Game repositions for the win

The Massmart subsidiary’s vice president, Andrew Stein, explains the turnaround strategy for this decades-old brand.

Game has gone from being one of Massmart’s steadiest performers to accounting for the listed company’s biggest losses over the past two years. Andrew Stein, vice president of Game, talked to finweek about the chain store’s turnaround strategy.

Game celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Tell us more about the company’s origin.

Alan Hellman and Jack Schaeffer started Game in Smith Street, Durban because they felt that shopping had become a boring and tedious exercise. They conceptualised retailing as a ‘game’ and created an in-store environment where customers could ‘play’.

Characterised by its shocking-pink livery, in-your-face advertising and unprecedented low pricing, the brand found instant success with local consumers, while visitors to Durban carried the brand awareness back to their home towns – to the extent that calling on Game became a ‘must do’ for those on a trip to Durban.

Tell use more about the development of the logo.

The iconic Game pink was settled upon, not necessarily because the founders had a specific love of the colour, but they were looking for a colour that would stand out. It was a head turner in that era. That pink logo and branding remains in place to this day, easily identifiable across Game’s 150 stores throughout Africa. 

How has the company’s marketing strategy changed over time?

In the 1970s, marketing was all about standing out, and Game used its iconic branding to ensure this was achieved. We used TV as a marketing tool when it entered SA and positioned ourselves as the rebels in retail, and the first retailer to introduce the mega-store concept.

In the 1980s, marketing became personal and we began to conduct consumer research. Our catchphrase “You Always Win at Game” was born, and we took advantage of radio, print and TV mediums to bring that message across.

An early marketing strategy, still followed today, was to put our leaflets and high-impact product catalogues into free community newspapers. One of our recent surveys revealed that 50% of our respondents still find out about deals from printed leaflets, despite the digitally-driven times we live in.

In 2019, Game worked on a brand refresh, resulting in the birth of a new catchphrase: “You’ve got Game”. The refresh is aimed at highlighting the fact that Game works to give its customers access to a better life and pays homage to the rebellious nature of the brand.

Game was identified as a major contributor to the R1.3bn loss Massmart suffered last year and contributed over R416m of the R1.1bn loss suffered during the first half of 2020. What went wrong?

Game has historically been one of Massmart’s steady performers, but performance has declined over the past few years, accumulating in a loss in 2019 due to tough trading conditions, especially in the second half, which included load- shedding and consumer spending being under pressure.

Even though Game’s sales in SA grew by 1.9% in 2019 on the back of increased foot traffic, declining sales in DionWired contracted the total sales of Massdiscounters.

We have had to close the unprofitable DionWired stores to turn Massdiscounters around. 

How has Covid-19 affected the company?

From the beginning of the national lockdown our priority has been to keep our associates and customers safe, while giving customers the products they need.

Some of our top projects were to prepare our associates to work from home, remerchandising our stores to focus on essentials, putting customers first by ensuring we have simple Sassa grant payouts – as these were needed more than ever – and we extended our online offering to thousands of essential items in a matter of days.

We launched on Uber Eats in SA and Kenya, delivering close to 10 000 orders to date, as well as our first-ever WhatsApp chatbot in SA and WhatsApp remote purchasing capability in Africa.

The lockdown has turned into a useful proving ground for Game Online, with our e-commerce offering delivering triple-digit growth. We are excited about our future online prospects.

Tell us more about the turnaround strategy.

Our research shows that Game has high brand appeal and that customers in our target market are loyal, hence the turnaround strategy focuses on initiatives to improve efficiencies and reduce operational costs. So far, we have participated in Massmart’s Smart Spend process, which included renegotiating store rentals and improving supplier terms.

We have taken a hard look at our customer value proposition and merchandise assortment, resulting in our exit from the fresh and frozen food categories, which never really took off, and reintroduction of affordable clothing, in the form of our Stylessentials range. The range has been well-received and should be available in all our stores by July 2021.

We have simultaneously reimagined the Game store of the future, which will be launched in Mall of Africa in Midrand in October, showcasing our potential with exciting innovations such as click-and- collect, self-checkout till points and product vending machines, as well as new solution offerings in Wellness and Baby and new product categories.

We will be implementing two more of these stores within this year, while we look to more opportunities to expand. Game has also converted to SAP after a multi-year journey, which will provide us with a modern IT platform to enable considerably improved retail execution in our stores, specifically assortment planning and execution.

The Covid-19 lockdown, the retrenchment of 1 800 employees  and poor performance of the company must have been stressful. How do you cope under all this stress?

Game’s problems did not come overnight, and we have been working on a turnaround strategy for the past nine to 12 months. Having a great team and the full support of Massmart and Walmart have really helped me to stay focused.

Besides that, I have been in onerous positions in my career before, which has prepared me for the position I am in today.

What do you do for relaxation?

I spend long hours at work, so switch off by spending time with my family. Spending time with my children helps me to reprioritise my values and remember what is important in life.

What are you currently reading?

I am reading the Harry Potter books with my children, which has turned into something of a ritual even though I never really enjoyed the books when I was younger. Besides that, I am reading The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.

What was the best business advice you have ever received?

You will not create any meaningful change without taking risks.

What are your plans for Game over the next three to five years?

We aim to reinvigorate growth within our business while we continue to reset the cost base and best serve our customers.

Our recent crossover to SAP S/4HANA also gives us a strong digital foundation to truly create an omnichannel experience for our customers, leveraging digital for accelerated growth.

Read more
This article originally appeared in the 24 September edition of finweek. You can buy and download the magazine here.

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