they do are not exposed to in their day to day life.

For example, when product inputs regarding something as basic as rice used to be given, they would find it very difficult to relate to as their families would never buy the quality that was being sold. Therefore to try to understand what use and benefit is there in cleaned rice without any broken rice usually is a challenge. In fact, till a series of training sessions were held for every staff, most used to think that the store they worked in was very expensive. The happy outcome of the training was that the families of many of the staff started shopping. It is said that, You need to believe in the product you sell. Otherwise, your skepticism will be obvious to your customers. Nowhere is this more relevant than in retail.

The even greater challenge was the attitudinal training and service orientation. As a race most of us are not taught basic social graces like saying Please/ thank you or smiling or wishing. To change that conditioning and instill something as basic as smile at the customers was a challenge. One youngster innocently asked 'Sir, should we smile at the ladies also? Wont they mistake us?' This might sound very funny, but from his point of view, it was a very valid doubt.

Personal grooming was a favourite topic and I guess is even now a focus area. When a session on body odour and the importance of using powder or deodorant was being made an innocent comment was "Sir, is that not only for ladies?". Of course today it is the age of the metro sexual male and the penetration and use of these products have increased.

Lastly, the entire training bit has to be simple and easy to implement. At the end of the day, it is not rocket science and should not be made into one. One should never forget the background and conditioning these youngsters have and the challenge they face in first understanding and then implementing any training inputs. But still, it would do well if we remember these incidents as a reminder to KISS*!

(* Keep It Simple & Short)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Population Pressure

Standing inside the lift going to the ground floor, I have often been faced with a barrage of a human wall on the ground floor. Rushing to get inside the lift!!! And similarly in an airport transit bus, where everyone gets in and crowds around the entrance or rather the exit!

I have mentioned 2 instances to showcases very different scenarios.

I recollect an incident where I called out loudly “Hey guys, this building does not have a basement. The lift stops here. Unless we get off, you can’t get in”
Increasingly I reflect on this incident as also my various interactions with people from out of India who wonder about this phenomenon and have come up with this theory called “Population Pressure”.

As a race, we Indians or rather people from Asia which comprises of a large population are conditioned from childhood to push, shove, elbow, barge in... In short fight for our place in the good ‘Ole Earth.

In the presence of such overwhelming numbers, we can’t afford the niceties of holding a door open or waiting! If one does not MOVE, they are left standing. I remember reading about the Tokyo Metro system, where you have staff to push people inside the compartments so that the doors can close!

What is this population pressure?


Growing up in an environment where there is nothing called as personal space and the least amount of space will be willingly taken up by another human being, the tussle between social grace/ manners and the pressure to get something out of life is an ever present reality in our lives’.
- Rushing into a lift
- Driving in the wrong lane, even though we want to turn right.
- Vehicles blocking the free left turn lane
- Elbowing into a line
The list can go on.

Is there a solution to this?

Not really, because the population explosion that continues is driven largely by people who cant and don’t read blogs. Or rather, can’t read at all. Period!

Is there a solution? NO. This is a social phenomenon and will take its own course to correct/ change/ morph.

So, what does this have to do with retail?

As a customer we don’t mind browsing and shopping for s long as we want. It could be a few minutes or a few hours. But, the billing counter is a barrier to freedom. Ideally, from a psychological perspective we would like to browse, pick and choose and walk out with what we have taken. FREEDOM, in its absolute sense.

Although the self service concept panders to this inherent whim in our minds, the Billing counter is a reality check. A barrier to be crossed. (I shall write about this in detail later)
Going back to the population pressure theory and linking it to this perceived barrier, is a CRUCIAL factor for any retailer.

Typically a cashier faces challenges, such as –
- Customers lining up and a customer’s bill is taking too long, because many products are not found while scanning! One needs to actually manage a cash till to understand the dynamics. Forget, “If looks could kill”, in a line at the cash till, it’s more like “If thoughts could kill”. And the cashier is not immune to it.
- Population pressure kicking in – Regular customers or someone who has purchased a few things, try to elbow themselves out of this barrier by requesting to be billed first.

