Shift in focus from sales to providing insightful content leads to brand growth | Daily News
Retailing Clothing in Times of COVID-19

Shift in focus from sales to providing insightful content leads to brand growth

The clothing retail industry is one of the most affected, with the ongoing restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several businesses were hit hard and some were forced to put up their shutters while others restructured - shedding excess staff and adopted ‘new normal’ business strategies to survive.

Saturday Spark spoke to a few clothing retailers to find out how they cope during these uncertain times and to have found ways to reinvent customer-brand relationships.

Adhisha Dahanayake - Founder and CEO of Double XL

Q: 2020 was a difficult year. How did you manage to sustain through it?

Acknowledging that the last year was difficult is somewhat like accepting defeat. I like to think of it as a year that challenged my brand. We were lucky to have a strong foundation in place that was able to sustain the important pieces that are core to our business. We looked at several core initiatives that have helped us support our suppliers as the most important factor is the safety of our clients.

Q: How were your workforce and operations affected?

Having to admit this has been a tough road for me, I choose not to focus on the downside of things, and I think that the attitude I have of never giving up when things are tough set the tone for operations. I’ve had to be the cheerleader, motivator, CEO and play so many different roles to get the team to work through these times. On the plus side, I know for a fact we all have to rally forces and be motivated to face each day with a smile. So we have been learning a lot as a team.

Q: How has the brand restructured strategies for post COVID-19?

We haven’t restructured as much as adapted to the changes around us. As a brand, we have always pushed the norm, and we have continued to do so. We emphasize innovation and we aren’t afraid to take calculated risks that will change the direction of the business for the better. To be honest, that is something we have done from day one over a decade ago. This strategy of being unafraid to take on challenges has been a constant. I know it will be one for as long as the brand exists.

Q: With online shopping becoming a trend, what are your plans to attract customers?

Speaking from experience for plus-size people online shopping isn’t a pleasant experience. There is constant disappointment around the whole idea of online shopping. So we took the concept of online shopping and have taken a step further in revolutionizing the experience. We call it the virtual shopping experience. This is a brand-new initiative to ensure that our patrons are comfortable with shopping online and finding the right fit. We have personalized the experience, where we make video calls to our customers and help them pick out clothing that would best fit them in size. We even measure the garment to ensure the best fit and show how it will look on a mannequin so the customer can have a better understanding of the fit. We then disinfect the clothes and carefully pack them. Delivery happens on the same day for Colombo and its immediate suburbs, and for any of our patrons outside Colombo, delivery will be in two to three days and for international customers the usual delivery days apply. The entire experience is a brand new initiative in Sri Lanka, and it has been received quite well.

I hope to keep working on more ways to make sure my customers and patrons are happy with the choices offered and the experience. We have simplified it by providing them with mannequins for fit on, so they can see how the items fit. It’s an unconventional method I know, but this whole virtual shopping experience is unconventional, but it’s not complicated.

Owin Ck, Chairman - EMPIRE Clothing Club

Q: 2020 was a difficult year and how did you manage to sustain it?

Indeed it was a tough period with a lot of setbacks, particularly in two major areas. The first being in the supply of production of our Premium Empire products, as factories were forced to shut down to prevent the spread of the pandemic at the time, meaning our supply chain was heavily disrupted, we could not produce the items we wanted.

The second issue was the inability to cater to demand since during the first wave, couriers were not allowed to operate unless it was to deliver food/ essential items. As such we could not cater to the demand of our customers during this period as there wasn’t a way to get the products to them.

At Empire Clothing it wasn’t just about the profit or the sales figures, but our fundamental purpose was to provide premium clothing for those with a goal or ambition in life, individuals who aspired to build an Empire in anything they did. As such we stuck to our guns and brand, and I shifted our focus from sales at the time, to providing valuable content to individuals who were at home, with nowhere to go.

