When a leading Lebanese coffee brand, Café Najjar, approached Shelvz in November 2015 to find a solution for their data collection and field force productivity problem, the team sought to devise a seamless and tailored platform for them. However, the problem at hand was one that numerous FMCG companies shared, prompting the Shelvz team to develop their offering further.

After extensive market research, the team at Shelvz found that the traditional processes in the FMCG industry are based on manual input, and therefore companies do not accurately monitor their field teams nor process data correctly and reliably. The result is a loss in sales and team productivity.

The BDD team sat with the Founder and CEO of Shelvz, Emile Harb, to discuss digitization in the FMCG industry, the importance of data collection and reporting, and the future of the industry. 

BDD: What were the core challenges in the market that you sought to cater to?

EH: When we studied the market, we found shared pain points between different FMCG companies that were not being addressed. Tracking out of stock items, the burden of paperwork and communication between suppliers and retailers topped the list. Here are the three main challenges Shelvz addresses:

  • Out of Stock items: The biggest pain point of FMCG companies and retailers is out of stock items which contribute significantly to a loss in sales, estimated at over USD1 trillion globally. This is usually due to miscommunication between suppliers/retailers, lack of proper monitoring and delayed decision making from lack of instant data.
  • Paper – Based processes: Many industry players still rely on WhatsApp and excel to process and share data. These tools allow for human errors, inefficiencies and delayed decision making to occur.
  • Supplier & retailers communication: Reporting out of stock items can be significantly minimized by improving and streamlining communication between suppliers and retailers. Having accurate, timely and reliable data can help both parties optimize their inventory and order levels to ensure shelves are always replenished in a timely manner.

BDD: How do you encourage clients to use the data?

EH: We deal with our clients as partners. We carefully observe and get involved in their operations prior to onboarding them to use solution. Also, we continuously monitor their data and try to point out areas of weakness that need attention. We also meet regularly with clients to discuss data findings and suggest improvements related to process re-engineering or other.

BDD: Do you have any success stories of how Shelvz optimized a business' performance? 

EH: The most recent optimization Shelvz enabled relates to automating communication between suppliers and retailers. Case in point, the Food & Drug Corporation (FDC), requested Shelvz to consolidate all Out of Stock reported by field representatives daily at all Spinneys branches. All data collected would have to be placed into the order form required by Spinneys. The process automation significantly reduced the need to regularly communicate and follow up on OOS instances between the two parties as well as keep OOS levels within acceptable levels. Spinneys is now imposing on our clients to adopt the same process, in order to increase efficiency.

BDD: Given the advancements in the merchandising field (RFID tags, self-checkout, consumer experience etc. how do you foresee the retail sector changing? 

EH: The Retail sector is undergoing a major digital transformation specially to deal with out of stock items, using robotics, RFID and image recognition technology. There are a few players in the US and Europe mainly, who are addressing these shifts. We have recently developed our own image recognition technology to process imaging of shelves, and replace the manual data input by field representatives. Currently, the technology is being tested across leading convenience stores and retailers in Lebanon.

BDD: Alongside the market challenges, what challenges have you personally faced to set up such an offering?

EH: Besides the normal challenges of setting up any type of business, the one that drained us the most is the delay in fund disbursement when securing an investment. The main reason behind that is the poor legal infrastructure and government bureaucracy that exists in Lebanon.

*Shelvz won the Seedstars Lebanon competition and received their first funding from B&Y Ventures, leading to incorporating Shelvz in 2017.