As a retailer what can one do?
- Make the staff aware of this reality
- Discourage people from line jumping
- Train the staff to manage “Population Pressure” which is all the more evident during the evenings and weekends.

Successful retail is all about creating, managing and meeting expectations. The key being creating the right level of expectation. That’s another topic for another day!

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Falling between the tables

I have been travelling and it was a great experience to observe new things and ruminate, so that I can share with all of you. I visited some of the stores during this short trip of mine and was reminded of an interesting anecdote, when I saw a few stores trying to morph into something else.

Long, long ago, in an earlier assignment I was witness to a very curious discussion. The HR head and the top honcho of an FMCG company were discussing and the comment was: "We lost a good sales person and created a bad manager". Upon enquiring it was explained that a top rated sales person was promoted to motivate him. It ended up with disastrous consequences. Being a poor leader he was unable to manage the team and what used to be a great contribution from him as a sales person was also lost to the organisation.

A lot of the stories I hear from the emerging retail sector resonate with this thought because -

When someone sees a success, it is quite natural to try and replicate it. Hoping to even better it. Very early on someone told me that "There is no success formula; Every Successful person has a formula". Retail validates this concept. Duplication is not a recipe; Differentiation is!!! How is your store different and more importantly is that difference in alignment with all other elements of the retail strategy. For example: A discount store opens in an upper middle class locality and customers patronise the store. Just because a boutique opens next door, if this store tries to morph into one, the existing customers might actually be confused and those who chose to go to the boutique store would anyways not bother.

I am leaving a few thoughts on the table for your comments and feedback. Would expand and expound on this and the training bit over the weekend.

P.S. - I realised that the Blog is like a store. Shall expand on this thought also, later!!!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Call the cops!!!

Hope you all had a great weekend and a greater still start to the week. At least the stock markets were on an upswing and it is a historic day for every Indian. 'Nano' was launched. A promise made was kept and as an Indian, it swells my heart.

My post to start the week has been prompted by one of the comments wherein it is mentioned that the staff did not even know the name of the product. This is a common enough occurrence and a huge problem for any retailer as also the customers. This is definitely due to the expectation that is created in our minds the minute we walk into an air conditioned, brightly lit store. The root of this issue lies in a variety of reasons, the least of which is the reality that most staff come from a very economically challenged background. Shall delve into that later this week.

This challenge has led to several awkward situations in a store, many of which were outright hilarious, like what happened in this incident.

One of the new staff at a store was very excited and enthusiastic. They had just attended the training program and the "wish the customers" rule was fresh and being actively followed. Suddenly this person rushed up to the supervisor who was busy checking something and stage whispered "Madam, please call the police immediately. It is urgent". The supervisor was initially alarmed, but decided to enquire as to what the matter was, before reacting.

Upon enquiring, the young staff, wide eyed and in a louder stage whisper said; Customer is asking for drugs!

The poor lady who turned out to be an elderly person had been asking whether brown sugar was available; for BAKING!

The supervisor in charge of the store later narrated this incident to highlight how one has to learn and improve continuously as training cannot be like in the film "Matrix"; load a disk and they get to know everything!

Will write more about this and some ideas that have worked. Have a great week.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Some visuals to break the monotony of text!!!

Some of my pictures to share with all of you. I have chosen a sunset to mark the end of a week, a picture which shows a gap between walls to signify opportunity beyond and a close up of a well irrigated field as a symbol of future prosperity and well being for ALL. Om Sivoham.

What will be, will be. Shall write about that next week, of course, in addition to retail! Adios. :-)

Voting is not a right, It's a DUTY

I often feel ashamed of being a part of the educated class in India. We are a pampered lot (In a lot of ways) and it shows up most obviously on election day. For most, its a glorious holiday!! The reality that people don't do their duty has made companies now declare it a working day, with a few hours permission at best.... Supposedly to vote!!

We read news papers, many a magazines and are also active on the net. I witness the enormous amount of appeals, comments of outrage, opinions, etc., that flows through my mail box and group messages daily.

