Bangladesh Retail Congress 2017

Bangladesh Retail Congress 2017

December 20, 2017

In a world of omnipresent connectivity and multi-screened living, an industry that is being redefined and reshaped every day is the retail industry. The metamorphosis is happening in both online and offline shopping schemes. Both digital and offline experiences are converging and as of right now, is painting an immaculate picture. Some of the major players in Bangladeshi retailing have not only capitalized on these aspects of harmony but also, inspired others to follow in their footsteps. Retailers like Monno Ceramics are making names nationally and internationally, selling commodities to renowned brands such as Marks and Spencer and Casanova.  Aarong is perhaps one of the best examples of retail innovation when it comes to local retail products. They have made immense strides worldwide, starting from empowering the poor to expanding overseas.

These companies are moving from strength to strength. Just as Amazon and Walmart reached unimaginable heights in global retailing; renowned brands like Seers closed down their retail outlets while Hudson Bay is filing for bankruptcy.

As an emerging nation, we have to learn from the mistakes, of these once formidable giants and redefine our ways sensibly.

Hence with the theme of ‘Redefining Retail in Bangladesh’, the second edition of Bangladesh Retail Congress was held on Saturday, 18th November, 2017 at Le Méridien, Dhaka. Presented by SHWAPNO, the Congress engaged the retail community of the country with experts from home and abroad in 4 keynote sessions, 3-panel discussions, and 1 case study presentation. The congress was powered by Monno Ceramics and Lotto Bangladesh.

The opening speech was delivered by Shariful Islam, Founder and Managing Director of Bangladesh Brand Forum and the welcome speech were given by Kazi Jamil Islam, Managing Director, Express Leather Products Ltd. Special speeches were also given by Sabbir Hasan Nasir, Executive Director, ACI Logistics Limited (SHWAPNO) and Rasheed Mymunul Islam, Deputy Managing Director, Monno Group of Industries.

Retail Congress 2017 was designed around 3 major components:

  1. The sector is expanding at a steady growth rate and the core concept of modern retailing is completely shifting and modernizing. The fundamentals are evolving, owing it to digitization and the impact of technology. This makes it exciting and challenging for the professionals, working in the sector. It is essential to explore the effects the digital landscape has on consumers.
  2. The second component is the unity of the collective body. There is still a lack of a unified body, who will drive the industry forward. Mr. Shariful Islam, Founder of Bangladesh Brand Forum delivered a policy level dialogue, proposing the concept of Bangladesh Retail Forum to the attendees.
  3. Businesses have to focus on social aspects and contribute to society in order to retain long-term growth and sustainability.

The esteemed keynote speakers of the congress were — Damodar Mall, CEO – Grocery Retail, Reliance Retail Limited; Philippines’ Franchise Guru Armando O. Bartolome, President- GMB Management Services Global Incorporated; Arijit Chakraborti, Partner – Technology Consulting, PwC; and Shabri Prabhakar, Head of International Business, Coffee Day Global Limited. They were assigned to shed more light on the aspects of growth, unity, and sustenance that is necessary for a successful retail industry for the long run.



What is the role model retail? That’s where the key difference between traditional and modern retail comes into play.

Damodar Mall shared key insights and pointers in trying to understand shifts in the retail industry. His keynote focused on teachings like, emerging markets will go towards the direction of emerged markets and how that is not the wisest decision. Customers don’t blindly follow what happens around the world and for emerging market to copy emerged markets, is not a wise decision. Our cultural influences play a huge role in setting up consumer priorities. “As a manager of Unilever, I was told that shampoos and conditioners are the future, and hair oil is past. We even bought some oil brands and killed it. But the Indian consumers did not accept it unless we understood hair oil. This is an example that merely copy-pasting does not work,” explained Mr. Mall.

If incomes were constant and if people were buying what they were buying last month, then traditional retail would be the efficient way of shopping. But in urban Bangladesh, incomes are doubling every 7-8 years and consumers are unaware as to how to consume accordingly. That’s what modern retails do. Brands create aspiration. And the retail does the job of selling them, in turn changing consumer demands overtime.

