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“Spencer’s has hardly been affected by the downturn”

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“The retail industry at large should have now experienced the reality that ‘consumer’ is the most powerful word. She now enjoys more choices than ever before and has access to an unperturbed flow of information that influence her at every stage” says Samar Singh Sheikhawat, vice president, Marketing, Spencer’s Retail Limited, the multi-format retailing arm of RPG Enterprise. Sheikhawat believes that consumers have a clear understanding of value while shopping and therefore, providing ‘value’ in true sense is a daunting challenge for the retailers these days.

A post graduate in MBA — Marketing and Finance from Symbiosis, Pune, Sheikhawat joined Spencer’s in March, 2006. He started with Cadbury’s India Ltd. and over time he moved on to HUL’s sales team. Sheikhawat was also aboard Dabur India Ltd. to head its Sales and Marketing for the Natural Products Business. After a five year stint, he moved on to PepsiCo Beverages International and spent six years with the organisation.

Sheikhawat, in a conversation with IndiaRetailing, reveals that leading at Spencer’s for him has been filled throughout with the experiences of learning, excitement and challenge at every stage.

IndiaRetailing (IR): What is the driving philosophy of retail operations at Spencer’s?
Samar Singh Sheikhawat (SS): At Spencer’s, we believe that we are actually into the hospitality business. For us, our customers come first and we always think of more innovations to serve them better. In that process most importantly comes first the merchandise-mix. Our fresh, organic, staples sections are extremely popular given the quality and price points. For our clothing section, the international brands like Beverley Hills Polo Club for adults and Ladybird for kid’s wear are exclusively available only at Spencer’s.

Our staff is trained at ‘Pragati’ which is an in-house state-of-the-art training school where all the employees are given extensive training on retail operations and customer service before they are deployed on the floor. We have an annual customer satisfaction survey as well and we are planning to make this quarterly to understand service and operations issues from a customer’s point of view. With the brand proposition “Taste-the-World” we aim to communicate that we offer the best in the world class to our customers across food, fashion, home and entertainment in an international ambience and a contemporary style.

We at Spencer’s sincerely believe that customer care is the pillar on which the success of Spencer’s depends. We also believe that satisfaction has no limits and therefore, our motto is to serve the customers better everyday. To reach out to our customers, we have started a customer care cell. This is a channel they can use to send us their comments, grievances via email, sms or by filling up feedback forms at the store level.

IR: While taking your retail operation forward in the Indian context, what is the biggest learning from the current slowdown?
SS: Through our experience we have realised that organised retail is a business of ‘Sanity versus vanity’. The exponential growth of retail prompted the retailers to invest ahead of the curve. However, it proved to be not too sustainable over the years. With a slight downswing and drop in demand during these times, the artificially created overcapacity of the retailers, as a result of such unbridled expansion, came into the forefront. But entrepreneurs like us, who were already experienced through the ups and downs, could gauge the market correctly and knew that we could not go overboard. Hence, our approach has been very cautious and now we can see this prudence being practiced by the other retailers also.

IR: Your personal vision when it coming to leading your retail team.

SS: I strongly believe in team work, empowerment of my team members when it comes to take decision at work and overall I, along with my team like to lead by example. The followings are indispensable in my thought process while I lead the team in Spencer’s:

• Challenge of driving the business from scratch, based on a model of differentiation in the crowd and seeing success on the way

• A motivated team which has the ability and dedication to deliver on the above objective

• Taking the pride along with the responsibility when working for an organisation like Spencer’s which empowers its people to take critical business decisions to deliver on the objectives timely and successfully.

IR: Given the two schools of thought that are currently dominating the Indian retail industry — ‘aggressive expansion’ versus ‘slow but steady expansion’ — which has attracted you as your own retail strategy?
SS: While expanding, we always have consciously taken a conservative view of the market potential. We are not into mass retailing; instead we address a niche segment of upper middle class Indian consumers and hence target a smaller market segment. For all these reasons, our expansion has been quite tempered. And we have seen this approach paying off positively in the current recessionary scenario too and therefore, Spencer’s has hardly been affected by the downturn.

IR: Your comment on the expression ‘Powerful Retailer’. According to you, which are the three most ‘powerful retailers’ in the world and why.
SS: ‘Powerful Retailer’ is the one which by consolidating many manufacturing sources and optimising on its existing supply chain can shift the centre of power in business successfully from manufacturing to retail. In my view the three most ‘powerful retailers’ are:

1. Wal-Mart — For their sheer size and scale of operations along with their negotiation skills with vendors ultimately creating a successful business model which focuses on delivering the best to the consumers

2. Tesco — They are the best F&G retailer in the world today. They have fortified themselves with brilliant backend and SCM practices and great products in its area of specialisation.

3. Ikea — Ability to consistently deliver stylish and low-cost furniture; their zeal to constantly refresh and be on the cutting-edge of design, scalability of operations Other than these three, the last but not the least, Zara for its unbelievable ‘Go-to-Market’ turnaround time from the time a new trend is spotted by its designer; for them it takes just three weeks to test and get the product into the store. It is also an experience that most of the time the product gets sold within two weeks of reaching the shelf, also reflecting their consistencey at providing high-street fashion at economic price under every circumstance.

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