Monday, September 30, 2013

Airport Retailers get an added advantage

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has recently announced that Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) are not allowed to carry Indian currency out of the country. Earlier, the limit was ₹10,000 to carry with them after clearing Customs and Immigration. This was basically some loose change to meet Food & Beverage expnses while in the Security hold area. While cafes and restaurants do accept prominent foreign currencies, even foreigners try to finish their Indian currencies while leaving the country.

What brings an opportunity is for Retailers to sell Indian souvenirs and interesting take aways which can be spent using the Indian currency.


Keeping this in mind, we had created a very large section called "The Spirit of India" at the Bangalore International Airport. Within this area was a designer boutique from ace designer Deepika Govind among others. One could buy scarves, stoles, jewellery, neck ties and many more before departing. There was also a bookstore which was operated by India's largest bookstore chain Crossword. The store had many interesting books that doicted Indian history, arts among others. I remember, the most sold book used to be "Kamasutra". Foreigners would take it as a souvenir and NRIs would take it as a gift for their friends who lived abroad.

The present rule is expected to be enforced with full force by RBI. If so, then this is a boon for Retailers to sell Indian products to those who are departing the country. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Restaurants in Malls…

I was recently at Forum Vijaya Mall (Chennai), one of the newest in town. It was a Sunday and I was there for lunch, but the upper level of car parking was almost empty around noon, which took me by surprise. However, I was told two days later by someone who works for the Mall that there were over 45,000 footfalls on that day. The Restaurant that I was supposed to visit was located on the second floor of the Mall. As is usually the case, I checked the reviews of the restaurant on the Zomato app on my iPhone. Most of them had written good things about the place and its menu, not to forget their wonderful service. Here is a sample;

After such a good meal, the bill came to around 2500 bucks. "Not bad at all!", we thought, given the amount of food we had eaten. The service too was perfect. The waiters were very watchful, responsive and most importantly, proactive. – Amruth

A great place with tastefully done interiors and food! The options on the menu are limited, but every single item you are served taste good and also look really good on the plate! – Nandhini

If I have to be perfectly honest, there could not be a more unfortunate location to host such a lovely restaurant. A mall in Vadapalani is hardly any place for a classy place like this. Where venue fails, Salt takes North Indian Cuisine and gives it a fantastic twist, to ensure they stand out from the others. I expect much more of this restaurant in the near future. – Vaishnavi

Apart from many reviews, the one above set me thinking. Are Restaurants in Malls a viable option as compared to those on high streets? Are Mall shoppers the right TG for specialty restaurants in Malls? For the cost of operation in Malls, do restaurants make any money at all as a business option? When I spoke to the gentleman who runs the restaurant, he mentioned that the rent is about Rs. 65 per sft per month. Assuming they have an area of 2,000 sft, their rent per month would be about Rs. 1.30 lakhs. Add to that all other expenses which would be around Rs. 2 lakhs pm. On a conservative estimate of Rs. 15 lakhs of sales per month and an operating margin of 50%, the store would recover its expenses and have an EBIDTA of about Rs. 2 –3 lakhs per month. Given the way the outlet has been done, their investment would have been about Rs. 70 lakhs. So, the restaurant makes about Rs. 25 lakhs in profits (before interest and taxes a year)  and would take about 3 years to break even.

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On the contrary, business would be double, if not more were it to be on a High Street. There are a number of good quality specialty restaurants that are garnering those numbers already. So, why do Restaurants still prefer Malls? Perhaps, Brand building and familiarity. I don’t see any logical reason why someone would invest so heavily in a Restaurant inside a Mall and wait for 3-4 years to break even, when it could be faster in a High Street. What works best are for established brands such as Rajdhani, Sigree, Mainland China, etc. which have built reputation over the years and have hence chosen to be within Malls to leverage their brand value. For first timers in the Restaurant business, Malls are probably not the place to be in. This is not restricted just to Chennai but to other cities as well. I was at Chandigarh a few weeks back and they have a brand new Mall called Elante. I was almost alone at Chilis on a weekday evening, which is located in the same floor as the cinemas on the fourth floor of the mall. Restaurants in India’s most successful Mall, Select City Walk face the same fate – Restaurants are empty through the week with weekends being their only busy times.

So, what ails Restaurants in Malls?

