Shah Rayeed Chowdhury, Director of Noir, speaks to Munira Fidai about maintaining a quality brand and team.
FROM THE GROUND UP: A Foundation of System and Process
Any brand that is successful or strives for success in a country like Bangladesh needs some strong policies and some clear-cut processes backing it up; be it regarding human resource or customized inventory software; these factors must not only be present but dynamic enough to change according to the demands of time.
Rayeed details that in the 3 years they have been in the market. There were severe challenges in finding professionals, at least in the retail sector to which they belong. There were no designers, no HR trainers or sales executives who honestly knew the trade. It was important, therefore, to first and foremost set up a structure that would act as a blueprint of the entire business, and guide people concerning their work.
“Micromanaging is not the answer anymore. The key to running a successful brand nowadays is to delegate and then trust. If we were to hire professionals, such as inventory managers or marketing managers, or even designers, we’d like to hire them with the conviction that these people will one day head their teams,” explains Rayeed. Furthermore, Building that confidence in them and instilling that feeling of entrepreneurship is vital. Every good manager will delegate work smartly to keep up with his/her responsibilities. Doing everything on your own is not smart work. Recruiting confident people who take ownership of their job, frees up a lot of time for you to move on to the next phase of work.
SOFTWARE: The Newest Tool Under the Fashion Belt
Very much in line with what has been said about processes, it is imperative to have professional software that helps with a specific routine and calculative versus predictive work. In a market that is brimming with potential, harnessing the power of an efficient software helps in matters like inventory management, predicting demand patterns, and calculating costs and profits. For a brand that decides that it wants to expand, doing these activities manually is not just time-consuming, it is also risky. Proper Point-of-Sales software is accurate and fast.
“Figures have to be as per real-time efforts. An efficient software should allow its users to receive real-time data because the world of retail relies heavily on “TIME.” Reaching customers on time, launching products ahead of others are all part of what gives your brand that edge. For example, we know that our customers purchase winter products before the cold weather sets. Therefore, it is crucial for us to launch our winter collection ahead of time so that people can prepare themselves for the cold and so that when they travel, they already have their favorite items with them to combat the weather in style, so to say!,” elaborates Rayeed. To make the maximum use of time, Noir needs information effectively via software to help facilitate faster decision making. “No assumptions can be made!”
Noir found that the management of this brand knew precisely what they wanted out of their chosen software and pointed out variations in what they wanted versus what was available. To customize this software according to their needs, they realized that rather than making do with one generic package they were getting, they would have to develop their software from scratch, which would be tightly fitted to the needs of Noir.
“We are completely reliant on our software for inventory, for profits, for orders and preorders, for customer analysis and buyer patterns, so on and so forth. We base all our decisions on our software. This is why at Noir, we felt the need to invest enough resources, irrespective of costs, on our systems and software, to make the brand as smoothly functional and self-sustaining, as possible.”
NO PENETRATION WITHOUT PERSONALIZATION: The New Wave of Marketing
Marketing is not about Facebook posts or a photo shoot with good-looking models anymore. It is not just about how a customer responds to your product, but how they perceive your entire brand. Compared to previous marketing strategies, like placing billboards, there is tremendous scope now. The fall of billboards has forced marketing professionals to create more creative avenues to position their brands.
Noir feels that their marketing motto is to “humanize” the brand, give it a feel for everyday lifestyle. Tapping into the world of social media is one very effective tool to showcase this.
Social media marketing holds a lot of potentials as there is so much to choose from- there is Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. “In fact, while Facebook may be the most effective for mass coverage and promotions, Instagram and Snapchat are more personal and interactive- they get you on a one-on-one basis with your customer,” postulates Rayeed.
In many ways, Noir walks the talk, when they say they are a faceless brand. Noir has thus far, not endorsed any celebrity, nor does it intend to. As they say, it portrays not a person, but a lifestyle.
For instance, Rayeed illustrates how he may upload a story of himself wearing Noir and posting a Snapchat story. Very casual, very subliminal. There might be no overt advertising of the brand or even a face on the video. Someone is looking effortlessly dapper, posting a 10-second story of wearing Noir during his everyday life.
With this in mind, Noir recently conducted a video shoot with a bunch of young people on a completely unrelated topic. The very subtle promotion behind the video was- all these young, trendy individuals were wearing Noir and looking chic. The video- like the Snapchat stories- did not have a single celebrity face in it. It had everyday people, making it relatable to the market while sending out the message that Noir can cater to daily fashion appeal.
Rayeed expounds that Noir’s marketing team comprises of a very young and vibrant group of professionals who have an edge with social media tactics, as they are frequent users, “Noir also prides itself on giving its people a lot of freedom to do their work. We emphasized the importance of empowering employees to hone in on their creative potential, rather than killing it with too much direction.”
STICKING TO YOUR IMAGE
Rayeed holds brand image a pinnacle of a lasting brand, “Sticking to what was the initial product offering is very important when you want to sustain a successful brand. Maintaining one, and only one image of your product offering is essential, for your customers to start associating a particular vibe with a specific brand.” Rayeed shared that when Noir started, for example, and even now, a lot of people would come up and ask- why not expand the product line? Why not add household products or wedding specific clothes? “The motive behind this was easy to spot- heavily embroidered and embellished clothes have a higher profit margin anywhere. The temptation, therefore, is real. What is imperative, in such a situation, is to be loyal to your initial idea.”
