Jan. 22, 2023

EP42 - Think About the Edges with Tanbir Grover

EP42 - Think About the Edges with Tanbir Grover

You don't need to consistently look for big, humongous changes in your organization. According to Tanbir Grover, Chief Marketing and Digital Officer at Pet Valu, thinking about and focusing on the edges is critical as most things in your business are usually working quite well. The challenge is in getting alignment and support to work on making those things better. The trick according to Tanbir, is to figure out who you can ally with and gain alignment on a common vision to take things forward, and gain investment in making the good even better. Listen in as Tanbir and I discuss this as well as how Pet Valu has been transitioning itself into a digitally enabled, neighborhood partner in the health and wellbeing for pets of all kind. Oh, and learn that the movement of focusing on overall "wellness" isn't just for humans any longer!

Tanbir Grover is the Chief Marketing and Digital Officer of the Pet Valu, having responsibility of the Company’s omni-channel marketing, e-commerce and marketing analytics, including the Company’s loyalty program. Prior to joining Pet Valu, Mr. Grover served as Vice President, Digital at the Co-operators Group Limited from January 2020 to November 2020. Prior to that, he held a number of different roles at Lowe’s Canada from 2011 to 2020 where he most recently served as Vice President of e-commerce and Omnichannel. Mr. Grover also held senior digital and marketing positions at the Hudson’s Bay Company and Sears Canada. He is also a graduate of the Not for Profit Directors Education Program at the Institute of Corporate Directors at the University of Toronto.

Transcript

Corby Fine:

so I am a pet lover. I've had a couple of dogs in my life. I've had a tarantula, I've had a beard to dragon. For any of you that don't know what that is, look it up. It's scary looking, but it's actually kind of cool. So I get dinosaur in your house. And I once had an interview with a, a pet food company, and I remember vividly that the conversation went down the line of, if all I knew was the breed of the animal you had and the birthdate, I basically had 10 to 15 years of CRM logic prebuilt. I knew exactly when your animal would convert from a puppy to a adult dog or from a kitten to a cat or whatever it might be. And there's really no excuse. To not be able to build a really strong long-term relationship if you do it right, and, I think about all of the. Scenarios that play into that technology, marketing, communications the willingness to be proactive in terms of customer relationships and really how do you automate and digitize all of these things. And with me today, I've got a really interesting guest who's got a, a, a varied background Tan Bear Grover, who's currently the Chief Marketing and Digital Officer at PET Value. So again near and dear to my heart having pets responsibility for the company's overall omnichannel marketing, e-commerce, and analytics practice as well as the loyalty program, which, which I'm really intrigued about. Prior to joining Pet Value, he was the Vice President of Digital at Cooperator's Group. So having spent a little time in insurance as. Different roles prior at Lowe's, Hudsons Bay Company, Sears really strong retail background and, and just a really, really great guy. I'm really happy to have him here today. Tan Bear. Welcome to the podcast.

Tanbir Grover:

No thank you Corby. Really glad to join you. And you know, I've admired it from far, far away and you know what a pleasure it is to get invited to join you.

Corby Fine:

Well, I appreciate it. Why don't you just maybe to start, give the couple of minute background on, on the company, on what is pet value for not everyone that knows and maybe what your accountabilities.

Tanbir Grover:

For sure. So, I

Tanbir with Corby:

mean,

Tanbir Grover:

pet value is a leading retailer of pet food and pet related supplies. We have over 700 corporate owned or franchise locations across the country, and we have a rich history in Canada for, you know, over 40 years. PET values earned the trust and loyalty of pet parents. By offering knowledgeable customer service, premium product, and engaging in-store services really to. Because we're a neighborhood store we offer more than 7,000 competitively priced products with a broad assortment of premium, super premium, holistic, and award-winning proprietary brands as well. And we do this every day. I'm really proud because, you know, to experience pet value. You have to understand who our ACEs are, which are our animal care experts. They're the guys who actually work in the stores who drive all of the experiences you get in that store. They share their expertise with you, and then also they serve you. They serve you locally, but we are also able to serve you anywhere through our online channel

Tanbir with Corby:

as

Tanbir Grover:

well. And that's something that I think is really, really part of the pet value equation is behind our ACEs and that expertise and really creating those memorable moments that happen for a pet lover.

