We at ABFRL, present stories excerpted from our internal newsletter ‘In Touch’, where we celebrate stories of our people and their contributions.
The razzle and dazzle of a luxury business sometimes takes us away from the labor of love it takes to make a business of this scale work. The Collective is one such business, which has created a lasting mark in world of luxury retailing. Its values and culture have helped it thrive even during the pandemic, when competition and the apparel sector at large was under severe stress. Amit Pande, Brand Head for The Collective bears what is at the heart of the Brand and what makes it so special.
If you ever walked into The Collective store, you would be overwhelmed with the beautifully minimalistic, classy and opulent setup. For those with means, the best from the globe is curated and presented. It can be very daunting for those without. But all that vanishes when a well-dressed and sparkling face with a warm smile approaches you. You can feel your inhibitions vanish, as they take you on a tour around the large property. At the entrance, you see another store member chang with what seems like a known face. At first glance, it would appear that two friends are just catching up, but on closer inspection, you would realise, it is just another happy customer, peeping into the store to just say hello to their personal stylist. Despite no bills being exchanged, the wide smile on the parting customer’s face is a testament to “The Collective Culture.”
EXPLORING THE COLLECTIVE CULTURE
What we must remember is The Collective client is not just rich. These are well-travelled and well-read people, who have a flair for an opulent lifestyle and the means to fuel it. The Collective is not a boutique offering customized ensembles either. So, a potential customer knows the global in-style fashion of the season, but loves attention as well. What that translates to on an institutionalized store set up like The Collective is largely unsupervised staff. Then how does one monitor outcomes and create an all-encompassing culture that envelops individual contributors?
Amit Pande, smiles and sheds light on what this culture really is. “Our people are our ambassadors. When The Collective Experience is being delivered, our people are largely unsupervised. They will be able to deliver the brand’s values only if they live the values themselves. That is why our culture is so critical. We recruit people with natural orientation to our values and through our experience framework, we ensure everyone behaves the same way.”
THE COLLECTIVE “BOOK OF STORIES”
Any culture is best explained by folklore that gets passed down from generation to generation. How can corporate culture be different? The generation here is not spread across centuries, but of real people creating a legacy worth cherishing every day. For anyone joining The Collective family, Amit says, a special treat awaits. Everybody who joins the business on day one is given this book. These are our customer delight stories. Empathy is our critical value. But empathy is all consuming. Our folks can’t do anything by themselves, but still there is compassion. You have to become The Collective to act like The Collective.
THE PANDEMIC EFFECT
Delving deeper on this culture aspect, Amit shares an interesting insight. “Even before the Pandemic, The Collective teams across the country would have our own town halls on MS Teams. When the first lockdown was announced, we had little to say to each other, as everybody was at home including the retail staff. But we still decided to catch up on people and check how everyone was doing. That’s when I found out, the staff had been busy calling the clients, just to check how they’re doing. There’s nothing to sell, nothing to give them. Interestingly, we have not asked a single person to call or do anything. That’s the relationship they’ve built and that is the value of this business that they are following by themselves.”
“The whole narrative changed totally. We were hearing the customers and knew what they’re going through. We can’t do a shoot, but by the time things had opened up, we were sending out messages through influencers saying that who wants to sit in up a Pyjama anymore. That year we ended up growing 3% when everyone was minus 40% to 60%”
BUILDING PREMIUM RELATIONS TO BECOMING STYLE MENTORS
The Collective has an interesting concept, called ‘Premium Relationship Manager (PRM)’. “These are individual relationship mangers to our “invite-only” club – Prive, our top customers. What a PRM essentially does is curate the collection for the client, based on their taste and requirements; it’s a personal service,” Amit explains.
During first COVID lockdown, we quickly created a web-based PRM tool to help our PRM continue to serve our clients digitally. Our first transaction was this Hugo suit, which was bought by our client in Vizag. We don’t have a store in the location. His PRM Prakash sits out of one of our Gurgaon stores. The whole human interaction went to a next level.”
So how does one become a special customer? “It is all about the chemistry. I will not select
you as my client just because you are a high spender. I will select you, if you and I work well together. I understand your taste, so I’ll give you the service. Over time, I’ve become your style mentor.” And what about the store staff? How does one become a PRM? “Apart from the book of stories, we give the new joiners a career book, which basically tells them about their journey and at each stage of the journey, what are different programs and competencies they need to get. Vishak Kumar, our CEO and Shekhar, our CHRO, really pushed us hard to define our culture.”
