The joy of learning is what makes me tick: Kapil Kohli of Usha International tells BrandSutra

Kapil Kohli, President - Retail, Usha International, has worked with some of the best-known brands in the Telecom and Consumer Durables markets worldwide, including Sony, Reliance Industries, Hitachi, Akai and Onida. Here, he tells BrandSutra about marketing lessons from his career, acing the lockdown to register robust growth and his constant quest for knowledge

Tell us about a few extraordinary on-ground experiences from your 25-year career, that have gone on to become marketing lessons.

I have been involved in various aspects of business, including initiating and putting in place new out-of-the-box strategies that consistently inspire teams to generate record revenues, and this is only because I enjoy learning, scratching below the surface and gauging the ground realities as well as getting into the heads of my customers to understand what compels them to buy a particular product. I have learnt that in addition to business knowledge and understanding ground realities, it is passion, empathy, and adaptability that catapult one towards success. Many extraordinary on-ground experiences in planning and execution have helped me become a better marketer. For example, in this organisation itself, when we were struggling to establish ourselves as an appliances brand in the retail space till 2015, the planning and organising experiential demo kit installations in retail stores helped us grow the single category sales 6X. We simultaneously worked on creating a team of in-shop demonstrators for the products to enhance the shopping experience for customers.

What is the biggest business challenge that you have faced at any point in your career, and how did you overcome it? Tell us the story.

I have had my fair share of challenges during my career and learnt early on that being adaptable builds resilience, which is a key to clearing roadblocks in one's path. The challenges I faced when I joined Usha was low penetration of the specialty store format, hypermarket format and online channels. In the last five years, we have worked relentlessly towards increasing our footprint in speciality stores, hypermarkets, modern and regional retail channels and online platforms.

The other challenge was that in most of the speciality stores and hypermarket formats, they did not have the complete range of Usha products in their portfolio. By sharing business insights, industry growth perspective, and consumer case studies, we have been able to ensure that the Usha product portfolio is listed in its entirety in their overall business.

How did COVID-19 affect Usha International? What kind of shift do you expect or see in consumer behaviour, going by the retail experience?

In Usha's Retail business, the COVID-19 period has helped us further strengthen our processes and work towards operational efficiencies. In terms of consumer behaviour, we have seen less footfalls in stores and more consumers on online platforms. Due to high penetration of the Internet and its accelerated adoption during the lockdown, we have focused on creating the same retail experience for consumers and offering online platforms like brand stores, and A+ content, etc. Presently, we are delighted to report that sales have not only returned to pre-COVID levels, but we have also grown on a YoY and MoM comparison. In November 2020, the retail sales numbers have surpassed expectations by recording a YoY growth of 45% in sell-in and 115% growth in sell-out. A major shift in terms of consumer behaviour is the rapid acceleration towards Digital. The need of the hour now is to find a strategic balance between offline and online channels of sales.

What next from the domestic and international Retail business of Usha? What are your plans?

We have always kept our brand values at the forefront of all our initiatives and will continue to do so, under-pinning our commitment towards our consumers. Throughout this year, Usha has been continuously innovating and revamping operations to stay relevant, and focusing on consumer needs and preferences. This has in turn helped us clock a double-digit growth, a trend we expect to continue in the coming months. We are now back to business as usual, and our expansion strategy is under way. We have made the required investments for expanding our retail footprint across platforms and retail formats across India. We are also strengthening our display and assortment along storefronts so that consumers can explore the display from outside without the need of stepping inside the retail outlet.

What is the one thing that motivates you when you wake up each day? Name a quality that you feel a marketer should absolutely possess.

One thing that motivates me every day is my quest to gain knowledge either through reading books, learning from my own experiences, or learning from peers. The passion to do my very best in every aspect of life also motivates me. The joy of learning, understanding people's mindset and what makes them tick, and how I can fulfill their needs to the best of my ability, while growing the business, is an intrinsic part of my life, and has been for over two decades. Challenging myself to find better ways of working, empowering and motivating teams, tracking the dynamic sales trends and analysing consumer preferences, is what keeps me ticking. One quality a marketer should absolutely possess is dynamism. Adaptability and agility are also necessary for a marketer, as is empathy and emotional intelligence for a leader – this year has reiterated that more than ever.

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