Corby Fine:

So pet owners and parents. Are the two groups that everyone always says are sort of recession proof, and you joined the business, I guess, as the pandemic was really just kind of kicking off

Tanbir Grover:

Yeah.

Corby Fine:

what, what have you seen, just to kind of correlate a little bit and set the baseline around your customer base in terms of their behavior how things like, you know the digital transformation through the pandemic. Obviously you still need to feed your pet. You need to groom your pet. You need to care for your. Compared to, let's say, previous experiences like, you know, a Lowe's where maybe it's, it's about me and myself and my home. Any sort of differences or similarities you.

Tanbir Grover:

Yeah, there's, I mean, there's similarities and differences. Let's start, like, I started in November of 2020, so you can imagine the pandemic's already in full flight. We've gone through probably a lockdown here or there, here from the beginning and. You know, getting into another one at that point in time. Here in Ontario especially, I think part of what I, what I think about that happened over the pandemic are a couple of things. One is pet ownership increased. So we know, you know, based on our data, more people are at home. More people were looking for some level of companionship. And pets became that to fill that void, let's call it. I think too, there's been a gradual shift on humanization of pet, so you. I would say earlier as, as a kid growing up, I always viewed Pat as an animal. You know, they're the dog, they stay in the dog house. We kind of separate our homes per se. Today, that's not the case today. Our pets are our part and parcel of our lives. In fact, they're making it into our Christmas cards, they're sleeping on our bed. If, if not, they're sleeping right beside us on the bed, not necessarily even at the foot of the bed anymore. So, you know, with all of that humanization that's also occurring, people are also more cognizant of how they're treating their pet and what they're feeding their pet and how they're actually working through their pets. Know, health and wellness as, as I would call it. I think that was a, a big sort of push as we went through it. Now, Covid happens and one of the things that we realized that's a shortage or, or, or a lack in our strategy is we have a very. Lacking digital experience. So at this time in pet value, there was no e-commerce. So, you know, we quickly stood up what we called a shop ahead program, where we allowed our DPLs, who are devoted pet lovers to actually order online but not actually transact online. So the idea would be that they would indicate, here are the items I. there was no inventory feed. So they were literally just saying, Here's the six things that I want. And hopefully the store could figure out if they had those six things. And if they didn't, they would look to do some substitution. They would do a phone call, they would use a number of minutes to sort of satisfy that demand. And then what quickly raise towards was how do we actually set up and launch an e-commerce business in the year of 2020 going into 2020. So think about it from a Lowe's experience where you're fully fledged e-com, into the pandemic, and then pet value where you're not E-com enabled and you need to get e-com enabled quickly.

Corby Fine:

So that's the perfect segue to the general starting point that I'd like to enter these conversations with, which is you. Walked into an organization and you quickly identified, I would call that a fairly substantial gap in capabilities. How do you go about when you, I mean, that's, that's massive, right? That's, that's like transforming the overall organization to enable something like, not having to go to store anymore. And maybe that's a, a big example, but there's often smaller ones when you walk in and you say, Hey, there's things in the team. There's things in the process. There's things in just the way we think that could. Changed and modernized. How, how do you identify those and, and, and what are the two or three things or tips that you can give people on how to actually start to address fixing or resolving?

