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This year alone, Guardian Health & Beauty Singapore has launched exclusive cosmetic brands from the United Kingdom, the United States and Korea.
It has brought the latest in K-Beauty to its stores and unveiled the first look of its beauty and fashion capsule collection in collaboration with local label Ohvola, called Ohvola x Guardian Beauty Around the World.
There’s no doubt that Managing Director Danni Peirce knows how to spot a beauty trend. Yet, while much of her gaze is trained to look toward what’s hot in the industry, she is maintaining a firm focus on another key aspect of the business – digital.
“Omnichannel shopping is truly here and we need to embrace it with an unrelenting customer focus so that we can best meet their needs.”
In fact, it was the potential to digitally transform the country’s much-loved health and beauty retailer that attracted her to the role in September 2022.
“Ecommerce is already a big part of our business,” Peirce tells The CEO Magazine. “But it has significant opportunity to grow.”
Currently, around 20 percent of all health and beauty sales in Singapore are online. “The retailers who will win are those who have the most seamless omnichannel experience,” she predicts.
Peirce has every intention that Guardian will be among the victors. And she is harnessing her recent experience to ensure this.
Prior to joining Guardian, she was CEO of yuu Rewards Club where, from her base in Hong Kong, she led its digital-first loyalty program in Hong Kong, Macau and then into Singapore. It was her first time working in a digital team.
“The experience was truly amazing,” she says.
“For all of us, no matter what function we are in, we have to understand how the digital side of the business works. Particularly as a leader, you have to be able to hold your own in a room of people who may be very experienced in digital but who may not always have the full business perspective,” she says.
“I feel very fortunate to have had that experience.”
She explains that the big lesson revolved around creating that omnichannel experience for its customers in the future. “It’s about how we help our customers have a seamless experience when they shop with a brand, because we know that customers are checking reviews and pricing online when they are shopping in our physical stores,” she says.
Then, she adds by way of example, they are ordering online to collect at the stores nearest to their homes.
“Omnichannel shopping is truly here and we need to embrace it with an unrelenting customer focus so that we can best meet their needs,” she explains.
Like yuu Rewards Club, Guardian is a part of the DFI Retail Group, the pan-Asian operator of businesses such as 7-Eleven and supermarket chains Wellcome and Giant. DFI Retail Group even has the license to operate IKEA in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Indonesia.
The Guardian brand has grown from a single pharmacy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1967 to a multinational business, with over 1,100 stores across Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia and Singapore to its name.
Alongside its off-the-shelf health and beauty range, it employs registered pharmacists qualified to offer counseling and dispensary services.
“We have the largest number of pharmacies and pharmacists, and that’s really our point of differentiation and the reason that customers come to shop with us week in, week out.”
And it’s the emphasis on health that Peirce says is what sets the business apart in Singapore, a country where it is positioned as the largest health and beauty retail network. “We have the largest network of pharmacies and pharmacists, and that’s one of our key points of differentiation and one of the reasons why customers come to shop with us week in, week out,” she says.
These pharmacists are, she says, “the heart of the business”.
“They help our customers fill their prescriptions for medication, but also offer advice, whether that’s on health care, skincare, acne or hair loss,” she says.
“When it comes to generating consumer confidence, building trust with our customers and our pharmacy services is critically important. We all know it’s hard to build trust in health. And that’s one of the things that we are very strong on – having a trusted customer experience.”
Since joining the team, one of the qualities of the company that has really stood out for Peirce is how much Guardian lives and breathes health and wellness through its culture.
“Safeguarding the physical and mental health of all our team members is paramount,” she says.
“Something that I really felt from the moment I started is the family oriented culture and how our team members really look out for one another and care for their fellow employees. It’s definitely part of the DNA that we have here within the Guardian team.”
“For many people, the pandemic opened their eyes to the fact that retail workers and pharmacists are really frontline workers, too.”
So much so that last year the company introduced a Caring Passionately Award.
“We recognize our team members who really demonstrate this with amazing stories of what they’ve either done for fellow team members or for our customers,” she explains.
Other ways this quality is celebrated is through team member days, called OneGuardian days, which can bring hundreds of store and pharmacy team members together to honor successes and collective achievements from the previous 12 months, look forward to the future and have a chance to sample products for themselves.
“We also have a lot of fun as part of it,” Peirce says with a smile. “There’s lots of music and dancing.”
On an equally critical level, all team members can access mental health resources such as counseling and support services designed to help them manage work-induced stress and anxiety. It’s an add-on that became particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, which revealed just how critical the role retail workers play is within the community.
After all, while most people were able to transition to working from home behind closed doors, the front-facing Guardian team were still going into work and serving tens of thousands of customers every week.
“Before the pandemic, when you read in the media about frontline workers, that was nurses and doctors,” she says. “For many people, the pandemic opened their eyes to the fact that retail workers and pharmacists are frontline workers, too.”
The business also used the pandemic as a time to renovate its head offices.
“We’ve created an amazing office space for our team members,” Peirce says.
“As many businesses have, we’ve also introduced work-from-home options, and that’s very much supported by improved technology so that we create a seamless experience.”
With health at the heart of Guardian, Peirce says that during the pandemic, the business became the destination in Singapore for COVID-19 essentials, including test kits, pain relief and oxygen level monitoring equipment.
“There was obviously very high global demand for such products,” she says.
And it was thanks to strong supplier relationships that Guardian was able to meet the demand. “It was really down to our strong supplier partnerships that we were able to secure enough stock of these healthcare essentials and make sure that we served the community here in Singapore.”
