30 November, 2009

Braving the Indian winter – Best of Luck…

Talk of global warming and every one around seems to have one common observation – winter this year is quite peculiar with unusual chillness during the nights and sharp sun rays during the day. I felt this myself when I was in Delhi last week. Thankfully, I was carrying a blazer at the insistence of my colleague, lest I would have certainly caught up with severe flu. Delhi winters are famous for their biting cold – in India, that’s 2-3 degree Celsius. (which is not the case in the US or in Europe!). During the months of Oct – Jan, sales of winter related merchandise see an increase substantially and premium brands such as Benetton and Tommy take advantage of this by bringing some of their iconic international collections that are otherwise non-saleable in Indian conditions. Sales of cold drinks, colas and even ice-cream take a dip during these months and the Brand owners try several promotions to entice consumers to buy their products. While it is usual for consumers in the western world to have ice-cream during winter months (temperature sub-zero), it is not the case in India. I remember the long discussions that we used to have while I was in Bengaluru International Airport – to have or not Ice-Cream as a concept as the sales in winter months was less than half the average in summer months. Though it made business sense (the summer’s steep sales offset the losses in winter), it was always a question on top of mind.

Branded Ice-Cream market in India, according to various estimates is in the range of INR 800 – 1,000 Crores and the super-premium bit is about 25% of the total. Haagen Dazs is the latest entrant in the market with its Indian franchise partner and is expected to open its first outlet in Delhi in Dec. 2009. Although the ice-cream varieties were present in India through gourmet stores and restaurants since quite sometime, it was out of reach even for the discerning middle-class due to its upwardly pricing, that’s 2-3 times than its Indian counterparts. This is mainly due to import restrictions, like in many other products that are brought into the country. The history of Haagen Dazs dates back to the 1920s when Mr. Reuben Mattus, the founder, worked in his mother's business in New York, selling ice-cream in horse-drawn carriages. Later, he spun off the business into a company and named it Haagen Dazs. The business grew rapidly and spread globally as distribution logistics and popularity of the brand increased. In 1983, Haagen Dazs was bought over by the Pillsbury Company of the US. Haagen Dazs has a range of traditional ice-creams, frozen yoghurt, gelatos, sorbets and frozen ice-cream bars in its product range and is the most favorite ice-cream for the Americans.

The prevailing popular international ice-cream brand “Baskin Robbins” story in India began in 1993, when it opened its first store in Mumbai. Today they are spread across the country with more than 300 outlets in over 60 cities and catering to other premium channels like star hotels, leading airlines, malls, multiplexes and top retail chains across the country. The Baskin Robbins story began with two brothers in law- Burton – “Burt” Baskin and Irvine – “IRV” Robbins. Burt and Irv strongly believed people should have choice, so they offered 31 flavours - one for every day of the month. And they believed people should be able to try any flavour without cost - a belief that led to the iconic pink spoons. Their ideals live on at Baskin-Robbins even today, where they now possess a flavour library that consists of more than 1,000 ice cream recipes. By the way, I used to be a scoping boy at Baskin-Robbins in Madras 14 years ago – my first job to say so! In my experience, 7 out of 10 customers who tried the ice-cream actually bought it. Those days, a scoop of 33 gms of ice-cream used to cost INR 45.00. And the sales were not bad at all. The franchisee used to make us try a scoop everyday (on the house) so we actually knew what it felt like and we could convince our customers to buy them. That parlour shut because a flyover construction began on the road opposite to it and the Location which was once considered lucrative turned into a dead spot.

Ice-Cream in India is available from as low as INR 5. Many local brands – some even city specific have been quite successful in this aggressive, yet challenging market. AMUL, part of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation is the single largest popular Indian brand of ice-cream that’s available across the country while ARUN ice-cream is market leader in South India. McDonald’s single scoop is affordable available although only at a few places across the country. Walls, from Hindustan Unilever is the most popular packaged ice-cream brand, mainly drawn by the distribution strength of the core business. Nestle SA, which recently bought over the Movenpick Swiss Ice-Cream brand has not launched it officially in India although the previous India franchisee has several outlets across the major metros, many of which were shut due to poor patronage.

