The biggest challenge for most of us in our lives, especially for Startup Entrepreneurs is to learn from our past. We have all heard that it is perfectly fine for us to make mistakes. In fact, in my formative years as a Retail Professional when I worked at Pantaloon Retail (now The Future Group), there used to be posters in our office that it was “Ok” to make mistakes as long as you don’t repeat them and of course, one learns from them. Indeed I have made a number of mistakes in my Retail Career spanning 20 years but my specialty has been that I have gotten up back every single time after faltering with some amazing learning. And that’s what this article is all about.
It’s been in my mind to set-up my own Retail venture as an option for Entrepreneurship for some time now. From Education to Food to Tech to Product Retail, we (my wife & I) dabbled for a long time on which segment to choose. My only criteria, having signed up 140 cafes for Café Coffee Day and 160 Dealership Outlets for Royal Enfield (both of them all India) – I was General Manager – Business Development at both companies - was that the business I was about to build should be Scalable, Saleable and Profitable.
Among many other options that we finalized was the one retailing baby products – which is perhaps the only category other than food that has a potential sale 365 days a year and is almost price inelastic so to say. And that’s how my first startup venture Smiling Baby was conceptualized way back in 2013. While the business model was completely fool proof and continues to remain so even after 4 years, there have a few shortcomings as well. I took each of those lessons with grace and have become a much better Entrepreneur over the past 36 months.
Now as we enter in to our second phase, Smiling Baby 2.0 as I call, there a few learning that I have already implemented. I spoke about these initiatives at the recently held ReTechCon2017 at Mumbai, organized by Retailers Association of India, the industry body that represents Retailers of all sizes.
Among other things, the first thing that we have implemented is a truly “omni-channel” retail model. We already have one store in Chennai and are setting up two more in Coimbatore shortly. All the existing and future stores are connected together on the backend with the Retail store and a website (+ Apps) in the front-end. When a customer visits a store and looks for a product which may not be physically at the store but is still available on the website/app, she will still be able to order the item and it gets picked up and delivered to her from some other store where they may have it in stock. And all this within less than 24 hours from the time of ordering! E-Commerce, as a habit for shopping is getting better by the day in India and that’s been my biggest learning in my journey.
That Amazon has purchased Whole Foods strengthens my model of Omni-channel because that’s precisely what Retail in the 21st century is going to be. Customers need a product right there when they need it. While the e-commerce warehouses will continue to remain, it is all about effectively utilizing the retail store fronts which we have all built. The power of leverage is immense and we at Smiling Baby would stand testimony for the same. Watch this space.