Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Dangerous Minimum Guarantee Model in Retail Expansion

Aggressive store expansion means two things – heavy capital expenditure and lots of people to manage the stores. Every brand worth its salt wants to boast an extensive Retail store network across the length and breadth of the country no matter what the store level EBITDA is. While there are various ways to expand its network, some of the commonly used ones by Retailers are Franchising (more on that in my next column) and CoCo – Company Owned Company Operated model. While Franchising could mean faster expansion, there are chances that the Retailer may lose control on the quality of customer experience among other things. The CoCo model is very expensive to scale-up unless backed by a solid VC / PE Firm. One of the other means to raise funds for expansion is through the Capital Market – recently Specialty Restaurants that runs the Mainland China, Oh! Calcutta, Sigree and other restaurants debuted their IPO, the first of its kind in the F&B Industry in India (while Jubilant Foods which runs Dominos Pizza in India is also listed, it is not in the Restaurant business but into Casual Dining). Retailers like CafĂ© Coffee Day, Dominos, Foodworld, Spencers, Zara, Tommy Hilfiger and many others have invested heavily on their own in terms of store expansion across the country, while others like McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Madura Garments, Reebok, Adidas, Benetton, Nilgiris, etc. have taken the Franchisee model.

Reebok Store 1

There is another alternate model – One of the easiest ways that a few Retail Brands have taken to, which is known as the “Minimum Guarantee” model where in a Second Party is appointed to manage the store(s) on behalf of the company while the Retailer itself invests on the business. Let me explain this in detail. Assume that the store fit-out costs for a 1,000 sft store is Rs. 40 Lakhs plus stocks to the tune of Rs. 50 Lakhs, then the Retailer invests Rs. 90 Lakhs to set up the store and also bears the Security Deposit to the landlord (6 – 10 months’ monthly rent).  Once the project work is completed, the store is handed over to a second party, also known as a Managing Partner or a Managing Franchisee who is responsible for the day-today upkeep of the store. All direct and operating costs such as manpower, electricity, rent and incidental costs are taken up by the Retailer and the Partner is also paid a lump-sum ranging from a few thousands to a couple of lakhs – just to operate the store everyday. The logic is, if there were to be an Area Manager to micro-manage the store (and a cluster of them in each city / region), then the costs would be substantially high. And hence the Managing Franchisee model. The partner also has sales based incentives, that is if the store achieves a set target, then he receives a further commission, usually as a percentage to sales. In many cases, the Partner leases his own property to the Retailer, which means the Rental income comes back to him! In a few cases, either the same partner operates through kith and kin or through friends and relatives who become partners! And then, there are incentives for introducing new partners and locations in other cities. This is indeed a vicious cycle.

In the name of faster expansion and quick growth, many Retail Brands have resorted to this practice. While there is nothing wrong in this approach, the Managing Partner usually gets the cake and eats it too. Without any investment, he has a full time job, a respectable retail profession and a handsome income too. While it is not clear whether the practice has been globally prevalent and if yes, from when – it is quite popular in the Indian Retail scenario over the past decade. While Retailers like Madura Garments have stuck to the tested Franchise model of “Buy and Sell” merchandise (that is the Franchise has to purchase all the merchandise with a small percentage of returns back to the company), others like Reebok, according to press and media releases in the recent past have opted the Management Partner model.

DSC00153 (2)

There is no correct or wrong way to expansion. As long as the means are ethical and law-abiding, there is no problem. But concerns arise when there is maniacal expansion with sometime, ulterior motives of helping / supporting some known people to become Management Partners. At the end of it, the Customer decides on the success or otherwise of the brand. And that’s what matters.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Apple–Smart Product or Smarter Retailer?

