Learn about Operations Management
The following is an excerpt from The Evangelists: Insights from Leaders of the Nation’s Most Beloved Brands. Written by Roselin Manawin, this chapter is titled “Working from the Inside Out.” In it, Andy Tan, Toby’s Sports’ Head of Marketing and Communications, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in internal operations.
A Well-Oiled Machine Built Through Communication
While many marketing professionals are focused on external communications, Andy Tan, Toby’s Sports’ Head of Marketing and Communications, chooses to focus first on their internal operations and communications among employees.
For Tan, it is only when things are settled internally that they can successfully communicate to the rest of the world. She gets this mindset from her previous experience of working in the software technology industry, where the culture was to work from the inside out. “I’ve worked with a lot of companies that have realized that in order to serve their customers better, they need to make sure the company itself is well-oiled and running smoothly from the inside. You don’t want to open the hood of a beautiful car and see an old engine messing up every aspect of the car’s performance,” Tan pointed out.
Having been around for over 40 years now, it’s no surprise to see Toby’s Sports dominating the Philippine sports and fitness retail market. However, when international competitors came in with more advanced technologies and communication strategies, it put Toby’s Sports in the tough position of defending its market share.
“They’re coming in, because they know there’s a big market in the Philippines that key retailers like Toby’s Sports might not have captured yet,” Tan said. “For me, I saw the entry of these international players as an opportunity for us to level up our game and jump into the digital transformation bandwagon. We knew they were coming in with resources we don’t have, but with our experience and insight about the local market, we’re not about to let that become our downfall.”
With the help of her team and other key company officers, they researched what could be improved on both their internal operations and their external communication strategies. At the forefront of their research and planning, Tan always puts the customers first. “It’s good to know what the competitors are doing, but for me, it’s always about knowing what the customers want and need,” Tan said. “For me, if you’re more customer-centric, then you can be more pioneering.”
What stood out the most in their research was that there were a lot of things that can be improved from their internal processes. “It always goes back to the process. In the multi brand retail industry, it’s not just a battle of products, but more of internal practices that lead to a better customer experience,” Tan said.
Tan pointed out that a lot of internal work must be done in order to have the best service. For her, it’s all about making sure that their store teammates are properly equipped to provide the best service—from efficient product replenishment in order avoid out of stock situations, to strategic price planning in order to be competitive, to having access to proper training and knowledge on products and customers. “We have to look inward as marketers because I believe it is the best way to improve the way we create and deliver value to our customers,” Tan said.
Tan also placed heavy focus on their databases. In addition to lacking the necessary technology, they were also lacking the proper data and system that will allow them to know their customers on a more personal level.
“We’ve been in the business for over 40 years and through those years, we have established trust and loyalty among a lot of Filipino consumers. And now, those loyal customers have their own children and grandchildren who may or may not have shopped with us. And even if they did, we don’t know if it’s because they have a personal affiliation with the brand, and that’s exactly what we want to change,” Tan expressed. “We want to make sure that we know who our customers are and that they know we are investing in them, and the best way to show that is by communicating with them in a more personal way.”
Once their pain points were realized, Tan and her team got to work. Aiming to know their consumers better, they asked for the necessary resources to help them capture data in their stores, with the goal to turn those data into something useful for the future. They pushed for more digital campaigns and larger social media presence, investing in digital ads through different social media platforms. Today, Toby’s Sports has over a million followers and counting on their Facebook page.
Tan said that more than being able to showcase their products and their stores, their Facebook page provides insights into the shopping behavior of their customers and what they are looking for. Most of their customers still prefer to shop in-store, but through social media, they are able to interact with their consumers more. For many, checking things online can save them a lot of time from waiting in-store; online, they can see and have an idea of what they might want to buy in-store, and before they make their purchase, they can ask online about it first. “Now that people are not able to go to the stores as much, we realized that our online presence, whether it’s our e-commerce store or our social media pages, is really their first point of contact,” she said.
However, as with all major brands online, Toby’s Sports is not immune to hate. Tan makes it a point to study the comments people leave on their page, as it also helps them understand their consumers better. “We’ve studied the comments, and we’re not immune to trolls,” she said. “We get a lot of great feedback and also negative ones, and we make sure we learn from both.”
Based on their research, they have also found out that although their current market is 20 to 35 years old, they have realized the importance of the centennial market, regardless on whether they already have purchasing power. Tan said they have tweaked their strategy to really give a major focus on this age group, believing that they, together with millenials, will make up the majority of the market in the next few years. “It’s all about investing in our future, and centennials and millenials are the future of retail consumers, so even though majority of the former are still in school and may not have the purchasing power yet, we want to start talking to them as early as now,” he added.
Building a strong online presence has also helped them modify their more traditional forms of communication. Tan shared how some of their branches have been remodeled for the consumer of today. “We are now dealing with people who―before walking into our store―have already searched whatever they were looking for,” Tan said, noting that some branches began to showcase a more curated line of products to cater to this more targeted consumer base.
“They go into our selling floor armed with online knowledge and questions. And as the ‘leader in sports and fitness,’ they expect our store personnel to be able to answer whatever question is thrown their way. So apart from improving the products we carry or the look of our store, we knew that we also had to invest in training our people to be the best representation of our brand,” she said.
A famous example of a branch they built showcasing the fruits of their labor and research is their new flagship store in Bonifacio Global City. It was the first Toby’s Sports store to be created mainly with customer journey and experience in mind. Launched in 2018, the two storey store serves as a symbol of how far Toby’s Sports has come. “It’s a statement from us that even after 40 years and several international competitors later, we’re still here, and we’ll be here for the long run,” she said.
What Tan is excited for the most, however, is how they have integrated new technologies into their shop. Touchscreen and interactive walls were installed for customers to use to explore their products. Using radio-frequency identification (RFID), customers can also place a shoe on a counter and it will be analyzed by the system, showing the details of the shoe on a screen.
During this pandemic, Toby’s Sports remains open and has once again proven it has the agility that is needed to not just survive a crisis, but to become even more relevant than ever. “Even before the lockdown was implemented in the Philippines, we already knew that indoor sports and fitness will be a big draw as we expect travel restrictions to be put in place. Though we did not predict a pandemic and lockdown of this scale, we wanted to make sure we are prepared for what’s coming, and that we will still be able to serve our customers the best way we can,” Tan said.
While many remain confined to their homes, Toby’s Sports continues to do what it has been doing since day one, and that is to promote a healthy lifestyle for all. Tan reassures their company’s customers by implementing extensive safety measures, both for their workers and their customers. “During this time, it’s really important for us to communicate the safety measures we have put in place. We want to make sure that our customers and our store teammates feel that our stores are a safe place for them to be in,” Tan said.
This pandemic has also accelerated their need to go digital. It has also called for them to review any new issues they might have in their systems while they undergo a digital transformation. Toby’s Sports have since doubled down on their e-commerce business and have launched new services to make shopping more convenient for their customers.
“It’s been a tough journey I think for everyone. For us, though we’ve shown agility through these trying times, some of our transformation projects have been hampered by the pandemic, but it will not deter us,” Tan said. “Right now, we do not yet see an end to this, and all we can do is to continue to adapt and be ready for whatever is yet to come.”
To get more insights from other marketing leaders like Andy Tan, please check out the full book, available for purchase here.
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