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The resilient retailer: a personal MBA alumnus journey

Source: Photo by Mehrad Vosoughi from Pexels

  • 6 October 2021

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By Dewaldo Diedericks, MBA Alumnus

When I was still in primary school, I used to own a little tuck shop at home selling mostly sweets and chocolates to the children in the area. I remember spending many afternoons in the local wholesaler, shopping around for bargains, calculating profits and establishing selling prices for my stock. I guess from thereon I always knew at heart that I wanted to be in retail. I also delivered the newspaper in the mornings and worked as a waiter at the Spur during weekday evenings and delivering pizzas during weekends and school holidays.

While completing my undergraduate degree in Management Accounting at Stellenbosch University, I got a holiday job at Shoprite’s Non-Foods (General Merchandise) department. This led to my first permanent job as a Junior Buyer in 2007, and I was promoted to a Buyer in 2011.

Upon completion of my undergraduate degree, I applied for the MBA at USB even though I did not have the required 2 years’ minimum work experience at the time. I was called in for a special interview and clearly remember the interviewers (Professors Laetitia van Dyk and Julian Sonn) asking what I would do if they declined my MBA application. Well, my determined answer was simple: “Then I will sit here again next year until I get accepted.” The rest is history. I was one of the youngest (24) and most inexperienced individuals in the MBA class at the time, but I completed it and graduated in December 2011.

I was then able to make a parallel career move from non-foods buyer to project accountant for Usave in 2012, and eventually to operations manager in the COO’s special projects team in 2016. In 2017 I was appointed general manager of Usave where I was also involved in many other strategic projects for the Shoprite Group to date.

In 2019 I enrolled and completed the Program for Executive Development (PED) diploma at the International Institute of Management Development (IMD) in Switzerland.  The passionate people I work with are always a great source of inspiration, as well as the books I read. I’m a proud father and husband, and try to keep a healthy balance by mountain biking.

 

Innovation in my industry

In recent years, the way that customers shop has changed. However, during the pandemic trends such as online ordering and on-demand fulfilment really accelerated. Now – in the second year of this pandemic, the challenge is to retain existing customers and attract new ones.

Retailers today need to provide better experiences and services to customers, to address their need for convenience, fresh produce, health and wellness, and value-added services such as financial products and specialised expert advice. In the end, the aim is to be able to deliver a seamless customer journey – whether online or in-store.

Current global grocery store trends include experience destinations (experiential retail or retail-

tainment), effortless shopping, smart stores, lean stores and a self-organising workforce which provide an opportunity for retailers to innovate and adopt recent technologies to enhance grocery store capabilities to ultimately:

 

  1. Move closer to the customer  
  • Taking the store to wherever the customer is: A notable example of this is Shoprite’s Usave Ekasi Mobile Truck Storeswhich we launched during the pandemic.
  • Specialised stores (free-standing): Many customers do to not want to go into big shopping malls or big hypermarkets for specialised services. They prefer a stand-alone store where they can receive individual attention and speak to a specialist / expert regarding their specific needs, for example our new Petshop Science stores.
  • Convenience/forecourt stores: These smaller format food stores focus on fresh and convenience for a quick stop on the way home. The smaller Checkers at Mooirivier Junction in Potchefstroom is an example of such a smaller convenience food store.

 

  1. Offer more and better convenience to the customer  
  • Online shopping: E-commerce has grown exponentially during the pandemic, and Checkers Sixty60 on-demand grocery delivery service was scaled quickly during lockdown. There are also some particularly good examples of online food delivery services launched in rural, peri-urban, and informal communities, and it is expected that these types of offerings will continue to gain momentum in South Africa.
  • Digital vouchers: To enable customers to help those in need during the lockdown, Shoprite launched virtual grocery voucherswhich can be bought online via Computicket and redeemed at any Shoprite, Checkers or Usave supermarket nationwide.
  • Minimal contact or contact-free experiences: Contactless service is another trend which gained momentum during the pandemic, and last year the Shoprite Group became the first South African retailer to offer dynamic QR payments. Increased focus on on-demand fulfilment and click & collect options such as home delivery and curbside pick-up can be expected, as well as a variety of virtual specialist services. This includes some of the services offered by Medirite, for example U-Dok virtual doctor’s consultations, the Prep-my-Script service and home delivery of prescribed medication via Mr D.
  • Specialized and value-added services: Many customers do not want to visit a multitude of stores when shopping, and would rather do everything in a single store (a one-stop shop). That is why retailers are increasingly rolling out store-within-a-store concepts. For example, selected Checkers supermarkets include party shops, pet departments and dedicated wine sections. Similarly, Shoprite and Checkers supermarkets offer a multitude of value-added financial services, including the new Money Market Accountand cash deposits at till points.

 

A message of hope to new students

It is important that you know yourself as an individual and your function (position) within your team and organisation. The MBA is a great personal development tool to help you to excel in both your professional and personal life, but you still need to constantly apply yourself.

Decide what your non-negotiables are when dealing with everyday tasks, as it helps to get things done without a sweat. For examples, always be on time for meetings and always return phone calls. These are two simple examples, but it is in fact a reflection of my worth ethic and the respect I have for others.

“You will excel in life regardless of circumstances and never because of it.” This I firmly believe in.

So embrace life’s difficulties, as it serves as valuable experience and develops both wisdom and resilience for the road ahead.

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