The team and I put out “Empire Life Hacks” which summarized articles written by Harvard, Stanford and other credible sources, to provide insights and growth to our consumer base. We also began to hold “Empire Growth Sessions” which were an IG live series, where we invited heads of industry, and inspiring individuals (just to name a few speakers, Fahad Farook who is an internationally certified coach, Dhanushka Kodikara who is a commonwealth gold medalist, Suresh De Silva lead of Stigmata and Entrepreneur, Prasanna Pathmanathan who is head of the Colombo Fashion Council and a visiting lecturer in all major educational institutes of the country) to come on board and share their insights with our audience, on various topics. The science of psychology, learning the cashable skill of copy-writing, how to set up multiple streams of income, how to create a mind-body balance, how to deliver effective public speeches, and growing their mindset overall were topics covered.

This shift in focus from sales to providing insightful content to our audience led to our brand growing over 300% during the pandemic period.

Q: How did your workforce and operations get affected?

Our team began working from home, so there wasn’t a big issue in terms of getting work done. However, our supply chain was disrupted and sales were virtually impossible to make since there was no way of getting our clothing to our clientele.

Q: How has the brand restructured strategies for post COVID-19?

The Empire clothing brand has come a long way since the first COVID-19 wave, we’ve now expanded our collection and repositioned ourselves by pivoting to the Men’s-Polo Market of Sri Lanka. Our goal is to provide Sri Lanka’s Best Premium Polo’s to white-collar professional executives in the country. We’ve honed our quality and our product variety to meet the needs of these gentlemen.

As of present, 80% of our customers are professional executives working in the Western Province, those who want quality clothing, with prestige when they wear it. As such to cater to this professional market, we recently launched Sri Lanka’s First Work-Leisure Polo Collection with Premium Minimal Polo’s that can be worn to work and to any function.

Q: With online shopping becoming a trend, how will you attract customers?

We have big things planned for the fourth quarter of 2021. We’re revamping our website and our marketing efforts. Our products and our existing customer base are a very strong advantage. On average, each customer owns around 4-7 clothes from us over 2-3 months, adding to this the growth through word of mouth and customer recommendations, we’ve also managed to grow our relationships and get new customers.

We plan to continue this onward and stick to our goal of being the Gentleman’s Choice by providing the finest in quality in terms of our clothing, with the Empire Brand woven into the DNA of the fabric. To give our clients the look and feel of class, followed closely by the Empire Mindset and building content around it. Empire is not just a clothing brand, it’s an idea that one can be and do anything they want in this life.

CEO of Fashion Bug -Shabier Subian

Q: 2020 was a difficult year. How did you manage to sustain it?

It was indeed a challenging year across all industries. However, we adapted to the changes quite fast. What we did first and foremost was to assure our staff that the business will sustain and together we could get through this challenging period, just like we had in the past. The psychological well-being of your team is paramount at times like this. By being dynamic and agile, we adapted to the growing needs and set our online store in operation. Parallel to that we launched ‘Reserve and Collect’, which enables customers to pre-order items and collect them without physically visiting the outlet. We also initiated a WhatsApp hotline for customers to order during the first three lockdowns.

Our utmost priority was to ensure the safety of our customers and staff and we took several safety measures.

Consumer trends and priorities changed during 2020 with the pandemic; offices were closed and work from home was encouraged. We also prioritized and re-engineered our internal processes by drilling into our data and ensuring that the right products were available at the outlets catering to the consumer’s needs. We strived to maintain optimum stocks, adapt to the change in priorities in the new normal, look at global trends to sustain the business and ensure that the latest fashions were available to our customers at all times.

Forecasting was off the table as 2020 was unstable with constant lockdowns and rapid change in consumer shopping behavior. Our processes had to be re-engineered to cater to the needs on a daily basis adapting to the new normal.

Our commitment and hard work paid off when despite the turbulent times, Fashion Bug was rewarded as one of the Best Workplaces in Asia by Great Places to Work and won the Best Workplace for Women and Millennials as well.

Q: How did your workforce and operations get affected?

A: During the initial pandemic in 2020, we had to put a stop to all plans and re-look at managing the crisis the country was facing. Our workforce had to be trimmed down but eventually, we got back to normalcy towards the end of 2020 when the situation was better.

