Grow larger. Expand faster. Price lower. Retail centres everywhere face the pressures of staying competitive in a saturated market. While most tend to focus on price, India’s SPAR Hypermarkets, part of multinational retail conglomerate Landmark Group, has taken a decidedly different approach. This innovative shopping mecca emphasises smiles made over rupees saved.
“If everybody, including us, is just shouting ‘price, price, price’, then what is the true difference?” asks SPAR Hypermarkets’ Managing Director and CEO Rajeev Krishnan. “We want to put smiles back on people’s faces when they’re shopping. We want to be the most innovative and engaging hypermarket in the country.”
If the chain isn’t there yet, it’s well on its way. Started in 2004 as the result of a strategic partnership between Dubai-based Landmark Group’s Max Hypermarkets India and Amsterdam-based SPAR International, SPAR Hypermarkets has 24 stores spread across India and more on the way.
“In the last 18 months alone, we’ve literally grown about 70–80%,” Rajeev says. “Being a hypermarket chain, this is quite significant growth.”
Its fantastic success is due to the novelty and innovation that’s woven into every customer-focused thread in its stores. No longer a lacklustre place to quickly pick up ghee and rice, SPAR Hypermarkets has revolutionised the shopping experience, making its stores a destination for the entire family.
“We tried to recreate experiences in the store to make people emotionally connect with what is going on,” shares Rajeev. “So you’ll find different stories around our stores. There’s a section called Going Nuts, for example; it has everything to do with dried fruits, nuts and seeds. Now, instead of just buying dried fruits, the consumers feel like they’re doing something different and special.”
The store’s “experience sections” range from the nostalgia-laden Grandma’s Corner to the inviting Home Sweet Home area and a kid-friendly section called Wonder Years, which all work to foster an emotional connection with the consumer.
“We designed this entire childhood section as Wonder Years, because they truly are the wonder years of your life,” explains Rajeev. “We painted the ceiling and the floors. There are games to play. Things are hanging from the ceiling and decorations are on the walls, and there are digital screens where the kids can play.”
It all plays into the brand’s master plan. When Rajeev signed on in 2016, he and his team were quick to work on a vision statement. “We wanted to make a difference in the lives of our customers. We wanted to emotionally connect,” he shares. “It’s at the heart and soul of everything we’ve done for the last three years.”
And it’s paying off. “Based on the feedback we have received from our peer group, customers and the market, we clearly have an edge in terms of establishing an emotional connection because of the in-store experiences,” Rajeev says. “It’s definitely caught their eye. There is an innovative spirit in the store, which people are now seeing.”
Not only are customers excited by this new approach to shopping but sales are also soaring. “It’s unbelievable,” he says. “Our sales have gone up 20% through this alone.”
These achievements have earned Rajeev and SPAR Hypermarkets a slew of accolades. In 2018, the chain took home WCRC’s Hypermarket Brand of the Year Award and became a Great Place to Work certified employer. As for Rajeev, he was honoured as one of India’s Inspirational Leaders in 2018 at The Global Indian Excellence Summit.
Humbly, Rajeev credits his achievement to all but himself despite his more than 30 years in the industry, holding high-level positions at retail giants such as Target and Walmart, as well as management consulting firm McKinsey, and now SPAR.
“That award is my team’s award, not mine,” he says. “Our success has only been because of two reasons – my team and the collaborations we’ve had with our vendor partners. There’s no other way we could have succeeded. No other way.”
A future-forward business, SPAR Hypermarkets benefits greatly from its relationships with locals in the tech space. “The credit for what we’ve done in our new stores has to go to our vendor partners and collaborators,” Rajeev beams.
“We have some amazing support from almost all the big, medium and small tech companies in India from TCS to HCL, Bosch, Perpule and a small company in Bombay called Tektronix. We opened our stores as innovation labs with one caveat: to make a difference in the customer’s life.”
“We opened our stores as innovation labs with one caveat: to make a difference in the customer’s life.”
And SPAR Hypermarkets has done that – and then some. Stores are now outfitted with effective technology applications. There are self-assist kiosks and check-outs to help customers find products with ease and pay without hassle. If the customer is looking to find stock levels of a particular item, now there’s an app for that.
For decorating, there’s a Design Your Home Studio application so customers can mix and match different home decor products virtually, visualising how it will look in their homes.
Beyond technology, the brand also maintains partnerships with vendors like health, beauty and wellness company Marico and big multinational vendors Unilever Global, Nestlé, Mondelez and Pepsi to make the customer journey a good one.
“They are more than vendors; they’re true partners of success.”
“They are more than vendors; they’re true partners of success,” he says. “We believe in being successful together. Whether it’s on the supply side, the packaging side, the product side or on the process side, we have the ability to improve and influence the overall ecosystem. The outputs of this are much bigger than just a relationship between company A and company B. The ideas permeate across the entire retail industry.”
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