#LockdownLessons: Puma SA’s Luke Barrett-Smith on the new retail reality
In-store shoppers will find hand sanitisers at entrances, staff wearing masks and other protective wear, and customers are encouraged to pay with card or other contactless payment methods to avoid unnecessary contact with cash.
Puma South Africa MD Luke Barrett-Smith let us in on how the company is adapting to do business during the pandemic, and how he believes Covid-19 will impact retail moving forward.
Puma SA MD Luke Barrett-Smith
What was Puma SA’s initial response to the Covid-19 crisis, and how has the business had to adapt under the various levels of lockdown?
With the outbreak taking place in China, Puma’s initial concern with Covid-19 was inventory – how the outbreak would impact production because most of our manufacturers receive their trims from China.
So our first reaction was to reach out to our local manufacturers to get an idea of how they would be impacted.
When lockdown was announced in South Africa our primary focus shifted to ensure the safety of our employees and transition into working from home. And then we focused on e-commerce from our online store with deliveries to take place post-lockdown.
Clothing retail stores should not be restricted to winter clothing. I feel that the consumer’s preference should dictate purchases because each person has a different perspective on what constitutes essential winter clothing.
The focus should be on applying safety regulations in-store rather than on what can or cannot be sold.
My workday in lockdown has been seriously busy. I am always on Microsoft Teams, from one meeting to the next and before I know, it’s the end of the day. I do miss the daily interaction at the office with the Puma family.
Tuesday, 12 May, that allows retailers to sell an expanded list of clothing and bedding items under Level 4 lockdown.
13 MAY 2020
Physical distancing has three elements in our business. Firstly, the retail space is the most challenging. We adhere to all local requirements and in addition, we apply learnings from Puma stores across the globe, to ensure we provide the highest level of safety for our customers and staff.
Secondly, we ensure the relevant safety guidelines are stringently applied at our warehouse where our workforce is divided into three teams. These teams never come into contact with each other, so if contamination occurs we can avoid a total shutdown.
Thirdly, 90% of our head office employees are working from home. The entire team is kept aligned and informed by their strong department managers and through weekly updates using Microsoft Teams and e-mail.
Some manufacturers have closed for lockdown and this has caused delays on the product delivery timeline.
The greatest impact will come in the next few months as we have had to postpone launch and in-store dates for certain products.
The impact of Covid-19 in South Africa will be felt by our local manufacturers. Some will not re-open while others will take 2-3 years to recover to the same figures and output they expected to do before the virus. Retail stores without financial support will close. Rentals will need to be renegotiated.
As managing director of Apollo Brands, the official distributor of Under Armour in South Africa, Gareth Kemp is responsible for keeping the company’s wheels turning…
Social distancing will be the new reality and e-commerce will continue to produce the largest growth.
Until we have a vaccine, safety in stores will be a priority. The retail brands will shrink and marketing budgets will be adjusted. Major brands could take up to two years to get back to their current projection before the onset of the virus.
On the upside, the new reality is likely to open new opportunities for more local production and manufacturing.
In these times new business startups have the advantage because they were born into this new world. Longer standing and more established businesses need to adapt, therefore no more looking back but rather focusing on moving forward. Stay relevant to your consumer and prioritise both e-commerce and brick and mortar stores.
In this trade remember you need good partners from manufacturers to suppliers to landlords. You will succeed if all these partners work together and your leaders use a jugaad approach: accentuating flexibility and innovation.
UPDATE: As online retail regulations have just been relaxed, Puma’s full range of clothing and accessories is now available for purchase and delivery via the local online store.