We were present online with about 3000 SKUs by April 2020. By repurposing part of our staff to grow our online sector, we increased the online inventory to 8000 by October 2020 offering a wider collection of casual, formal and sportswear. We continued to host our seasonal specials as well so that customers would not miss out on any of their celebrations.

Our workforce was trained and encouraged to learn new skills such as digital marketing, web development, and supply chain management in order to adapt to the new normal and the digital world.

Q: How has the brand restructured strategies for post COVID-19?

What is key to us is that our customers are given the best choice of fashion and that we create a place for our team members to thrive.

Having flexible dynamic processes in place as well as creativity and innovation become very important when sustaining a business. Our management strategies and planning are deeply impacted by these factors. Understanding the changing needs of our customers as well as looking at the best practices globally allows us to make these decisions in the most effective way. Expanding to the digital platform was one such decision and since we had foreseen the importance of digital marketing beforehand, the transition was smooth and quick.

Q: With online shopping becoming a trend, how will you attract customers?

Online shopping has experienced an upward trend due to the pandemic. As the public was encouraged to also opt for card transactions over cash payments, the online payment systems have grown immensely, thus indirectly benefiting online shopping. Fashion Bug can take pride in the fact that we have been able to maintain our presence even in the digital retail sphere for fashion and lifestyle.

Our plan is to grow our SKUs to 15000 by the end of 2021. We introduced new products every day with frequent collections being launched every week bringing our consumers something new every day. Our most looked forward to campaign is ‘Bug Friday’, which in 2020 was a success and we went on to win Silver at the SLIM Awards for Innovative Marketing.

Customers can buy from Fashion Bug through our website, WhatsApp and Social Media channels, and our interactive BOT also enhances the experience making it more convenient and fast.

CEO LiCC Jeans, Yasotharan Paramanantham

The last year was a difficult time for the textile market and how did your brand manage to sustain itself?

The first wave was a learning curve for us to understand and foresee what was ahead of us. As a result, we were able to do our Research and Development and introduce the First Anti-Microbial Jean in South Asia. The challenge was to take strategic decisions and not panic.

The focus was to reduce overhead costs in order to ensure the brand was able to sustain during the pandemic.

Work from Home was the new norm and thanks to apps like Teams and Zoom we were able to successfully carry out our day to day work and reduce our overhead costs significantly.

We had multiple online training sessions educating our employees covering the overall aspect of the business. Despite the pandemic the team was determined to achieve what we lost during the first pandemic and I’m proud to say we did catch up.

Q:During the height of the pandemic, how did the workforce and operations get affected?

Working from home was new to all of us; we missed having physical meetings and so forth. Thanks to technology we were able to adapt with the new norm and bounce back. Our designers worked from home preparing the required designs for the upcoming seasons.

We stocked sufficient raw materials for the remainder of the year and kept our factories in operation under strict health guidelines despite the pandemic. We went back to the drawing board and identified markets which we have not catered to and identified new avenues. While many brands suffered to overcome this situation, we kept growing at a rapid pace and with the vacuum created in the market due to import restrictions the demand for local brands grew rapidly.

Q: How has the brand restructured its strategies post COID-19?

Post C-19 has given us the opportunity to identify new markets. This has led us to launching our CSR initiative “Jeewanali” which supports underprivileged women with low income. The objective of the project is to utilize our waste fabric or off cuts and create new products using these materials making the final products sustainable.

We have changed our strategies in terms of production. We used to base our production based on pre-orders from the retailers to having the production ready in advance to cater to their requirement. This has helped us on a large scale in terms of turnaround time plus also built confidence with the retailers.

Q: With online shopping becoming a trend, how will you attract customers?

When it comes to clothing, we as Sri Lankan’s still want to touch and feel the garment and try them on before purchasing which is why the online apparel category is performing at a lower percentage compared to other industries such as FMCG or Electronics. However, thanks to the database we have built, we were able to increase our online sales by 200% during the pandemic as more people started purchasing.

Over 60% online monthly turnover has been from repeat purchases endorsing the brand name created in the market.

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