 

iPhone 4S

After a lot of careful consideration over the past few months, including reading various literature online and discussion with friends and users of the iPhone, I finally decided to take the plunge. Yes. Now I own an iPhone 4S 32 GB. So, what? Actually. It is just another phone, in my opinion. It is indeed a true case study of how an ordinary product can be made an extraordinary success with simple, yet effective Marketing. One must learn from Apple in this regard. Much has been written about the technical specifications, uniqueness and superiority of the iOS of the iPhone, the Siri and various other features and hence I wouldn’t delve into it. Nor am I a technology expert to rip through comparisons with an Android phone (from Samsung or HTC ) or a BlackBerry or a Windows Phone. Oh yeah, by the way there is Nokia too. Apple iPhone 4S, for me lacks some basic stuff – such as a favourite tune as an alarm; select many / select all in the email box to delete and many such small features. Wonder how the Apple engineers skipped these and a bigger wonder that Apple Marketers kept them low-key, promoting various other features. It is a good smartphone but can be a lot better. Will leave it there.

10 days ago, I ordered my iPhone online – through www.indiaplaza.com where I work. Not just because of a particular loyalty – but also because of the Price. The phone is about Rs. 2,000 (USD 40) cheaper while buying online, compared to the ones sold at an Apple Store or other Electronic Retail chains such as Croma (from the house of Tatas), Ezone (part of the Future Group), Reliance Digital, etc. Two months ago, I bought an iPod Touch (also from www.indiaplaza.com) and the price online was a lot cheaper – I got a 10% discount while the company was celebrating the birthday of Apple founder Steve Jobs. In my view, the iPods, iPhones and iPads should also be sold through Department store chains such as Shoppers Stop and Lifestyle too. After all, it is indeed a lifestyle product as promoted by Apple and not just merely a gadget. The Apple stores are more a novelty than being electronic stores. They are a lot more engaging, inviting and most importantly (well stocked). And I am referring this from an Indian context.

iPod Touch

I visited the Apple Store twice in a span of two months to buy accessories for my iPod and iPhone. Every time, the staff have delighted me. They speak little, but with a lot of sense. I have already bought Rs. 10,000 (USD 200) worth accessories from the Apple Store and I believe it is only because of the wonderful staff interaction that I have had each time. On the first instance, I wanted to buy a case and screen guard for my iPod and the staff showed me gladly all the varieties that they had – without indicating any obligation on me to buy. I walked up to two nearby stores that also sold mobile accessories to check out what they have – at one store, the staff was busy canoodling with his girlfriend (I guess) on the phone and had least interest or respect for the customer who came to spend money. At another store, they had stocks for every damn model but an iPod. The staff felt sorry but couldn’t offer anymore. I came back to the Apple store and ended up buying from there. I repeated my visit a month later – this time to buy a screen guard and a case for the iPhone. I visited various other electronic retail stores who didn’t stock them, and were more interested in selling larger items such as LCDs, Washing Machines and Refrigerators. Even Croma, which is known to stock a wide range of accessories wasn’t carrying anything specific for the iPhone.

Back at my favourite Apple store  at the Forum Mall (Bangalore)m Simran, the sales assistant was not just being polite and interactive but was also non-obtrusive. She allowed me to have a look at things, touch and feel them and never got perturbed by the questions that I enquired regarding the various options. She was happy to answer as many and even offered a few ideas such as a “Matt-finish” scratch guard that would not leave traces of oil from the face and which is easy to wipe off. She suggested a case that not just matched with the phone but was sleek and had a good form factor. Amongst other things, she also showed a few headphones and a couple of JBL speakers. And eventually, I ended up buying a noise-cancellation Apple ear phone worth a 100 dollars (Rs. 4,800) which was completely unplanned! All in a span of a few minutes. Now, that’s what I call “engaging customers” smartly. She knew my preferences for music, realised I had an iPod Touch and an iPhone and that I could, most importantly – appreciate and enjoy the stuff that they make and sell. Hats off to their level of knowledge and customer service. Next on my list: JBL Speakers for the iPod.

Imagine Apple Store

I have been using a Samsung Galaxy Tab for the past one year and a BlackBerry for over 3 years. Its been just over two weeks since I have been using the iPhone. Happy with it. But would go back to my BlackBerry any day. I am just that. But all said and done, Apple is not just a product maker but also a smart Retailer. With its unique offering of products, they seemed to have mastered the art of letting customers engage with their products. Single Brand Retailers have a lot to learn from them. Of how not to sell, but to make customers buy the products. And appreciate them all their life. Kudos Apple.