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Parveen Khurana on Achieving Excellence in Retail

In an interview with Sourcing Hardware, he explains how retailers can achieve excellence in a rapidly changing landscape. He also ranks ‘brand alliance’ and ‘customer experience’ as the most essential ingredients for retail leadership. Sourcing Hardware is the business media for the building products and home improvement industry.

What should be the vision of retailers who wish to achieve excellence? Can excellence be pursued deliberately, or is it an in-borne attitude?
Excellence in retail is an end result of a gamut of activities. These activities include the conceptualisation and design of store layout in such a way that it enhances the ambience of the store and consumer feels at home during product evaluation, selection and decision-making process. The vision of the retailer should be to provide the consumer value addition at every step of the purchase process. Excellence at times is an inborn attitude, but this for sure can be pursued deliberately too. One can easily learn and adapt to achieve ‘excellence’, which in itself is a continuous journey and not a milestone as such.

How can retailers collaborate with brands to achieve a leadership position in their business?
Collaboration with good brands indeed is a sure shot way to achieve leadership. The consumer walks in with expectation of good quality as the brand association assures him of the same, and finalises first purchase selection and then the repeat ones. The series of transactions is primarily based on experience and satisfaction regarding services of the retailer himself. So, pre-sales and post-sales activities of a store can augment the trust initiated by the brands. Active participation in loyalty programmes of leading brands can also help the retailer achieve leadership. And higher ‘club’ status achieved during the process in-turn builds consumer confidence and augments sales.

What are the new approaches to customer experience and customer satisfaction, which can play an important role in modern-day retail?
Modern-day retail is all about achieving consumer delight, which is far beyond ‘mere satisfaction’. Achieving consumer delight has a pleasant surprise quotient, which means offering ‘something’ which the consumer is not expecting at all and that too at no extra cost. The new approach entails working like a counsellor or guide to the consumer, who at times has limited knowledge of the product category. The more the retailer gets into consumer’s shoes and advocated solutions or offerings which are the best fit, easier it becomes to gain consumer’s confidence.

What role can e-commerce play? Is it imperative for brick-and-mortar retailers to engage in e-commerce?
E-commerce has an important role to play. It helps the consumer in deciding about the ‘consideration set’ at his comfort. Without moving out of the home, the customer can evaluate and compare the product’s features and prices well in advance. This helps the brick-and-mortar retailer as it saves his time, and the customer can be offered products and services based on the primary selection as per his consideration set.

Brick-and-mortar retailers can utilise the e-commerce route to augment revenues and also get rid of slow-moving inventory, as the platform provides great visibility, far bigger consumer reach, and flexibility to alter quoted prices based on depleting inventory levels.

Architects and designers are important influencers in the building products and home improvement trade. What best practices can retailers adopt, to work professionally with these influencers?
It is quite obvious that influencer’s community of architects and designers can play a great role in the success of a retail store in the home improvement category. Association with such professionals is a win-win situation for any retailer. The international exposure of the professional can help guide the retailer to showcase latest products which Indian customers may not have imagined yet. The retailer’s knowledge-gaining activities by way of visits to manufacturing units and design studios of large organisations can sure be a success ‘mantra’, for building rapport with the architect. In fact, this can be a great learning experience for juniors in the architect’s team as well, as they rarely get exposure otherwise.

What approach should retailers have towards education and skill development?
Education is nowadays becoming an important attribute for success. Retailers should continuously work on skill up-gradation. Most brands are nowadays taking on the responsibility of retailer education, as ultimately their brand is being represented to consumers by the retailer. His knowledge about product and usage has to be supreme.

How can retailers be financially prudent, so that their operations remain sustainable in the long-term?
Financial prudence is of utmost importance in such a volatile economic environment. That is where the choice of brand matters. Good responsible brands not only educate retailers on how to sell the new launches, but also guide them on ‘return on investment’ on regular intervals. Such involvement makes a brand stand apart and reach greatness.

What does it take to grow into a multi-outlet business, and how can this be sustained?
Multi-outlet formats become more successful where consumer preferences are pretty common. Multi-outlet can be a good model, as inventory need not be duplicated for each outlet. The obvious question here will be the viability of rentals, etc of the store vis-a-vis additional sales expected from that additional input.

How can retail shift from being price-oriented to a more value-oriented business?
This shift mainly needs attitudinal change. The retailer who continuously upgrades himself on industry trends and consistently follows customer-oriented business practices, can move from price to value without much fuss.

How would you rank the following in terms of importance for a retail operation, particularly in the building products and home improvement sector? 

  • Technology 8
  • Inventory 7
  • Talent 6
  • Customer experience 2
  • Marketing 5
  • Location 4
  • Display 3
  • Brand alliance 1
  • In-house brand 9

The author
Parveen Kumar Khurana, vice-president for sales at sanitaryware manufacture Parryware, is an engineer-turned-distribution expert. In a career spanning over 25 years, he has been acknowledged as a leader for creating business verticals from scratch in the building materials domain.

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