So, there are two main challenges in this business – Price and Climate. Even if one is favorable, there is no surety of success. And between the two, it’s almost impossible to say which one is riskier. Given the scenario, the big daddy of the business is venturing into India during the infamous Delhi winter with the highest price per ml. Bravo! I hope this venture takes off well, like how they have in many other countries. My sincere best wishes.

27 November, 2009

When LOOTing is legal and fuels consumption

This article comes after a long gap - mainly due to my hectic travel over the past week to the two most important markets in the country, Mumbai and Delhi. There is something very special about these two cities, the former is the financial capital of India and the latter, the political capital. (And all the states and their capitals beleive they are "the nerve centres" to the administration of governance in the country! hic). Both cities and their suburbs have a population of over 15 million people and growing! A great boon to Retailers of all shapes, sizes and pedigrees. During peak hours, the average time taken to commute from work to home and return is approx three hours in Mumbai. Both cities have the most terrible public transport systems which makes the usage of personal commute almost a necessity. So, higher sales of cars, car tyres and car freshners - with Godrej Ambipure leading the market with over 65% share. Delhi Metro is a saving grace and the new extension to Noida has been welcomed graciously by commuters. The influx of people from neighboring cities and states is so high that there is almost no control of who lives where.

The sheer number of people is such a great opportunity for us in business. While this is not specific to only these two cities, there is something special about consumers here. Most forms of modern retail were experimented here and have only proved successful that they have been replicated all across the country. And one such format is the Discount stores. Typically in Apparel and accessories. While the format is quite famous all across the world - even Hugo Boss sells on discount at Metzingen - it is quite recent in India - probably less than a decade. While it is a bit difficult to say which Brand/Retailer first established this concept, the biggies have been on it for quite some time - Madura Garments, Arvind Mills and other popular Indian and International Brands and smaller retailers. In the fashion apparel and accessories business (including where the brand is franchised), the franchisee usually pays the full cost price and buys the products from the Brand, on which he enjoys a margin of 20-55%. After the season is over (Spring-Summer from March to Aug and Autumn-Winter from Sep. to Feb.), the products must be marked down and sold as they cannot be carried over to the next season - simply because they are usually not the fabric that could be used. That's how the End of Season Sale or EOSS came in place. The average discounting for most brands during the EOSS is as high as 35% and what remains after the sale with the retailers is less than 10% of the original stock.

These usually remained with the Retailer for sometime until they were sold out. And that's where someone found an opportunity - to create seperate stores that could sell these merchandise at discounted prices throughout the year. If they were closer to the downtown stores, then the full-price business would get affected, hence they are usually located in the suburbs or outside the city. The stores are quite basic - no air-conditioning, no great fixtures and furniture, simple lighting and minimum staff. The cost of operation is very low since the margins are also low - between 10-15%. Consumers take an effort to go all out to shop as their savings in lieu of the effort taken is well deserved. One such Retailer in India is The Loot. Founded in 2004, this retailer opened its 100th store in Bangalore in May 2009 and currently has over 120 stores across the country with plans to cross the 200 mark in a year. This retailer roped in Bollywood's infamous bad boy Gulshan Grover as its Brand Ambassador with the store resembling doors and images of a jail. And the store aptly named The Loot with a rug sack pic along the main logo.

Last week, one of my cousins wanted to buy a shirt quite urgently and it was the only store located on the way while we were driving on the outskirts of Mumbai, at a place called Thane. Not that he was looking for a discounted product though, but we ended up here. The store has special schemes - Buy one and get one for free or Buy at 40% discount, etc. The store, which appeared like a franchised one had popular apparel brands such as Louis Phillippe, Arrow and other lesser known brands, and even stocks luggage, hand bags, belts, deodarants and perfumes. While my cousin had gone with an intention of buying just a shirt, he ended up buying a matching pair of denims as well... all in span of less than 30 minutes. And we were not alone; on a Sunday afternoon, there were atleast 5-6 families shopping together. We ended running a huge bill but when we walked out, it did seem like it was indeed a loot.

There are several lessons here - In India, families shop together. So, there must be something of interest to everyone - atleast to keep them engaged while the others in the group are shopping. Next, locate the store as close as possible to the consumer. If not for anything, they would end up just because the store is closeby or on the way. Adequate parking and management - a great boon to shoppers. Last but not the least, rotate merchandise as often as possible, what we call as Stock Turn. Even if it means selling at a lower margin, atleast the cost is recovered and there is fresh cash flow for new merchandise. Afterall, sometimes such a loot fuels consumption and brings back people seeking more.

