CEO Special: Lacoste saw quick recovery period, 40% sales online – Rajesh Jain MD & CEO
It has been a tough one year for the Retail Sector. The onset of COVID-19 and the shutting down of stores and malls indefinitely was a challenge no one had predicted. Millions of retail employees lost their jobs. Retailers were left with little manpower as workers migrated to their native places, and with each day turning up huge financial losses, the situation has been chaotic and worrisome to say the least.
The pandemic has been a once-in-a-lifetime test of business continuity planning for retail businesses across the globe. Even when things have stabilized 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, brands and retailers turned to those who they have always looked upon to lead them when the going gets tough – their CEOs/ MDs/ Business Heads.
In this crisis situation, every employee, be it a different business/company/store, looked up to its management for a solution and a time frame assuring their future prospective. The CEOs/ MDs/ Business Heads and other top honchos who had authority to make decisions were in the line of line to take their brands out of the crisis and direct them on to a path to normalcy.
It is said that leadership is an influence. One doesn’t lead by pointing at a place and asking people to go there. One leads by going to that place and making a case. Similarly, leaders from different brands had to lead from the front in this fight for survival. The last one year was time for some serious strategic planning, decision making, investing in new areas, resuming business, implementing digitization, technology, innovations and also ensuring safety to the employees and consumers.
The task for the leaders in the management was to offer perspective on major concerns, find measures that proved most successful in mitigating the human and business impacts of the virus, and to lift the operational emphasis shifted through the pandemic.
Retail captains were known for doing the following in the last crucial year for the industry:
- Managing the business continuity during the crisis.
- Scenario planning for minimum survival.
- Managing the drop in demand and adjusting supply.
- Dealing with decline in confidence and lifting team morale.
- Coping with staff shortage.
- Countering the dependency on the brick-and-mortar store.
- Delivering digitally.
- Communicating with consumers digitally and creating loyalty programs.
- Keeping expenses in check and creating backups for budget deficits.
- Preparing for the unexpected.
Aside from this, technology and digitalisation came to the rescue and industry leaders worked towards:
- Contactless payments
- Contactless & home deliveries
- Using social media platforms to communicate with consumers (WhatsApp Calling etc.)
- Offering digital menus and inventories
- Click-and-collect concept
In this CEO Special series, IMAGES Retail brings you exclusive interactions with 21 retail stalwarts who talk about their company’s growth, vision and future plans which would determine its position beyond COVID.
What steps did you take to bring the brand firmly on the road to recovery?
We fished out the data and analysed the sales performance during one year after these two events. Armed with this data, we now had a tool to project future with suitable modifications with current reality. This provided us reasonable numbers in respect of projected sales and in-turn the need of inventory volumes etc. to be kept for expected sale. In addition we did
- Maintaining & Communicating the Social responsibility – Safety & basic Hygiene
- Cost Cutting & Spending judiciously: COGS, Personnel Cost & Occupation Cost.
- Relationship Building with customers, employees & business partners
Did you emphasize more on a digital presence in this time period or did you opt for the traditional retail model with minor adjustments?
During these tough times, the retail industry witnessed an acceleration of digitalisation. In the same vein, we also gave due importance to our online business wherein we maintained an adequate supply of products and invested in marketing initiatives on our flagship digital store –www.lacoste.in. We were also well-stocked on other online market channels like Myntra, Tata Cliq Luxury & Ajio.
As our offline stores were getting less footfalls due to the pandemic, we tweaked our strategy so as to gain maximum benefits through our offline stores as well. We have maintained all safety and hygiene standards as per government guidelines at all our stores. In addition, we also ensured online training for our retail executives on ‘Customer Service’ so that they provide the ultimate lifetime shopping experience to the consumer.
Have you launched any innovative consumer experiences over the pandemic period?
We certainly tried to enhance customer experience through a multi-pronged approach. We focused on relationship building with our customers, built new and improved strategies for new channels of distribution – online and offline. This helped us in building trust and loyalty with customers and also helped us in maintaining reasonable sales numbers during this ongoing pandemic. A unified retail system can only provide the seamless buying experience to its customers only when it is supported by at all levels. We have been consistently working towards the following to provide a good experience to the customers in such dire situation.
- Working on optimisation of inventory and warehouse management by leveraging digital tools and systems. The orders should be managed without any delays from logistics to inventory, planning to sales and supplier purchase order management to invoice management
- Creating an environment where the employees have a mind-set and skills to support this system at all levels. Providing training and necessary skills to cope up with the new system
- Encouraging and training the front-end POS level colleagues to make bets possible use of Omnichannel solutions
Does your brand have an Omnichannel / Phygital strategy? If yes, elaborate.
We have implemented Omnichannel in most Lacoste boutiques in India and we are in the learning phase, but we are happy to have introduced this system and are optimistic about adding increased top line and customer delight with this solution.
How has the consumer response been in the festival season? Were you able to match the level of business and profit of last year?
The festive period turned out to be a silver lining for us and the sales hinted at a good year end. In terms of sales contributions, the brand has been able to register good numbers, especially through online sales, which contributed to almost 40 percent of sales. Our website turned out to be the largest point of sale in the entire system that reinforces the customer belief in the brand irrespective of the situation driven by the pandemic. We expect to see decent recovery in the coming financial year.
How much has the company grown under your leadership during COVID?
Life is full of surprises and we do face similar kind of challenges now and then in both personal and professional areas. These challenges are part of life, especially when you are on a growth trajectory. Through this ongoing pandemic, I have learnt that what pays off well during tough times is resilience and perseverance. It might take some time, but it certainly delivers. With this approach, we have managed to sail through these tough times while ensuring the safety and providing the maximum benefits to our customers, partners & employees.
What are your future plans?
- Cost control and spending judiciously: COGS, Personnel Cost & Occupation Cost.
- Relationship Building with customers, colleagues & business partners
- Focus on basics, go back to routes
- Training Programme for employees on Customer Service
- Improved Supply Chain
- New Channels of distribution – online, omnichannel
In addition, sustainability will score over expansion / growth. Be prepared to take some tough decisions to move towards profitable growth rather than just growth