(Left) Michele Mahendra, (Right) Stephen P Francis , Co-Founders of MyGroser
We talked to Stephen P Francis, Chief Executive Officer of MyGroser about delivering groceries, food and everyday essentials affordably, reliably and sustainably and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Stephen P Francis: Considering everything that is happening around the world and in Malaysia, my family and the families of our teams…we are blessed with our health; and are able to help serve the communities we are in as well. We are currently undergoing various levels of national lockdowns as infection numbers remain high, but we all remain positive and hopeful of a much safer, better and freer 2021 ahead.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded MyGroser.
Stephen P Francis: I have a pretty mixed bag of experiences and have been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time when it came to learning. This has included experience in technology, business, marketing, sales and communications.
We founded MyGroser in late 2018 and commercialized the software in late 2019 when my co-founders and I recognized that SEA was ripe for a business like ours. One that took groceries, food and everyday essentials seriously and respected the consumers, producers and delivery people who were all part of this ecosystem. We knew that we could, in time, build a business that would be profitable, offer high-quality products at everyday value prices, and ensure quality and food safety as well.
Convenience was at the heart of it all – the idea came from a missed cup of coffee one morning! – but we knew that value and freshness would have to be equally important. That’s been where we started, and we remain focused on that till today.
How does MyGroser innovate?
Stephen P Francis: People think that we start with technology – but that comes later.
We start by listening to our customers and our suppliers. They have the best ideas based on real-world needs, and we then evaluate these asks and build towards them. It allows us to build a service that is intuitive, easier to use, and actually useful to consumers. From a brands point of view, they really want to work to help consumers enjoy their products – and we are working to help them communicate value and quality as well.
Guiding all of these are a highly experienced technology and storytelling team. We also focus on carefully testing all new features and offerings against our three founding principles of Convenience, Freshness and Value.
We are open 7 days a week and are accessible through the web, Android and iOS. Our teams are always ready and willing to ensure that items are delivered right up to our customer’s doorstep, doing away with the hassle of queuing up at a local supermarket and thus limiting possible exposure to Covid-19. Our dark store (we call them cloud stores) is regularly sanitized, and our trained staff are periodically checked during the day to ensure that they are fit to handle our fresh and dry goods.
Our freshness guarantee is the cornerstone of our business as we assure customers that all our goods are always fresh and if a customer receives a product that is not of good quality, we will immediately either replace or refund that item at no additional cost to the customer. What’s more, we employ strict food handling processes on-site, including additional levels of protective clothing along with annual vaccinations for all floor employees who handle food. This is above and beyond expected standards by the local authorities.
As we like to think of it – While people of all ages use our service, we are particularly aware of the fact that children and senior citizens depend on the food we sell families. We take that responsibility seriously, which means we hold to the standards we would expect as customers ourselves.
We are constantly updating our list of available products from a selection curated from (currently) over 15,000 products listed. This growing list ensures that consumers get only the best value for their money. Whether it is via daily discounted items or value combos, we make it a point to ensure that consumers get the very best prices in the market, which is especially important during this pandemic where finances may be uncertain. We pair this value pricing with the highest quality of the product that we can secure as well – essentially offering our customers better quality for lower prices. It’s a win-win!
Has the pandemic affected your cash flow?
Stephen P Francis: Yes. Operating in the pandemic requires us to look at every part of our already health and safety-conscious operation – and enhance it further. We do this gladly though as our customers, our teams…they’re important to us and keeping this safe is key. This is why our customers come back to us as they know that beyond the products, the customer service, the competitive prices and everything else; beyond all that, we keep them safe.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Stephen P Francis: During the last 2 years of our operations, we’ve been blessed with a great team of employees who have become even better at working with each other for the greater good of the mission we have set for ourselves. It has also been a steep learning curve though as we have had to learn- and are still learning – how to identify the right persons for the right jobs and how to empower them as effectively as possible to maximize their ability to perform.
One major challenge (and it still ongoing), is to ensure that our large workforce is fully protected during this pandemic. We are working in a shared space, and our in-house operations and delivery teams regularly come in contact with customers and suppliers. So we’ve had to up our game in terms of ensuring that the workplace is a safe space for all and all those who are non-essential on the floor, are working safely from home.
We also have to make sure that we build redundancy to help address supply line gaps from the pandemic lockdowns, losses from fresh produce that gets to us late, and customers who need things faster, better, and in greater variety.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Stephen P Francis: The pandemic brought about much uncertainty in the initial stages as people began to comprehend the extent of its reach and countries inevitably asking it’s citizens to stay at home. For the grocery industry, this brought about a huge wave of change as hundreds of thousands of people opted to use online services, literally overnight. Like many others, Malaysia experienced panic buying on the days leading up to the first lockdown and shelves were emptied. Supply lines worldwide were disrupted on an unprecedented scale.
MyGroser’s Customer Service team had to “grow up” pretty quickly to deal with the changing landscape and the demands of many customers who felt helpless and just wanted to be sure that their daily essentials were being delivered. I think our one gift was our ability to be able to deliver essentials within a much shorter period of time compared to our competitors as a result of some key fundamental changes to how the operations on the floor were traditionally handled.
We also have a customer-centric approach to pretty much everything – and this means we look to the customer’s needs above all else. This ‘empowered’ approach to customer service had allowed our customers to feel that we are listening to their needs and ensuring that we do everything that we can do to meet their needs in a timely, reliable and consistent manner.
From a technology point of view, we have a series of external and internal tools that we use. This allows us to track, research, address and follow up on these customer requests as and when they come and ensure that we address every single request as quickly as we can.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Stephen P Francis: We have been and remain bootstrapped to date. We are looking for the right investment partners who support our vision of a true grocery player that is able to profitably serve the communities it is present in. Responsible, sustainable business practices – it is key to who we are and how we will grow in the years to come.
What is next for MyGroser, where do you see your business evolving in the current grocery landscape?
Stephen P Francis: We aim to grow towards profitability in the very near future and then continue to focus on our mission of delivering groceries, food and everyday essentials affordably, reliably and sustainably. We started out as an integrated business – we handle everything from sourcing to processing, packaging, sales, e-commerce, and even delivery! – and we will continue to grow in that direction.
This will likely include a greater variety from our product offerings, new ways to access and enjoy the service, and ever greater guarantees on quality from the things that we offer.
Above all, we will remain committed to our value proposition of Convenience, Freshness, and Everyday Value.
Your final thoughts?
Stephen P Francis: When buying groceries, go with a brand that focuses on quality. Many new players out there are offering speed and discounts but make sure they guarantee the quality too. It is the food we are talking about, and we need to make sure that we take in quality. This is our mission, and we remain true to it – quality, value, freshness and convenience.