The pandemic has been a once-in-a-lifetime test of business continuity planning for retail businesses across the globe. Even when things have stabilised to an extent and economies are gradually opening up, the industry is being confronted by a hard question – what’s next?
With little to no revenue in sight for months, the sector turned to those who they have always looked upon to lead them when the going gets tough – their leaders.
One such retail leader was Hemant Agarwal, CMD, V-Bazaar Retail Private Ltd., who led by example and helped his brand emerge a winner in unprecedented times…
From your brand’s perspective, how did you fare during the lockdown and what was the consumer response in the initial Unlock phase?
During the lockdown we had similar sales experience as many of our peers in the value retail segment, since local and central government restrictions were somewhat unorganized. Since we have stores in the northern and eastern part of the country post the initial lockdown we did observe a revival of sales, though customers focussed more on basic and home-based requirement articles like track-pants, shorts, t-shirts and other home essentials. In more recent months we have seen customers buying fashion apparel, primarily led by festival celebrations and weddings.
What steps did you take to bring the brand firmly on the road to recovery?
Like most of our peers, we have focussed on minimizing our costs and inventory during this period. We have made special effort to reduce ageing of our inventory to maintain attractiveness of merchandize. Our office-based staff primarily worked from home throughout this period, but we have taken this opportunity to upgrade our systems and processes, to make ourselves more efficient and forward looking.
Have you launched any innovative consumer experiences over the pandemic period?
We have launched our customer relationship management app (CRM) during this period to have ease of interaction with our valuable customers.
Does your brand have an Omnichannel / Phygital strategy? If yes, elaborate.
We are working on the Omnichannel model. We have started working on our e-commerce website and app. We expect this to help us reach to a wider customer base and increase our inventory turnover too.
Which are the new technologies – both in-store & online – that you have introduced in an effort to go contactless?
In our physical stores we can’t eliminate the touch totally. However, we are providing the most secure shopping environment for our customers as well as our store executives. Some of the process changes include:
- Mandatory sanitisation of store
- Temperature checks for entering customers and employees
- Mandatory masks at all times
- Promoting digital payments
How has been the consumer response been like in the festival season? Were you able to match the level of business and profit last year?
Consumer response has been very positive during this festive season. We have observed some latent demand from the lockdown period and festive period sales were similar to the same period last year. Wedding season sales have been particularly encouraging and in most cases exceeded the levels seen last year.
Stores in malls vs streets, which ones are bringing in more revenues / raking in more footfalls? Why?
Our strategy has been to locate independent stores on high streets. This has worked well for our brand recognition and efficiency. During COVID period, consumers are even more reluctant to visit large malls, but more willing to visit independent stores for their needs. Our ability to provide high quality and safe store experience including for our customers, continues to bring us returning customers.
Has the brand reached pre-COVID levels in terms of sales? If not, how much more time will be required to reach the same?
We have reached around 90 percent of our pre-COVID levels of business. We see this trajectory accelerating over the next few months too, and our confident to deliver our growth plans by mid of next year.
How much has the company grown under your leadership during COVID?
We have opened 5 new stores during the COVID period and also closed 1 store in the same period taking our total store count to 72 stores with a total shopping area of more than 5.14 lakh sq. ft.
What are your future plans?
V-Bazaar has plans of opening 7 more new stores this financial year and the following year we would be coming up with 22-32 new stores in various parts of India. We will also be expanding our warehouse and logistics capability, in order support the store expansion.