Post Covid-19: New ways of working for own brand teams?

The ‘high street’ will not be the same after COVID-19; I think something most pundits would agree on. Store formats are likely to change. The use of online shopping will increase. 

There is a lot written trying to predict the future beyond COVID-19 as everyone tries to predict the future; what will be the ‘new norm’?

But what about ways of working? I appreciate many retailers are currently focused on the more immediate challenges of supply chain, as well as customer and staff safety. And rightly so. But what does the future look like? When lockdown is over, does everyone return to their desks and is it ‘business-as-usual’?

I believe that there is an opportunity for retailers to review their operations. Not just in terms of resilience as they inevitably update their risk registers post-crisis. But what opportunities are presented from the lessons learned? Those retailers with strong supplier engagement have been able to respond fastest to the crisis as normal category management rules have gone out the window to respond to unprecedented demand. How can retailers make this the ‘new norm’, rather than the exception?

Personally, I predict that there will be a long-term increase in distributed working and distributed teams. Associates will have seen the benefit of no commute. Employers will question the cost of office space. I don’t know whether the result will be more flexible working, or more home offices.  But either way distributed feels inevitable. At S4RB we champion own brand retailers and their own brand suppliers working together as One Team. The methodologies that we apply through our advisory services and our cloud-based software all enable this distributed approach but also extend this beyond the walls of an operation to the private brand suppliers. To enable improved collaboration about one set of goals, and one set of KPI.

In normal times AffintyTM supplier self-help and academy modules are about supplier development change management and efficiency. Suppliers are more self-sufficient, and retail teams have more time to be proactive. In the current circumstances these benefits are further emphasised as the need for distributed teams is increased. Retail teams re-deployed to support store or supply chain means suppliers need to be even more self-sufficient. The fluid situation increases the need for regular communications and updates. Normal hours have changed teams as teams have had to adapt to demand or changes in role. Many of us find ourselves working differently because of enforced circumstance. 

Therefore, think beyond the current crisis management. As you adopt new ways of working, whether they are temporary or the right ways for the future. I know one Retail CEO who challenged his team: what are the things they’ve stopped doing as a result of the changes that they are pleased to see the back of? The unnecessary admin? The ‘time wasters’? How do they ensure that they don’t return to the same old ways when the lockdown is over? 

I’d encourage you to ask your team three questions.

First: How do we create and maintain closer own brand supplier relationships beyond COVID-19, so we are better placed for the future? Better communications. Better transparency (on supplier and product performance KPI). Better support to enable and empower suppliers.

Secondly: How can we ensure distributed working? For your internal own brand team and own brand suppliers – is considered business as usual. This doesn’t mean you have to be remote. But it means that when you are, the tools don’t need to change.

Finally: In the context of the previous two, how do you ensure product quality, consistency and relevance is maintained? In light of COVID-19 the metrics may change as brands and products evolve, but the need for retailers and suppliers to work together to ensure quality and consistency of products is maintained. Listen to feedback that ensure product remain relevant.

The enclosed was written pre-COVID-19 on the benefits of supplier engagement for own brands, and is as true today as when it was written.


James Butcher

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