When Needs Supermarket opened in Gurgaon, it had the first-mover advantage. Even when more stores opened, giving rise to increasing competition and heightened consumer expectations, Needs continued to retain its popularity. Proprietor Ajay Dhar reveals the reasons.
What makes Needs tick with the customers?
We opened our first store in October 2000. We were not the first retailer in Gurgaon – it was actually Crossroads, but once it shut down, we came to be viewed as a pioneer of sorts in the catchment.
When we started out, we positioned ourselves as a store that offered a vast variety of products rarely seen in other stores. This drew customers who were confident that Needs would meet all their needs (pun intended). Things which they could not find elsewhere in Gurgaon could be found in our store. But things have changed now as many grocery stores having opened up and they too are offering a vast variety of products. I think our strength and continued loyalty from our customers now lies in our ‘convenience’ – especially with respect to our location. Since we are located within walking distance from many residential societies, customers find our easy accessibility very convenient indeed.
Any special customer service initiative?
We have observed that in bigger outlets there are a lot of hassles when a customer has to get his/her purchases billed or when an item has to be returned. There is a lengthy process even for an immediate return. Since we value our customers’ time, we have taken care to ensure that our processes are very simple and, therefore, fast. This is but an extension of our customer service – convenience plus value for time.
What are your observations of consumer preferences?
With the market opening up, the growth of imported foods and the coming of foreign companies and brands into India, the variety of food products have increased significantly. Consumers have far more choices now. There was a time when we use to bring Coca Cola cans from abroad. Now most products that we used to crave for are now easily available in India. So what has really changed is the easy availablity of foreign products, and consumers now have a lot of brands to choose from. I won’t say that consumers are very demanding now, rather, they are more educated, and more aware.
What innovations have you introduced over the years?
In our gourmet store located in Sohna Road we have introduced a cafe, a live food counter and a bakery. The store is about 18,000 sqft, and one of the biggest in our chain. We are planning more such gourmet stores for which we have tied up with the real estate developer Vatika Group. We might have another larger size gourmet stores in apartment complexes by the Group. We are also planning to start a stationery section and also a flower shop. The flower shop will be only in our gourmet stores because of the larger space there.
What plans are in the offing?
We do have plans to increase our store count and introduce something new in them, but we have decided to wait till the market is ready for us. Opening a store is easy but to sustain it is a big problem. We would like to extend our reach outside of Gurgaon at places like New Gurgaon and Greater Noida – especially the high-end residential colonies. New areas that are coming up such as Greater Noida, hold a lot of potential.
At present, we are concentrating on upgrading our existing stores by adding the extra services and facilities mentioned above. Our aim is to offer customers a complete shopping experience under one roof.
Finally, what do you owe the success of your chain to?
In retail we have to always remember that it is the customer that matters. Selling and service has always been about the customer and for the customer. So if you are talking about who I owe my success to, then in the first place I would place my customer, and at second place, my staff. Location of a retail store does matter, especially if one is referring to marketing. But I would still hold my customers above everything else.
How would you define a ‘progressive grocer’?
One who does not forget his roots on achieving success and growth, and who remembers that he is there for the customer, and that retailing is always about the customer.