Monday, May 11, 2009

Mr. Owen Price; And his priceless input!

The first year passed by fairly fast. For some time The R A Puram store was the only store in Chennai and most of the team members either stayed closed by or passed it enroute to office and home. Like all single children, the store and its team suffered from an over abundance of attention, feedback, action points, etc.

Interestingly most of us were from different industries. Not just Retailing but a majority of what we sold was new to us. We were busy learning the tricks of the trade while picking up inputs on how to differentiate between Toor and Urad Dal, how to select a good broom, etc. Our spouses were not complaining (As yet!!) because we were all venturing into the uncharted territory of the household shopping, grocery, kitchen, etc. Obviously there were many hilarious moments, but in the privacy of the home and will leave it at that!

I remember a plaintive cry to the operations head by the store team to debar our visits because just the day before not one or two but a whole bunch had visited and given inputs on how to display brooms!

The reality was also that customers would come, pick up a few items and leave. We yearned to see the large monthly shopping bags, but they were few and far between. As the marketing person for Chennai, it was my onus to bring in more customers and make them buy more.
Many ideas were shared by the then JV partners and most were implemented, including a monthly draw, special offers and what not.

In the meanwhile, the first year’s anniversary rolled by and like all first birthdays it was to be celebrated in style. We had a seminar on retailing and then a cake-cutting at the store with the works.

One of the special invitees for the anniversary was Mr. Owen Price from Dairy Farm International. He is the grand old man of Asian retail and he retired from the board of company in May 2007 after 33 years of association. He had requested that someone be attached to him to help him prepare his notes and speech for the seminar and yours truly was drafted for that role.

After completing my tasks and having attended the seminar and function, we went back to the hotel where I was to drop him and pack up. He invited me in for a drink and remarked that for all the help I had extended he would like to help me out. He asked me, what was the biggest challenge I faced as a retail marketer. Promptly I blurted out about customers not doing grocery shopping. He asked me about the places where most people shopped and agreed to come for a quick tour the next day, before leaving for the airport.

The next day, we went to all the Murugan stores, Bharat stores, etc in Chennai and Mr. Price was very intrigued by the huge bags of rice kept in these stores. Soon it was time to leave and on the way to the airport he taught me the core basic of retail. Identify the largest item in value and/ or volume that people buy. Ensure that they buy that from your store and everything else will follow. He left with a single sentence saying “Rice seems to be your key”.

I quickly did some homework and understood what he had meant. We had a major argument as to who would take on the cost of the promotion. The final arbitration was that marketing would take the cost, but if this proved successful it would be a merchandising cost. The first promotion we ran in 1997 on rice was 2 Kgs of Sugar Free with a 20 KG bag of rice. The floodgates opened. Soon we realized that basic items need to be driven by pricing and not by promotion. So pricing was focused upon and the term banner/balloon rice was born! (Mentioned in the earlier post Needless to say, marketing did not get any debit for the initial promotion!

Mr. Price; A tall, regal looking person, I still remember his keen eyes and smiling face. In a way, he is my first Guru in the field of Retailing. He taught me to step out and learn firsthand about consumers and how crucial it is in Retail. Post this incident I realized that reports and data can tell you only so much. For a complete picture one needs to step out and experience it in totality.


puresunshine said...

Your post reminded me of that story in Sam Walton's Made in America. When his manager decides to promote detergent I guess. A mountain of it and sell it all. This is something which retailers are not exploring fully. They want to use all the space, each sq ft, so much that the fun in grocery shopping is lacking. If its gotta be boring, one might as well go to the mom-and-pop stores.

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