Sunday, July 19, 2020

WFH – Boon to Retailers & Brands

Many companies have advised their employees to plan WFH until end of this Calendar year. This means a good / happy news as well as a significant job loss for millions. That more people will lose lives and livelihood for the grave mistakes of themselves and the Governments across the world is a reality that we are staring at. However, the eternal optimist that I am, I can already see green shoots in certain segments of the consumer business. Some of you may recall that during my Webinar sessions in the months of April & May, I had referred to certain categories which is only bound to increase if not at least sustain its current business opportunity. Most of the daily household items have seen consistent growth even during the extended lockdown while Food related FMCG have shown tremendous growth. Categories such as Coffee, Tea, Sugar, Flours & Pulses have seen a spurt in sales for many brands while Retailers, albeit with a shortened operating time than before, are not complaining, thanks to consistent footfalls and increased bill values. 

However, what has taken many Retailers, Distributors and the entire supply chain by surprise is the huge surge in work-furniture for home and Electronics + Consumer Durables. We ourselves went shopping last week only to find that Godrej Interiors had completely run out of stock for 4 weeks, Home Town had absolutely no sight of when stocks would be replenished, over 40 customers merely waiting to enter Home Stop and hitherto B2B players such as Featherlite living up to the unprecedented opportunity and serving customers with their backend capabilities being spruced up. Traditional Furniture Retailers are not lagging behind either. Actually, I see many of the neighborhood shops doing brisk business with the highest demand for compact desktop / laptop chairs under Rs. 4,000 a piece followed by chairs that suit or double up for other purposes. I have also been hearing a few of my Architect-friends getting calls from their Business Clients to set-up / renovate their homes to be able to work. 


The other category which has been doing extremely brisk business is Cosnumer Durables, Home appliances and personal electronics. While Amazon & Flipkart haven’t resumed their deliveries fully across geographies, consumers are literally seen shuttling from one shop to another for want of peripherals such as computer mouse, headphones, Mobile Phones with 4GB RAM (to be able to take up Apps such as Skype & Zoom) under sub-Rs. 10,000 and most importantly, Laptops. I guess desktops as a category is passé – one, it occupies too much space and it’s immobile within the house as well as across users, which gives a push for laptops. 

In my own personal case, I had to wait for over 6 weeks to get myself a new MacBook Air, an upgrade after using the previous Air for 5 years. Thanks to good friends, I was able to lay my hands on one out of the two pieces that landed in Chennai after the recent lockdown. The folks at Apple India as well as Apple Retailers say with a grin that most models of MacBook / iPad are out of stock and there is no immediate visibility of their arrival into the stores.


With the State Governments finally budging for schools to conduct Online classes – the High Court of Tamil Nadu has especially allowed private Schools to collect 40% of the Annual Tuition Fee for the present academic year – Online Classes are getting more and more real. The state run “Kalvi Tv” in TN shall also showcase online lessons while every other State Government is looking at similar measures to ensure continuity of education. This further means more requirement of laptops, earphones and so on. That there is no shortage of Electricity at urban and semi-urban homes is a big advantage.

Smart Entrepreneurs, Individuals and Businesses have lapped up this opportunity. A second-degree associate of mine who was retrenched by his employer, a Hardware Engineer with 10+ years of experience has taken up direct sale of Laptops to Corporates making a neat 4-5% commission on the purchase value. He claims his income, although a temporary one is lesser than what he used to make in his previous job while he reconciles that he is unsure how long this would go on – his parallel entrepreneurship and the Corona lockdown. Whichever way, make hay while the sun shines is the way forward I guess. 

Meanwhile, traditional retailers in both these categories are indeed an aggrieved lot. For Example, the Founder of a family business which is in to Electronics for the past 2 decades has been adamant on downsizing his margins for want of volumes. He claims that this one-off discounting model on gadgets such as Iron boxes, Personal Shaving Equipment (for men) and other household items such as mixer grinders and refrigerators will hurt the business once the challenges are over, especially around Deepavali 2020. What he doesn’t realize is whether he would be operational until then, running 20+ stores across the state, employing over 300 people and a joint family of 4 siblings and their wards. 


In another instance, a proprietary furniture dealer near my home refused to entertain any sort of reduction on Chairs claiming that these items were already on high demand and that he sees no reasons why they should be sold at lower prices. That there are literally 100s of furniture shops around is something the gentleman should realize soon. Maybe, he wouldn’t. 

I am actually planning to write a book which would go by the name “Corona Millionaires” which could be release in 24 months or so. No, I am not referring to the likes of billionaire Shri. Mukesh Ambani and his ilk. I am referring to common people like you and me – who found this crisis as the biggest business opportunity of their lives. May be a Netflix original too. It could rake in more money than what many Entrepreneurs would make during this crisis.

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