The Walk Towards Alshaya – My Summer Saga

My summer saga did not start on the 4th of April, 2015 when I landed in Kuwait, neither did it start when I appeared for Alshaya’s selection process some months back…the journey towards Alshaya started  almost about the same time I took admission in IIM Lucknow, in a subtle way of course.

I love Fashion (minus the obsessive compulsive disorder for shopping :-P), I love knowing about various fabrics, styles, trends and I have almost always imagined myself sitting in a cubicle or in a store figuring out consumer behavior and designing strategies in this field. No wonder, Alshaya caught my fancy the day I heard about this multinational retail franchise in Kuwait selling all international brands like Harvey Nichols and H&M.

Lucky to be one of the 53 interns joining Alshaya this summer, this city of lights, as I prefer to call it, gave me a very warm welcome.

On the 5th of April after the induction process where we were told about Alshaya’s legacy and values, existing brands and future goals; we were assigned our roles. As preferred, I had been allotted the Fashion & Teens Department of Alshaya, for a newly launched accessories brand that housed everything from jewelry to cosmetics to handbags and ……… (the list was huge)

Now starts the real story..

My project was to evaluate the brand competitiveness of the brand in Kuwait and design pricing strategies for each of the top 9 departments. It was a brainchild of the brand manager who was in Saudi Arabia at the moment (and another few days), to launch another store. So a senior teammate briefed me about the project and gave me general directions.

So for two weeks I thought out the strategy and a plan of action and worked really hard- looked at our sales trends and other relevant data, went for field visits, familiarized myself with the offerings, the quality we offered, talked to the sales staff so and so forth.

When my mentor came back from Saudi, we sat together to discuss my progress and here it is I realized a mistake in the way I was working. What I was doing was absolutely right but she wanted something more as well, all of which I could have done during my recent field visits, only if I had spoken to her! Agreed she was not in town but I could have very well articulated my plan of action over an email, taken an approval and worked upon her suggestions as well. So, LESSON 1- keep your line manager in loop, always.

Nevertheless, I reworked my plan and also spoke to other teams to understand their perspectives and make sure I wasn’t missing out anything critical. After doing a thorough like for like product analysis, I looked at the price points for various departments to gauge which price points or what range was successful among customers. Middle East is a sligtly different market than others with very high level of brand consciousness and shopping being a great pastime. Window shopping is a very popular phenomenon there. Therefore it was even more important to have an optimal number of price points in the store- not too many, not too few to avoid confusion. 

It was also crucial for me to be able to clearly distinguish the reason behind the slow movement of some of the categories. Was it the price or the product? Since the brand was newly launched I did not have sufficient data for it or even to find out the price elasticity of demand. Instead, the field visits to a number of competitor’s stores every few days and loads of customer interaction and observation helped me identify my key areas and prepare a price matrix.

What I liked about my project was that not only was I getting to use my existing knowledge and research relevant concepts, I was also getting into finer details and I loved it. I loved learning the intricacies- that handbags may be hobos, satchels or messengers in addition to totes, clutches and backpacks; the difference between a baked eyeshadow and a regular one or types of chokers, pendants and statement necklaces. This not only helped me in understanding the current strategy but also in building my own. LESSON 2- to be able to put more than 100% into your work, first fall in love with it.

During my field visits to ours and competitors’ stores, I would also make notes of the extra insights I was getting which could impact revenues if not pricing in particular. LESSON 3- don’t be overly narrow focused, be recipient and have an open mind.

Two months just flew by and it was time for the final presentation to the Vice President of the Fashion. Small things can work in big ways. I was absolutely ready to start my presentation when the VP came in. After exchanging pleasantries, he told me,Some meetings I go to and the candidates are still fidgeting with their laptops trying to set things right, you respect other people’s time, I am sure time will respect you. A positive start indeed boosted my morale :-). He liked my analysis, the recommendations and the extra consumer insights I shared with him and found them implementable. More so, he was impressed that my analysis had taken into account the soon-to-be-opened stores in other locations in Kuwait near other competitors and that I had gone beyond the traditional scope of the project. I still cannot forget the moment when he asked me, “Divleen, would you like to work with Alshaya?” to which I instantaneously replied, “YES!”  

Well, that is not the end of the saga… 😉

A parallel story was running after office hours…

Just when u start getting hanky-panky about meeting deadlines and doing a self-satisfying job, it is just amazing how new friends that you have just made come to your rescue, be it your teammates or other interns or alumni. Two other IIM interns and I, lived in the 3bhk flat that Alshaya provided us and undoubtedly I can say that we were each other’s support system for the entire two months for as small an issue as missing home or seeking each other’s advice on critical issues. Sometimes I would also be a part of the regular fanfare of the interns while returning home from work and play MAFIA! Some friends of mine were really good cooks and it was a delight to eat ‘masale wale aaloo, chole, homemade puddings etc etc’ on the weekends. The trips to the scientific centre, the Failaka Island, the nearest Uduppi and other Indian Restaurants made my stay enjoyable. And ofcourse,, a couple of shopping bags in one hand and a cheesecake in the other was enough to feel ultimate bliss ;). LESSON 4- build a good network of friends.

Now back in India, when I look back at the days well spent, I feel more than anything else, my summer saga made me appreciate and respect cultures and traditions of a different community, a multi-cultural populace where people from all over the world with their own unique habits and styles live in harmony with themselves and with others.

Before the internship, some of my  known had their own image about Middle East, based on what they had HEARD. In every walk of life, I realize now that it is crucial for each one of us to let our prejudices go by. SEE it to BELIEVE it rather than going by some preconceived notion in mind or stereotypes. After all, as the famous COCA COLA line that has been doing the rounds lately; LESSON 5- labels are for cans, not for people.

(This article is written by Divleen Talwar, Class of 2016, IIM Lucknow)

Divleen Talwar

Divleen is a IIM Lucknow graduate, class of 2016 and is currently working with the retail giant M.H.Alshaya in Kuwait. She also served as the Creative Head of the Media and Communication Cell in IIM-L and started the Lions of Lucknow series on InsideIIM