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Meena Bazar Brand, and Meena Bazar's eCommerce Strategy With Ahmed Shoyeb Iqbal, GM, Brand, Communication, and Business Development, Meena Bazar

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May 20, 2018
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Ahmed Shoyeb Iqbal, General Manager of Brand, Communication, and Business Development, Meena Bazar, on Meena Bazar's brand and communication strategy, Meena Click and Meena Bazar's eCommerce ambition, digital payment, the business of retail, and the art of marketing and communication.

Future Startup

Thank you for agreeing to do this interview. What is your background and what are you working on?

Ahmed Shoyeb Iqbal

I have been working at Meena Bazar for almost nine years now. Previously, I worked at Grameenphone. After leaving GP and before joining Meena Bazar, I went to the UK to do my MBA from the University of London where I studied Marketing Management. I returned in 2009 and joined Meena Bazar.

Meena Bazar, a relatively smaller retail chain at that time, was at the beginning of a new phase. The company had already conceived an expansion plan.

Although I studied Marketing Management, initially, I joined in a different role in the training and development department as Manager, Training, and Development.

We had about seven outlets at that time. Overall supermarket business was a nascent concept in Bangladesh. In fact, the age of supermarket business in Bangladesh is about 18 years. The people with domain expertise in supermarket business was in short supply. Hence, training and development was an important department for Meena Bazar in order to scale the business.

The department was responsible for preparing and improving the skills of salespeople and store managers, which was particularly critical during that formative phase.

Since I had foreign exposure and a degree in Marketing Management, I used to train staff and store managers on customer service, developing customer service framework, working on different modules and other relevant aspects.

After working for a year in that department, I moved to my core function which is brand and communication. I started as Manager, Brand, and Communication for Meena Bazar. Currently, I look after the Brand, Communication and Business Development as General Manager.

I work with different vendors such as Pran, Unilever, GSK, Shajeeb, and others to launch joint promotional campaigns.

Most of the promotions that you see from us, such as 10% discounts on a particular product or 5% on another, these are not our promotions per se, these discounts come from our vendor partners. We ensure that it reaches to our customers so that they purchase these products.

One of my responsibilities is to bring these sorts of communications by working with our partners.

Generally speaking, we have two priorities at brand and communication department at any given time. One is to increase footfalls in our stores which means growing the number of customers visiting our outlets daily; and secondly, increasing the basket size of our existing customers through offers and promotional campaigns.

Apart from regular communication works, we also look at how we can build the lasting relationship with our customers. Over the past years, we have successfully introduced Meena Bazar Club Card, a membership platform for Meena Bazar customers where we currently have over a hundred thousand members. We launched it in 2012. It has been growing consistently since then.

We also launched Meena Bazar website, www.meenabazar.com.bd, in 2012. We were the first grocery chain in the country to launch a fully dynamic e-commerce website in Bangladesh. Our ecommerce endeavor has evolved over the years. Recently, we've rebranded our ecommerce platform to www.meenaclick.com.

Besides Meena Bazar, our parent company, Gemcon Group, operates another retail chain called Gourmet Bazar. I and my team also look after the branding and marketing of it.

We have two Gourmet Bazar outlets: one at Banani and another at Gulshan. Both of the outlets are very well received. Our Banani Gourmet Bazar has a community-centric positioning. We have been able to establish it as an event-based, community-centric outlet. It has a nice coffee section, a grocery section and it attracts different types of people. On the other hand, our Gulshan branch has made its mark as a premium grocery shop.

These are some of the things that we do. Apart from these, there are regular campaigns and promotional activities. There are a lot of events these days that warrant for our attention. We also run event-specific promotional campaigns.

As a supermarket, we sell products of other brands. We do have some home brand or private label brands such as tissue, water, and a few others, but mostly we aggregate brands. Bring them under one roof and in the process offer convenience to our customers. Consequently, when it comes to communication, we often require to walk a tightrope and find a balance that serves my purpose as well as delivers the result.

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Discipline is key to success in life. This equally applies to those of us who work in the field of marketing.

Future Startup

Could you please give us an insight into your work as GM, Brand and Communication and Business Development at Meena Bazar as well as how you approach your work?

Ahmed Shoyeb Iqbal

Activity-wise, I have broadly explained the kind of work we do at brand and communication department. In building the brand, thankfully, I don't have to fight as a lone soldier. I have a team of six people who help me in doing that. As a team leader, I mainly formulate strategies, chalk out plans and budget.

We collaborate with our creative partners for the creative parts. I depend on my teammates for execution, each of whom looks after different things.

We make our plans and strategic decisions internally. For instance, what we would do in Ramadan we decide that internally. And then for creatives, we work with our partners. Once creatives are done, our team execute it.

