Customer service is crucial; innovation is key

March 11, 2014 | By RetailME Bureau

There are inherent similarities across GCC markets, although a market like Dubai is much more international in terms of its customer profile. Also, trading patterns tend to vary in specific markets in terms of time of the year and day of the month. Hence, we seek to ensure that we offer what consumers in a specific market want at the right time.

Competition has become stiff. We have come from greenfield markets 50 years ago to the extremely tight and competitive commercial battlefield of today – and that too in multiple aspects of business. In those days, businessmen willing to take risks and invest back were few and far between. Now everyone wants to join the retail bandwagon.

Back then we lacked adequate expertise to start and grow a retail business but now expertise is available in abundance, though competition is strong, keeping us rather busy and making it imperative for every business to constantly innovate to remain relevant. This could be in several forms – creating a customised customer engagement platform or an online ordering platform or even leveraging technology to build customer loyalty.

Another aspect that’s as crucial as innovation is offering excellent customer service. Even though our family business started small, ensuring customer satisfaction was always considered pivotal. My father Hassan Mohammed Jawad started a small grocery business in Manama along with a ship-chandelling business way back in 1960 when Mina Salman did not have a deep water port.

Humble beginnings yes, but we never let a customer go unhappy from our grocery store, ever. I was a child but I remember whenever we did not have a product a customer wanted, my father would ensure he acquired it somehow and had me go to the customer’s house to deliver it. That was the kind of customer service we believed in back then. No wonder I still like shopping at departmental stores that offer great

customer service!

Over the years our grocery business grew rapidly and expanded into a chain of major supermarkets and convenience stores – but our motto always remained offering good quality, thereby gaining the trust of our consumers.

It is this trust that has helped us start different verticals like branded international restaurants, fashion retail, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) distribution of key international consumer brands, all of which have grown into sizeable operating divisions, with our portfolio today including fashion retail, restaurants & cafés, FMCG distribution, convenience stores, travel and leisure.

And knock on wood, all divisions are doing well. The business has generally seen a good run across markets and segments with casual dining and quick service restaurants and cafés, footwear, ladies fashion and home segments registering higher growth rates.

We strongly believe that executing excellence on the shop-floor every day is what brings success. I’m certain there’s room for every format to attain success if the management executes the concept flawlessly, making every customer happy in the process.

That’s surely not all. Along with satisfying our customers, our core philosophy entails strong commitment to taking care of our employees, who are our best assets. It’s this underlying culture that makes every colleague feel proud of working for the brand – Jawad Business Group. Our vision, mission and values were created at the turn of the century through a long and arduous process that saw every employee contribute to what has been a defining document guiding our organisation.

Apart from paying a competitive compensation package, we also have lucrative incentive plans in place directly linked to work performance. We encourage all our colleagues to put in their best and be rewarded in the bargain. We institute a number of awards and trophies every year, which are won by our deserving colleagues.

As always, the proof of the pudding is in the eating! Last year, we received the 2013 People’s Practice Award from Brinker International in Dallas, parent of the Chili’s restaurant brand, a Fortune 500 organisation. According to them, the way we treated our people was the most outstanding among all Brinker franchisees across the globe. That’s a wonderful feat, one I’m particularly proud of.

Along with opportunities come challenges as well. In a business as diverse as ours, there’s a challenge lurking at every corner. It could be operations related, or something to do with inventory or finance. We could have an HR challenge or with a landlord or sometimes even a customer. The angles where challenges emanate from are almost infinite. So is the number of challenges. The key is to take them in your stride and work with the executive team to find creative solutions to not only deal with each challenge but come out wiser.

For example, during the height of the unrest in Bahrain a little over two years ago we lost revenues worth millions of dollars, while obviously having to bear all fixed costs. Bahrain is where we are based so we are well-penetrated in every trade area in the country. We had to be pragmatic, not panic but decisively and swiftly deal with the situation – for the circumstances were extremely volatile.

We dealt with each challenge from every quarter head on, resolved each problem one after the other. We hope to continue to build on our momentum and grow the organisation further. I’m sure there will be other challenges waiting for us but I know we’re ready.

There is no doubt retail has a degree of glamour associated with it but I would not confuse that with it being among the most lucrative sectors. True, relative margins are perhaps higher in retail, but like in every business things could go wrong in retail too and it does not take time for costs to sky-rocket if an element beyond your control flares up or if you make a mistake!

Now on a positive note, despite challenges I feel retail as a sector will continue to flourish in this region for several reasons. Take fashion retail as an example. Fashion is temporary by nature and we know the consumer in the Middle East has great appetite for fashion retail. So opportunities are constantly generated to keep bringing fresh ideas in products.

Population growth – local as well as expatriate – will also continue to drive normal growth while events of great magnitude – be it commercial like the Expo 2020 or sporting like the Football World Cup – will keep the region in the global spotlight. And all of this will point

to growth in retail.

Moving beyond the Middle East, we have already made an investment in India – in restaurant chains Papa John’s Pizza and Chili’s, both of which are doing reasonably well. India is a strong yet different market and it will take some gestation period before a business starts to run away from its original size. We remain interested in opportunities immediately outside the GCC – as and when a suitable possibility crops up, we are sure to lap it up.

Every business we undertake, we try to make it as lucrative as possible through providing quality and consistency at fair value. Ultimately it’s our customers who decide whether our business deserves to be lucrative. As told to Rupkatha Bhowmick

Faisal Hassan Jawad is chairman and CEO of Bahrain-based Jawad Business Group, which operates around 550 stores across the GCC in different formats. He is married with four children and two grandchildren. Jawad likes to spend his spare time reading and gardening, while skiing andsailing are his favourite sports – he likes to work out as well to stay fit. And his preferred holidaydestinations are the US and Europe.



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