15 November, 2009

Central realigns the city...

India's largest retailer, The Future Group opened its 2nd Bangalore Central Mall recently at JP Nagar. Until a few years a quiet residential locality, JP Nagar is famous for its various attractions such as the Hanuman Temple and Woodys restaurant. The 60 feet road is abuzz with a host of retailers over the past few years with Viveks (Electronics Retail) being one of the earliest occupants followed by Big Bazaar and many other stand alone restaurants and eateries. While residents in and around JP Nagar and Jaya Nagar frequented these places, the offering was not strong enough to keep the crowds engaged for long. This is where Central has done a great deal.

CENTRAL opened its first mall in May 2004 - THE reason why I moved from Madras to Bangalore. It was the first of its kind in the country then - a seamless mall that had the usually famous brands - regional, domestic and international, all sharing floor and (virtual) wall space - this was infact the highlight of the Mall. There were no seams or walls between the brands and billing was unified across the floor. So, unlike in regular malls, there was no need to visit various brand stores and end up multiple billings. It was more than a Department store whereas not the convential mall in terms of total floor area. Right from Day One, it was a superhit. The second Mall opened in Hyderabad in Oct. 04 and the third at Pune in early 2005. As of today, there are eleven malls across eight cities.

The new Central Mall, spread over 200,000 sqft has a frontage of almost 200 feet - along the main road and is a corner property. While the entry to the mall is from the main road, the exit which curves a bit finally leads into the adjacent road. There is adequate parking space for atleast 150+ cars and a equal number of two-wheelers in the two leves of basement. The ivory colored vitrified marble makes the floor appear bigger and larger than it is and so does the main atrium that goes upto the fourth floor. The toilets are spacious and tucked away in good corners leading shoppers across the various aisles. There are many anchors and mini-anchors - PVR being the leisure anchor, McDonalds for Food, Cafe Coffee Day for beverages and the spacious foodcourt and restaurants (that are yet to open) for multi-cusine F&B. These are sure to bring in regular footfalls to the mall. The ground floor has Ladies and childrens's sections along with the usual perfumes and jewelry categories. The toys section is quite sizeable and is sure to attract chidren and those at heart. The first floor houses ethnic wear for men, women and home - yes, there is a very attractive homewear collection which already seems to be a super hit. The Men's formal wear is also nicely tucked on one side and the spread of brands is wide and fresh.

The second floor is focussed on the Youth - the teens and tweens as I famously refer; those in their teens and twenties - a very important segment for most brands today. Reliance TimeOut that offers books and music is a surprise! Cafe Coffee Day is located next to the Customer Service area - great thinking by the Mall planners to keep those waiting for various services such as alterations, membership, etc. E-Zone on the other side showcases latest offering of electronics and home-needs. The third floor houses Home Town, the division of the Future Group that specializes on furniture and home needs. There is also a Food Bazaar that completes the family shopping offerring a wide variety of Grocery and household products. The fourth and fifth floors would have PVR Cinemas while the sixth floor would have food courts and restaurants. This is the only confusing bit - and challenging to bypass shoppers into the F&B  areas as also to redirect those who have watched movies into the food-court.

The building opposite to the Mall is BIG Bazaar. I was wondering how would it be to connect both the buildings - probably with a skywalk that cuts across the road. While this surely sounds exciting, it is as much impossible due to corporation rules and regulations. The Mall in general looks like Takashimaya or Isetan in Singapore with its wide alleys, choices and selections. A refreshing look on designs and images is visible all acorss the Mall with images that nicely depict the mood and reasons to shop. With these and more on offer, this Central Mall is sure to realign the centre point of the city. Over a period of time, it is not just the residents of neighboring areas such as JP Nagar (various phases), parts of Jaya Nagar, Koramangala and even Bannerghatta Road who would visit this mall, but even those from far-off places. The Second Bangalore Central,  Mall as the name suggests, would surely become central for shopping in this part of the city.

12 November, 2009

Now, buy your favorite alien!

