Shikha Jain - Senior Director
Shikha is a Senior Director in the Boston office and has been with Simon-Kucher since 2012. When she joined after completing her MBA from Chicago Booth, she knew that she wanted to be in industries that she could touch and feel. It was only natural that she joined the consumer goods and retail practice where she focuses on everything B2C, including consumer goods, fashion/apparel, grocery, consumer services/internet and luxury goods.
Working at Simon-Kucher helps her deliver impact to her clients. She works with the C-level teams at iconic and everyday brands. The problems she solves are focused on institutionalizing best-in-class revenue growth and pricing strategies for companies that have revenue well into the billions. In many cases, there is a global aspect to her work so she stays on top of consumer preferences not just in the US but globally in markets across Europe, Asia, and Latin America.
Outside of project work, being in the practice allows her to write articles that are featured in media publications and she also works with journalists and reporters for comments on trends in the space. She has been cited in Forbes, Vox, RetailWire, and Glossy, to name recent examples.
Please provide a substantive overview of what your practice area entails.
Simon-Kucher’s US Retail practice focuses on executing strategic revenue projects for companies that cater to consumers and shoppers. In a nutshell, we help clients transform their consumer and retail businesses. Some examples of how we do this are by redefining their brand strategy, consumer segmentation, pricing strategy, global strategy, and promotional effectiveness. We strive to be at the forefront of retail trends and challenges. We are constantly innovating our own product offering to evolve with consumer trends and preferences. We incorporate behavioral economics and leverage consumer psychology in many of our projects. More and more we are incorporating elements of technology like machine learning to offer dynamic pricing solutions.
The biggest reward you could get from being a part of the practice is seeing a real impact. A few months post-project, you could go to your client’s store or website and see your recommendations come to life on the shelf or the page.
Consultants are also encouraged to contribute to thought leadership. One way is through writing and publishing thought leadership such as articles, white papers, blog posts, etc. Picking a topic that is interesting, collaborating with someone senior to write the content and eventually see your name in print.
Additionally, the Consumer and Retail practice is one of three global practice areas at Simon-Kucher. This means that we cooperate with teams across Europe, Asia, and Latin America for the needs of our global clients. It is not uncommon for a Consultant to work with a team that spans different countries. An additional perk is that we hold global leadership off-sites in locations across Europe (the last few were in Barcelona, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt) in addition to off-sites in exciting cities across the US.
What types of clients do you work with? Please provide representative examples where possible.
Our typical clients usually check one or more of the following criteria:
- Public or private Fortune 1000 companies
- Iconic household brands
- Multinational brands
- Small to medium businesses backed by private equity firms
- Start-ups that have high growth potential
Within these types of clients, there are different sectors that we focus on. Examples provided in brackets:
- Apparel/Footwear (sneakers, suiting)
- Specialty Retail (grocery)
- Fast-moving consumer goods “FMCG” (snacks, paper goods)
- Consumer durables (electronics, slow-moving goods)
- Consumables (cosmetics, skincare, beauty)
- Consumer services ( gym memberships)
- Consumer internet (2-sided marketplaces online)
- Subscription boxes (curation)
- Luxury goods (jewelry, expensive furniture)
What types of projects do you work on? Please provide representative examples where possible.
Similar to our firm as a whole, our practice focuses on anything that improves topline growth. For a retail company, what is most important is helping them better connect with their consumers to develop a winning pricing strategy.
Typical project types involve:
- (Re)designing a client’s portfolio price architecture by conducting and analyzing consumer research to define optimal prices for existing and/or new products
- Aligning a client’s brand strategy, brand perception, and competitive positioning
- Creating a consumer segmentation and relative value proposition for each
- Developing effective promotional strategies that resonate most with the target consumer
- Designing and implementing processes and governance
- Conducting pricing analytics, defining KPIs, developing dashboards and decision-making tools
What does this mean for [new and prospective employees]?
- Since our recommendations are high impact, C-level executives are involved. You will interact with decision-makers at a firm and get insight into how they think and view business priorities.
- Everyone has a clear role on the project team. That means that you will have ownership over your module. Early responsibility is at the core of Simon-Kucher so you can add value from Day 1.
- Our goal is to provide data-driven recommendations so you’ll spend time thinking through problems strategically and analytically. Many times, you will also need to leverage your creative side.
How involved are you in the actual implementation or execution of your recommendations? Is this more reflective of your firm’s specific services or your practice area in general?
