In April 2019 PUMA started its operation in Bangladesh through the opening of the first official outlet in Banani Road 11. From the very beginning, the response of the customers has been overwhelming. The sales of 1st year overtook our projected sales. On 8th March, when COVID-19 first hit Bangladesh; there was a big impact on the overall retail sector of our country. All the shops were getting closed from 25th March following the Govt. instruction, and PUMA was of no exception. In a conversation with Bangladesh Brand Forum, M. A. Jabbar, Managing Director, DBL Group, the authorized franchise partner of PUMA in Bangladesh talked about the impact of the crisis on their fairly new venture in Bangladesh and the operational and strategical transformations have been taken up to build stronger engagements.
BBF: What Impact is Corona Virus Crisis having on PUMA’s business in Bangladesh?
M. A. Jabbar: During the lockdown, nationwide stores were declared to be closed till the end of May. Even though from 10th May few shops were opened for two weeks considering Eid ul Fitr, we kept our store closed as the wellbeing of our customers and staff members have been our priority. During April and May, there was no business as we kept our outlet closed. From 1st June we resumed our shop following the Bangladesh Govt. instructions, WHO and PUMA Global’s guidelines.
It is said that ‘Tough times demand the best out of the great brands’. How is PUMA Dealing with its consumers’ demand during this COVID-19 Period?
From the day we opened our outlet; we have been giving extensive attention to the health safety of our customers and staff. With Thermal Scanner, we check the body temperature of the customers and staff at the entry. We also have masks, hand gloves at the entry for our customers, and hand sanitization booths in the outlet. Instructions are kept at the entry to ensure our customers follow hygiene measures while inside the showroom. We maintain separate quarantine boxes to keep the trialed clothes for steam ironing. The floors and all the places in the store that comes into human contact are cleaned and disinfected at regular intervals every day. We have also kept social distancing marks in the outlet so that it reminds the customers to maintain a proper distance from other customers as well as our staff. To facilitate contactless payment system; Bkash has been introduced to our outlet. During this period, we noticed a big demand online. Our Facebook page was flooded with requests from customers to deliver goods to them. So, we entered into E-Commerce site through Daraz and Evaly.
What initiatives has PUMA taken for strengthening the relationship with customers?
To answer the queries of our clients we have hotline number. We also attend WhatsApp voice/video calls and Facebook messages. We share pictures and videos with them of our products one to one even if the goods are available online to see. With our loyal customers, we are regularly in touch through messaging regarding product arrivals and launch of new items. We may be physically distanced, but virtually we interact with our customers.
Consumer mindset, attitudes and behaviours are always evolving, but the present pandemic may change them significantly and for the foreseeable future. As one of the global prominent lifestyle brands, how has PUMA planned to deal with these changes?
For the first time in a long while, no one knows what the future holds, not even the experts. Fortunately, history and social psychology offer a glimpse into how the pandemic could change consumers’ mindset, attitudes, behaviours and spending habits. For example; if you go to a shop during this pandemic; you will always choose the brand that you trust for their cleanliness and hygiene. Not a place that sells products in a not so clean environment, not the one who makes products in an unwanted environment. You see the perceptions evolve but some things like the need for quality always remain. PUMA being a global brand has that image which has successfully made a strong presence in the mind of the target group. People who were reluctant to shop online are now setting up online accounts and experiencing an entirely new customer journey. The demand for non-formal wears has gone up considerably during this pandemic due to the increase in virtual meetings and work from home. This is a good opportunity for PUMA in Bangladesh to grab this opportunity and we have welcomed this change very positively.
How has PUMA embraced digital transformation during COVID-19 outbreak?
Well, this was a game-changer for us. During this pandemic, we signed up with Daraz and recently we have also signed up with Evaly. Now we are getting online orders from all-over Bangladesh. We are also using our Facebook page to communicate with our customers.
What does PUMA need to maintain the leadership position in the country’s sportswear market?
Even though new brands are making a beeline for Bangladesh presently, PUMA is all geared up for the ever-growing competition and claims to be growing every single year in ‘this buoyant market’. PUMA offers an extensive range of products for consumers from varied age groups. The brand maintains that its business is pretty much spread evenly between apparel and footwear. PUMA makes sure to keep the freshness among all of its collections, ensuring the growth trajectory remains positive. PUMA works on a four-season calendar because it is important for the brand that the consumer keeps getting new collection every quarter. Besides, we also introduce fresh infusions every month to keep things new and exciting for our discerning consumers.