I try not to micromanage. I delegate and my teammates get things done.

Apart from brand and communication, I also play a role in business development in new initiatives of our company.

As for the operation of Meena Bazar, it's pretty straightforward. As a supermarket, we procure products from different vendors via their distributors. The vendors give us a margin. In return, we keep their products on our shelves for the customers to purchase.

We also work with small vendors. We work directly with these vendors. Conventionally, the lion's share of the retail business is done on credit which is no different in our case.

We have total 19 outlets. 17 of these outlets are Meena Bazar and two are Gourmet Bazar. We have meenaclick.com which is our ecommerce operation.

Future Startup

Could you please tell us more about Meena Click? How does it work? How big is your operation there?

Ahmed Shoyeb Iqbal

Meenaclick.com is our ecommerce initiative. It is a hyperlocal model. It currently depends on Meena Bazar stores in different parts of the cities where it operates for fulfillment.

Once you enter Meena Bazar website and select a location, it takes you to one of our nearest stores to you. This matching happens on the back end and you, as a user, don’t realize it. Then when you place an order, our team fetch that order and delivers to you.

We are currently delivering from six of our stores. These stores work as a local hub for Meena Click. Each store has a delivery operation for Meena Click who take care of the fulfillment. We are in the process of adding four more stores within the next month which will allow us to serve more customers and improve efficiency.

Meena Click operates in a pretty lean manner. We have a two-person team who manage it from the head office and another 20 people in stores who take care of the order fulfillment, starting from receiving the orders to delivery.

We have our own logistics system - bikes and riders who are responsible for delivery. Logistics is where our Meena Bazar stores come into play.

Since we use these stores as local hubs, it improves our efficiency in terms of delivery time and cost. It also allows us to operate without making any additional investment in warehouse or inventory management.

However, we do understand that eventually, we will have to go there in order to scale up our operations.

Currently, we are serving a couple hundred orders per day at Meena Click. On a good day, it goes significantly up.

Future Startup

Are you doing anything specific at Meena Click, in terms of promotion and marketing, to grow your order number?

Ahmed Shoyeb Iqbal

For Meena Click, we predominantly use digital, particularly social media. We have an extensive customer database that helps us to reach out to our customers.

Apart from regular communications, we run online only offers and campaigns time to time to ramp up orders.

Future Startup

Running a retail chain and an e-commerce platform at the same time can create a conflict of interest at times. Integration of both of your operations remains a challenge. If not integrated properly, there is good chance that your one business is cannibalizing the other. For instance, if you give an online-only offer, your offline customers may go to online. How do you ensure that that doesn't happen?

Ahmed Shoyeb Iqbal

Yes, you've rightly pointed out a real concern. We are very careful about not letting either of these operations cannibalize the other. Say, in case of promotion, we do not at all mix these two together.

If you go to our outlets, you won't see any banner ads hanging that reads buy from Meena Click. We don't promote Meena Click at the expense of our store business. Our operations intermingle at the back-end.

Through Meena Click we are trying to reach out to a customer segment we can’t serve through our retail outlets. The TG is different.

We believe that superstore business is just getting started in Bangladesh. There is a huge room for growth. Meena Bazar has been seeing consistent growth over the past years. We will continue to push that growth.

There are some challenges regarding integration which we will figure out as we go. At the same time, it offers us some unique advantages. One is rich shopping and consumer behavior data. We can see shopping data from both Meena Click and our stores which offers us new insight into how our customers interact with us eventually leading better decisions and better customer service.

Future Startup

What are the challenges for Meena Click?

Ahmed Shoyeb Iqbal

At Meena Click, at least till now, we are selling only grocery items, which is a challenge in itself. If you look at the overall industry situation, grocery doesn't have a double-digit contribution to the pie of e-commerce.

There are other products that have a higher margin and contribution such as electronic appliances, books and so on. As a consequence, it limits our growth.

Having said that, we just started our journey into ecommerce. We understand that we have a lot to figure out. We have also made good progress over the past months which makes us hopeful.

Future Startup

COD continues to dominate eCommerce payment. What percentage of your payment is made digitally?

Ahmed Shoyeb Iqbal

In our brick-and-mortar store, around 30% of the payments are made digitally means through card; the rest is dealt with cash.

On our online store, digital payment amounts to as much as 40%.

Future Startup

Do you think digital payment still is a challenge

Ahmed Shoyeb Iqbal

Yes, and there are a number of reasons behind it. Look, for example, at the debit/credit card issuing policy of our banks. The cards do not come with the digital payment feature. The user needs to lodge a request to the bank to activate that feature. It's a hassle. The cards should be digital-ready and one should be able to transact without going to multiple places.

