Vikram Chitnis is the Customer Care Associate and Business Head (Home Division) at Shoppers Stop, where he heads buying and merchandising for Home Stop and Home division of the well-known departmental store turned Indian retail icon. With expertise in the textile business and without an MBA to his name, he now manages the entire Home division by knowing what the customer needs and understanding his team’s aspirations.
We caught up with Mr. Chitnis and picked his brain about everything Shoppers’ Stop, the retail business and navigating a world of managerial duties with finesse.
Q1. Can you give us a snapshot about your academic and professional background? What responsibilities have you dealt with so far?
I used to be a typical sales guy. I am a people person and I knew from the start that whatever I do, wherever I go, I wanted to be in a role where I would get to talk to people. With a background in textile engineering and having graduated from VJTI in 1989, I worked with multiple brands and started out my career in Bombay Dyeing. Back then Product Managers did not exist. The sales managers and marketing personnel used to handle the products as well. As the retail sector in India began to grow and the products started to get more specialized, the need for product managers also grew.
I was the first product manager at Bombay Dyeing. At Shoppers’ Stop, I joined as the Senior Manager of Merchandising. In the early 2000s, India didn’t have those huge homeware shops like that of international markets. The American version of a Crate & Barrel didn’t exist in India back then. At Shoppers’ Stop I got the opportunity to be a part of a revolutionary time for the retail industry.
My responsibilities, even today as the Business Head, include traveling to different places, observing trends and bringing international ideas to the table. Apart from garnering knowledge about the product, building and managing a strong team is a part of my job that I particularly enjoy. I strive to create a culture of free thought and transparency among my team members—following in the footsteps of managers that I have had in the past—so that they get all the motivation to unleash their creativity.
Having been in the retail and textile industry for so long, I am amazed at how slight changes in your product, its placement, its layout in a store all create an impression in the minds of the consumer!
Q2. You’ve been with Shoppers Stop for more than 1.5 decades. What are some of your most memorable moments as you look back?
There are so many! I think one of the most memorable would be when the team won the GI Award (the Global Innovation award) in the category of Houseware Retail excellence, for the year 2013-14. The International Houseware Association gave us this award and it was a great honor to be recognized for our work by such a prestigious entity.
Q3. According to you, what key skills does a product manager need to hone in order to be a success?
I would say that there are two basic skills that a product manager must absolutely have: You must know the customer and you should know the product inside-out. As a product manager, it is extremely important to have a clear goal and great clarity of thought.
Who is the customer you want to target, what are her/his needs behind buying a particular piece of furniture or even new bedsheets—these are all questions for which a savvy product manager has answers.
Something simple such as a change in a particular feature can make all the difference. For example, we launched Glow In The Dark bedsheets for children in 2007—it is still working!
Q4: What is the most important trait that you look for in a candidate, irrespective of what the job description demands?
Irrespective of what the JD says, observational skills and a positive attitude towards work & people are the most important when working in the retail business. Minute observation of things such as where people keep various things at home, what kinds of things people buy for a particular room and how many utensils are used for making breakfast are all key insights. An eye for design and a meticulous work ethic is of great value.
Candidates should passionately follow international trends and be aware of the current market scenario. More than that, personally, I believe that if a person has clear goals in life and know what they want to be, they will be successful in our organization. There has to be a certain level of enthusiasm and an inclination to grow.
Q5. Do you think having a “Brand Character” is an important component of a successful branding strategy? Who is your favourite brand character?
Creating a brand character and a brand story is the most important part of building a successful marketing strategy. Consistency is the basic hygiene of a brand. Whenever you are thinking of launching a new brand or even marketing an existing one, making a few changes to the product in order to keep it fresh and unique can make a difference.
“Back to Earth” is such a brand that reflects its qualities right through its name. It is a wide range of natural products. We even got an award for being eco-friendly!
Q6. What is your #1 mantra for acquiring and retaining talent at organisations?
The core values of Shoppers’ Stop are well-defined. There’s a freedom to express yourself and innovate. Right from our CEOs to general managers and category managers, everyone is motivated to develop new designs and come up with ways to better serve the customer. Transparency is an important virtue in any organization and it is one of the foundational values of Shoppers Stop. Every person in our team revolves around the customer. Even in all our designations, we are Customer Care Associates first!
What do you love the most about your city, Mumbai?
You can find any time of food, anywhere at any time of day!
One gadget you cannot live without?
My smartphone & charger.
If not in the current profession, what would you have been doing instead?
I would be in restaurant business either multicuisine or Thai food
Your hobbies and interests?
Cooking, traveling and riding my bike/motorcycle.