Pawan Gadia, CEO, Retail & Online, Ferns N Petals founded the online division of flower and gifts retailer Ferns N Petals in 2002. And today when the pandemic brings in newer challenges and opportunities for the business, he continues to head the business with more optimism and agility. With a focus on employee safety and business continuity, and the key pillar of innovation, Gadia is leading the company amid the crisis and hoping for a better tomorrow.
In a recent interaction with People Matters, Gadia accepts the reality- slowdown of retail business, shifts in consumer demands, and disruption in the way they work.
Here is an excerpt from the interview:
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the way we do business and the way we work. How has it impacted the business and talent priorities for Ferns N Petals?
The pandemic is presently pushing Indian enterprises towards a paradigm shift of business evolution across domains and industries. Since Ferns N Petals is omni channel with a presence both in retail & online, lockdown has immediately brought down the retail business to a complete halt & online business has witnessed a drop of more than 80 percent primarily because of high dependency of our online business on logistics and physical delivery of goods. Less than 20 percent of the customers who were planning gifts for future dates have still placed orders.
We realized that we had to innovate quickly and thus we came out with the concept of Digital Gifts within three working days and was able to cater to the gifting needs of a good chunk of the customers. Ferns N Petals has business across the geographies of the world. The pandemic had a higher impact on the business in India compared to other locations i.e., UAE and Singapore, and our overall business is impacted by 15 - 20 percent.
In terms of talent priorities we have always believed in opening opportunities for young minds but the current turmoil has slowed down the pace of the recruitment process. The existing vacancies on board had to be reviewed and amended, new job rules were designed and published for fresh hiring, as the current situation called for new skilling of people to suit the new strategies adopted.
How has the definition of ‘work’ and ‘workplace’ changed for you from one lockdown to another? How are you looking to ensure business continuity and employees’ productivity in the coming days?
FNP had adopted Work from Home (WFH) a few days before the lockdown was announced, especially for technology and IT enabled services. Mock drills for remote meetings, etc. were also tried out even before the announcement & during the early days of lockdown. Though FNP’s working habits were already technology-native, on-cloud, no server, these times caused us to think of various new angles of risks and data integrity. Non-tech roles which were never tried remotely, also got tested for WFH during these times. We also did a thorough SWOT & PESTEL analysis to come out with new strategies of result-oriented remote working.
Looking at the coming days we’re calling skeleton staff to the office. Those whose work profile allows them to WFH will continue this way even after the lockdown is over. Those who necessarily need to come to office shall come following staggered rosters. We have already started implementing distant seating. While some workforce is being asked to come to office, we are strictly prohibiting those who commute by public transport even if the government allows cabs, as we just don’t want to risk the wellbeing of our staff.
How did you decide what roles can be done remotely and what percentage of the workforce needs to resume work from office? Can you take us through the process of decision making for redistributing the workforce?
We are asking all those who can work and collaborate remotely, to continue working from home.
Leaders will have a tough task of keeping a close eye on both fronts and continuously reviewing the need to reprioritize.
People who are involved in the supply chain process whether warehouse, inventory, delivery or those involved in physical designing, packaging, shooting of products will resume working from office, warehouse, retail stores respectively, based on their job roles. Others in job roles such as offline in-person sales, etc. are being asked to resort to virtual meetings instead of physical client visits.
Can you paint a picture for us of the new workplace in time of COVID-19? How have things like the seating arrangements, the lunch rooms and attendance management system changed?
We have trained ourselves to fight this pandemic with new hygiene habits and have restructured the arrangements to reduce touchpoints and maintain social distancing at work. After relooking the layouts, following measures were taken up:
- Parking lots have more spacing with demarcations
- Quarantine place has been set up at the Head Office for people having any symptoms of the virus
- Sanitizer dispensers are available at all touch points
- Open door policy is observed not only in the sense of a communication culture but also literally in view of making interactions touch-free
- Doors, Taps, and soap dispensers of washrooms are censor enabled
- No food will be prepared in the cafeteria and we are advising workforce to bring home-cooked food
- Group seating tables replaced with small tables for a single person’s use
- Self-service at Coffee machines or Water dispensers shall be replaced with staff-assisted service
- At FNP, biometric attendance punching machines were already replaced by personal mobile app two years ago
- Not more than five people will be allowed in the conference room
How are ensuring employees’ safety and complying with all the guidelines for different regions, given that you cater to a diverse market? Have you observed any regional differences in the implementation of lockdowns and related behaviors as these are imposed and lifted?
We haven’t observed any substantial difference in one region and another, except for the fact that the lifting of lockdown or leniency came in different regions not at the same time. We are also very conscious and clear that our steps and measures may supersede but certainly won’t under-comply with the guidelines given by Central and State Governments and related authorities.
Going forward, what trends do you think will shape the gifting industry and how are you looking to redefine your business model for the same? What impact would this have on your talent needs?
In our business, we have seen more customers transacting online than a lot of similar omni channel businesses, even before the days of COVID. Now, with more and more people prioritizing safety and looking for gifting options that involve minimal contact, we can now see a much bigger shift towards online gifting.
Gifting firms with only retail will face more difficulty if they don’t innovate and increase their online presence too. The increased online customer base would also require an increase in delivery network. As a result of that, FNP can also foresee an increased number of franchise stores in more cities and towns across the country. During the initial lockdown days we were quick to realize the need of launching technology enabled virtual gifting which includes gifting options like Guitarist-on-call, celeb wishes, digital caricatures etc. On the other hand one big change that this pandemic brought into customer’s lives is the consciousness of wellness, hygiene, and immunity. We are also anticipating a shift towards more of such hampers that would improve the immunity and overall wellness.
With so much of discussions around that the slowing down economy, we are also foreseeing a possibility of ticket size going down, but certainly not the demand (In fact, the demand might even shoot up because a lot of families might not be visiting each other even on special occasions, especially when they are living in different cities). Thus, customers are going to continue buying gifts (shifting to online), but buying less expensive items than in the past.
As Ferns N Petals like other companies looks to bounce back post-COVID or post-lockdown, what are some of your key business and talent priorities? What are some things that you are doing right now to be better prepared for that phase?
We now intend to shift to remote interviewing of candidates. We were already using skype/hangout in a few profiles, but going forward in other profiles also we’ll try video recorded rounds. We’ve already taken training out of the classroom and made it accessible on LMS which is another example of touch-free or social distancing practice. Furthermore, with the help of HR helpdesk, employees don’t have to physically approach someone in Admin/HR for their queries, complaints and grievance.
Raksha Bandhan is less than 10 weeks away and due to the outbreak of the pandemic, chances of siblings coming together to celebrate the festival are very less, at least for this year. We are thus anticipating a majority of Rakhi sales shifting to online. A similar trend could be followed during the festive season of Diwali & Bhai Dooj, as well. Birthdays and anniversaries also are not going to witness get-togethers despite lifting off lockdown for the exchange of gifts physically, we are getting ready for more gift orders happening online & on phone for the next few months and then this becomes a habit for everyone to transact online for all the gifting needs going forward.