February 2015 | Cynthia Rodrigues

Building brand Westside

Managing 82 Westside stores and nine Landmark stores - all in a day's work for Bryan DaSilva, head retail operations, Trent

Many of us walk into a mall to enjoy a good session of retail therapy, to check out what’s trending and to soak in the experience. The right ambience makes a lot of difference when it comes to having a good shopping experience. This is where the efforts of Bryan DaSilva, the head of operations for Westside, make a vital difference.

Responsible for the smooth running of 82 Westside stores and 9 Landmark stores of Trent, Bryan’s workday involves juggling multiple issues related to making the experience of shopping convenient and enjoyable for customers. He says, “The day-to-day operations and sales, inventory, merchandise, HR issues and training and development of our people are my core responsibilities. I have to ensure that our stores meet our business goals.” Bryan’s daily schedule is packed with meetings and commitments that ensure that each store in Trent’s vast network offers the same level of efficiency and warmth in its service. He says, “I keep in touch with at least 90 percent of the stores, once in three months. At the stores, I observe the merchandise on display, the attitudes of sales associates, which categories are doing well, etc. These store walks give me an opportunity to assess the competency of my people.” Bryan also uses these meetings as an opportunity to address grievances, either of customers or employees.

To ensure that cash registers are ringing, Bryan keeps himself informed of the functioning of every aspect of each retail store, including IT, billing and backend departments such as maintenance, housekeeping and security. Multiply that activity by the number of stores that he is responsible for, and one gets an idea of the enormity of the challenge he faces. To manage each store at a micro level, Bryan relies on his team members, without whom it would be impossible to keep the nation-wide chain of stores operating in perfect harmony. He says, “I need to keep in touch with the teams on a granular level to know what is happening at the stores. I talk to my people every day, and hold reviews on a weekly basis.”

His eyes and ears are four regional heads who report to him, informing him of what is happening at the stores in their region. Beyond them, Bryan’s sphere of influence also extends to the store-level heads, the assistant store managers, the department managers, sales officers and the army of sales associates who give shape to the organisational goals with their pleasant smiles and willingness to serve.

Much of Bryan’s role also involves treading a fine line to bring a balance between spelling out his expectations from each store and giving the people at each store the freedom to meet those goals in the way that works best for them. Being indirectly in charge of 2,500 people across all the stores, Bryan is the glue that binds them together, and makes sure that no matter whether they work in a big city or a small town, their attitudes and behaviour reflect the ethos of Tata values, imbued in an expression of gracious service.

As the head of operations, Bryan relies on his teams to keep the nation-wide chain of stores operating in perfect harmony
Finding the right people, therefore, becomes a challenge. One of the biggest challenges Bryan faces is finding the right way to deal with youth and their aspirations. In an industry like retail, where slight differences in salary could spike attrition rates, it becomes hard to retain employee loyalty. Maintaining discipline in the face of a rigid work ethic and the necessity to ensure that a young workforce remains motivated to work are some of the other key challenges. To counter them, Westside allows women to work flexible hours, and go home early. This step also enables the stores to encourage gender diversity. Bryan says, “I generally look for young people with communication skills, an affable personality and an enthusiasm to serve. They must be willing to serve at all times.”

This attitude, he believes, is key to Westside’s strength and has helped build a formidable sense of loyalty among long-time patrons. Being part of Westside for a long time has enabled Bryan to see firsthand the strong sense of loyalty that brand Westside commands. At least 60-70 percent of Westside customers are loyalty customers.

He says, “My journey with Trent began in 1999 as an assistant store manager in the Hughes Road store of Westside; later I became an area manager for Mumbai. Even today, I see the same customers continuing to shop at our stores. Now their children come with them to shop too. They say that they keep returning to Westside for the merchandise and the warmth.”

These factors have enabled Westside to get over the uncertainties that are inherent in the retail industry. Today the Westside brand owes its success to its ability to maintain the graciousness of its culture even as it stays in step with the best retail stores around the world and builds capability for the future. Bryan’s greatest achievement is that he has proved his calibre over the years and risen within the company. Having started his professional career as a sales associate at a time when working in a departmental store was looked down upon, he now has the satisfaction of having a position of significance in a time when retail is a much favoured career option.

There has been a lot of learning along the way, in terms of understanding the new cities and towns that Westside makes inroads into. He says, “A lot of these places want to be fashionable, but are not very fashion conscious. We have to fulfill their aspirations, without upsetting their conservativeness.”

Bryan was recently honoured as a Tata exemplar by group Chairman Cyrus Mistry. He was selected for the single minded focus he displayed in hiring underprivileged members of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, as part of Saksham, the affirmative action initiative of Trent.

Bryan is proud of the difference that Saksham has made in the lives of its beneficiaries, some of whom have spent several years with the Westside family. He says, “We take a keen interest in this programme. The on-the-job training we provide has helped these youngsters immensely.” Three of these youngsters have demonstrated their capability and become department managers. Saksham is currently being run only in Mumbai, Pune and Delhi, but there are plans to expand it to other cities too.

Bryan also encourages the sales associates to study further, and complete their education. He helps youngsters to fill out the application forms and guides them. He says, “Higher educational qualifications will ensure the career growth of these youngsters and allow us to benefit from new ideas as well as improved capabilities and employee stability, as people who are promoted from within will enhance our talent pipeline as they choose to grow with us.” Westside hopes to ensure that at least 60 percent of their employees are graduates. This growth strategy will help Westside when foreign direct investment is permitted in the retail sector in India. Westside is now slowly reinventing itself, in terms of merchandise, lighting, visual design and quality of service. The store at Borivali, Mumbai, is being seen as a model store, projecting the visual appeal that complements Westside’s offerings. The store at the Army and Navy Building at Kalaghoda, Mumbai, is also going to be designed as a model store.

For Bryan, thoughts of work are never far from his mind. Not only does he constantly seek to learn about fashion and efficient processes employed in the retail business from the malls in advanced markets like Dubai and Europe, he also wastes no opportunity to pick up lessons from unusual locations. “When I went to Singapore,” he says, “I saw a checklist behind the door of a washroom. It identified certain process improvements. For example, one of the items on the list was that the mirror must be smudge free. These are important customer touch points and we must ensure that we follow the same standards for neatness and perfection.”

As Westside inches towards the 100-store mark, Bryan finds his workload increasing. While working on weekends, he tries to ensure that he makes time for his family. Westside is now planning to enhance its regional base to five, and change the structure to ensure a greater degree of regional control. Bryan says, “A regional base will ensure more local supervision, while strong processes, along with regular monitoring, will ensure smooth functioning.” Bryan is definitely in no mood to rest as he works hard to ensure that as Westside continues to expand, the Tata culture of gracious service thrives and people keep coming back for more.