Honing talent for retail

Highly acclaimed buying and merchandising expert globally with over 30 years of in-depth retail experience; specialising in merchandising assortment audits, brand and private label concepts and creation, Marie-Louise Jacobsen, Retail Consultant and Managi
Marie-Louise Jacobsen

Highly acclaimed buying and merchandising expert globally with over 30 years of in-depth retail experience; specialising in merchandising assortment audits, brand and private label concepts and creation, Marie-Louise Jacobsen, Retail Consultant and Managing Director of Retail Management Solutions [RMS] (Singapore) in an interview, speaks of her journey in retail and India as a future retail destination.

Jasmeet Sahi (JS): A lot is being spoken about ‘efficient retailing’ these days. What is efficient retailing in your opinion?

Marie-Louise Jacobsen (MLJ): Efficient retailing is when a retail company has three key focuses in place.

People – Processes – Systems

People: Hire the right people for the right jobs; conduct internal and external training so that you keep upgrading your staff’s skills, set up rewards in terms of bonus schemes for well done jobs and for completion of corporate missions.

Processes: Good corporate processes are much needed in retail so that all staff has a clear knowledge of what is expected of them. Good processes and procedures should cover all areas of the business starting with pp accounting; sales and profit daily reporting, inventory controls, operational cost controls P&L etc. Buying processes, assortment planning, OTB (Open-to-Buy) budgeting and planning. What is critical here is to ensure that the buyers are buying (at the right price in the right quality in the right quantities at the right time) and it is for the consumers that the retailer is aiming at.

JS: Since when have you been a part of Retail Management Solutions? Tell us something about your journey so far.

MLJ: I have actively been in the retail industry for 30 years. I started my career as an entrepreneur with one fashion store in Copenhagen /Denmark. From there I went on to work for some department stores and got my dream job with Illum’s which was then considered the “Harrods” of Denmark. My career progression went well and after five years I was nominated Merchandise Director.

I was later headhunted to work for the group of Stores Robinsons in Singapore where I was their General Manager Merchandising for 15 years.

I started RMS in 2006; my company is consultancy-based with activities such as speakers’ engagement, coaching, submission of articles on various retail subjects, conduct retail seminars and work-shops.

Looking back at my retail journey one thing stays true and, that is my deep passion for the retail industry which includes educating and enhancing people’s skills in this

Industry and for helping retailers reach their ‘Vision Missions’ in achieving better and greater positioning within their markets.

JS: How crucial is investment in training, for retail today? Or should adequate efforts be made to hire the perfect person in the first place?

MLJ: First, hire the best talent you can get your hands on. Then like chiseling a rough diamond, educate, train and let them attend external courses that are relevant to their jobs. Education is key in retail. Without it, that very good talent you hired will be under threat of going stale.

JS: What difference do you see in the retail scenario in India and in Singapore?

MLJ: The biggest difference is the infrastructure. India is a huge emerging economy where retail can become one of the biggest industries, fuelling the overall economy through the sheer number of people it traditionally hires thus expanding the growth of its middle class, which is ready to consume. Singapore is a small market, however, the government is very pro and supportive of the retail and hospitality industry, and as such it supports these industries by heavily subsidising training and retail seminars to upgrade the skills of the people.

JS: Organised retail is very recent in India, what steps should a retailer take to ensure his/her store is a hit with the consumers?

MLJ: Good question. Retailers whether organised or not, must know a great deal about the consumers they intend to serve, because excellent retailing is all about ‘relevancy’.

Staying in the ‘know’ with global trends and forecasting, especially for retailers dealing with fashion is a must. Whether seeking new brands or wanting to create your own brands (s) or private labels, retail must make an effort in attending retail conferences and seminars to stay current.

JS: How can a retailer attain single-store efficiency? Are multi-chain formats more of a challenge to manage?

MLJ: Single-stores can have a higher efficiency as the overheads are lower, merchandise, assortments and stock holding controls tighter. The weakness of single-store operations is in the cost of goods. There is not much leverage in negotiating lower costs of goods when dealing with a single store. In this case, my advice to the small shop owners is to create merchandise styles and assortments that are different from other store owners.

JS: Pilferage and shrinkage is something every retailer has to deal with. How can a retailer effectively counter this in stores?

MLJ: Absolutely! Rule number one: Have a good anti-theft system in place. Loss

Prevention Systems (CCTV, EAS Systems) and POS integrated monitoring certainly helps retailers deter both internal and external theft. Once the systems are in place, store operation training is needed. Staff must be aware of them and how to manage the systems when it comes to shop-lifting.

JS: Could you tell us something about the concept of an ‘integrity shopper’?

MLJ: Integrity shopper (IS) is quite interesting in that it gives the retail owners insights that he or she may not be aware of and, certainly information on what is going on, while they are not present. Retailers can get insights on: customer service, handling of difficult customers, staff integrity and out-of-stock situations. All of which can help the retailer lift his/her store operation efficiencies.

JS: The consumer is being pitted at the centre of ‘brand experience’ today. The consumer is king. Would you agree with this?

MLJ: The customer is and will always be KING! Without this mindset you should not even consider being in the retail business.

JS: Lastly, being at an international level, what scope/growth do you see for India as a retail destination?

MLJ: India is very much on the radar of serious brands interested in penetrating this emerging market that is recognised as having a tremendous potential. Having attended the recent India Retail Franchise Congress 2009 I feel that there is a keen interest coming from both the retailers, the brand owners as well as foreign investors to partner. The biggest challenge still remains; unless there is more focus on resolving the poor infrastructure, it will take India a while before true growth is seen and for the retail landscape to change from what it currently is to emerge to an international standard. It will happen, of that I am sure; it will only take a longer time than most in the retail industry would hope for.

Marie-Louise Jacobsen, MD, Retail Management Solutions