One question. Did you vote? is like the school bell, suddenly rendering everyone speechless or rather text less....

A few brave souls reply with the obvious justifications like; Whats the use? Everyone is as bad as the other and so on.

I have only 2 views about this -

1. This is our duty. In return for our identity as an Indian, the least we can do is VOTE. Ask the people who live in non-democratic countries what a luxury this is. We are given this right and duty by our constitution and yet most fritter it away.

2. Now I speak like a retailer. Do you know how to increase the margins of a category or a store? You focus on the relatively better margin products. Slowly and surely the margins move up. It does not happen overnight. But it happens. Similarly, I agree that the choices are not great. But, support the lesser of the evils. Slowly and surely the message will get through and the bar will raise.

I sincerely hope that the coming election is a landmark in Indian history because the educated class voted and they defined the standards we want for an India we want to leave for our children!

Postscript - Another excuse albeit a genuine one! I don't have an election card and it is too difficult and time consuming to get one. And my response - Anyone who says this should never ever bother about a gas connection, ration card, driving license, passport, etc. If the person has any one of these, we all know the effort required for that. Cant that person expend the same as a duty towards the country?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Understanding the customer. A true life experience

Organisations spend huge sums of money in market research to understand the customers. There is a whole industry involved in what is called customer analytics and profiling where customer behaviour is dissected in every possible way. The ultimate objective being, a more competitive offering which the customer wants. A friend of mine who used to manage a store once told me a story in this context and said how all these reports cannot substitute an hour of standing in the store.

In that context retail is the most interactive and customer insightful industry. One can get instant feedback and make corrections if they choose to.

This is during the early days of mobiles and one mobile company had tied up with a chain to give a hand set free as part of a contest. Needless to say the interest was high and I remember filling in the various forms I was eligible for hoping to get the phone. One such elderly lady like me was also hopeful of winning the phone, excepting that she expected or rather was waiting for the phone to be given to her. The store manager would be asked every time if the contest was over and when can she collect the phone! She claimed that God has told her that she was going to get the phone.

It was a Saturday and I was shopping at the store when the store manager informed me that someone else had won and the message had just come from the office and he was to display the winners name. He was hoping that he would not be around when the elderly customer came to the store and found she was not the winner. Just as he was telling me this, an elderly lady walked up to him and asked when she can get the phone!

As diplomatically as possible, the manager explained that someone else had won and better luck next time. The customer suddenly became abusive and hurled the choicest of abuses and not content with that made a gesture of spitting to indicate her disgust. I watching this and almost expected the security to lead the customer out.

To my surprise and appreciation the manager walked up to the lady and calmly apologized for disappointing her and gently asked why she was so upset. It was after all only a contest. The lady calmed down, broke down and told her story; Her husband was very critically ill and they had applied for a landline phone which was getting delayed. When she heard of this contest, it was like a sign from God and she had started believing that if she won the phone, her husband would get well as they could summon medical help whenever they wanted.

I was very touched by the story and wondered how often we react to anger with anger, when it actually hides sorrow and fear. Kudos to the manager for understanding customers with more insight than any report can provide.

Retail trivia – Almost every contest works on a probability theory and the prizes are planned for assuming only a certain number of people participating. Also, they are usually a method for data collection, to be used for future marketing efforts. Next time you fill in a coupon remember that apart from the prize you could also get a lot of calls and mails!!

-- This article is part of a series, I wrote for "The Hindu, Retail Plus".

The lure of a Freebie!

FREE! What a powerful word. Among the most used, recognized and acted upon words in the world. The power of free!

One really does not know when the practice of freebies started. But suffice to say that this has become one of the more powerful promotion tools for any brand owner as also retailers. Many a times the consumer makes a final choice on what is being given Free. Many brands have created fads and cults with their freebies and a good example is the craze for Tazzos which was triggered by a potato wafer brand.

I have seen many situations where the power of free is on display. Children insisting that their parents buy something because a toy is free with it, ladies purchasing a personal product because an utility item is free and so on. However, the power of free was best demonstrated when I witnessed the following incident.