Tanbir Grover:

for sure. And I, I don't wanna take all the credit for going digital because I think the, the guys ahead of. We're laying the groundwork for that. I think it just, I was there to help speed it up more than anything else. The strategy was sort of, we're gonna do it, here's sort of the steps. And I came in on the back end of that step to help huddle, accelerate it is, is what I would say. But it's a great question because I think when I joined Pet Value, It's a successful business. It's not like I came in and had to reinvent the business or do a whole bunch of things. You know, for me it was really understanding the edges of the business and really trying to understand how can I actually help in a thematic way that makes a difference. So the way I looked at how do you solve some of these problems is in four buckets is how I look at things. So I look at things first as people. Do we have the right people doing the right things? Process. Do we have good processes in place? What are we trying to do? How are we trying to speak to our customer, our tpl, are we speaking to them accordingly? And our internal processes should not weigh or create a false customer experience. We need to align our processes to what my mom, who is who I kind of use in my teams to say. Hey, if this makes sense to my mom, then we're good. If it doesn't make sense, let's not do it. Third is technology. So really just understanding, you know, what are some of the technology plays that we can do? How are we gonna look at the roadmap? Are there any other tools or systems we could be using to help make our lives easier? And then lastly, it's around governance. So really it's around the right leaders, the right structure, the right process to follow up to ensure that we're all moving in that same way. So the first of all, I'll give you, you know, they'll give you two quick examples that that kind of happened at pet value. So first, our digital marketing. We just started entering into digital marketing at the time. Really just dipping our toe into it and we were doing it on our own. And what I realized was the way we were actually set up was we weren't set up behind a performance market. Engine. We were actually set up by channel, and when I say that is, we had somebody managing our Google business and we had somebody managing our Facebook or meta business. Now if you think about that, the challenge is, is each person gets, call it a hundred dollars to manage their budgets, but the, the counterside of that is each person's gonna also spend a hundred bucks because that's what they got. Now as a total business, we'll get, let's call it $200 in return. So $200 in sales. What we haven't figured out is why am I putting all this money in Google or meta? Should I be putting it in one channel over the other? Because I'm actually not focused on Google or Meta. I'm focused on the $200 in sales. One of the quick changes that we tried to make was how do we actually realign the people and the process so that our goals are different? So they're not about maximizing the spend or protecting the empire of your spend, it's about maximizing sales. And as a result, you know those who are in the Google shop or the Meta Shop would say, You gotta figure out, you know, of that $200 down in total, am I gonna put 150 in Meta and 50 in Google? Or vice versa? But all of a sudden the dynamics have to shift in that we were now gonna be performance oriented versus channel oriented. And by that really we actually started seeing an increase in our ability to go after our sales, go after our customer, really focus on that versus, Hey, I spent a hundred bucks on meta and I spent a hundred bucks on Google. I did my job. Kudos to me for, doing it. And I managed my performance within each of those channels. So that was. The other one I would say that we really changed also was process. And process was around our flyer and our P o P. So when I first got there, I was presented, you know, the printed flyer, I was showing the printed flyer, and one of the biggest things that came out for me was we actually printed no price in the flyer. So, already there was this mystique of what does the flyer do? And, you know, for me it's, it's not a question of what does it do for us? Are we communicating the right information even for it to be effective? And when I dug into it and ask, Why don't we, you know, you're gonna say, save five bucks, save five bucks on $10, or save five bucks on a hundred dollars. Those require two different sort of emotional connections as a result. If you can't drive me to have that emotional connection of $5 is worth it, then maybe the whole thing isn't really packaged the right way to be worth it. So the first thing we kind of looked at was how do we include price? So the challenge was, is that our flyer was being produced, 16 weeks in advance. Prices were being locked 12 weeks in advance, and we a very long drawn out cycle. And as you dig into it, you also learn the same things happening on p. You know, we would print our p o p, send it into our warehouses. Then our warehouses would, then we have three warehouses. We would then ship from those three warehouses into our store network. But you can actually imagine how much time this is all taking now from a ideal customer facing output. So the two changes that we made one, we would shift more to a digital flyer, which allowed us to. Cut the time down and also include the prices, which, seems logical. And then two is we would actually shift the way we did printing. So it may have cost us a little bit more upfront because now we were gonna centralize printing and send direct to stores. It may cost us upfront, but it's actually gonna save us money cuz A, we're not gonna have as much waste, we're actually gonna be able to effectively use it. So the return on that is actually greater, you know, and the big challenge internally. We've never done it this way before, and you're kind of like, I get it and I know it, but if we don't change anything we're doing, then the reality is, is that something's gonna change and it won't be, it'll be around us that will change, which will actually help or hinder our business more than anything else. So, you know, the advice that I give people is really think about the edges. You don't need to go in and make big humongous changes. It, it's not that. It's actually thinking about how. Round or edge things over because things usually are working. And I think part of it is also to figure out who you can ally with, who you can sort of say, Hey, do you understand the vision I have? How do you understand that vision? And then let's go try to deliver that vision and giving people the ability and the capability and the freedom to sort of push the business further along.