While this was the most spoken topic among the advertising and marketing fraternity for over 6 weeks during and after the IPL 2009, the concept still lingers on in our mind. I am referring to the Vodafone Zoozoo – an alien like creature that made the most of the recent Indian Premier League (IPL) 2009. IPL was the brainchild of serial entrepreneur and cricket fan Lalit Modi, who hit upon his goldmine idea based on the various leagues and clubs that play different games, mainly football and soccer in the west. Team Franchises are thrown open for bids and usually, the rich and famous buy them for increasing their popularity and wealth, while also increasing their Brand/firm presence. Team members are then chosen/ selected/ bought after committing several thousands of bucks by their respective franchisees. The first IPL held in 2008 was a runaway hit in India, while the second edition in 2009 was mired with controversies – due to the elections for choosing the new Parliament, and security reasons, the franchisees decided to move the show to South Africa as the former Government refused to promise fool-proof security for the events.

Since the IPL was played outside of India, the excitement levels among fans and viewers was much higher – the viewership also surged quite a bit compared to the previous year, thanks to higher penetration, bigger marketing budgets and adding new viewers. Various Indian brands paid large sums of money while fighting for screen-space and mind-space. Among them, Vodafone stood tall and popular. Vodafone entered India in 2005 after acquiring a major stake in the former “Hutchisson Essar” that was owned by the Ruias of the Essar Group. Since then, the former trade name “Hutch” was slowly replaced with “Vodafone” all across the country. The advertising campaigns showed a humble Pug – with their most famous tagline “Wherever you go, our network follows”. This campaign also had its share of controversies – from animal lovers to organizations that support the cause of cruelty to them, (have you ever heard of prevention of cruelty to humans, children of sex-workers, orphaned/ handicapped children, etc. !!??!!) the rich, the famous, the unheard of and the wannabes, all trying their best to gain scores on their popularity charts.

For the IPL, the creative teams at Vodafone and their agency Ogilvy wanted to send a different message with a basic question in mind – how to increase ARPUs or Average Revenue Per User. This is the fundamental measure of the telecom companies and with an existing price of Re. 1 per minute for calls made across the country, each player was trying newer ways to increase their revenues. VAS or value-added services is an important source for these companies and that is what Vodafone and Ogilvy decided to focus on. And thus was born the concept of Zoozoos – an alien like creature that has a big fat potato body and egg-shaped head with similar features as a human – that could walk, talk, sing and cry. Through this, they were trying to convey the same emotions as a human would. These low-cost production ads (that cost approx INR 3 Crores) had no celebrity endorsements – a variety of telecom operators have always used and during the same time, Airtel was using Madhavan and Vidya Balan while Idea was using Abhishek Bachhan. When the new Zoozoo ads hit the screen, it was refreshing – the young and the old took notice of what was being conveyed (mainly in the urban areas while their counterparts in the rural/semi-urban areas found it difficult to comprehend). There used to be times during the second week of the IPL when viewers were so glued to their television sets that they were actually waiting for the new Zoozoo ad!

While the campaign did extremely well, sources say that it did well in terms of collections too. A friend of mine who works for Vodafone conveyed that in the 8 weeks following the commencement of the new campaign, VAS incomes increased by over 150% in the top 4 circles that the operator is present. Quite an achievement.

While the faithful pug remains so, the Zoozoo was given special preference – that they would be used in the form of Merchandise and would be sold. Shoppers Stop, India’s largest Department Store chain has got the exclusive rights to sell the Zoozoo merchandise at its outlets. While the deal was announced a month ago, the merchandise have already started arriving at the stores and could also be purchased online. At prices starting INR 299, this is one sure-shot hit among shoppers – of all age groups. And I am sure this is going to attract newer footfalls into the stores! Usually, when a new campaign commences at Retail stores, footfalls increase by 30% on an average. Am not sure about this one, but am sure it would only do good in the near future, for Shoppers Stop and fellow retailers inside like Café Coffee Day!

So, rush to your nearest store to grab the merchandise – whether to wear to college or to work on a Saturday, or to the tennis academy or simply to stay put at home!