It was yet another opening of a swank, new modern supermarket. Offers and more offers made customers queue up and wait in the sun. Once the store was ‘inaugurated’ the mad rush began. I was a part of this crowd and suffice to say that I was carried into the store with minimal effort, thanks to my co-shoppers excitement. Soon my trolley was full and I rushed to pay and get out before getting caught behind a long line.

I emerged victoriously clutching my bill which said that there were so many interesting Freebies I had to collect. As I waited in the counter where they were handing over these free products I noticed a very upset middle aged lady. She was smartly dressed and was addressing the counter staff in excellent English and not sparing them. After observing the scene for some time I could surmise that she had purchased for a particular value which was almost twice the limit for a promotion and was demanding an additional freebie. Given the intensity of the debate, I got interested in case I had missed out on this offer. The staff were explaining that the free was not only based on the value of purchase but should also include some specific product.

I guess after some time the staff thought that it is better to give one more freebie and avoid the scene as also the ire of customers who were waiting for their turn. I was curiously waiting to see the freebie, which was the triumphant result of the lady’s efforts. To be frank, I was a bit disappointed when the staff handed over a medium sized ordinary looking plastic bucket, to the lady.

The lady picked up the bucket, thanked the person and turned to imperiously hand over the bucket to a smart uniformed person, who I noticed was standing in the side, saying ‘Keep it in the car’. This particular incident intrigued me more than the reality of someone insisting and getting a bucket as free. With growing amazement I watched the lady march towards a gleaming black, imported luxury sedan and get into the car. The driver dutifully placed the bucket in the boot and off they went!

Retail trivia – Many a times we would have asked that the price of the freebie adjusted as a discount and we are told that the discount offered would be a fraction of the price of such a freebie. Its might be puzzling as to why we don’t get the full value as a discount. The reason is very simple. These freebies are sourced in bulk and purchased at a fraction of their stated price. Hence, only that amount can be given as a discount if any customer insists on it. Its better to take the freebie and gift it to someone than lose out on the value by insisting on a discount!

-- This article is part of a series, I wrote for "The Hindu, Retail Plus".

Getting better service

We all as customers expect very good customer service. The question is, how many of us deserve good customer service?

Internationally we are known to be rude, aggressive, tip poorly, treat staff like personal servants and then complain about poor service.

I had a friend who was an air hostess with Air India and once we had a debate about why Indian fliers were treated poorly while foreigners would be helped, smiled at and so on. She stumped with a single line. She said “Without fail most foreigners would say please and thank you, while most Indian fliers would demand whatever they wanted”. That set me thinking and I started observing if we as a consumer class are really so bad.

Retail chains were a good place to observe this phenomenon, especially since they talk so much about customer service and customer delight. I noticed that most chains have instructed and trained their staff to smile, wish ask if any help is required. Most staff did smile and wish, while most customers would either look past them or be mildly irritated.

One day I commented to one such staff member that this must be one of the easier parts of their job. Smile and wish. She said “No sir, this is actually not so easy. A few customers smile back at us. Most just ignore us. I feel very bad when that happens.” The staff became comfortable enough to share a few thoughts and it gave me a very different perspective.

These people come from poor economical backgrounds. Most of them use the bus or cycle to get to work. Their homes are not exactly the epitome of comfort and luxury. On top of all that they also have their personal problems and issues. In that context being cheerful, smiling and wishing is an effort. Doing it again and again when being ignored by many is an even bigger effort. Adding insult to injury are some misguided youngsters who use this as an excuse to make funny comments or remarks.

I resolved to remember this and make it a point to wish and smile back at staff, say please and thank you every time someone does a service. I am just being selfish. I am ensuring that this service staffs do not get so demoralized that they stop giving good service because no one acknowledges it and one day I stop getting good service.

A retail trivia – There is a customer service guideline called the 5 Feet rule. This was propounded by Sam Walton of Walmart and most retailers follow some variation of this. Every customer facing staff is required to smile and wish customers who come within 5 feet. How do they measure 5 feet? Simple, the floor tiles have a defined size and one needs to wish everyone within a particular number of tiles.