THE COLLECTIVE EXPERIENCE
“The Collective experience, is a behavioural philosophy,” Amit tells us. “We don’t sell. We create what is called as the buying environment, because buying is always a positive emotion. If you’re depressed, you buy a new thing and you feel good. Our job is only to enhance the feeling. When the client comes to my door, my job only is to make sure that their buying emotion is sustained and improved. So how do we do that? There are a set of practices, specific skills that a person has to follow. Those skills are weaved in the DNA of our people, which are measured by their coaches. It is the first level of supervision in our stores. We call them coaches because they help great players become even better. In the week I follow my coach’s advice, I win. Next week, I’m deeper into what my coach says, I’m on my developing journey. I’m getting feedback quickly, which makes the incentive system a behavioural tool instead of a mere compensation tool.”
CHERRY PICKING THE BEST MERCHANDISE
The Collective Experience will not come alive without the best brands and products we carry. This is an art and science. Amit enlightens us on how this ‘magic’ comes to life. “An old customer, at our 10th anniversary festivities, shared an interesting anecdote. He walked into a large store in London of his favourite brand that he regularly picks up from The Collective. He was hoping to come out with a lot of bags, but ended up walking out empty handed. He felt lost; whereas from a small selection at The Collective, he’d buy so many products. In a nutshell, that is exactly we what we do. We curate special collections from global brands that customers would love. That is what it takes to be able to hit high sell through every season. Implementing our evolved merchandising approach, helps us make every style come alive,” he concludes.
What is the growth journey of employees at The Collective?
We conduct a comprehensive training program at The Collective to help evolve the learner by using different techniques of training. We use visual, theoretical and application-oriented approach to help our team retain more. These three important pillars are further linked to an individual’s career progression:
- Getting to speed: A comprehensive 21-day induction program with the focus on,
- Introduction to Luxury
- Brand and Product expertise
- Operational efficiency
- Ensuing 7-star experience to customers
- Improving Performance: An extensive learning module within first 6 months of joining that covers,
- In-depth training on 80 different brands
- Various products and categories
- Developing relationships with customers
- Providing style recommendations
- Help the growth: At any point of career to focus on,
- Developing competencies needed for current or future role
- On-the-job training
- Improving efficiency
What are the top factors to choose the finest talent for The Collective?
Well-refined emotional intelligence, service orientation, empathy, business acumen and fashion inclination are just some of the ingredients that go into making of a team member at The Collective
As the Store Manager for one of the best performing The Collective stores, how have you transformed the store?
The Collective Vasant Kunj store is spread across 10,786 sq thus making it the biggest store across the organization. It has been an inspirational transformation to grow this store from INR 20Cr to INR 30Cr to become the only store across the organization to deliver this size of business. This has truly been a consequence of true teamwork, diligence, continuous learning and passion from across the team. Our Top Customer Club known as “Prive” consists of selected niche clientele who get personalized services from Premium Relationship Managers (PRMs). This business from VK grew from INR 1.5Cr to INR 6 Cr despite Pandemic. Gagandeep Arora, a top PRM from VK Store drove this extensively, with top 50 customers from our store We also explored the different facets of retail by expanding it outside our physical store. We call it ‘Lines of Business’ that includes personalized shopping appointments virtually/at home, Corporate Tie-ups, PRM Tool that help in placing Ecom orders for customer’s, Made to Measure, to mention a few.
Please share some of the best practices for other ABFRL brands
- As much as we emphasize on our outsider stakeholder (customer) experience, we equally emphasize on internal stakeholder’s career growth plans. We have also created a structure of Team managers and Coaches for each store who become responsible for their respective departments. This gives them a chance to highlight their leadership abilities, since they groom their team member to the next stage in career. Last year, with a dedicated focus on this, we had 4 members from our store who took up aspirational roles into other departments: Stuti got into HR, Avnish, Surbhi and Pragya took complex roles in operations.
A couple with a 2-month old baby stepped in, looking hassled. The mother was trying her best to calm her child and feed him, but the hustle-bustle of the mall made it difficult. Muskan, at The Collective Lucknow, noticed the couple and invited them inside the store. As she comforted the family with water, Muskan requested her coach Aman to make room in the private lounge, which was already occupied. Aman explained the entire situation to the customers in the private lounge and they graciously vacated the lounge to give the mother and her baby some comfort and privacy. Muskan stood guard at the door and after fifteen minutes, they left the lounge for a joyful shopping experience.