To what extent PUMA is prepared to compete for the response from local and foreign brands in the Bangladesh market?
We are always looking forward to bring the latest creations of PUMA. Along with that, we are working on expanding our reach. We are planning for new EBOs (Exclusive Brand Outlets) in other important parts of Dhaka. We are planning to expand our horizon so that we can be at the doorstep of all our customers residing in different parts of the country. That is why we are already in the E-commerce sites and trying to explore it further.
PUMA has been named Top Employer Europe for the year 2020. How does this accreditation inspire PUMA in the Bangladeshi Market?
PUMA works around the clock to promote a better work-life balance for their employees, and that work has paid off. It goes without saying that the best award is the loyalty of its employees. PUMA was the only company from the sporting goods industry to be given the Top Employer award this year. This definitely is very inspiring as well as a bit challenging too as we as PUMA’s franchise partner, must maintain the standard here in Bangladesh as well.
PUMA’s mantra being “FOREVER FASTER”- we are always in the move to acquire good talents, inspire those talents and make them good leaders in an environment that helps them to do better than yesterday. That has been the case globally in PUMA as well as our country. When PUMA started off in Bangladesh; we brought one Store Manager from India who trained all the store associates for three months. PUMA puts a great amount of emphasis on Training and Learning; as a result, we send our associates abroad for training. Also, online training sessions are done frequently where our associates can connect with trainers and associates from other countries. We always try to maintain an environment that makes our people want to learn more and do better.
How is PUMA planning to be sustainable in the post-COVID-19 situation?
PUMA integrates sustainability into every aspect of its manufacturing processes for all products – from the sourcing of raw materials to the manufacturing and packaging stage, both environmentally and socially.
PUMA sells millions of shoes, apparels and sportswear every year sourcing key materials such as cotton, polyester, leather and cardboard from sustainable sources. PUMA is striving to eliminate more and more chemicals from the production processes and to reduce the carbon emissions in its own operations as well as in the supply chain.
PUMA believes in industry collaborations and has been a long-term member of numerous industry collaborations to cover a wide field of environmental and social issues that need to be addressed together by all players within our industry.
Great brands empathize with their customers, suppliers, employees and society at large. What initiatives has DBL Group taken to Boost its consumers’ morale in Bangladesh during the crisis moment?
From 24th March, 2020, when all public transport, including ride-sharing services, were banned by the government of Bangladesh to stop the spreading of the unknown virus, our heroes of health care were facing great challenges in going to the hospital and coming back home. DBL Pharmaceuticals Ltd., a concern of DBL Group, organized an online survey consisting doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers and found out that there is a need of transport service for these healthcare professionals and initiated the Crack Platoon Transport Service. Authorized by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), Government of Bangladesh, the Crack Platoon Transport Service for the healthcare professionals started its journey from 1st April 2020. It ended on 11th May (6 weeks). This initiative was for the doctors and other healthcare staff and completely free of charge. The fleet comprised of 40 vans and cars and 10 minibuses registered with the DGHS to pick up the healthcare professionals from their homes and drop them off at the 100+ different hospitals in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. These transports were available in three shifts: at 8 AM, 2 PM and 8 PM. Apart from these scheduled shuttle services, the transports were also provided for the professionals in case of emergency calls within Dhaka.
Another initiative during these crucial times is- DBL Healthcare’s initiative “Apnar Doctor”. We took a step forward so that people do not need to go to the doctors and can take doctor advice from home. DBL Healthcare sponsored and managed a show in Rtv Online where doctors would take questions from the general audience through WhatsApp/Viber messages and Facebook comments and answer to those queries. The live show has been telecasted for a month during the COVID-19 period and was shown on Rtv’s Facebook page.
Does PUMA have any plans for expansion in Bangladesh?
As of now, we are looking to expand in Dhaka city. Also, we have plans to expand to some of the cities like Chittagong and Sylhet. In the future, we may also enter in some of the major shopping malls of Dhaka city.