Irene Merino
Head of Human Resources
Decathlon Mexico
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Expert Contributor

Business in Times of COVID-19

By Irene Merino | Wed, 08/26/2020 - 14:14

The world is changing with the COVID-19 pandemic, every aspect of our lives that we used to take for granted is now being challenged and we have been forced  to change the way we do things, from the way we interact with other people as well as how we eat, how we work and how we do sports among other things. Nowadays, taking into account all the global circumstances, it is vital to rethink the strategies of every aspect of the business. The way the consumers are purchasing their products and communicating is changing and therefore we need to adapt to those trends and stay updated. That is why it's important to develop a 360° strategy that involves Human Resources, Communications, E-commerce, Logistics, Client Service and any other area which is part of the backbone of the company.

In Decathlon, as any proper sportspeople, we love challenges. We believe that only by setting ambitious goals and challenging yourself you can grow and develop all of your potential. Right now we are facing a great challenge that has driven us to bring out the best of all of us and get the most of our human and economic resources. Below I will mention some of the main strategies that we have implemented in the various areas of the business.
I'm going to start by talking about the area I'm responsible for, Human Resources. If someone asked me which is  the main strength of Decathlon? With no doubt I would answer that it's the people who are part of the Decathlon project in Mexico. The collaborators are the engine that makes everything else function properly, that is why our process of selecting new candidates is a little bit different from other companies. We truly believe that sport gives the individuals a certain set of skills that may later be applied in a working environment. We also think that every collaborator needs to have the experience of working at a store to gain a wider vision of how the core of the business functions. The greatest examples of success of this methodology are our own global CEO Michel Aballea and Mexico´s CEO Eric Fortune. Both started working at a Decathlon store and step by step they escalated gaining valuable knowledge from every aspect of the business that eventually enhanced their leadership capabilities. That's what we look for in every Decathlonian, to challenge themselves everyday and achieve their maximum potential through our key values: Vitality, Responsibility, Generosity and Authenticity.

Since the pandemic broke out, we've had  one main priority, the financial wellbeing of all our employees. Some of the main actions we've taken is to fully preserve wages and jobs even if that means to make some drastic savings in other areas of the business. We've also developed a site to keep in touch with collaborators and continue to prepare for the return to stores as well as providing training to strengthen the company's culture, management, full knowledge of our products and efficiency. In addition, we've established the hashtag #JUNTOSSOMOSMÁSFUERTES in our internal materials to emphasize on the importance of sticking together through difficult times.
Another very important aspect of the business that has changed drastically is E-Commerce. Before the pandemic started E-commerce represented a small percentage of our total sales in Mexico, now it has tripled. That percentage of growth was projected for the couple of years! This sudden boost of E-commerce transactions also represented a challenge in maintaining an optimal actualization of physical and digital stock and aligning them correctly. In addition, we deployed, in a new time record a digital campaign focused on encouraging practicing sports at home using the hashtags #JUGUEMOSENCASA and #HAGODEPORTENCASA.  The most required products are inride trainers for bicycles and sets of weights. Another important factor that allowed us to reach more customers was the strategic alliances with digital platforms such as Rappi among others.
However, you can't have a correct E-commerce operation without fully functioning logistics. The heart of the E-commerce operation is based in Querétaro. We've faced several challenges there. First of all we went from preparing 40 to 60 orders a day to preparing over 850 each day. This meant adapting the new workspace for ecommerce efficiency, hiring of temporary teams, applying shorter and more efficient periods of work time and implementing measures that allow a safe operation for both our clients and collaborators.  In five weeks, Querétaro dispatched the same number of orders as in all of 2019. This was only possible thanks to the outstanding effort and dedication of the team based in Querétaro as well as the people involved in the supply and logistics chain. 

One of the main pillars of the business that gained even more relevance is social media. Social media has always been an important tool of communication with our clients. However with everyone quarantined at home we had to develop contents that would be of value for our audiences. Therefore many of our collaborators, that are experts and passionate on an specific sport, contributed with audiovisual materials showing exercises and routines that at the same time helped us promote our products and the hashtags  #HagoDeporteEnCasa (Bodybuilding, Cardio, Fitness, Cycling, Pilates, Yoga, Cross Training, Box) and #JuguemosEnCasa (Precision products, Set Rollnet, Easy Set, Ping-Pong, Soccer, Basketball). Our main social media channels are Facebook, Instagram, Instagram Stories, E-mailing and Google platform. 

Another key factor that represented a huge challenge is customer service. As expected, with the increase of E-commerce transactions, there was also a substantial increase in customer service tickets. At first customer service was overwhelmed with the huge number of requests through the two main channels, Heyday (chat) and Freshdesk (email). However, this team rapidly involved collaborators from other areas and trained them to solve customer problems. Finally with great teamwork we've been able to maintain a positive rate of response to the clients.

At last but not least, Social responsibility and PR have been fundamental parts of our efforts. We firmly believe that the only way of overcoming adversity is by supporting each other and working as a team. That is why during this pandemic we have maintained close contact with medical institutions to acknowledge their necessities and within our capabilities provide support. We established a network with other companies to generate an alliance to provide adapted Easybreath masks that work as a non-invasive respirator that allows the Covid-19 patients to be given air by connecting the mask to respirators and the as IPE (Individual Protective Equipment), which aims to protect medical personnel and thus avoid contagion when in contact with patients. We also collaborated with the Red Cross in the temporary housing project for the medical personnel and with the French Embassy providing sport equipment for those in need.
As we can see, COVID-19 has had a big impact in every aspect of life, however it has also encouraged us to evolve and look for new and better ways of doing things. Today I can proudly say that  we are overcoming this obstacle and I firmly believe it is mainly because of the great resilience and great effort of all our team members. We know that if we stay united we are stronger and with this as our main focus every day we are getting closer to fulfill our mission “To sustainably make the pleasure and benefits of sport accessible to the many”.

Photo by:   Irene Merino

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