-- This article is part of a series, I wrote for "The Hindu, Retail Plus".

Power of change

Most of us would have definitely had a situation where we could not complete a purchase because we had no change or had to take some meaningless toffees instead of the change. Having or getting change has not been an issue as wide spread in the fast few years. However in the late 90’s this was a major issue and has given lots of headaches to retailers, especially the new organized chain stores.

During that period a regular customer who used to frequent one such chain store used to expect change as a given. Most cases she would get the change and a few times the staff would ask if she had change and she would grumble and search and try to find change. One day when the staff asked if she had change, customer suddenly lost her temper and started shouting. The others in the line were getting quite restive and it looked like there would soon be a major scene.

Just then another staff who seemed like the store manager came up to the lady and said that she would help. After patiently listening to the lady she had a long talk to this lady explaining about why there is a problem with change and what all they are doing to address this. I was watching to see if the manager’s talk would resolve the problem. Obviously she was quite persuasive and the customer calmed down, found some change, billed her purchases and left.

I congratulated the manager on her customer service and went away. A few weeks later the manager spotted me at the store and walked up to share an astonishing end to this story. The customer had returned the next day with lots of change bundled in her kerchief and gave it to the manager and said “I never realized how much of change I end up having in my house, till you explained how difficult it was to get change. So I thought let me give it to you and help”. I left the store impressed with the manager and with the customer who helped herself and other customers with her small effort.

I am sure that many of us would discover lots of change at our homes if we had a look around. Maybe we should also do what that customer did and give it to our regular store. Or at least carry it with us. Imagine how much money would be lying unused as change!!

A retail trivia – These chains as part of their efforts to get adequate change would approach several innovative sources apart from their banks, the Tirupati temple being one of them. Based on what the manager was telling I gathered that staff would go every week to Tirupati and return with bags of coin. Another interesting source was the various beggar groups. Yes, were amongst the main suppliers of change and made money giving change. They would give change worth Rs. 97 or 98 and get Rs. 100 in return.

-- This article is a part of a series, I wrote for "The Hindu, Retail Plus".

Small format wins

This was a piece I wrote in April 2006 when the "FDI in retail" debate was at it's peak, about how Kirana stores would always thrive. Is this relevant even now after 3 years?

In the Indian Retail Scenario, the small format neighborhood store will continue to flourish and grow, midst all the large format discounters. This has been so in most developed countries also. In fact, this development that will sustain any cash and carry operator as this segment next to the hotels is core to any cash and carry operator.

This is because of some very specific factors in the Indian socio economic and physical environment. These are –

Real estate costs and location – Large format discount food formats would have to look at operating in the suburbs, simply because of the rental structure in a CBD. This has implications in terms of a trade off between location and size, which then affects range. Of course formats which leverage the higher margins of general merchandise and offer food as a marginal range might be able to trade off and survive in city centre locations. But for how long is the question in the face of rising real estate costs.

Gap in supply Vs demand of real estate – Linked to the above factor is the gap in supply vs. demand in real estate. This is bound to put pressure on any retail operator with regards to the cost structure. In this context a pure discount led food format, especially a large store would be very difficult to sustain in a sustained manner.

Car ownership – Even with the explosive growth seen in recent year’s car ownership remains much lower than in the west. Take the case of dual car ownership and the situation is even bleaker. Driving to a suburban location, while juggling various other chores and duties would always be a dilemma. Especially, if there are small format stores offering good value in the immediate neighborhood.

Emerging lifestyle – 24/7 is a lifestyle most working couples are embracing if not by design then by default due to the pressures of work. This has redefined the priorities and preferences in a significant manner in most cities. Free time is precious and people choose to spend it in recreation and entertainment instead of engaging in activities that are boring, routine and stressful. With the initial novelty of a supermarket store having worn off, the primary value expected from these operators is one of convenience. It is a trade off between convenience and comfort vs. savings that will determine the choice of going to a large format vs. neighborhood store.

New OPEX cost!!!