Corby Fine:

There's a lot to unpack in that. The two things that I think stand out the most were. You know, it's one thing to think about shifting from a legacy process of print where you didn't have prices to digital, which is very logical. But even within that, the notion of something you said, which was very interesting, how do you actually test the value of what is gonna resonate with the customer in terms of that value? Is it $5 off? Is it 20% off? Is it lowest prices? The, the notion. However I put it, even if I do put it in a print component, it's fixed. It's one size fits all. Do you do anything around testing and learning from the perspective of what is it that's gonna drive the conversion? Now that you've made more shift to digital, do you understand, does the average pet owner respond to price sensitivity or comparison value or et cetera? Like how do you operate that kind of test?

Tanbir Grover:

So we're starting

Tanbir with Corby:

a

Tanbir Grover:

little bit of that. Truthfully, I, you know, I always, tell people that we we're starting at the ground floor of our, of our business and trying to really understand how we build more of this, the test and learn concepts, the AB level of testing. And we've also got rich historical data, like our merchant team understands pricing elasticity. They understand, you know, what drive. The visit into our store, they understand what drives discovery that needs to happen. You know, where we're trying to really understand now is, is we shift, because flyer is really a fixed sort of model. What we're trying to really understand is the 360 approach of, you know, what do we wanna test in email? So, we'll test products and sort of see things in flyers as they go through. We're trying to do much more of the discovery notion of flyer, to show the breadth and depth of our assortment and really get people excited about like our holiday campaign, you know, what's coming out. But email is a great way to sort for us to test more things within that. So we can test like coupon sensitivity, you know, what happens in a lapse customer? Do they actually react more to a percentage off or a dollar off? And, and what's the right sort of balance of that? We're also trying to test messaging. You know, Corby, you talked about, pet retailers in theory should have, all this predictable data around you. You buy dog food, you know you need to buy dog food every month. You know, we should have this predictable model, but we're also thinking about how do we build those customer journey. Because our email program was also not very sophisticated when I got here. So part of it was, Hey, let's build the acquisition part of our business, get more emails, number one, two, let's actually change the way we actually send out emails. Because prior to this, we were sending out maybe three emails a month and the reaction was, our customers don't want it more than that. And the answer was really, Are you hearing that from the customers or are you sort of saying that on behalf of our customers? Because we'll say lots of things that we don't want. Lots of email. But yet we all receive lots of emails and how do we rebalance that and really look at unsubscribes as a KPI to actually know, are we doing the right thing? Let's look at open rates to see how that's going. So we're starting now to embark on the test and learn that we've got about a year of digitalness underneath us to kind of figure out where do we wanna really think about offers, promotions, experiences to really help drive what I would call that repeat purchase and, and that sort of affinity.

Corby Fine:

So when you came in, obviously there were a lot of things in place. We're working right? Things are going well. It's a great business. It's making money. It's keeping people happy. It's keeping pets happy and healthy. Sometimes. One of the most challenging things as a new leader coming into a business is trying to find those areas where, You just kind of think you need to innovate and iterate even though the things are doing well, right? it's harder to convince an executive team or your peers and your partners to tweak and adjust things that they feel are going well, as opposed to the things that maybe as you said, Well, I'm spending a hundred dollars on meta, I'm spending a hundred on Google. Why don't we put it together and get the best performance? That's logical, but there are other things that maybe seem less logical. How do you convince your peers and how do you convince. Your stakeholders and your, executives, that there are still things to be focused on in sort of a consistent improvement model. Any, any advice.

