Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hypermarkets–The latest poster boy of Modern Retail

The first thought that came to my mind was – “Will this store be THE game changer for this Mall?” Not that it had weak anchors otherwise, but somehow this store, I believe would attract most number of footfalls. Time will prove, and I hope my assessment would be correct in this case too. I am referring to HyperCITY from the K Raheja Group which opened a few weeks back at Royal Meenakshi Mall - Hulimavu, a lesser known suburb in South-East Bangalore which houses one of the largest new-age residential settlements of those who are employed in IT, ITES and the BPO Industries, mainly due to the cost effective availability of housing requirements as well as reasonable accessibility in terms of time and distance to their respective workplaces. A maiden attempt by a group of enterprising entrepreneurs, I would say this is another brilliant model for Neighbourhood malls – self sustained with most aspects of modern retail within its precincts. Other anchors include Cineapolis, the Mexico based multiplex chain with its first cinema in South India, CROMA – the electronics store from Tata Retail (TRENT) and many others.

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The store is located on the upper ground floor facing the main entrance and the lower ground floor of the mall with direct access to the basement parking areas – a smart move by the Retailer to encourage shoppers to enter the store directly after they park their vehicles.  However, after finishing their shopping from the Upper ground floor, one would have to pass through the lower floor to access their cars – a bit of walking around the store though, which could be inconvenient during peak shopping hours. The store is well laid out – the lower ground floor offers Grocery and other Home needs while the upper ground floor with all other categories including Electronics, Toys, Apparel, Furniture, even Bicycles and many more. My guess is that the lower ground would remain more crowded – for two reasons; one that it has brilliant view from outside and would naturally attract mall visitors, and two that it houses the core categories which shoppers would come looking to save for – grocery, fruits and vegetables and household items. What I liked the most was the “fresh section” – Maybe it was the first day and hence everything looked very nicely displayed but still, the way the categories were planned was commendable. Also, they are located deep within the store, another smart idea to pull customers inside and thereby making them walk through the store. Meat & Poultry located close by could prove to be a disadvantage if the exhausts and HVAC are not maintained well – an issue that many retailers are trying to grope with.

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The store interiors are typical of a Hyper – no false roofing, basic tiles on the floor, tube-lights running through the length and breadth of the store and focus lights on merchandise that’s on offer. While it does reduce the Capex to a large extent, it also showcases the store as being simple and straightforward – a stark contrast to the luxury stores at high-end malls that sometimes stink of grandeur and austerity! After all, hypermarkets should also look what they profess – savings, savings and savings. And HyperCITY is indeed very good at it. On the store launch, Mark Ashman, CEO, HyperCity Retail (India) Ltd, told the media, “HyperCity is committed to fulfilling the aspirations of the local people by providing them a world-class shopping experience. Our customers will enjoy the convenience of international shopping from over 44,000 products at great value under one roof.” And all this over a mere 60,000 sft.!

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With their continued focus on convenience, experience, quality and savings, there is something that this Retailer has been doing right. Apart from stacking the right merchandise, I guess its the speed at which they have been growing. Often accused (not in a real sense though) of being slow in terms of store expansion and growth, HyperCITY has got its act right. With only 10 stores across the country, the group has managed to understand the business well – they have opened at interesting catchments across cities to ensure that they are not just in the race to grab market share but also to make money at the store level. With an investment of upto INR 2 Crores per store, the Retailer has been cautious about its overall Operational profitability which seems to be getting better by the day. Specific to this Mall, none other than the Hyper is going to be the the main anchor that would attract thousands of shoppers every month! Those who come to shop would indeed pass through the other Retail stores, Food Courts & Restaurants and m\Movies would complete the entertainment bit as well. This store is not an exception, but Hypers would become the Poster boy of Modern Retail and the Darling of Mall Developers soon.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Paribartan! Retail revival in West Bengal?

My initial happiness started worrying me after sometime – after all who wouldn’t want to achieve their Sales targets! When I was told earlier in the day that the store would close by 4pm, I was a bit happy as I could go home early. But that day, I stayed on, for I wanted to see the people’s leader who would be walking down Park Street with her followers. Yet another protest; yet another reason to bunk work, thus grinned Mr. Bannerjee, my senior colleague in his typical Bengali accent- not that he was complaining, but he was more concerned about reaching home which was at suburban north Calcutta since most taxi drivers would take off from work and those plying would demand double charges. Along with Musicworld, where I was the Operations manager 10 years ago, most other retail stores & F&B outlets along the stretch downed their shutters early due to a protest march organized by a relatively lesser known regional party, The Trinamool Congress. “So where is their leader”, I asked my colleague Sandeep Mallick. “There you see, that short lady in hawai slippers, she’s the one” he replied. I was stunned that such a simple looking person could lead a party and a few thousand followers –for her party as well as her protest march that particular day. I was more familiar with an erstwhile woman Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu where I came from, who would adorn more jewelry than that of a model who poses for Jewelry brands would until she vowed never to wear any ornaments after the ruling DMK put her behind the bars citing various scams. After 10 years, she is back in power today and is expected to run the state in a few days, hopefully more efficiently than the decade that passed by.