Oh and I forgot!!!!
During, one store launch we had to reimburse the cost of a windscreen for a customer's car. Because, a large pumpkin was placed on top of the large format banner to ward off the evil eye that this 'attractive' communication might garner and attract to the entire building. The famous sea breeze of Chennai led to the banner fluttering and sent this pumpkin crashing down!

Since then, I wonder whether the pumpkins help or not!

Where is the banner/ Balloon rice!!

In the early days of corporate retail, with limited budgets I had to think of every kind of gimmick to stretch the marketing budget. One innovation (Thanks to a Hindi Pop Concert!!) was the large format drop down banner and the large gas balloons. This became such an identification sign that, customers would walk in asking for the Banner or Balloon rice!!

P.S. - Thanks to a concert in the indoor stadium at Chennai, where large format drop downs were noticed by my team mate Usha and myself, this became SOP for launches for some time, leading to the term - Banner rice!

P.S.2 - The large gas balloons were as effective as dangerous. One had to get all kinds of permission and be very careful when using them. In spite of all this care, a balloon flew off during a launch. Last reported; some flights were being diverted to Chennai or Madras in those day! Because, the passengers wanted to purchase the balloon rice!!!!

Friday, March 20, 2009

One choose's what one see's!!!! MATRIX ???

Over the past few years I have carried my camera and captures various images as and when the mood or thought strikes me.... Some of these pictures have revealed amazing insights... If one sees it, the perspective is clear. Else, its another picture!!! None of these have been changed or interfered with, using software, apart from inserting my initials and converting them to a PDF format. Please do comment on your perspective, when you see these pictures.

A few comments/ feedback to the article "Do you have eggs"

Very Appropriate article. Inspite of all the marketing, promotion and planning the "last mile" in telecom...the Retail Store Manager is amongst the most crucial player in the retail game and plays a critical role in making a particular store a success or a failure.
Sanjeev Agarwal
I read it fully Rajesh. It was “ THE YOU “ in you telling – meaning it was like you are talking to people in that sense. It was great and the example you gave of 20 kg stuff goes into the mind straight.
On the whole ownership needs to driven at each end and by everybody instituted by the top mgmt. Great stuff thalai!
A beautiful eye opener for the Retail chain openers
Keep up the job
Dear Sir,
This is apropos the subject article in Brand Line (19th March 2009). The article is symptomatic of the malady it attempts to highlight and discuss. Organised retail in supermarket terms could loosely be said to have really started in India with the arrival of Foodworld in 1996. However, the problems of poor stock levels, customer service and manpower that we experienced then, remain now, whether in Foodworld or in any of its i-wanna-be-better-than-foodworld competitors. Does not that reflect poorly on the so-called retail professional groomed in those early pioneering organisations and now handling top management roles in today's retail companies?
Everyone knows what the problems are. It's just that no-one seems to have a solution for them, and each new company insists on re-inventing the error wheel and learning the mistakes from scratch!
Rajeev Iyer
I read the article before I even read your mail. Found it excellent and a true picture of current retail scenario. Please keep writing more such articles. They can be finally compiled as a book.
Dear Mr Rajesh,
I enjoyed reading your article. Really lucid and plainspeak.
A few days back myself and my wife were waiting in the billing counter of a retail store. The person before us obviously had purchased a lot of things and had difficulty in carrying them home. She was asking the counter girl whether they could be delivered at her house. The girl replied that it would have been possible if she had asked for door delivery before preparing the bill and since the bill had already been prepared and paid she could do nothing about it. The lady walked away saying that she would have to find a better outlet who was more aligned to customer needs for her next purchase. Had the girl in the counter been more responsive to the requirement of the customer by talking to someone to help her out, then she could have helped the store retain a customer.
I just thought I will share this with you. Hope yourself and your family are fine. Our best wishes to you.
Hi Rajesh,
Ths is a great article... gives one a true picture.
I have also personally experienced a similar situation... the shopping list not getting completely over is a common phenomenon.
In fact, I can add one more thing - the quality of stock. Due to the lackaidaisical attitude, no one worries about quality.
Its high time the retail biggies wake up to the reality. Else, retail business will still remain with the kirana merchants..
Thanks for sharing the article.
Hema Narayanan
Excellent article Rajesh.
Nothing like a personal touch and feel.
Empowerment of store is a big factor for the success of XXXXX. It also leads to loss of revenue.
It is a nightmare for the finance team to control shrinkages (loss of revenues, not necessarily inventory loss) as the ownership is diversified.
A franchisee model (where the franchisee is on the shop floor) address this in a flaw in a major way were ownership is at the last level and at the same time ensure the franchisee to be in touch with the customer as this income is dependent on how well he runs is business.

