RETAIL | Marianne Estioco, Singapore

TANGS' new CEO unveils action plan to combat sales slowdown

Improving customer service is a priority, he says.

When the first TANGS store opened its doors in Orchard Road almost half a century ago, the iconic shopping district was little more than a desolate street languishing in the shadows of colonial mansions. After almost single-handedly creating what is now one of Asia's most fashionable shopping districts, TANGS is grappling with the twin threats brought about by Singapore's retail sales slowdown and the unabated rise of e-commerce players.

Singapore Business Review caught up with Kevin Dyson, the newly-appointed chief executive officer of TANGS, to discuss how he plans to steer the city's oldest homegrown department store through the downcycle. He also talked about his plans to boost TANGS' e-commerce presence, and how the company seeks to support Singaporean talent. Dyson, an industry veteran with over 30 years of experience, took the helm on April 1, succeeding former CEO Foo Tiang Soi.

1. TANGS is one of the pioneers in Orchard Road, but analysts warn that prime retailers will grapple with weak consumer spending and intensifying competition this year. How has the downturn impacted TANGS’ operations, and what strategies has the company employed in order to ride out the slump?

There is no doubt about it: the market can be volatile. As any experienced retailer knows, this is just a fact of life in our business. Retail performance has always come in cycles that include both ups and downs. Still, knowing this condition exists does not make it any easier to stomach.

However we remain optimistic by channelling all of our energy on improving the overall customer experience through better service, unique and exclusive product offerings and striving to create events and a brand message that remains on point to help us stand out from the crowd. We take nothing for granted and fully understand we must continually strive or CHEONG! to earn our customers’ loyalty and trust.

2. What makes you excited about your new position?

It’s the opportunity to be a part of TANGS’ continuing legacy and a family-owned business (one of Singapore oldest at 84 years). I am fortunate to be working with a team that places an emphasis on taking care of its customers and employees, first and foremost. In this day and age of corporate investor ownership, which tends to be guided by focusing more on the next quarter’s profits, it's refreshing to know we are still guided by the same principals and pillars that our founder Mr CK Tang built this business on: Honesty, Integrity and Value.

3. What will you do differently in this position?

We are in the digital age – at TANGS we are embracing new technologies and formats to fully acknowledge this and offer the changes that many of our customers are looking for in relation to us. With the relaunch of in November 2015, we are very excited to be learning and implementing a better experience through this fast-growing channel. While we are paying attention to our online offering, we are still keenly focused on the overall experience that all TANGS guests receive regardless of the channel they chose to engage with us. We are striving to ensure that whether you click on or step into our stores, you have the same positive experience in offerings as well as service. We are investing in training for all of our staff, with an emphasis on improving the overall customer experience.

4. What are your key business philosophies?

I make all decisions by looking at what's in the best interest of the customer first, then second, our employees, and third, the owner and board of directors. I've always found that if you get the first two right, then the third usually falls into place quite nicely. I always try to follow what I call the 3 I's approach - Integrity, Instincts and Initiative – to keep the business moving in a positive direction at all times.

5. What are your three key goals this year?

a. Improve customer service
b. Improve employee morale
c. Embrace change and learn to run with it

6. What changes are you planning for?

Updating technologies and internal staff training so they can better serve our guests. We’ll also continue to embrace and promote local makers across all areas of lifestyle design. Fully supporting local talent has always been a part of TANGS’ DNA and we recognise there is so much opportunity to build upon that, particularly with the growing talent pool bubbling up here in Singapore. And also, continue building a seamless omni-channel experience.

7. What previous positions prepared you for this one and how?

I've been involved with retail for over 30 years. Prior to joining TANGS, I spent 25 years with a retailer in the US – Barneys New York (BNY). The last position I held at BNY was Executive Vice President of all stores and operations. Prior to taking on that position, I spent most of my career running stores across the States, including their Flagship, for 10 years.

When you've spent as much time as I have front-facing both customers and staff, you realize keeping them happy is paramount. Over the years, I've seen many new systems and algorithms created to provide retailers with the numbers, however, I remain committed to spending the majority of my time walking the selling floors, observing and engaging rather than burying my head in reports. I've always recognized that the feedback and knowledge I gain from talking to customers and staff in our stores is the best measurement of how we are doing and what direction we need to take.  

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