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Just a few months back (in 2001), the Communist Government had assumed power, this time with a new Chief Minister though, Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, after the octeganerian former CM Jyoti Basu relinquished the seat of power. Buddhadeb, over the next 10 years tried his best to bring reform and change the business landscape but the fundamentals of his party would not allow him to take brave steps too often. And the rest, as they say is History. Singur and Nandigram were bitter memories that the industry would like to forget. Prestigious projects moved out of the state due to government apathy and the worker’s lethargy. The overall mood in the Retail Industry which peaked all over the country in mid-2000s didn’t have much impact in the state, thanks to a workforce that quite didn’t enjoy working in the modern retail formats. Though money was good, many felt that the jobs were lowly and probably they deserved better. A typical middle class Bengali who reads atleast two newspapers every day, one in English and one in the local lingua, is quite updated with the latest within the Organized Retail set-up across the country. Recently, I was a speaker at the “East India Retail Forum”, organized by IMAGES Retail, India’s premier retail publication in Jan’11. There were over 100 retail honchos across the spectrum who attended the event and the mood was upbeat about the impending Retail transformation that’s on the anvil. Miracles are certain, they believed and I too did, given the slow but steady change in mindset that I had seen over the past year – on my first visit to Kolkata after 10 years since I moved in 2001, I wrote on my twitter (@shri611) “so much has changed, yet nothing much has actually changed here!” What I meant was while there were new high rises and a strong immigrant workforce that had moved in, the old-timers remain what they were, reluctant in some cases to change and a few even questioning why they should.

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All that is about to change thanks to the latest verdict in the state elections where the Trinamool Congress has won a 4/5th majority, ousting the Communist rule after 34 years. It was a shocker to see the outgoing Chief Minister, the Finance minister and many others losing their seats in their respective bastions. Just goes to show that the average Bengali was fed-up – and probably wants a change urgently. He deserves, that’s my belief too. I started my career in Kolkata, way back in June 2001 when I reached the Howrah station all alone, with four bags and loads of dreams, to build a successful professional career. Wasn’t sure if Retail was my cup of tea (or coffee, as I am responsible these days for increasing the café count for India’s largest coffee retailer) but I stayed on. I had just one friend, Hemanth Subramaniam, a former classmate at college who lived in Calcutta those days with his parents who came to pick me from the railway station. The city was over crowded by my Madrasi standards, I thought. And the city roads were congested and there wasn’t even a supermarket to buy toothpaste and shaving cream, I thought. But my first few days at Musicworld changed all my thoughts – that Retail was indeed where I would remain. My circle of friends and well wishes grew over time, so much so that I was hosted four farewell parties when I departed in just a year! 37 Chowringhee, a building that stands proudly, built during the British era was one of my favorite inspirations that housed the Corporate Office of ITC Ltd. at whose factory near Chennai my father toiled for over 30 years to build a family and careers of my sister and myself. I had a lot to give back to the city of joy, where the loner in me was treated every other weekend by someone or the other at Someplace Else or Flury’s, at Tantra or London Pub! During my recent visits and interactions with so many people including those from Government functions as well as those in private establishments, I see an urge, an immediate intention for embracing modern ideas, Organized Retail included.

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I am neither a political analyst such as those who feature in “We the People” or “Breaking at 9” nor a mediocre journalist who screams on Tv or writes sensational headlines in newspapers to grab attention – just a Retailer at heart, by profession and choice. Apart from Musicworld & Spencers from the home grown RPG Group, The Ambuja Group and Forum have built several malls in the state while national retailers including Café Coffee Day, The Future Group (Big Bazaar, Food Bazaar, Home Town, Brand Factory), Shoppers Stop, Reliance Retail, PVR Cinemas, Pizza Hut, KFC and many others are all expanding rapidly across the state. A Central Mall is expected to open in Kolkata soon! What I look forward is just a better Retail scenario – one that the Bengali deserves and one which can change their lives and lifestyle quite well. Hoping for a “Paribartan” that would put Kolkata on top in the Indian Retail Map in times to come.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