A very well written article. Am sure its one of the reads that folks at super marts need to better understand ground realities and mindsets of their regular clientele with a view to retain and grow that segment.
Best Regards,

Nice article. I agree with you on all the issues . Firstly the supply chain should be put in place (which has never happened in all the super markets ). I had personally suffered because of this . They should go for 3PL .. Surprisingly XXXXX has dismantled CFA and had gone for company managed warehouse. XXXXXX is beyond repair. XXXXXXX closed (for whatever reason) . Also , retail outlet has been opened as if there is no tomorrow (blame numbers for this..) and therefore like you rightly said instant baptism is happening with no focus on customer relation, loyalty to the store, conversion, smile and what not..The trainer comes , schedules the programme, goes to the next location for training because store is getting opened. He is busy claiming how busy he has become training people (with no actual input or training )..
In my opinion there has to be merger of mushrooming retail companies and close unhealthy competion having three supermarkets of different brands in a single location ( egg not being available in single lcation !) .. I strongly feel that neither the so called big retails guys are making money nor they are making small kirana stores to make money for survival. My suggestion is that they should talk to traditional kirana (annachi or the Bhai ) train them , and give them the franchisee WITH MINIMUM INVESTMENT and no high fly stuff...else the overall loss will be Phenominal.
Gave my thoughts and your article kindled the same..

Please allow me into the store!!

One of my most memorable and early memories of modern retail in India is the launch of the first Foodworld store in Hyderabad (or was it Secunderabad!!!!) in the late 90's.


It was around 7 p.m. and the 3000 sq. ft. store was just about ready to qualify for the record of "most people inside a confined space". The operating team of which I was a member of, decided to request customers to wait and not enter the store and if possible return the next day.

After all customers had to move out before anyone could come in...

My very dear friend Saurabh, the business head and myself decided to man the entrance and announce to the customers to wait or return the next day. While we were battling the crowds and explaining to the various customers why they cant enter the store immediately, our worry was that the glass door should not break and injure anyone!

While grappling between the crowds and the glass door, a person slowly pushed his way towards us and held out his hands to us for a hand shake. We politely shook his hand and were explaining that he would have to come back the next day or wait till the crowd lessened, when I had to suddenly pull my hand away, as something was being pressed into my palm.

At that point, the customer became hysterical and said "Please take 50 or 100 rupees and let me into this place. I have come from far to show this place to my children and cannot come again". Obviously we could not not do that and we tried explaining that to the customer while keeping the entrance barricaded.

Finally that person left. Convinced or dejected, I do not know, till this day.

The incident had a great learning for me as a retailer and a marketeer. Don't create expectations, which you cant meet and ideally surpass. In subsequent store launches we planned it like a 1 day match to manage customers. But, that's another story for another day.

Today when I think about that incident I wonder if that person even bothers to go to a chain store for his regular shopping, let alone a new store launch!!!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Do you have Eggs?

Wrote an article which was published in Business Line, about the current customer experience and the possible reasons for the same. Please look up the article and share your views.

Some old articles of mine about retail.

Used to write a lot about retail before corporate policy constrained me from sharing what was anyways public information. Thankfully I am with an organisation which understands and appreciates the difference. More importantly trusts me about sharing only common information and my interpretation of the same.

My articles which have been published before can be seen on these URLs -

Wud appreciate comments and feedback if any.

New to this communication forum


Am new to this communication forum and will request visitors to pardon my lapses, if any!!