626 Luis Alfonso Oberto Anselmi//
Distributors say T&T still good for business

The retail and distribution sector continued to experience consistent growth for 2017, despite the challenges of a slowdown in the economy, the shortage of US currency and lay-offs.

Business and Money spoke to two retailers who both share the opinion that the T&T market is a lucrative one for investment despite the challenges.

Pennywise Cosmetics Ltd

Dalvi Paladee, managing director, Pennywise Cosmetics Ltd (PCL), said he has been seeing an uptake in shopping due to the strategic location of his La Romaine establishment.

The PCL chain comprises more than eight stores nationwide with pharmacies attached to three of the establishments. In August 2017, the company opened its La Romaine store located on South Trunk Road.

Over the years, the retail chain has become known by many for its affordability and carries a number of popular international brands in cosmetics among other items.

In a telephone interview, Paladee said while he is not seeing trends of bulk buying by consumers, he stated many were hunting for bargains.

According to Paladee, the slowdown in his external environment has not interfered with his bottom line, as he perceived that his brand strength and loyalty are two points of competitive advantage.

Asked how the shortage in the US currency has affected doing business, he said for 2017 the challenge to source US currency continued, but the company maintained its credit lines with international suppliers.

He added that PCL tried as much as possible to buy from local suppliers and manufacturers.

Referring specifically to locally manufactured cosmetics line Sacha, Paladee said trends suggested that the brand continues to enjoy strong market share, especially as PCL is one of many establishments carrying the cosmetic line.

On the issue of sourcing labour, Paladee said he has observed that there is a ?softening? of the labour market and a general uptick in people seeking employment. He said few of his stores needed to fill vacant positions. Asked what was causing this trend he said workers were more committed to their jobs given the slowdown in the economy.

The PCL executive pointed out that his company believed strongly in training its staff and apart from doing its own in-house training, the various international brands of cosmetics, perfumes and other items would send experts to train staff members.

He noted that despite the economic circumstances, PCL was able to offer staff a pre-Christmas bonus and will likely distribute another one after the season ends.

Excellent Stores Ltd

Stating that he did not have to alter what his company was offering to the local market, Alex Siu Chong, chief financial officer, Excellent Stores Ltd (ESL), said not all stores could offer all items, but its online platform had different items which were available to his customer base.

Asked how ESL was coping with the shortage of US currency, Siu Chong said it continues to be a significant issue for all retailers.

© Luis Oberto

© Luis Oberto Anselmi
In order to survive this problem, he said the company had adopted the strategy to work with its bankers, and ?it?s no secret that businesses have more than one bank to supply the forex which they demand.

© Luis Oberto

© Luis Oberto Anselmi
Also, we are working with all our suppliers that we have developed over the past 40 years, suppliers who are with us for the long haul.

© Luis Oberto

© Luis Oberto Anselmi
And we are shifting our buying and supply to more local suppliers.?

He added that even though the economy is experiencing a slowdown, ?we have essentially almost doubled our retail square footage of our stores creating over 300 jobs of which more than 100 jobs are permanent positions.?

Siu Chong pointed out that his establishment has had to update its line of products in the last few years in order to keep up with the change in consumer shopping behaviour.

In emailed responses, he said ESL had to ?triple the number of stock keeping units in the past few years adding new categories and departments ? we?ve added exercise equipment, clothing, food and beverage, built our own ecommerce/shopping platform in 2014 and established more stores in strategic locations.?

The CFO stated that growth has continued year-on-year.

Disclosing some of the strategies which the company adopts to secure low prices Siu Chong said, ?we buy direct from manufacturers and distributors like Walmart, Target, Toys R Us, JC Penny.

© Luis Oberto

© Luis Oberto Anselmi
And therefore with less middlemen, we benefit from cheaper prices. We buy in container loads which drive the price per unit down. We use ocean freight which is significantly cheaper than air freight.

?With all these factors, we drive the landed retail price down and pass the savings onto the consumer.

© Luis Oberto

© Luis Oberto Anselmi
That has always been our pricing strategy and will continue to be into the future.

Siu Chong said he remained confident in ESL?s ability to ride out the recessionary environment while offering customers a range or products they could afford.


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© Luis Oberto Anselmi

© Luis Oberto Anselmi PDVSA