The crisis reinforced the real importance of strong relationships for the businesses.
“Moving forward, supplier partnerships are absolutely essential to our success,” she says. “Our success is contingent on each other and only through partnering together can we deliver the best experience for our customers and grow together.”
That could take the form of new ranges, new promotions and new store experiences for Guardian’s customers. “It’s only by partnering together that we can really maximize that opportunity,” she continues.
Key partnerships include Haw Par Healthcare, the owner of the globally known Tiger Balm brand, health supplement distributors JR Life Sciences and OneLife Singapore, and the Singapore branch of the skincare company behind Nivea, Beiersdorf – which was named Guardian’s Supplier of the Year at its 2023 Global Supplier Conference.
There are also the familiar faces from the DFI Retail Family, such as 7-Eleven, Giant and Cold Storage. “We’ve developed a digital-first coalition loyalty program with yuu Rewards Club, and that’s a very exciting partnership,” she explains.
“It gives us the ability to communicate with our customers in a personalized way.”
Undoubtedly, new partners in the technology sphere will be added as Peirce looks to fulfill her digital ambitions – and beyond.
She is particularly enthusiastic about AI and the rapid rise of ChatGPT.
“I remember the first time I saw other true gamechangers: the mobile phone, the internet, Facebook,” she says.
“When I first used ChatGPT, I had the same feeling: that it’s truly going to be something that changes how we work, how we shop, how we communicate. So I believe that it is something that we need to understand and then ultimately find ways to embrace that within our business.”
Peirce is also overseeing the start of Guardian’s sustainability journey, a topic she says is becoming an increasingly important factor for many of its customers in Singapore.
Initiatives such as reusable bags are already well established.
“We’ve also reduced plastic in our Guardian brand health and beauty lines,” she explains. “With our body and hand wash bottles, we’ve replaced the plastic with lighter weight PET bottles, which are more easily recycled.”
She is acutely aware that sustainability is also defined in other ways. “The other piece is around how we play a bigger role in the community,” she says.
At the end of 2022, Guardian launched an initiative called ‘Together, Keeping Kids Clean and Healthy’, to help children from low-income families afford everyday hygiene items. “The aspiration is that everyone deserves to feel clean and healthy,” she explains.
“So many great companies with great strategies fail because they can’t execute.”
The company sees cleanliness as a basic human right, something that shouldn’t be a luxury, particularly for children.
It’s part of its #guardiancares initiative where, for every liter of Guardian bath care products sold, the company donates US$0.07 to its non-governmental organization partner, which, in Singapore, is the Children’s Wishing Well.
The target is to provide 20 million baths to underprivileged children across South-East Asia.
“It’s a great example of something that we have already done, but it needs to become even bigger moving forward,” she says.
Turning to the topic of leadership, Peirce explains that she defines a great leader as someone who sets a clear vision and strategy, but who ultimately empowers their team to deliver on and execute this.
“Execution is always the hard part,” she says. “The strategy part is in some ways the easier part. We’ve seen so many great companies with great strategies fail because they can’t execute.”
In order to do so, leaders have to be prepared to attribute successes to their teams, but also to shoulder the failures – something she says is particularly relevant in her industry.
“Retail is changing so rapidly,” she says. “Our list of competitors today has altered significantly when compared to five years ago.”
For businesses like Guardian that have, as she describes it, “come through the traditional route”, it is crucial to be bold and try new things in such a rapidly changing space, even in the knowledge that while some initiatives will work, others won’t.
“Celebrate successes, learn from the failures and make sure you have the confidence to try again,” she says.
She is also aware that today’s crop of employees have very different expectations from their leaders to previous generations. “A leader needs to be someone who is authentic, who is relatable, who gets to know their teams and is genuine, trustworthy and honest in sharing their true perspectives,” she says.
Beyond these personal attributes, there’s a skill set that she identifies as key: “A leader now has to be digitally savvy and have great knowledge in the digital space. I don’t think it’s possible to be a great leader without it.”
Peirce started out in the industry with British supermarket giant Tesco before moving to Coles in Australia, where she held the position of Business Category Manager in yogurts, desserts, creams and custards, followed by delicatessen and seafood and finally health, beauty and baby.
Her career then took her to the United States and the Vice President of Merchandising – Non Foods and Health Foods, followed by Dairy, Frozen and Dollar Stores for Southeastern Grocers in Florida. From there, a move to yuu Rewards Club and Asia beckoned.
“A leader now has to be digitally savvy and have great knowledge in the digital space. I don’t think it’s possible to be a great leader without it.”
She is a shining example of her advice to share with young aspiring leaders: “Find something that you are passionate about.”
“If you do, then you will go over and above because it’s something that you love doing,” she says. “And, when you go over and above, that’s when customers will notice you’re making a difference, and success will follow.”
“Actually, it’s very fun,” she says.
If there was any advice Peirce says she’d offer for women in leadership, it’s that they have to be advocates for each other.
“As a senior leader, it’s thinking about who you are going to advocate for and how we can support each other, because although the numbers are improving in terms of female leaders at the top, they are obviously still far from being 50–50,” she says.
“I think one of the things we can all do is become advocates.”
In 2022, DFI Launched the DFI Women’s Network, a platform Peirce describes as a “fantastic way to connect, hear and learn from the many amazing women we have working across DFI”.
Some of the topics discussed as a forum include creating an inclusive culture, work–life balance and building careers in digital. To celebrate its one year anniversary on International Women’s Day 2023, the network launched a mentorship program to, in Peirce’s words, empower women’s leadership and embrace equity.