All roads lead to CENTRAL…

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It was a bit nostalgic for me to be present at site for this event – after all, it was the 18th mall of Central that was getting inaugurated. When the first Central Mall opened in May 2003, I was, along with the Asst. Mall Manager regulating traffic at the entrance of the Mall. I didn’t know to drive a four-wheeler then, so while my colleague was undertaking “valet parking” himself, I was directing visitors to the Mall entrance. The first Central at Bangalore was spread over a lakh square feet, located strategically at the confluence of MG Road, Commissariat Road and Residency Road, opposite Mayo Hall, one of those historic buildings that served as a Civil court and was used for additional car parking during the weekends. Being the first so-called Mall in Bangalore, we witnessed thousands throng the Mall over the first few days, thanks to a four-page advertorial along with the main newspaper released on its day of opening. Within a year, Central Malls opened at Hyderabad and Pune. Founder and CEO of The Future Group, Kishore Biyani envisioned this format as a bridge between the Department Store and a large Mall, what I would term as a “Neighbourhood Mall”. While neighbourhood malls, typically spread between 2-3 lakh square feet are quite famous in the US and Europe, it is indeed new in India. Meanwhile, Central grew from town to town and finally came up of age (18) at its birth place of Bangalore. This is the third Central Mall in town and is also the largest among its other locations in India. Spread over 3.25 lakh sft. across four floors, the Mall has everything that a family needs – from Grocery to Fashion, Restaurants to Home Care. Cafe Coffee Day, Mc Donalds, Pizza Hut & KFC are four strong F&B players while Ezone and Food Bazaar are other anchors that are expected to pull crowds. Cinemax will open its first cinema hall with five screens and a Foodcourt will accompany shortly. While there is parking availability for over 400 four wheelers and about 200 two-wheelers, CENTRAL was the first Retail format which introduced a full redemption of parking fees eight years ago – a feat that has remained so over the years and has been one of the strongest reasons for repeat footfalls.

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On 29th May 2011, Central 3, as it is famously referred to was inaugurated among much fanfare and enthusiasm of employees and associates of India’s largest Retailer. Mr. Biyani himself was present at the function, an act that he rarely does. While lighting the traditional lamp at the Cafe Coffee Day outlet within the mall, he quipped, “I am not a fan of such inaugurations, I don’t cut a cake”. True. With the speed at which the group is expanding, he would certainly not have the time to visit every store that opens every other day, in some format, in some town or city across the country. Under the able leadership of Mr. Vishnu Prasad, who has remained the CEO of Central Malls (along with Brand Factory – the discount format department store), Central has not just grown in number of locations, but has maintained its consistency, discipline, growth and profitability over the years. In my second job at one of the upcoming Retail companies in India way back in 2003, I was reporting to him – as a Relationship Manager looking after the non-apparel businesses within the Mall. I chose to move on after a while, but the brand kept growing – and this is where they are. Not that I am complaining, thanks to where I am.

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Neighbourhood Malls serve an important purpose in developed Retail markets, especially the West and in some parts of SE Asia. it’s a place where people in the locality congregate; where local events like concerts and cookery shows are held frequently; where consumers frequent with their families, for shopping and dining. The best part about such a format, is it doesn’t take too much space – the Mall itself is a third or fourth the size of Large Destination Malls spread usually over 0.8 – 1.0 million sft, has 2-3 anchors, usually a Department store, a QSR and a Hypermarket and a bunch of vanilla stores ranging from electronics to personal care, fashion, household etc. Parking is limited, due to space constraints, but there is ample public transport connectivity either through Metro trains or road transportation. In fact, some Malls in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Thailand even offer complimentary pick-up / drops in Buses from a central point such as the closest Metro train station or a suburban Bus Terminus – a key attraction for families. The Buses, which undertake round trips operate on a set-frequency, which is published through various media such as the Mall’s websites, brochures, at train and bus stations, sometimes even in the newspapers and FM radios. The cost of managing the free transportation is recovered through advertising within the buses – by Brands who operate within the Mall as well as consumer brands such as Airlines and Telecom players. This not only provides enough cash to the Malls, but also a small surplus that goes directly into the Mall’s profitability.

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One of the biggest challenges India is facing today is public infrastructure – from Metro connectivity to wide roads, there is severe crunch on mass transportation. As I see, such malls are the future of large Indian Metros and Mini-Metro cities. It is not just a waste of time and money to travel long distances to visit a large mall, but also a terrible use of liquid gold aka fuel for vehicles. These neighbourhood malls should ensure that they not only serve as a shopping destination but may also help build stronger communities in the locality, for the locality, by the locality. Just that the Mall Developers should walk the extra mile to create social awareness such as a Cycle rally to promote fitness or a Yoga session to beat office stress among the the working middle class that spends over 50 hours a week at work. Ideas galore – wonder who would implement first.