Mall shoppers are mostly for spending time, probably window shopping. Conversions for Retailers too is lower than on high streets. The sheer number of footfalls make up for lower conversions and therefore helps Retailers and Restaurants. Unless you are a destination such as a Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, Café Coffee Day, Starbucks, Subway, KFC, Pizza Hut, etc. These are places which plan to visit and hence drop by. Eating out is way to expensive these days, given the cost of ingredients. And Restaurants are trying their best not to upset their clientele by absorbing losses as much as they can. But then, consumers are staying away from eating places on a regular basis, as was the case a couple of years ago. For example, a could of years ago, the neighbourhood area of Koramangala in Bangalore had almost 50 eating joints, a third of whom have closed over the last one year.

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Mall hoppers prefer food courts instead, which are usually pathetically planned. Mall planners in India somehow do not build large enough food courts, with thousand of chairs and a breathable exhaust system, that are modular and scalable as and when consumers increase. Instead, they try to lease all counters at one shot thereby not having scope for further expansion in future. What would cost around Rs. 600 for a family of three in the food court would probably cost over 50% more in a fine dine restaurant within the Mall.

Restaurateurs would do well to experiment new concepts first on the High Streets. That is where people frequent. There are no SCAM, errrr CAM expenses (Common Area Maintenance) on High Street Locations and no restrictions to close the restaurant at a stipulated time. The biggest benefit of being on High Streets is that the signage builds familiarity among customers over time. No wonder, there are more successful restaurants in India and the world over on High Streets!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Is there something as a Click-Only customer?

I was recently invited to attend the first edition of the Retail Marketing Summit Chennai, organized by Paul Writer, a leading consultancy which works in the Marketing space and advises various enterprises. The day was very exciting, with speakers from various Retail companies and Brands expressing their opinions. During the course of discussions, there was a topic which was discussed elaborately by the esteemed panel of guests as well as the audience. The topic of discussion was, whether there was someone called a “Click-only customer” that existed, who shops only online. There were ayes and naes but there was no single answer that could be fully validated. On the need for having an online presence and also focusing on the internet commerce business, Mr. Pattabhi Rama Rao, President of Australian Foods, which runs the Cookieman chain of stores felt that the market is too small at the moment on the internet and Retailers should continue to focus on the offline business by providing a better customer experience. In his own words, Man is a social animal and social interactions would never cease to exist. Pattabhi should be knowing well. With over a dozen years behind him in the Hospitality business, he started off the Cookie business 13 years ago. His brand of cookies were priced 10 times as that of a normal biscuit, although such a comparison is odious. He continued his focus in the business and now has over a 50 stores across the country. Most of his outlets are located in prime locations in Malls and Airports. Many of them bake fresh cookies at the store and the aroma spreads all over. It appeals to the senses and therefore converts a passerby into a customer, a customer into a loyalist and a loyalist into a brand ambassador. However, there is indeed an opportunity to sell categories like cookies online, although they are restricted to gifting and occasion based purchases.

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In another panel discussion, Calvin John of Caratlane.com which specialises in the sale of jewelry products said that a customer has purchased 35 times in a few months from their site. And he felt that there were a small but growing species of “Click-only customers” who shopped extensively online. Jessie Paul, the convener of the event and also a moderator in one of the sessions confirmed this and said that she shops grocery extensively online at BigBasket.com, a Bangalore based start-up which has been slowly but steadily growing its online-only grocery business. With more and more people shopping online, it is all about convenience and discounts? Would the charm of shopping (at Retail outlets) dwindle over time? There are references to the West and how things have been changing in developed countries. A lady from the audience says that at Macys.com, sales were 37% of the total compared to just 26% in the previous year during the holiday season. And this was countered with a view that the sales increase was only during the Holiday Season when Macy’s was very badly organized at their stores. In India, the Books category was the first to succumb. Customers (in India) bought books online from Indiaplaza, Flipkart, eBay and the likes not just for convenience but also due to the generous discounts that were being doled out. But for those discounts, would customers have bought online? Perhaps yes, but a majority would prefer browsing and buying at their favorite books stores down the road such as Crossword.

The Internet Commerce business in India is still too small compared to the Offline one. As it is, Organized Retail in India is just under 10% of the INR 200,000 Crores market size. And e-commerce accounts for a decimal percentage of that. Although online retailers are showing double digit growth year on year, the business model is largely led by discounts and there is no hypothesis at the moment to prove that shoppers would still buy online at full prices, except for the gifting and essential categories. In my opinion, there is room for online and offline Retailers, But the bigger growth is offline, given the levels of broadband, internet and computer penetration in India. Payments gateways for credict cards, debit cards and Net Banking is quite limited too. In fact, I would place my bets more on m-commerce - shopping on smartphones which is still an untapped category. So, if you are a Retailer or a Brand, do build an internet commerce site now, if you already don’t have one. But remember, Retail is all about customer experience, and there is no better place than the store to demonstrate it.