Retail has always been a local business, which means dealing with locals, whether bank branches or corporations or the local trade bodies. As owners, it was easy for the family members to deal with each individual in these institutions and build and maintain relationships. However, with the growth in business setups and the need and greed of individuals, managing this part of the retail business has become rather complex. It has led to corruption in the retailer’s business as well as in the retail ecosystem.
Business Development, Store Planning and Projects
Property sourcing or business development is the key to developing retail business. In India, the strategy of which geography to start with, which city to enter and how to get the right footprint is very critical. The worst thing is to get a national footprint if you want to be in the top five metros where the average distance between each is 1,000 miles. It is like setting up one store in each country of Europe and running the business. Dealing with landlords– whether small single-shop owners or large developers– is a skill by itself.
Project management and fit-out of the store is also complex as there are no standards of what you will get from the landlord. One may get a bare shell or partly finished store. Carpenters do most small stores; evolved carpenters do bigger stores and, of course, new companies have developed dealing with machine fit-outs. Property selection, planning of the store and project completion are the costliest mistakes that all retailers make.
The retail operations manager needs to be fully empowered to take decisions on the spot for employees, customers and other authorities. Handling emergencies in today’s world of insecurity and terror is an important skill. An example that comes to my mind is an incident that happened in one of our stores. There were two women lined up in the queue at the cash counter. The store manager and retail operations manager have to be mentally trained to tackle unwanted situations and the CEO has to be alert round the clock to respond to such calls whether from Mumbai headquarter or a remote place in Guwahati.
Unlike in product sales or FMCG marketing, the customer service cannot be an independent function. The same has to be integrated to the business values and culture as retail deals with millions of customers and each one has to be dealt with in a similar fashion as the retailer wants to capture the lifetime value of a customer rather than look at one-time sales.
Each of these functions needs thorough understanding of the local laws and the ability to create replicable and sustainable processes. The CEO’s ability to use technology for the same becomes a key to creating a long-term strategy for retail. The retail CEO’s role becomes more complex depending on the assortment of merchandise, range, and the spread of the chain.
Liaison and Relation Building
It is important that every store manager of a small store and the store manager and administrative head of a large store are trained in compliance, governance and handling of government servants. This preparation comes handy in smooth running of retail business. Corruption is rampant in the system and, therefore, requires deft handling of the issues as and when the need arises.
In order to learn about marketing, one should join retail. Retail is a unique business wherein the results of a campaign, promotion, marketing activity, direct marketing programme, or loyalty management activities are declared within few minutes of launching the same on the shop floor.
This is also a business which works on very tight marketing and promotion budget due to low margin and the nature of the business. Unlike traditional FMCG or CPG, the components of marketing that a retail marketing function covers are very large and complex.
Not all activities are managed in all companies but in retail, this is almost mandatory.
The function of visual merchandising has a very critical role in the retail business. A CEO needs to understand these concepts and train and develop their subordinates so that the complexity of the business can be managed efficiently.
Buying and Merchandising
I believe this to be the nerve centre of the business. Specialty retail, category killer or multi-brand retail: all of them require product specialists as well as merchandisers who can manage multiple roles in the B&M functions. Typical sub-roles in retail buying and merchandising are sourcing, selection, buying, planning and assortment management, allocation, inventory management and control, and pricing and mark down management.
Retail is a detail business but it is not necessary for one to micro manage things; knowing the levers that one can pull to make profits is very essential.Some of the businesses such as Madura, Arvind, Tommy Hilfiger, and Levi’s have learnt the art and science of the business from their overseas partners and brand franchisors. The family businesses that have grown are the ones that are now struggling on reaching a scale. The CEOs are not used to training themselves and re-skilling or capability building.
Human resources play a very critical function in retail as because you need to deal with a not very educated ‘you’ at the front end and a highly educated one at the back end. Very few retail CEOs have the ability to connect with the front-end staff. Ajay Kaul, CEO, Domino’s, insisted that he would sit with his associates at the back during the 2012 TRRAIN Retail Awards.
Bhaskar Bhat suggested that in the future, we should have the winners sit in the front and the CEOs at the back. The success of all retail organisations depends on how well the CEO and HR head are able to create a culture of connecting with the retail associates.