One of Fabienne’s first missions as a consultant after finishing university was for a major grocery chain in Belgium. As she puts it, “I absolutely fell in love with retail, and that became my life.”
That same grocery chain quickly hired her to put in place the plan she’d worked on as a consultant, a role that let her put her engineering background to good use. “I worked a lot on processes and supply chains. I was optimizing processes both within the corporation and within the stores, which is how I headed up projects that first implemented both electronic shelf labeling and electronic self-checkout in Belgium.”
For Fabienne, those early experiences emphasized the fact that technology isn’t there for its own sake — it has to be put into the service of better performance. That clear-eyed view of how technology can be useful has been helped by the fact that she started working on the evolution of retail long before the term “digitalization” became a business buzzword.
After her successful grocery-related projects, she had the opportunity to lead Multipharma, the largest chain of pharmacies in Belgium. She spent 6 years there as CEO, during which time she directed a complete digital overhaul of the company.
“People would use the internet to buy airplane tickets, Amazon was just starting to really become part of daily life. That was about it. So when I began at Multipharma, I had to get everyone to buy into the fact that we really needed to make this transition, that digitalization was going to be the key to the coming years.”
During her time at the helm of Multipharma, Fabienne managed to turn a group of individual pharmacies into a networked, omnichannel set of pharmacies all featuring Click and Collect, online services, and an e-commerce site. To a consumer, it might seem simple — after all, that’s exactly what it’s designed to seem like. But from top management down to the individual pharmacists and assistants running a pharmacy, there were big challenges to be overcome, many of which are part of any company’s digital evolution.
The right mindset, the right tools, the right management
One of the most difficult parts of truly digitizing a company, Fabienne says, is getting everyone — everyone — into a process-based mindset. Particularly in retail, there are significant numbers of employees on the ground who aren’t used to thinking like that. But if you ignore their expertise and way of working, you’ll create a high level of anxiety that can easily become resistance.
Additionally, she cautions against using tools that are more than what you need. While powerful software solutions can bring big benefits to a large corporation, those same solutions can be too complicated for an SMB to incorporate and use.
“More than resistance, you need to think about competencies. There are still people who have never worked with a computer and don’t believe they’ll ever be able to. It depends on your company, the age of your employees. Some people will be able to use some parts of your digital system, but they might never be comfortable using all of its functionalities.”
As someone who traveled across Belgium to speak directly with the retail employees tasked with implementing the changes of digitalization in their daily work, Fabienne has a key piece of advice that every business leader should keep in mind.
“The way you’re managing people has to change before you can change the system. Too many people do the opposite — they buy a digital solution and want their people to implement it, without changing their own way of management. But that’s not how successful change works.”
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Fabienne will be discussing digitalization at the first Wholesaler Conference, being held on September 8 in Brussels. If you’re a wholesaler who would like to participate in an upcoming conference, let us know here.
OrderCast gives wholesalers a turnkey solution that converts their catalog into an e-commerce site, letting customers browse, order, pay, and track their shipments online. Designed to be fully compatible with wholesalers’ existing back-office solutions, OrderCast can get your online shop up and running in a matter of days, if not hours. Get in touch to schedule a demo here.