The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has not been a matter of concern only for the manufacturers; it has been equally challenging for brands and retailers operating in the country’s prospective but yet-nascent retail landscape.
Apparel Resources caught up with Deepak D’Souza, Country Manager, Decathlon Bangladesh, in an exclusive interaction to know his perspective on the issues related to COVID-19, how the brand has not only successfully negotiated the same but also stood by its suppliers in Bangladesh in these trying times, while also contributing towards fighting the pandemic in the country.
The coronavirus pandemic has been very challenging for both the manufacturers and retailers. What about Decathlon Bangladesh?
Deepak: The outbreak of the pandemic has posed a lot of challenges for the global retail sector, especially on the physical stores, which were closed down temporarily to prevent the spread of the virus, while also following the various lockdown directives issued by the Government.
The impact of this has been intense for all of us for many weeks, until the stores reopened again in the second week of May.
Akin to the global scenario and as it has been for many other retailers, for us too, the COVID-19 pandemic delivered an unprecedented shock both on supply and demand sides, collapsing demands and consumptions. As a consequence, we also had to suspend production for few weeks to get clarity on the new customer needs and forecasts.
The biggest challenge in this direction was to find solutions for the stocks, while also being agile and flexible at the same time and provide services as per customer needs, which were also a bit different from the earlier anticipated needs.
There is a lot of discussion on ‘new normal’ post pandemic. How do you foresee the same going forward?
Deepak: According to what I could anticipate, new normal is to be even more accessible and to have proper flow of information available to all the concerned teammates and manufacturing partners.
It would also have a lot to do with the decision-making ability of people concerned on the field; in the given context, it is very important that the right competency, skills and behaviours exist to make the right and quick decisions in the best interests.
Everyone would have to understand the importance of value-addition and correct decision-making to ensure they take the right decisions that make the best choice.
The future, clearly, depends on how quick we can move towards operational excellence, digital transformation and sustainable ecosystem by reducing the CO2 footprints (use of renewable energy/green energy) that will make us desirable for the long term.
Considering the implications of the pandemic, many retailers are re-aligning their business approach and functioning. Does Decathlon Bangladesh have any such plans?
Deepak: Decathlon is still in an exploration stage for its retail activities in Bangladesh. Since the country’s market is quite different from that of other countries we operate in, we are pursuing a customised approach that is tailored to the challenges we face in this specific market. Hence, we do not really have to adapt to our current concept. We rather have to keep on developing it together with the sports users of the country.
Lockdowns and social distancing have given an impetus to online business. What is the significance of online marketplace for Decathlon Bangladesh in this context?
Deepak: Online market is playing a very important role. However, the most important topic here relates to the online experience the customers have when they make an online purchase – right from the access to the site and relevant information until the delivery of products in good condition.
Our online share has also increased significantly, and we have opened delivery services within Dhaka and further extended it to Ghazipur, Chittagong and two other big cities in the country.
When many global buyers drew flak on account of order cancellations, Decathlon has earned praise for standing by its suppliers. Going forward, what kind of support do you plan for them, and what are your expectations from the suppliers?
Deepak: The purpose of Decathlon is ‘Making Sports Accessible to the Many’ while ‘Being Useful to People & Planet’, and thanks to this purpose, our business model has been unique and successful.
Even during store closures, we have been able to perform with a growth of more than 24 per cent via online channels. Also, with the physical stores opening up in different countries, we have been able to bounce back strongly.
This has enabled us to perform and we have committed to ensure that all our orders are placed and commitments respected. I would also like to highlight and thank all our suppliers and partners who stood by us and agreed to suspend the production for few weeks, which helped us to be agile and flexible on our forecasts and global needs. Also, big congratulations to all the teammates who have very well handed this unprecedented situation with the right level of confidence and responsibility.
Remaining true towards its commitment to social causes, Decathlon is said to have contributed a lot in these trying times. Can you please elaborate a little on its CSR activities, with reference to the pandemic in Bangladesh?
Deepak: During this pandemic, Decathlon Bangladesh – together with the France team – developed a Category 1 fabric mask which has excellent usage and boasts of properties such as
filtration of more than 90 per cent of three-micron particles, designed to resist minimum 20 washes, adjustable with an elastic band, and easy to wear and remove, quick dry (synthetic textiles used to reduce drying), and good air permeability for easy breathing.
These masks were produced in more than four factories, and at a time when the global outbreak was spreading quickly, we thought it was important to contribute and donate some masks to the frontline workforce of Bangladesh. As such, we have donated more than 1,00,000 of these fabric masks to different organisations including Dhaka North City Corporation, Dhaka South City Corporation, Chittagong City Corporation, Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Industrial Police, Bangladesh Land Port Authority, BEPZA, BGMEA and ICDDRB.
At a time when mask has become an essential product to prevent the pandemic inside the community and wearing masks in public has been made compulsory by the Bangladesh Government, we are very happy to donate these good quality fabric masks that could contribute to safety and protection.
These masks have been developed quickly in Bangladesh which complies with the Category 1 of international standards, and have been exported to France as well.
What’s in your scheme of things going forward?
Deepak: As far as the needs for sporting goods are concerned, we see a huge demand in the local market (Bangladesh) consequent to people getting more conscious about physical fitness. Also, a large number of people are taking up and practicing sports like hiking, walking, running, cycling, football, cricket, basketball, etc. So, the availability of the right product remains the biggest challenge.
With what we have seen, people are willing to pay for the right product with right quality. Since most of the products are still imported and with high duties (example, more than 80 per cent for textiles and 130 per cent for shoes), one of the challenges will still remain how we could get the locally manufactured products with the best prices for the local market. This continues to be a long-term challenge, and Decathlon continues to work with the local suppliers and the concerned regulatory authorities to find the best solutions respecting the local laws and the tax regimes.