Tanbir Grover:

Yeah, I mean, I think that's part and parcel of all roles, right? Is that there's always this continuous improvement or what I would call optimization. Exercise that you're always running. And I think if you're digitally born or digitally led, in some ways that's just second nature because we're so used to this idea of optimization within all of our advertising cuz you know, I call it the tuning effect, where you can tune or amplify as you see things happening. Now, you know, I look back at my experience and say, you know, there's lots of things like I'm in the pet business, it's, it's a good business. It's been going well. You know, I didn't have to get there to sort of say that, you know, by no means am I a savior or any. Like that kind of concept. But what I thought was really interesting that we were doing that I wanted to sort of just play with was a little bit of our creative side too. So I'll give you the example. You know, one of the things that struck me is your example of, you know, we need to buy food every single month. For my dog, that's very cognitive, it's very transactional, right? It's like, I need an iPhone cable, I go to Amazon. But how do we actually change our business to be not so transactional, but much more emotion. It's an easy business to be emotional. It's no different than having kids. Like the whole toy business is an emotional business to me. Right. It's about inspiring. It's about like, Oh my God. And it's also about this weird thing called affirmation. It's many of us want to know we're doing the right thing by our pets, and sometimes because they don't speak to us easily, we can never know if we're doing the right thing or wrong thing. But this is where community comes

Corby Fine:

My. Me all the time, by the way, so,

Tanbir Grover:

I want a dog like that, that's, that would make my life a whole time easier. But you think about some of that, you know what we really tried to do and tweak, you know, this is what you're asking me, What do we tweak? We really just leaned in more heavily into that emotional connection. You can see it through our advertising, our commercials. The way we even just talk about it in our business now is much more about that dpl and, you know, the vernacular of the devoted pet lover is an emotional connect. Right. So thinking about how we were, you know, we wanted just to sort of use that vernacular in our culture and talk through that more. We wanted to really focus in on it. So our creative started reflecting that more too, which is a really important part. So, you know, we started really pushing our creative team to be less production oriented and more creative oriented. And again, I think this is not necessarily a wholesale change or trying to convince my executive peers on what we were trying to do. It was much more about, Hey guys, you. the research we've done shows us this emotional connection. How do we actually put it into our voice and tone going forward? And that allowed that. And then I look back even at Lowe's, like the, the great example I had at Lowe's was, you know, I was lucky enough to start and help launch the digital business at Lowe's. So if you think about it, that was going well, everything's, you know, everything's moving up from 2012 on, you couldn't do no wrong given you're just launching this econ business. But I think, you know, where really where we try to push ourselves is how do we optimize it more? How do we sort of think through what the in-store experience would be? So the first thing that we, attempted just to try with one store, cause we got an encouraging store manager was do we actually take some over online exclusive? And actually put them in the store so people can see them. So the first store I think we chose was a store in Vaughn, and you know, it was a highly Italian neighborhood. So the first online exclusive thing that went in was the pizza oven. This is 2013. So you think about it was like, again, your peers may not believe you, but you're trying to sit there and go, Hey, let's try to find one thing that we can kind of align to and see if it actually. Create a different dynamic, more online views, more PDP views. You know, what do our associates say? What do our customers say this? Well, do I actually get sales outta this thing? You know, even sticking a QR code on it back then

Corby Fine:

So just on that. When you talk about digital exclusives, but putting it in retail, were they allowed to buy it in retail or did they have to go back and then buy it online?

Tanbir Grover:

they still have to go buy it back. It buy it online.

Corby Fine:

Yeah, that's a, that's a debate I actually still am having in different organizations today with regards to the notion of a digital exclusive and whether or not it actually should be something that organizations offer versus what happens if someone walks into the store and says, I saw that online and I really want it. Is it, is it. To actually say no, and that, that's still a big debate I, I don't know if you have a quick 32nd philosophy on that.