Our primary focus is on developing the strategy. However, we are sometimes involved in the full life cycle from strategy to execution and rollout of recommendations. Primarily, we leave behind the implementation guidelines for the company to own as our objective is to ensure that clients are self-sufficient post-project.
If our clients want us to be involved in the implementation, common focus areas are:
- Pilot design, monitoring, and execution: Testing recommendations in controlled live markets
- Knowledge transfer: Through playbooks and tools to make the process repeatable
- Process and governance: Designing the way of working to ensure changes in a company will stick
Even though we may not be involved in every aspect of the implementation, our hard work is reflected on store shelves or websites as well as in stock prices for listed companies.
What is a typical day like for you? What are some common tasks you perform?
As the saying goes in consulting, “no two days are ever the same”. A typical day involves the following for a Senior Director.
For project-related work, I serve as a sparring partner to drive recommendations forward. If we have just fielded a market research study, we review analysis insights and turn them into implications. If we are at the client site, we will have presentations or meetings where each team member presents some portion of the work they were responsible for. My role in a project is to mitigate roadblocks and navigate the overarching client relationship. I typically work on two to three projects concurrently.
A good portion of the day is spent actively on new/additional project opportunities or “business development”. Much of this involves phone or in-person meetings with prospective clients to walk through Simon-Kucher capabilities and how we can design projects to help solve their revenue growth challenges.
The remainder of the day is focused on leadership activities such as consultant professional development through mentorship/coaching, recruiting activities, and generating thought leadership through writing articles.
The days we are traveling and are on-site, we have team dinners and group activities so that it’s not just all work.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Our practice is rapidly growing. We need people that are passionate about consulting for consumer and retail companies. If you answer “Yes” to many of the questions below, you would be a good fit.
- Are you interested in the “sunny side of consulting”, i.e., helping businesses grow their topline?
- Do you define yourself as intellectually curious, self-driven and team-oriented?
- Are you excited about the prospect of building out your soft skills like telling stories or client interaction?
- Do you spend time thinking about what makes brands tick and what could make them better?
- Do you want you to apply aspects of consumer psychology and behavioral economics in the real world?
How did you end up in your practice area? Did you actively pursue it, or were you assigned to a client in this practice area?
I pursued my practice area because:
- My objective was to work in an industry that I could touch and feel. As a consumer myself, I wanted to put myself in the shoes of the buyer.
- I wanted a quantitative environment given my math and economics background from undergrad. We pride ourselves in our analytical approach to final recommendations.
- I was drawn to the massive opportunity as the US consumer market is valued at 13 trillion dollars and with ever-changing consumer preferences and trends, brands constantly need our help.
Do you feel that your firm provides you enough flexibility or opportunities to explore other practice areas?
Those that join the firm out of undergrad are encouraged to explore different practice areas when they start to build their consulting muscles. As they progress in their careers, they are required to affiliate themselves with a practice to develop the deep expertise needed to be able to sell new business. For those that come with many years of experience, they align to practices that match up with their prior experience. Even at more senior levels, there is flexibility to move across different practice areas. Everyone is encouraged to pursue sectors and brands they feel most passionate about.
What do you like best about your practice area?
Similar to the rest of the firm, our practice focuses on camaraderie, and a global network that shares best practices, and an entrepreneurial spirit. A few highlights that make the day-to-day within the practice so interesting are:
- Growth prospects: Given the level of disruption within consumer and retail, there is plenty of room to grow to develop creative solutions. The sheer size of the US consumer market means that opportunities present themselves constantly.
- Personal experiences: Unlike other industries, retail is one where we all can pull from our own experiences as a consumer and “sense check” our ideas with how we would react to them. Being able to incorporate our own intuition and marrying art with science leads to very creative solutions.
- Visible impact: It doesn’t hurt that retail brands are ones that are most iconic to the public and brands that you or your friends and family have shopped before.
As a result, we are one of the largest practices at Simon-Kucher and along with the rest of the firm, have enjoyed consistent double-digit growth since we were founded.
How has your professional and academic background prepared you for success in your practice area?
“We can’t teach you to think, but we can teach you to do”
While my previous experiences and academics didn’t directly influence my career at Simon-Kucher, what I took from my classes was the ability to think critically. Over time, I honed this skill by learning on the job. I am constantly developing my strategic thinking and deductive reasoning skills. Diving into the details and the big picture. Leveraging past experiences in new ways. Developing pattern recognition to solve common problems.
Those who do best are hungry to learn. When they join, they are in sponge mode, absorbing as much as they can.