An exciting and challenging journey of a brand transformation!

By: Nilusha Fernando

Last April I got the opportunity to head the project of revamping the Keells Super brand and launching a store with a new look and feel to bring the revitalized Keells brand to life. The journey began with some self-reflection as a business, an extensive process of customer research which included interesting sessions of watching customers cook in their own kitchens, followed by rounds of brain storming about the core values and attributes of the brand and rounds of workshops to arrive at what we felt was the best self of the brand. The concept store was brought to life via virtual reality by the creative agency – Whippet and the team had turns walking through this store even before it was built which was a surreal experience. Later on we converted this imaginary store into an excel sheet with over 200 lines about materials, colors, costs etc. Weekly updates and site visits were carried out to ensure that our dream store is delivered 100% to expectation!

However, whilst the outcome was clear, there were things within the process that were likely to change owing to the uncertainty as to how things will turn out such as availability of the kind of materials we wanted, customer acceptance of the new look and feel etc. What was daunting yet amazing was that the challenges faced never got us down but fueled us further to want to achieve what we set out to do. Let’s not forget it was a herculean task to deliver all of this in 16 weeks!!! When the first store was coming up, the night before on November 29th, 2017 there was a huge thunder storm which caused blackouts and property damage to many. All of us were trapped inside the new store unable to finish work outside in the car park. Come dawn, things cleared, and the team worked together like a well-oiled machine to get things up and running by the opening time which itself was a testament to the spirit of all involved.

The process of creating and delivering our dream store involved brain draining meetings, robust debates, days with sheer exhaustion and moments of pure joy. It also involved long nights with sudden drop ins to Saivar shops for plain tea and” parata” in the middle of nowhere, eating Chinese from unknown shops at God forsaken hours, stuffing “tipi tip” down our faces when we couldn’t be bothered to get some food and taking turns at power napping in the “tuk tuk” to ensure we managed to get through the job. With such memories, it’s safe to say that I have never experienced such a feeling of working together as one team, doing things we’ve never done before to achieve a 100% outcome. It really felt like I was working with the Dream Team!

Marketing has always excited me as it is never the same thing you deal with on any given day. Plus, you get to understand the human psyche through consumer research and feedback. However, this project was not only enjoyable and exciting but also insightful and enlightening. Not only did it improve my marketing acumen but it also taught me more about myself, my limits and my capabilities on the job, like no other project I have previously handled. I have always thought of myself as super organized and prompt, but this was clearly next level to the point where people said that there is ‘organized’; there is ‘super organized’ and then there is Nilusha ?.

It also taught me the subtle art of delegation in getting work done through project team members and other stakeholders all the while managing expectations. I learnt to deal with suppliers in various fields both local and foreign, work with a consultant with an insane work ethic and deal with all departments to achieve one common goal. The overnight work (7.30 pm to about 4 am) was almost always done by males but I ended up being the only female to take on overnight work and took it on primarily to understand the work routine but also to prove that gender isn’t necessarily a barrier. I proved to a lot of skeptics that women too have what it takes to rough it and see things through to the end. This journey was nothing short of amazing as it deepened my understanding of customers, how important a brand was and the impact of a brand change on the entire business. The word ‘brand’ was so overused but this project truly made me realize the potential of a well thought through and executed brand.

Watching that store come to life was such a rewarding experience and an achievement I will remember forever. And what’s more… it is doing well and is a hit among customers as well! I would never have been able to make this project a success if not for the support of my family who put up with me and tolerated my absence, rather absentee presence and weird work times, my team who was with me right to the finishing line (maybe even a little after) giving not only support in getting work done but by just being there when things get tough and the guidance of my superiors. I also owe this success to Charitha Subasinghe – CEO of Keells Super and the Retail Sector Head and Simon Turner, our consultant who entrusted me with this task and guided me in the right direction to achieve it. This just showed me that all you need is a willing attitude and the drive to achieve whatever you want to in life and everything else you can pick up along the way! ?