SINGAPORE - Fashion and lifestyle firm Wing Tai Retail is driving productivity by leveraging on technology and nurturing its human capital, reaping gains that are helping the firm navigate the challenges facing today's retail industry.
With operations across Singapore and Malaysia, the company - which is owned by Wing Tai Holdings - has a portfolio of 15 brands, including Topshop and Karen Millen, as well as food and beverage (F&B) brand Yoshinoya.
But the different brands and stores meant it was operating on different point-of-sale systems, which was "a nightmare", said executive director of Wing Tai Retail, Helen Khoo.
This has encouraged Wing Tai Retail to invest in technology, starting with an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which gives it real-time data for planning and day-to-day management on one single platform.
"We are able to eliminate a lot of time in doing manual computation, spreadsheets and analysis. Everything is all churned out in the system. We are able to benchmark and compare sales performance of one brand versus another within the same mall, within the same customer profile. And we are able to use that data to take immediate action," explained Mrs Khoo. "That's really a productivity gain."
At the same time, the ERP system has helped in other areas such as human resource planning and merchandise pricing, as the group is able to identify which days and time slots require more or less staff as well as which products are popular among customers.
"You don't need to discount products indiscriminately. We are able to know what sells and what doesn't sell. We don't need to do sharp discounts ... so you save on margin," she added.
Thanks to the ERP system, the organisation has saved itself an estimated $500,000 per year.
Aside from that, Wing Tai Retail has invested in a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, which allows it to cater to the needs of individual customers, leading in turn to better cross-branding marketing.
Its CRM system has helped it boost average transaction value for members of its loyalty programme by nearly 35 per cent, while there has been a 61 per cent increase in their contributions to the total number of transactions over the last three years.
Training has also become a big part of the company's DNA, with its staff averaging 150 training hours each over the last three years versus the industry average of 24 training hours per staff.
Wing Tai Retail is training its frontline staff to step beyond the traditional functions and step into more of an advisory role, equipping them with knowledge of fashion trends, its products and how to co-ordinate products and accessories so as to give customers added value as part of the selling process.
Such changes in Wing Tai Retail's business operations have become even more crucial as the retail landscape evolves.
Online shopping has becoming more popular thanks in part to the strong Singapore dollar, customers are more well-travelled today and new-to-market brands (such as fashion giant H&M) are increasingly making their way to Singapore's shores.
"Customers have become more knowledgeable, more savvy and more demanding. So, we have to keep training our people. We are supplying not just a product. It is that whole shopping experience. We have to fight off the competition - not by price, not by convenience, but by experience," Mrs Khoo stressed.
The shortage of labour is presently harder on its F&B business than its fashion one, since F&B tends to be more labour-intensive.
Competition comes from all segments in the food industry, from restaurants to fine-dining establishments which are in a better position to offer higher wages.
"We are planning ahead to try to recruit more part-timers but that is really very challenging. Part-timers have their required time available to work but most of those times are not compatible to our needs," Mrs Khoo said.
At the same time, with tightening foreign worker quotas, this is creating a manpower crunch, which means stiffer competition within the industry on the hiring front.
Finding enough Singaporeans to work at its stores is also tough, she acknowledged.
To compete, the firm has to increase salaries, with its cost of labour having gone up by over 20 per cent.
Aside from that, it is also tougher to carve out time for staff to attend training.
To help overcome this, Wing Tai Retail has developed an e-learning module so that employees can learn on their own.
Training can also be an impetus to retain staff since it equips employees with both skills and knowledge.
This, in turn, is a productivity driver as a high turnover rate can impact the company's operations negatively. Nearly a third of all Wing Tai Retail's employees have been with the organisation for more than five years.
At the Business Excellence Awards this week, Wing Tai Retail was awarded the Singapore Quality Award (SQA), making it the first in its industry to garner the award.
As part of its business excellence journey, Wing Tai Retail is continually improving and implementing new initiatives and targets to drive its performance.
For instance, its stores have installed a traffic counter and the firm has established a conversion rate as a target for its staff to try and "convert" shoppers into actual customers. Not only does this motivate the staff, but it also allows Wing Tai Retail to benchmark its stores against each other and against its principals' performance.
And despite the slowing economy, the retail company - which has over 100 stores in Singapore - plans to keep growing in both size and scale as it looks for more new-to-market brands to introduce.
"We are still continuing to find new brands and open new stores. We are definitely looking into a lot of new brands ... some Asian, some European," Mrs Khoo said.
The economic headwinds may result in greater access to retail space as competitors may shut down or relocate stores, she added, which means potential opportunity for Wing Tai Retail.