Tanbir Grover:

an opinion on it. I mean, my, my, my opinion is that why should you let a customer walk away empty handed and. And hope and pray that they go home and take care of it. If the answer is, is that you don't care, you're in your store. But can you imagine an experience where you don't have it in your store, but you can actually still transact against it, which would be no different than an out of stock item, No. Different than a color. Way missing

Corby Fine:

If you grew up in the 1980s in Canada, you'd remember a store called Consumers Distribut. And it was kind of the same thing, except you'd walk out with it instead of having it shipped. But if they didn't have it, you could get it delivered. So I, I, again, full circle on, on how these things operate. One maybe just visionary question now as we kind of come to the end. Great examples on everything that you've started to do and have been. Exercising within your current role, where do you see the, the pet business going? What, Can you talk a little bit about the evolution of pet value going forward? Any innovations or secret sauces that you can.

Tanbir Grover:

Yeah, I wish I could say share all our secret sauces, but being public and being a secret sauce, we don't wanna share too much. But I think part of where, really, where we wanna lean into, You know, I would, I would call it our curation ability. Our stores aren't big, they're smaller. So we're highly responsible to make sure we put the right assortment in front of our customers and our right assortment online. So, you know, we still have to lean into thinking how do we ensure what we give our DPLs? Is what we'd be proud of versus just listing product on our website or in a store kind of concept. Two, I think there's a shift that's gonna happen and can, will continue to happen around wellness. So, you know, health is, is a big topic for humans. Wellness is a big topic. You know as well that that's gonna start sort of showing up more. And I think part of the idea really around wellness is how. How do we sort of shift into that space, either through our expertise, but also through other ways that we can actually drive or enhance it. And sometimes it's even through compassion. Like, you know, imagine a day where you come into our store and you're saying, My dog is sick, or My cat's not feeling well, and we don't actually sell you a product. All we tell you is we think, based on what you've told us, you gotta go see a. That, you know, that level of compassion is also required in our business given, given what we're doing and trying to really instill that, that concept into our business is an important one. And I think the third one that I would say is really around experiences. So number one is how do we become more of a socializing space? For pets and pet owners. You know, I always look at the local dog park that is next to us, and really it's just a park where the dogs come hang out. But you know, how does pet value play more into that space? Can we, can we create more activities, more events where pet owners can, can hang out? You know, can we become the local watering hole per se, of the business? And with that also comes in more of the. So more of the events, more of the learning, more of the you know, just the, you know, you go into a pet value, you look at a dog wash, seems simple, self-serve dog wash, but there's a theater to it. You know, you observe it from far and it's like, you know, this bond that's happening between the dog and the owner. And then you think about your bearded dragon, right? Like, you know, we always focus on the dogs and cats, but you know, people aren't just owning dogs and cats. Yes, they're the predominant pets. There's other pets that are popular. You know, we've got fish at home. How do we actually know we're doing a good job taking care of our fish? So all of that experiences, the socializing,

Corby Fine:

kill them. That's

Tanbir Grover:

you know,

Corby Fine:

how

Tanbir Grover:

Yeah, well that's goal number one. But you know, you think about it, it's how do I clean my tank? Do I need to do it every week? Do I, you know, what's that? You know, there's just this, what I would call, you've got a lot of new pet owners that have come into the world. You've got a lot of immigration that's coming into the world. So people who haven't grown up necessarily with. Or learning how to be pet owners. And that's where I go back to that affirmation. Sometimes it's just cool to get a high five and be like, You're doing, you're doing good.

Corby Fine:

I really appreciate that. So four really quick, rapid fire ready dog, or.

Tanbir Grover:

Go for it.

Corby Fine:

Cat

Tanbir Grover:

Fish

Corby Fine:

snake or lizard

Tanbir Grover:

lizard.

Corby Fine:

pets or kids. No, you don't have to answer that. That's okay. how about both? Both. Listen Tan Beer, Grover Chief Marketing and Digital Officer at Pet Value. I really appreciate you taking the time some of your insights a great track record and I look forward to what's coming next for both you and the organization. Thanks for being with me today.

Tanbir Grover:

Oh, thanks Corby. Super appreciate it. Thank. you.