Customers must be the center stage and their choices must be the focal point. That is the current state of the retailing industry.

Mr. Damodar Mall ended his session with 2 broad takeaways —

  1. “You can read the customer’s mind by following the customer’s steps in a store. The students of retailing should get into the habit of observing customers instead of shelves. Because that is like looking at the scoreboard instead of the cricket match while you are in the stadium. The game is being played by the trolley of the customers. Follow the game of the customers. Watch the game the way it is applied.”
  2. “Second, unlike the typical FMCG way of testing out new products and ideas, you do not need big research in a self-service way. You just try it in superstores for one weekend. At the end of the weekend depending on the feedback take it on or take it off. That is the least costly to test and trial.”

Technology is reshaping the modern retail business and who better than Mr. Arijit Chakraborti to expand upon this topic. Amazon, a company started in 1995 are now experimenting gift deliveries via drones. The company reported sales of half a million in the year of its launch and today the sales figure is 136 billion dollars. As an emerging nation, we have to learn lessons from such success stories of emerged economies.

In terms of technology adoption, however, Bangladesh is still experimenting and Mr. Arijit Chakraborti advised, “It is the Amazon strategy. We have to see through the online strategy. But the physical retail is going to stay and thrive. The online channels will give the numerical growth while the physical store will give the much needed in-store experience.”

The ability to choose the right technology and make the best of it will be the key to long-term success. A few examples of successful adoptions of technology are mentioned below:

Walmart’s experimentations with deploying robots to retail stores. The robots check the empty shelves and call for restocking. They track customer behavior using IOT (Internet of Things) to generate business insights. They are working on taking efficiency to the next level. The staff is also trained to work with machines. Robots detect problems while humans fix them. IOT helps track shoppers behavior currently while Amazon is installing IOT tags while selling detergents to track inventory. Once the detergent reaches a particular level, Amazon automates an order with the customer’s permission.

Whether it is online or offline retailing; the question is, which items should be sold through which channel. People are buying some products from online stores, while others from offline. For instance; books are bought from online while groceries are bought offline.

The concept of virtual showrooms is also emerging very fast. Products are showcased there for the customer to explore and experience a diverse range of options.

Building trust will always be a key to success. Companies are developing Blockchain based technology to ensure a trust cycle, where people can see the origin of the food they buy and can trace it back to the farms. This creates trust and technologies like Blockchain are promising it.

The first customers who purchased from Amazon are still buying from Amazon. Today technology helps us to receive the information of customers in an easier way. If all of the collected data is compiled, we can get a 360-degree view of the customer. It helps us create insights that drive mass customized customer growth.

There are many challenges in any transformative journey. A critical role will be played by the management’s expertise and also through testing the experience of the customer. Technology will lead the journey of transformation in the next 3-5 years and the market is changing swiftly.


If you are familiar with the startup community, you know why Mr. Armando O. Bartolome is dubbed as an “Angelpreneur”. An Angelpreneur is a private investor who funds local companies. His words speak for his experience as he has assisted over 800 entrepreneurs in a life which is no more than 50 years. His book ‘Is Franchising for You?’ won the Book of the Year Award in 2012.

His keynote session was eye-opening to say the least. All the entrepreneurs who are successful now, started off really small. The first question he asks any entrepreneur he meets is that, where and how they started. An entrepreneur must always remember why he had started the business, because only then, will he have a reason to push forth and break boundaries. The fear of expansion will always exist as well as the fear of failure. But the entrepreneurs who will be able to overcome his fears will triumph in the end.

“It is a very challenging time.” He voiced. Some say that they are afraid their business will be copied. One way to overcome this fear is through finding your unique selling proposition (USP) and capitalizing on it.

He shared an inspiring story from his life, one that shook everyone to their core. He shared, “I had a broken hip bone after I fell from the loading zone in a factory. I have a metal hip now. After primary tests the doctor said I cannot walk anymore. And true enough, my life was in shambles. How can I teach and help entrepreneurs? Then one night, I was watching a television show which said – ‘If you want to be healed, you can be healed’.  And in one month I was able to walk.”