The digital payment process needs to be simpler. We have many tools but paying digitally remains a subpar experience. If this can be addressed, digital payment should increase.

Future Startup

What are the plans for Meena Click going forward?

Ahmed Shoyeb Iqbal

Currently, our service is available in Dhaka and Chittagong, we want to extend beyond these two cities. I can't disclose which city we are going next but it'd happen by the end of this year.

On the product side, until now, we are predominantly about grocery which to some extent is disadvantageous. Category expansion is another priority going forward.

Future Startup

What have helped you to grow and attract customers?

Ahmed Shoyeb Iqbal

You see, when it comes to buying necessary goods, people seek convenience. If you live in Mohammadpur, you won't go to Dhanmondi to buy your grocery. That's why it's critical for a retail chain to have as many outlets as possible. The more outlets you have the more customers you can tap into.

Our business has grown over the years with the number of our outlets. However, merely increasing your number of outlets is not enough. We have made sure that we serve our customers to their satisfaction. We regularly launch new products and programs to engage our customers.

Relentless emphasis on giving a superior retail shopping experience to our customers has helped us to build a loyal customer base.

Future Startup

How does your communication for Meena Bazar work? What are the channels you use to reach out to your customers?

Ahmed Shoyeb Iqbal

We do both above-the-line (ATL) and below-the-line (BTL) communication for Meena Bazar. We publish print ads on newspapers, distribute leaflets and so on.

We have a strong presence on digital channels, especially on Facebook. We do in-store promotions as each of them has on an average 15,000 to 20,000 customers shopping every day.

Growth is a collaborative effort. In an organizational setting, we have to make an active afford to pull each other up.

Future Startup

Communication-wise, what are your priorities now?

Ahmed Shoyeb Iqbal

Many of our priorities are time-bound. Being in the communication trade, you know everything is urgent. It is more so when you are working in retail. Retail is a daily business. You get your scorecard daily. So a lot of our works are daily in nature.

Apart from that, ensuring a better experience for our customers, reaching out to more people to increase footfalls in our stores are some regular priorities that we have.

In the short-run, two major festivals (Eid-ul-Adha and Eid-ul-Fitr) are at our door. These are also big opportunities for us. We are looking at ways to offer a better experience to our customers.

In the long run, we have several key priorities including establishing more outlets and expansion of e-commerce business in terms of both location and products.

Future Startup

What are some lessons you’ve learned?

Ahmed Shoyeb Iqbal

Discipline is key to success in life. This equally applies to those of us who work in the field of marketing.

There is a popular notion that creative people tend to skew towards a more undisciplined life. Often, people attribute this nature to extent of a person's creativity. Consequently, many professionals in our trade sometimes intentionally lead an undisciplined life thinking that it makes them creative. But there's very little truth to it.

If you are a creative person and want to sustain your creative output, you have to be disciplined. You should eat healthily, sleep, exercise, and maintain a daily routine.

Marketers, in my opinion, need to be highly disciplined if they want to properly carry out their responsibilities. Due to the nature of the job, they always have to work on an urgent-basis and collaborate with multiple parties simultaneously. If you are indiscipline you would not be able to perform at your best.

On a professional level, the nature of the organization someone works in plays a defining role in his/her career. Factors like organizational culture, the conduct of the management shape up one's attitude toward her/his work.

My CEO at Gemcon, for instance, is a visionary and an inspiring leader. He's very supportive and gives us enough space to work on our own terms which have helped us to learn and grow.

Growth is a collaborative effort. In an organizational setting, we have to make an active afford to pull each other up.

Future Startup

What do you think about the local e-commerce market?

Ahmed Shoyeb Iqbal

The industry will continue to grow. All the market imperatives are there. Social-economic changes also favor the growth of this sector.

However, ecommerce companies have to offer quality products and better customer service to realize this growth potential. There is a lot of room for improvements in terms of customer experience and product quality. If ecommerce companies can take care of these basic aspects, growth should not be a challenge.

Future Startup

What tips would you give to people who are working in building brands?

Ahmed Shoyeb Iqbal

At Meena Bazar, we champion specificity; that is to say, all of our activities have a definite objective. It's essential for everyone to always take into account the objective of carrying out any job. More so for any communication.

Before embarking on a campaign, be sure that what you want to achieve. Once you know where you want to reach, this knowledge would guide you throughout the process.

Unfortunately, I have seen that many people tend to generalize everything and try to bring all kind of activities into one box. But that doesn't work in the real world. So, be sure about your goal and the rest should follow.

Invest in learning and development. We live a fast-changing world. Things are changing daily. In order excel in this new world, you have to learn daily.

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Interview Ruhul Kader, Transcription by Rahatil Ashekan


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