Here’s wishing you all a Happy Calendar Year 2023. May this new year bring a lot of happiness and cheer to everyone. On this day last year, I was working for Specsmakers, leading Sales & Marketing for the 10 year-old brand, the largest optical retail network in South India and the third largest in the country with 250+ stores back then. Around the same time, the scare for a third wave of the dreaded Covid-19 infection was all over the place. It had a new code-name: Omicron! Government of India as well as various State Governments advised several measures, including shutting down of retail stores, malls and commercial establishments over the weekends. Andhra Pradesh took no measure and maintained status quo; Tamil Nadu advised shutting down only on Sundays; Karnataka, however advised a closure for the entire weekend. Most Indians remained in a huge sense of anxiety over their careers, professions, businesses, kids’ education and so on. However, all these worries were put in the backburner as Omicron had limited or very marginal impact on most of us.
This is when the government pushed us to take the second vaccine, which ensured a quick and safe turnaround for the ailing Retail sector, which had taken the worst beating for the previous 18 months, ever since the first lockdown began in Mar. ’20.
My career too, zoomed along with the fledgling economy. I managed to get back to the apparel industry, jumping ship to Indian Terrain, a 2-decade old brand, most famous for its shirts, especially the Madras Checks. The company operates over 210+ stores across India and I was responsible for the entire retail business, managing a turnover upwards of Rs. 250 Cr pa. Sales, Marketing & Branding, Merchandising, New stores expansion, Project Management, Visual Merchandising and Staff training, all rolled into me. In a span of less than 6 months, I managed to visit 96 stores across India, from Guwahati to Ahmedabad, Chandigarh to Nagercoil and many in between. The month of September was among the busiest in my career, according to Google Trips, which maintains a record of where I went, what I did and so on.
Onam was the first big campaign that I undertook, visiting the state of Kerala 45 days before the festival and screening the markets. We sensed a huge opportunity with the return of NRI Malayalees to their home towns after a gap of 2 years, due to Covid-19 led travel restrictions. Interestingly and unfortunately, the sales uptick that was envisaged didn’t happen. One, there was a severe rain around the festival week; second and most importantly, sales (for most other brands as well) remained flat before and during the peak shopping weak. This was a learning of sorts. It is not necessary that Sales would surge only before the peak season, for the graph has been on the upward trend since Feb-Mar. ’22. We witnessed somewhat the same across North & West India, just around Diwali as well. No surprises here.
However, sales for the entire retail industry surrounding fashion, apparel, accessories and lifestyle had reached pre-2019 levels or at par. On the contrary, many brands saw a volume decline (in Sales), but these were due to the making of the brands themselves. Wrong choice of (new) locations, unavailability of merchandise at the right moment and most importantly, staff demotivation due to reasons such as salaries remaining flat, lower than expected & delayed disbursement of incentives for the previous FY and overall lack of interest in the working environment are some of the key reasons why many brands faltered.
I moved out from the company in November due to differences with the Management. No regrets though, every tenure and every day is a learning after all. Over the past 2 months, I have been introspecting on some of the measures I had taken (or rather not) which led to two quick exists in less than 2 financial years. I am hoping (and working towards) that 2023 and beyond is going to be a more stable period ahead. Everything is in my hands, of course! Happy New Year 2023 once again to everyone and may this year be joyful to all of us! Cheers.