Saturday, July 21, 2012

Why IKEA will do well in India

It has been a regular discussion point in Retail circles about the imminent Indian entry of IKEA, the Swedish Retailer which is also the largest Furniture Retailer in the world with sales over USD 30 Billion. A few years ago, IKEA announced its plans to enter India but later withheld due to the unfriendly FDI policy and other regulations. Most recently, in July 2012, IKEA submitted an application to the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (of India) to allow its Indian subsidiary to operate its business in the country. Although FIPB and FDI norms allow multi-national Retailers only to operate a B-to-B business in India (Wholesale businesses like the ones followed by Bharti Wal-Mart, Carrefour & Metro AG), the much awaited Single-Brand Retail FDI which allows foreign companies to transact directly with end-users and consumers is expected to be announced soon. And IKEA sees merit in it. After all, the Indian market by size is one that cannot be ignored, about INR 100,000 Crores of which the Organized market is a less than 10%. Home grown Retailers such as The Future Group (which operates the Pantaloon Department Store Chain, Big Bazaar Hypermarkets and Central Malls among others), K Raheja Corporation (which also runs the Department store chain Shoppers Stop) and Landmark Group (of Dubai which operates Lifestyle Department Stores and MAX Hypermarkets) dominate the space with their respective ventures Home Town, Home Stop and Home Centre. The price points at which these furniture retailers sell is rather high – and rightfully so since that is exactly what the unorganized market doesn’t offer. Also, the life expectancy of such furniture is manifold compared to the “one time use and throw” offering from the not-so-Organized Retailers. And hence they have been thriving selling premium products.

IKEA is hopefully expected to be a game-changer. Its strength lies in design – easy to use furniture for day-today utility. For any furniture, its form factor and utility are the two most important aspects followed by its cost. “Product developers and designers work directly with suppliers to ensure that creating the low prices starts on the factory floor,” says IKEA Group spokesperson Josefin Thorell. Just one sentence in the IKEA website sums it all up: “We design the price tag first and then develop the product to suit that price”. The furniture powerhouse with 330 stores worldwide obviously doesn’t like to mince words: it’s an out and out price warrior in all the 41 countries (India will be the 42nd) it operates in. At the heart of the strategy is the concept of do-it-yourself (DIY) furniture which means buyers have to assemble different pieces of the product themselves. The ‘flat packs’ design helps the retailer to sell them at lower prices. A customer has to take the delivery of the product and assemble it himself.

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Furniture is used everyday in some form or the other and hence it is most valued for their usage. In the Indian context, furniture, like jewelry is always expected to be passed on down the generations. At my own home, I have a forty year old chair that my grandfather used. And original Burmese Teak wood almirah doors which once adorned the cupboards of his palatial house. And there are millions of them out there like me who maintain their hereditary furniture in India. It is indeed almost a custom. But things are changing, rather evolving. With more and more people moving out of their home towns to larger cities in search of education and employment, the need for simple, usable furniture is on the rise. Also, with transferrable jobs across the country, given the overall market boom, urban dwellers don’t prefer to invest heavily on movable furniture. They would rather buy those which can be easily discarded, usually to their drivers, maids, helpers, etc. And this is where probably IKEA becomes an exciting idea!

The DIY concept is another unique thing about IKEA which would do well with the youngsters – the Indian population has over 65% of them under the age of 35. IKEA sells pre-packed boxes of furniture and not assembled ones, thereby saving precious retail space at their outlets. While the turnover in this business is huge, margins are wafer thin. And real estate costs don’t help either. The DIY kits would hopefully do well among the majority of users who are youngsters. They like adventure and setting up a Dining Table or a Wardrobe would be pretty exciting. Also, to manufacture in the form of flat panels is mammoth effort, which is where IKEA would initially focus their efforts on, which is also their inherent strength.

Apart from bringing down prices substantially, IKEA is expected to bring in great designs with it while entering India. Fancy book shelves, cupboards and many other art forms would be a sure hit among consumers. With their maverick pricing strategy, they would also be taking on the local businesses head-on. However, there seems to be room for atleast half a dozen large players, so the market would respond well to them.

Looking forward to assembling my first IKEA furniture soon!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Malls and Anchors – the inseparable cousins!

A year after Borders Group collapsed, a survey by Colliers International shows that one-third of 205 bookstores shut down by the company are still vacant, according to the Wall Street Journal. Stores that replaced Borders in U.S. malls and shopping centers are leasing at rates an average of 30% lower than Borders paid. In at least one case, tenants demanded rent decreases to make up for Borders' absence. Bizarre, as it may sound, that’s the real power of anchor tenants. Anchors are those Retailers who attract the most number of shoppers walking into a mall. They could be of different formats such as Hypermarkets, Supermarkets, Specialty Retailers, Book Stores, Leisure Stores, Factory Outlets. Cinemas and Multiplexes and even Cafes and Restaurants.