For sure, I plan to visit my neighbourhood Central over the weekend – riding on my bicycle. Not to save fuel, not even to serve as an exercise – just that the traffic is expected to be pathetic due to a huge flyover construction under progress outside the Mall; and I can navigate my way through the monstrous four and six – wheelers. See you there!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Best Price - Best in Class!


 

I have seen a few abroad, I have read a quite a lot but today was the first time I was part of the inauguration of a Hypermarket Store. The sixth Cash & Carry store of Bharti-Walmart, rightfully named “Best Price” opened its doors for customers today at Ludhiana. Spread over 50,000 sft on a single level, the store has almost all categories including Grocery, Fruits and Vegetables, Fresh Meat, Personal Care, Home Needs and Home Care, Electronics and General Merchandise. Café Coffee Day is the only F&B point, right after the cash counters – smart planning by the store designers. This is the third CCD after opening within Best Price stores at Amritsar and Jalandhar. Addressing a small gathering of the Press & Media, Employees, Vendors and Guests, Mr. Rajan Mittal, Vice Chairman of the Bharti Group emphasized the relevance of Organized Retail and such formats in the current Indian scenario. He expressed his pride that the group was able to open at their hometown of Ludhiana where he had lived for over 20 years and thanked well-wishers for their stupendous success. Drawing an example of the telecom industry which was in its nascent stage fifteen years back, and which was fully controlled by the Government through its own bodies, he said that the sector was opened up to private players and today, India has a remarkable tele-density. Similarly, the group is pioneering Organized Retail through two formats, the B2B model (Best Price) and B2C model (Easy Day markets) in association with Wal-Mart, the world’s largest Retailer. He also drew comparisons of how China had opened up Organized Retail, how employment is generated and millions are benefitted. Mr. Raj Jain, President of Bharti-Walmart said that the company intends to expand outside of Punjab in states such as Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan etc. South India would also be a focus with one out of the three Distribution Centers expected to come up at Bangalore. He explained how small retailers can benefit immensely by becoming members of the Best Price format – registration is simple, just a few documents to be provided and patrons can benefit from the prices offered by the store. To ensure only genuine buyers are using the facility, he said that the membership is renewed annually. Credit Cards are not accepted but Kotak Bank, which is the strategic partner to the Retailer, provides 14 day’s credit to members who are part of its own credit program.

While the discussions on FDI is raging all along, Mr. Mittal expressed that the intellectual debate was over and it is now time to act – to open up the Retail sector and allow 100% investment across various formats. The white paper on allowing FDI was published by the Government and the industry has replied their thoughts and concerns. Currently 100% FDI is allowed only in the B2B model while 50% FDI is allowed in the B2C formats, although foreign companies can invest upto 100% in single-brand Retail. Such investments would allow multinationals to invest in back-end supply chain, only which would fuel front-end business. Bang on.
Well. It is easier said than done but eternal optimists like me who intend to spend our lifetimes in this ever exciting industry believe that this should happen sooner than later, for the larger benefit of the society. If one such store can offer direct and indirect employment to over 200 people, it is not so difficult to gauge the overall employability that the sector can generate. Currently, over a million people are part of Organized Retail in India but this number should increase significantly – by 5 times or more in the next 10 years, if only the Industry is allowed to grow. Specific to the Cash & Carry format, small traders and retailers can benefit immensely, thanks to the EDLP or “Every Day Low Pricing” philosophy (although founded by ASDA) but  implemented aggressively by the Grand Old Man of Modern Retail, Sam Walton – the founder of Wal-Mart. He believed that consumers must benefit everyday with lower prices – the reason was two-fold – one, that customers would not hoard commodities for the future; two, that they would visit the store more often, a smart way of driving repeat footfalls. For a nation that has over 10 million small and medium retail stores, India doesn’t have even 50 Cash & Carry Stores! Metro AG, the German Retailer opened for business in 2001 and operates half-a-dozen stores, while the French Retailer Carrefour commenced in 2010 and is still studying its first store located in the suburbs of Delhi.  The Future Group and Reliance Retail are also carefully monitoring and are expected to launch their own Cash and Carry formats soon. Expect a lot of action in this space. And if you are a professional running your own business, be sure to reap rich benefits from such stores. Long Live, Organized Retail.