Keeping a clear head, in the face of higher profit margins is essential- if only for the sake of the image that one would want their brand to project. Rayeed ascertains that their brand is set to maintain the image that they have started with, “Noir was never about loud and gaudy. It has always projected a casual-chic image, one of effortless style and keeping up with what’s in. You can wear it to a holud, and you can just as easily wear it to the Friday prayers. In keeping with the buying patterns of the young and trendy, it is seen that people buy simple and elegant things, and keep buying more, to keep up with the style scene. With such a clear-cut clientele, adding wedding specific products or household products would simply murk up the water and confuse customers.”
Another way Noir feels they are holding on to the quality perception of their brand is by turning their heads away from discounts, “Noir has never given discounts, it never will. The only discount we ever give is for year-end clearance.” Noir feels that giving discounts has become a trend. It’s what everyone does, either through membership cards, or certain relevant dates where everyone gets a percentage off. Rayeed wants customers to focus on the individuality of Noir, “Customers love discounts; there are no two ways about that. But we are not a discount brand. We bring minimal quantities of fairly exclusive designs and the making charges for smaller quantities is much higher than that of higher or bulk quantities.” For instance, for Zinari, Noir’s exclusive collection, they order a maximum of 10 pieces in assorted sizes and never repeat any designs. “What’s sold out, is gone for good. When you buy Noir, you pay for uniqueness, exclusivity, and quality. And that doesn’t come discounted.”
SKETCHING SUCCESS: How Design Creates Dynamic
Creativity is rare. Fashion nowadays is all about anticipating what might hit off in the market and embrace what’s new. It’s about guts and expressing creativity in a way that makes sense for a whole lot of people out there. “There is no sure shot way of saying that everything a designer makes will sell out. Some will bomb. Some will fizzle out and be forgotten before its time. But that’s a risk you need to be willing to take. Your designs have to be a 100% trend right. But if one is always conscious of how a customer will perceive it, creativity may not flow,” articulates Rayeed.
Noir clothing line is designed in-house. Rayeed looks after the menswear while Shabnam Shehnaz Chowdhury, the Managing director of Noir, looks after the female clothing line, “When they design, they are not merely people who cut clothes well. They are fashion visionaries who will design whole lines of clothing; designers will visualize a concept and design a whole season, like the winter or spring collection, around it!”
The entire team sits together before the design phase of any line. Everyone has something to contribute to a decided concept. Rayeed points out that social media users already know what is trending and what is not, “We introduced embroidered denim jackets, white sneakers, velvet slacks, and so on in our winter collection this time. All trending articles.”
Travelling is instrumental in a globalizing world. There is no way around it. Remaining in one place will make your style ideas repetitive according to Rayeed, “What is selling in Singapore will soon be seen on the streets of Dhaka, flaunted by some frequent traveler. We want to be those travelers.” The trend-savvy and very responsive fashion market of Bangladesh are like a sponge waiting to absorb the new and the stylish. They travel extensively, for work or pleasure and they know what is being worn by whom and where. Noir wants to get there first.”
Noir is a forward linkage company. They have a spinning mill. They have textiles, and a denim textile mill, and garments. Noir is at the end of that linkage. This attribute is an advantage for Rayeed because this way they get to work with big brands like Zara, Diesel, and H&M, “I attend meetings with them, as I look at the marketing and product development of the garments portion too. And I get an idea as to what they are designing, and therefore bringing to the market. Noir feels that this is a significant factor is what sets them apart. Not everyone has the advantage of anticipating so accurately, what other, more prominent brands are thinking of bringing to the table.”
Rayeed and his team take the latest design and work to make them marketable in the local context, “It is easy to introduce products which are trending, into your product offerings. However, what is difficult, is to customize it according to your culture. You have to keep tradition untouched. For instance, think of ripped jeans; it is a classic trend. But not many women in Bangladesh will be comfortable showing skin. So we add smaller rips, sew them up, and make it into patchwork which makes it more appealing in the context of Bangladesh.”
WHEN IT COMES TO THE CONSUMER
Customer service has emerged as a vital spoke in the brand management wheel. Many brands nowadays base all of their sales on their outstanding customer and after-sales service. What was previously only one aspect of sales, is now an intricate part of the brand management world. Rayeed recognizes the priority of this changing dynamic, “You cannot separate a brand from its salespeople. It is sometimes excusable for products to have some quality defects. But what is inexcusable is a gap with customer service. This factor is something we consider to be a zero-tolerance factor.”
Noir regularly trains their people, and the management itself is involved in this training. This regularity is in practice because the management here knows that despite taking the significant decisions and working behind the scenes, it is the salesmen and women who are, in so many words, the face of their brand. Rayeed understands that behavior and selling skills can impact sale, “They are the powerhouse of information that helps the management take important decisions on what problems customers face, what works or garners a better response and what doesn’t. We have to take care of our employees and the employees will take care of our customers.” It is important to not only impart the value of our brand to our salespeople but also the value of the customer and the workplace. Each employee spends a majority of their time at work. The customers who come in and buy the products they sell is what pays their salaries and keeps the brand running for us. Rayeed emphasizes a direct relationship with the customer, “The workplace is sacred, and the customer cannot be displeased at any point. In fact, we have avenues on Instagram or Snapchat where customers can complain which comes directly to me. I deal with this, and I don’t delay solving these problems by so much as a minute. When you give a customer immediate attention, they know you value them.”