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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 storeTemperature checks for entering customers and employeesMandatory masks at all timesPromoting 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.
To redefine the shopping experience, the store has a Personal Shopper Lounge on second floor where specially trained Personal Shoppers will help customers explore our product range with ease and discover their personal style with our team of stylists. The Personal Shoppers will consult customers on their needs, recommend solutions and styles to suit their requirement from fashion, beauty, accessories to home décor. In addition, the new store also hosts a leisure lounge on ground floor, a special lounge for our First Citizen members to offer personalized shopping experiences on second floor and an elegant First Citizen Black Card Lounge on third floor offering premium services and experiences exclusively for our First Citizen Black card holders. The store houses a Timezone, an amusement centre for children and a Hamley’s shop-in-shop on third floor to keep the little ones engaged in-store. A Starbucks coffee shop will soon open on the ground floor for customers to unwind and relax.
Spread over three floors and with a total retail space of 35,000 square feet, UNIQLO Ambience Mall Vasant Kunj welcomes customers with its stunning three-story high bay window façade. Interior designs vary by floor, moving from soothing elements with natural materials that integrate the Japanese and Indian aesthetic, to the high-energy LED ticker screen and stainless fixtures that convey a contemporary mood.
A lot of research has gone into the sizing and measurements that Ombré Lane follows for its garments. The brand has taken measurements and interviewed over 2,000 women to understand body types, size variations and fit requirements. They consider all of these aspects at every stage of design and prototype development, which helps them create the right fit for Indian women.
“The new designers have talent on the design side and we are just helping them get access to customers and if you look at the ratings, the feedback on the product that customer give to them, it is very exciting to see an emerging designer and a customer in a small town been connected,” he shares.
“With exclusive large format stores, we open the brand to a larger consumer database, creating visibility for the brand in a defined structure. It helps in gaining loyalty and change perceptions. It gives us the opportunity to launch high-end, exclusive ranges in the stores, increase the product catalogue and change the shopping experience beyond transactions,” Vira further states.
Defining why corporate brands are not comfortable to enter the mid segment, Mehta further adds, “Due to the corporate culture, politics and multiple decision levels in the organised sector, it becomes very difficult to the process of implementation at a faster pace. This in turn keeps them way behind the regional players who do not face these issues. Moreover, corporate brands also have multiple businesses and hence their focus may not be only on garments. Current example is of ITC wherein they sold out John Player.”
“While ready-made garments still dominate the Indian market, mad-to-measure and bespoke tailoring are both rapidly picking up in India. The want for personalised styles, teamed with comfort is what is giving rise to this segment. And with the presence of stylists/experts who guide a customer through the journey, the end-product turns out as per the customer’s wants, even though he/she might not be an expert in that subject,” says Harssh Chheda, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Corporate Collars.
Advent International has been investing in India since 2007 and opened its Mumbai office in 2009. Over the past 12 years, the firm has deployed more than US$ 1 billion in 10 companies with headquarters or operations in India across sectors such as consumer products, financial services, healthcare, industrial and technology.
According to India’s leading management consulting firm, Technopak, the bottom wear market in India, excluding denims, was estimated to be worth `41,988 crore in 2017 for men, women and kids. It is estimated that this market segment will grow at a CAGR of 6.5 percent over the decade to reach Rs 78,480 crore by 2027. Segment wise, the trousers market in India is dominated by the men’s segment which comprises ~71 percent, followed by the kids’ segment which accounts for ~25 percent and finally there is the women’s segment that accounts for ~4 percent of the total share.
At the beginning of 2019, global sportswear major Nike launched its new yoga collection. The collection featured both menswear and womenswear and included a mix of workout pants, tops underwear and sweatshirts. To coincide with this new development, Nike rolled out a new app, ‘Enhance Your Training with Yoga’, for its users which provided a selection of workouts to meet their yoga goals. Major Yoga wear players in the market include Lululemon Athletica, Under Armor, Manduka, Amer Sports, ASICS America Corporation, Columbia Sportswear, Hanesbrands, HuggerMugger, La Vie Boheme Yoga and YogaDirect among others.