Book Reviews

Demystifying Retail: The Four Golden Rules

Pavan Soni | Updated on: Jun 08, 2022

The book offers a rigorous analytical treatment on how to manage modern-day retail

Management literature is replete with books on managing professional firms professionally. And there are texts on turnaround stories that speak more of the charisma of leaders, leaving the audience more inspired than informed. If we sift through the dominant literature on management, we find it difficult to get a prescription on how to successfully run family businesses, let alone save one from a near disaster.

This is the chasm the management veterans LR Natarajan, and M Prabhakar address in their book Demystifying Retail: The Four Golden Rules. The book makes for a compelling read on several accounts. Let me illustrate a few.

Firstly, the book is written as a narrative where a young ambitious business scion is handed over a struggling business and has only a finite time to revive the company. The emotional highs and lows of the promoter, the management, the employees, and the partners are palpable and the simplicity of the storytelling makes it an easy read. But let’s not get deluded by the narrative, for the book is rigorously analytical in its treatment of managing a retail business.

Secondly, by contextualising the book in a family-run, multi-generational, small and medium-sized outfit, the authors address a yawning gap in business writing and that too while being respectful of the Indian traditions and limitations. It’s not a case of juxtaposing some arcane Western management concepts to the Indian terrain but adopting  a first-principle-based approach to problem-solving.

Rigorous analysis

Thirdly, the book offers a rigorous analytical treatment on how to manage modern-day retail. Part maths, part algorithms, part curiosity, and a lot of disciplined decision making are how the authors script a step-by-step approach of revitalising a business. While the treatise is embedded in a retailing milieu, the relevance of the approach is widely applicable.

Another book in its place would have treated the task with a lot of mumbo-jumbos of management jargon, but not this time. Natarajan and Prabhakar offer a 24-month detailed plan on how to fix problems, right from managing inventory to managing emotions. That’s a holistic approach to doing business at scale.

The book isn’t just prescriptive but also descriptive. It acknowledges execution difficulties faced by leaders, the issues in aligning various stakeholders, and the limitations that a traditional business often poses to any attempt of radical thinking and that’s where the fourth distinctive feature of the book comes — a rigorous implementation plan.

In his signature style, Natarajan (fondly known as LRN) draws liberally from his years at Tanishq to offer a detailed account of how data can save the day, and yet data alone isn’t sufficient, for you need to motivate teams to act on data. A very practical, yet deeply rigorous approach.

The unique blend of empathy and analytics makes the book a very relevant one for business leaders, management consultants, and even MBA students. A reasonably abridged version of the book could make for a very incisive case study and frankly, in India, we are in a serious dearth of locally relevant cases.

Finally, the book is widely inspiring in a very pragmatic manner. It tells you how a seemingly daunting target could be achieved systematically, provided one has the humility to acknowledge the limitations with the present way of thinking and the courage to accept external wisdom and be willing to take some stern decisions.

It calls for the sharpness of mind and boldness of heart and the book, through its umpteen narrative twists and turns, offers numerous instances of the same. It is inspirational and informative in equal measures. The text is not just for business revival but also for managing new product development, employee engagement, vendor involvement, shareholder alignment, and reviving corporate culture, to name just a few pertinent topics.

No review would be complete unless the shortcomings of the work are identified. There are two areas which I reckon one could improve upon. Firstly, the extensive analytical treatment of the book and its heavy contextualisation to the retail domain may put off a few readers who are looking for quick fixes or nuggets of generalisable wisdom.

This naturally constricts the audience base, albeit to a more serious one. Secondly, the book isn’t amicable to be read in pieces, where a reader can’t just start reading from any section and yet make sense of what’s happening. Its tight narrative and analytical cascading make it difficult for one to take a quick dive and yet get benefited. One needs to read it cover to cover and be mentally present all through to make the most of the authors’ efforts.

In summary, the book addresses a very important gap in Indian management literature and practice — how to lead corporate turnarounds in a family-run, small and medium enterprise through a rigorous analytical approach. It offers a detailed account of how to fix problems in a retail context and wraps it up through means of successfully driving change management without compromising on core values. A satisfactory reading experience.

The reviewer is an Innovation Evangelist and the author of the book, Design Your Thinking, published by Penguin Random House in 2020

Check the book on Amazon

About the Book
Demystifying Retail: The Four Golden Rules by LR Natarajan
Publisher: Notion Press
Pages: 322
Price: ₹628
Published on June 08, 2022
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