After the fatal injury, he started writing his book ‘Is Franchising for You?’ The book became the ‘Book of the Year’ for the year 2012.  The book has already been translated to Philipino and Arabic languages.

He said, “Franchising is to be in the business for yourself but not by yourself.”

He cautioned that franchising needs to be encouraged in the proper way. You have just started with one store and then you have people enquiring whether you want to franchise it. Don’t rush into it – franchising is not easy, says Mr. Armando comparing franchising to marriage. You need the right commitment and right form of synergy to start a franchise. He said, “For me, quality is most important. Just duplication won’t cut it. Responsibility is everything. If you just want money, don’t franchise. Franchising must be done in a responsible and harmonious way.”

He shared the story of a college dropout who was just 19 years old and had started his restaurant business with only 8000 BDT which he ended up selling to Jollibee, one of the biggest restaurant brands in The Philippines for 22 Billion BDT. He was mentored by none other than Mr. Armando. His strategy was to open outlets next to Jollibee’s. And his USP was unlimited rice during a time when the nation was going through a rice supply shortage. The young man is now 34 years old, plays his trade in the real estate sector.


This is the story of how an Indian Coffee Brand penetrated every single section of coffee shop goers with exemplary dexterity. The story was presented by Shabri Prabhakar, Head of International Business of Coffee Day Global Limited.

From cultivators, they became coffee retailers. They went from being a coffee retailer to the exporter, kiosks, vending machines and everything else in between. Today they have a whooping 1500 acres of plantation in India and vending machines across 15000 destinations.

Targeting the young generation, they started out with Café Coffee Day with 1700 stores throughout India and 500 overseas. The younger people come together to exchange thoughts and engage in conversations.

It was initially set up for an age group between 18 to 35 years. But as they were growing older they introduced the Café Coffee Day Lounge which is more premium, with a wider range of food and beverage. At this stage, they had penetrated the 18-45 age group with 2 separate brands.

Later in their journey; they introduced Coffee Day Square targeted towards the most premium coffee drinkers. By patiently grooming a loyal customer base, Coffee Day now has a whopping 1650+ outlets today spanning over 227 cities.

So how did they achieve such success in an industry cluttered with elite brands like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts? The secret lies in their customer-centric approach. They have always designed each and every coffee bar according to the wants and wishes of the customers living there. For instance, in Egypt they serve shisha and coffee together which goes to show how deep their customer insight is. They make their customers feel at home. The cultural trend today, is to fit in with the current trend or to be left behind. They know it very well and they have always strived to remain relevant.

Their expansion is so rapid that they are opening 15 new outlets every month. Thus they have a furniture manufacturing plant to bring down set-up costs of the stores. Their strong backward and forward linkage allows them to compete on every frontier, not only in India but also overseas.



The first-panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Syed Ferhat Anwar, Professor of Institute of Business Administration, University of Dhaka.

Tamara Hasan Abed was asked whether technology is a threat to the brick and mortar setup. “No, it is an opportunity to capitalize on”, she replied. 

E-commerce is redefining retail in many parts of the world but it is not threatening to physical stores. It is an alternative. However, the challenge will be for brick and mortar stores to provide something extra. How can e-commerce and offline work with each other to create a new kind of experience for the customer be a key defining factor?

“3000 stores are being closed by JC Penny and Seers. All the excess that has been happening in the western world is being taken by e-commerce.” Said Syed Nasim Manzur, MD of Apex Footwear Limited. The case is, however, different in Bangladesh. The question is that in what ways people will adopt the technology. 

Kazi Jamil Islam, Managing Director, Express Leather Products Ltd. referred to the scenario in Europe. He said, “Even in Europe there was this fear but now it’s gone.” The products that cannot be found in an area can be availed through e-commerce. Retail has a long way to go and the aspect of touching and feeling the product will always remain within consumers.

Mr. Nasim Manzur elaborated how the core reason for the success of Bangladesh’s pharmaceutical industry is because of friendly policies. We need such policies to boost the retail sector.

