How long did the entire revamp take and what changes did the store go through?
After we decided to change the format and revamp the store we had to do away with all the merchandise. So we went on a heavy discount. It took us a month to liquidate the stocks before shutting down. We then hired an architect to design the space.
What were the major challenges in converting a 100-year old heritage structure into a modern retail format?
Since we are in a heritage district we couldn't do much to the original structure. The building is over 100 years old and we had to get a whole lot of permissions before we went about the revamp. The height of the ceiling was a major hindrance. We had created a mezzanine around 50 years ago and customers had to bend and walk through certain areas of the store. But you can't have an eight feet height for a premium look. The new store had to convey a luxurious image and a grand look. So we had to cut the beam and create that double height. The next step was bringing in a retail expert on board to get us the right brands, create the various sections, space allocation to each brand and category, etc.
What about the old staff?
That was another challenge. We had staff that had been with us for over 30 years. But they didn't fit into the new format. So it was a tough call since some of them had started their careers with us and were nearing retirement age. We had to not just break the news to them but also absorb some of them in our other business. We have retained those who were relevant to the new format. Most of the staff is provided by the brands. They are all very well trained and experienced. Wall space in retail is premium, especially in South Bombay. But you have dedicated a 17-feet wall to old photos. We wanted to retain a part of who we were and the only way to do it was to create a heritage wall with images and pictures. The best part is that people relate to it. Anyone who has been a part of Mumbai has had some association with Akbarallys. And the wall is our way of keeping that association alive.
What has been the biggest challenge post the revamp?
Other than getting the store up and ready in record time it was communicating to people that Akbarallys is not the old Akbarallys and that we have changed with times. It's now premium and it's a store for men. Despite all our efforts to convey this through advertising we still have women customers coming in looking for appliances and garments. So that's a challenge and it will take some time for that old perception to change.
We are heavily engaged in advertising activities to convey our new status. We are active on social media across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We also organise events at the store. But ultimately we are relying more on word of mouth to get people in.
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