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While planning and zoning a Mall, the developers provide a lot of importance to the placement of Anchors. As the name suggests, they literally hold the ship (the mall) on their shoulders. They usually have a road-facing presence, mostly on the ground and upper floors and on either sides of the Mall if the Mall has two entrances or more. Anchors are also the first to be signed up by the Mall Developers because it is easier to attract smaller tenants basis the power of footfall attraction of the Anchors.

Let us look at some of the most common Mall tenants;

Hypermarkets

Retailers such as Big Bazaar, Hypercity, Spar, etc. qualify under this category. Hypermarkets are usually located in the lower ground as this is an area that is otherwise difficult to lease. Hypers however have the ability to pull footfalls due to their pricing and promotion strategies. Due to their low cost of operation, Hypermarkets command a very low rental structure, which is usually expected to be maintained at 6-8% of their Turnover. Malls usually provide a separate entry / exit for Hypers if they are in the lower basement with large escalators and elevators and pathways for customers with trolleys to move comfortably and safely. To have established Hypers in the Mall is a sure shot way to ensure continued heavy footfalls through the week.

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Department Stores

Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, Reliance Trends, Westside to name a few have been the Mall developers first choice to sign up in their premises. Inorbit Mall at Malad, a suburban area in Mumbai was one of the first malls to have two Department stores within. Needless to say, it attracts one of the highest footfalls for any Mall in India. Department Stores are good tenants, from a return per sft point of view to the Mall Developers. They peg their rentals at 10-15% of their Turnover and can hence pay a slight premium compared to Hypers. Also, they attract a superior set of customers which benefits the Mall overall. Premium customers also means more amenities, such as large car-parking areas, valet parking services, premium architecture, more elevators and escalators, etc.

Specialty Retailers

Brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Aldo, Zara Calvin Klein, Mont Blanc, Apple, Electronic and Consumer Durables Retailers such as Croma and Ezone, home improvement retailers such as Home Stop, Home Town, Home Centre etc. are considered Specialty Retailers who stock premium merchandise. These Retailers are extremely choosy in terms of their choice of location, sometimes no more than 2 or 3 per city. Specialty Retailers pay premium charges for high-profile locations within the Mall, usually road-facing two-tier stores or atrium-facing outlets. Since they are available sparingly, customers flock to their stores and hence the brands maintain their exclusivity.

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Books and Leisure

Crossword, Odyssey, Landmark, to name a few are chains of books and leisure stores commonly found in Malls in India. They usually do not occupy the ground floors – mainly due to compelling rents. Instead, they prefer higher floors and have a strong pull of customers who are more of impulse shoppers. Their rent-to-sales ratio is no more than 20% and also operate with heavy staffing, mainly due to pilferage issues. E-Commerce has threatened the existence of many book stores and it’s a common sight these days to either see many of them empty even during peak hours and weekends or a few of them shutting their shutters for want of business.

Factory Outlets

Suburban Malls, usually located outside the city have tenants such as Mega Mart, Brand Factory, Loot, Coupon, etc. who are deep discounters. These stores sell merchandise that belong to the previous seasons and hence at a discount. India has over 500 million people under the age of 30, and hence there is a huge opportunity to sell to a third of customers in this bracket who are aspirational, yet price-sensitive customers. They pay not more than 12-15% of their sales as rent and hence maintain a lean-mean operation. Most of their stores are non-air-conditioned and staff strength is minimal.

Cafes, Restaurants and Foodcourts

Café Coffee Day, India’s leading café chain with over 1,300 cafes across the country is among the trusted tenants to double up as anchors. Being a youth brand, it attracts the right target group for malls. Restaurant & Bar chains such as McDonalds, KFC, Geoffrey's, TGIF, Hard Rock Café, etc. are sure-shot crowd pullers mainly due to their limited presence in the cities. Also many boutique restaurants, usually high-end also are considered as anchors in some way. They are unique in their offering and are usually entrepreneur driven, which means superior service, great food and a superb ambience, consistently and all through the year. Cafes and Restaurants can stretch upto 25% of their Turnover as Rents, to gain maximum visibility.

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Multiplexes

The boom began around 2006 when the country’s first chain of cinemas PVR began rapid expansion in Delhi and surrounding National Capital Region (NCR) and later followed by the Northern, Western and Southern Markets. And then came others such as INOX, Big Cinemas, Fame Cinemas, Fun Cinemas and the most recent being the world’s largest exhibitor, Cinepolis. The movie screening business is considered to be one of the most lucrative ones in India, given the fact that India produces over 2,000 movies every year across several genres in over 15 languages. Although it is a high investment business, the returns are equally exciting.

Going back to the opening statement, sadly there is not a single retailer in India who commands the respect and power as the one that Borders does. Not yet. Developers and Retailers are always at logger heads due to high rentals charged and low / sometimes poor maintenance of the Malls. Mall Developers and Retailers are constantly in a love-hate relationship. Both need each other and cannot do without one another. Yet, there are very few successful stories of collaboration between the two, maybe countable with both hands. Thanks to the ongoing opening up of FDI in Retail and with more and more International Retailers coming in, this is one area that would only get better. And hopefully, I would get a chance to chronicle a few of them.