Professor Mohammad Abdul Momen, Director, Pride Group added, by explaining how the fast food industry has changed eating habits in Bangladesh. As organized retailing is growing, there needs to be proper laws so that we can all pay the country back. And no individual or country can take everything from a country without paying its dues. Mr. Momen explained referring to Amazon.

Reaz Uddin Al-Mamoon, Managing Director, Epyllion Group Uddin expressed his concerns on foreign investment. He believes that foreign companies will enter and reap the rewards of the long and hard work of the domestic players. Companies like Amazon will seize the opportunity with both hands once the platform is created. 

We should learn from China and Thailand. They made sure that foreign infusion was designed in a way that local competitors were not hurt. Thanks to Bangladesh’s foreign policies, it is very attractive to foreign investors. The government needs to address retail as an industry and formulate policies. 

Mr. Reaz Uddin Al-Mamoon pointed out the lack of expertise in Bangladesh being a key deterrent. “We are far behind in terms of service,” he said.  Retail education is must be needed in order to imbue professionalism.

We go to Singapore for treatment, Thailand for shopping. Similarly, Bangladesh has every possibility to be a shopping destination.

We have got some unique cultural heritage. Pohela Baishakh for instance. It can be marketed as a tourist attraction. Every country has a unique shopping street. There is Orchard Street in Singapore. Maybe Banani 11 can be our own shopping street.

Retail already comprises 13% of the economy and 12% of employment in Bangladesh. The opportunities are unprecedented. It’s time we take some innovative and bold steps to take the whole industry forward.


Today technology is used in retailing for that added edge in competition and innovation. “At Rangs industries we are trying to track customer behavior in our stores and run our campaigns accordingly,” said Rubaiyat Jamil, CEO of Rangs  Industries Ltd., in the second-panel discussion.

“One of the best ways to innovate is to take inspiration from other places and mold it with local culture,” said Abraham Punnoose, MD of Celltick Indian and Africa referring to their mobile marketing strategies and campaigns in India. They publish about 2-4 Billion coupons every month. So if you are in a small town in Manipal for example, you will receive coupons just for that specific time. Lunchtime for food, evening time for entertainment. 

Sabbir Hasan Nasir, Executive Director, ACI Logistics Limited had his say on artificial intelligence (AI) usage. “There are two types. One is when you dig in and find out what you should do and the other is when you let the system dictate itself,” he said. They are trying to incorporate IOT (internet of things) starting from footfall to the entire customer journey. They have launched e-commerce with a plan to integrate offline and online in the near future.

Mohammed Mesbah Uddin, CMO, Fair Group said that there is no human touch in the whole distribution of Fair Group. Today in Bangladesh, we have the most fragmented distribution system and consumers have to bear the price of that. Distribution needs a lot of technological adoption. The technology should tell you the experience of the product, instead of a person standing beside you.

Mr. Sabbir sighted to the Whole Foods acquisition example. Today they give great quality at low prices or Whole Foods quality at Amazon prices. Today technology is used to show the whole background of apple from farming to calorie, AR (Augmented Reality) is used to do it through a mirror. AR and IOT will be playing a bigger role with time. IOT based tags are connected with products which help in numerous ways.

Adidas VR (Virtual Reality) shop creates your customized shoe in just 2 hours. Brands like Otobi and Hatil have built exemplary visual merchandising displays over the years. We hope to see many such examples in future in Bangladesh.  It reflects the great professional we have in our country.


Retail is an industry which needs trained people willing to thrive in the industry itself. But our educational system does not offer any kind of specialization in retail. Even though there are training centers for Banks and RMG, training for retailing is still absent. This is a problem which costs the industry efficiency and effectiveness. The discussion worked on finding a solution to it.

Rajan Pillai, COO of Apex Footwear Limited shared that they train people for operating and managing the 223 stores they have in Bangladesh. “In a country like Bangladesh, this is a problem you do not want to deal with,” he exclaimed. We need a platform to accelerate the future retail leaders and to prepare them for the future. Because very soon Bangladesh will go through a change like Thailand once went through and it is poised to become a sought-after shopping destination. 

Selim H. Rahman, Chairman, and MD of Hatil Complex Ltd. pointed towards universities arranging BBA majors in retailing abroad. “That is the type of specialized education that is needed for the industry to grow Bangladesh,” he said. In this day and age of global competition, we need specialists. We need a separate curriculum for entrants, higher level managers, logistics, etc.

Addressing the question – if retail education is possible right now; Ashraf Bin Taj, President, Marketing Society of Bangladesh said, “First you have to seize the opportunity.”

Addressing the question regarding the importance of training, Yeamin Sharif Chowdhury, Head of Business, Transcom Electronics Limited. responded, “If it does not happen right now then people who are into retailing will become training institutes. That is not our core competency.”

Mohammad Ashraful Alam, COO, BRAC, Aarong broke down the required retail skillset into functional skill and soft skill. The fundamental training, you get from retail. But a platform can develop retail businesses by providing training and education.

So what do we need? A potential retailer needs to have 2 skills: personal effectiveness and relationship management. We have to make these courses rewarding for all the stakeholders. A possible solution could be to start with shorter diploma courses and then slowly move into specialization.

Mr. Ashraf Bin Taj raised a critical question and that is, whether we have the necessary faculty to run these courses. A valid start would be to bring in experts. The industry also needs to project itself to meet its demand. But what is in it for the universities? They can take it as a USP and stand out from others. Once the course curriculums become strong and rigid, it can be rolled out to other universities.

We need an environment where the fresher can join and the industry veteran can teach. In the pharmaceutical industry of Bangladesh there is a two months training program and then once one qualifies they are recruited in the system.

Just like the RMG Sector, Retail has to be seen and addressed as an industry. Zig Ziglar famously said, “You don’t build a business, you build people and the people build your business.” If we build people in retail; people will build retail in business.



The broad showrooms holding the banner ‘Hatil’ we see here and there today, could be found in only one showroom back in 1989, a small store located in Badda. 

Hatil was the first to introduce hand polished furniture. They were trying to figure out a way in which they could manage the R&D sector as they wanted to provide clients with more options. In 2004, Hatil organized two national events to hunt designers which did not procure any success.  In 2009, they started preaching about the environment. They obtained FSC certification which means that their wood comes from a managed forest. The designer hunt was not very successful. However, in 2013, they were awarded the climate award from the HSBC – The Daily Star award initiative. Currently, 

Hatil is redefining itself. It is all about product standardization and process automation. They have even introduced their first robot which helps in painting their furniture.

As a result, their forecast projects a growth rate of 2.5 times of current production. So what would they do with the additional 1.5 times? They do not have many options as local demands were already being met. So they decided to go beyond borders.

A gentleman from Australia approached Hatil. They franchised the first overseas Hatil showroom there. Though it did not survive, it was still a start. Then another gentleman from Canada approached Hatil and they set up shop in Canada where they are still going strong. That’s when they got the first taste of success on foreign soil.

After intensive research into all market frontiers, they deduced that South Asia is the most suitable market for Hatil. They opened in Bhutan, followed by showrooms in Nepal. This year Hatil opened a new showroom at Chandigarh India and now there is one at Kolkata. They are relentlessly exploring new franchising options.

They are exporting regularly today and by, 2021 they plan to have 25 new showrooms abroad. In the near future, nothing would delight us more than to see more Bangladeshi brands walking down the same path while taking the ‘Made in Bangladesh’ slogan overseas.


The key takeaway from the Congress was the inauguration of a platform for the local retail industry – Bangladesh Retail Forum. It is safe to say that offline retailing is not going away anytime soon. The key factor behind the success of future retailing will be a sound harmonization of “Brick and Click”. The technology adoption in the retail industry will continue expanding. Utilizing technology in the right way will set leaders apart. We hope to see a lot of local brands taking the momentous step of exploring foreign markets. As the income of our middle wage earners increases, they will slowly move towards shopping from modern superstores instead of shopping from traditional departmental stores. The plans of introducing specialized courses and training programs for tomorrow’s leaders is nothing short of fascinating. With all that being said, it is safe to say that, Bangladesh can soon become a global shopping destination if its undiscovered potential is nurtured wisely.

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