06 November, 2009

GMR, GVK and air travelers in India

It’s already over a week since I moved out of the Bengaluru International Airport and an “Airport Retail” perspective, but I am still somewhat connected to the Travel Retail business as Café Coffee Day operates across the key airports in India. Indian airports are joining the BIG league with Indian corporate houses actively engaging into airport development as private partners to the Indian Government’s initiative of privatizing the airports. Since the last nine years, five out of over 75 airports in India have been privatized – Cochin, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Delhi and Mumbai. These airports together handle over 70 million passengers (out of 100+ million air passengers) every year. The Indian aviation industry has been growing at a CAGR of over 15% over the past few years and this is expected to continue until 2020.

Out of the five airports, Delhi and Hyd. Airports are co-owned by the GMR Group and Mumbai and Bangalore are co-owned by the GVK Group. The GVK Group announced on 05 Nov. 2009 that it has picked up a 12% stake in BIAL, the company that operates the Bangalore Airport from one of its promoters, Unique Zurich Airport. Both the groups are large Industrial houses with varied interests across Infrastructure, Power, etc. Both the groups have their promoters and their families actively involved in the management of the in the business and the family name is projected as the face of these projects. Together, they are expected to invest over 40,000 Crores (USD 10 billion) over the next 15 years into Airport expansion and development.

The modernization (work-in-progress) at Delhi and Mumbai airports shows the efforts undertaken by both the groups amidst stiff resistance from various Unions of the Airports Authority of India (AAI), the erstwhile operator of these airports, public outcry for loss of land & livelihood and political & bureaucratic interference in decision making. However, the outcome is welcoming to see – new structures all around, reconstruction and new construction of airside facilities including the Runway and most importantly, the Terminal Building. From curbside parking management to commercial facilities inside the Terminal, from lounges to toilets, things seem to be very well progressed in all ways. The choice of commercial offering is quite interesting – an eclectic mix of Domestic, Indian and International Brands which seem to be well accepted by passengers.

The four airports would handle over 60% of the total air traffic in India and the two groups are the ones leading this initiative. While Hyderabad and Bangalore are Greenfield airports that commenced commercial operations in March and May 2008 respectively, Bangalore is expected to initiate an interim expansion in 2010 with the surge in air-traffic. While the single runway would remain, the terminal building is expected to be substantially increased to accommodate the growth for the next 3-4 years by when the new terminal and the second runway would be in place. Hyderabad, on the other hand will saturate its Terminal space in the next 5-7 years and thereon, will also have a second Terminal and Runway. Mumbai will have its new and swanky Terminal for Domestic operations by early 2010 while Delhi will have the much talked-about and hyped Terminal 3 by the middle of 2010, well in time for the upcoming Commonwealth Games.

So, what’s in store for air travelers? A lot! To begin with, Indianness. Indian consumers (even air passengers in a way) are quite different from their western counterparts and this is clearly visible in their consumption patterns. Where in the world would you find air passengers enjoying hot Idlis and Vadas, Rotis and Rice or shopping for Diamonds and Watches at 7am? Where would you find air passengers enjoying a chilled beer with dosas and paneer tikkas or shopping Denims and T-Shirts at 7pm? Point to note is that most of such food is cooked and served hot – this needs a larger kitchen area than in the west where the majority of the food that is served is cold and from the chillers! If this needs to be done at the terminal level, adequate care needs to be taken while designing and planning the same. This is just the tip of the ice-berg; there are many more – higher capacities of electric power (since most of Indian food is otherwise cooked with LPG), seating space with tables (since Indian food is usually served on plates and trays), etc. And most importantly, the local identity at the airports – something that is sometimes loud, but certainly present at various international airports such as Dubai and Singapore. And a lot more to look for!

An Indian powerhouse is formed, claimed The Moodie Report, the world’s most read travel retail website while announcing the news of GVK’s strategic alliance with Zurich Airport. The Indian and International media have been covering this extensively over the past 24 hours (I get atleast 2-3 alerts on Google every half an hour!). More than the coverage and the usual media-hype, it is the substance of the news that’s more important for passengers. Like any other fellow passenger and as a representative of the Concessionaire at all the leading airports, I am quite excited about the upcoming opportunities. And I stand as a proud Indian today, looking at where the Indian companies are taking Indian Aviation infrastructure to. Jai Ho!

04 November, 2009

Grab and Fly

Air Travel in India is picking up slowly, but steadily once again, and this is visible in the numbers reported by International and Indian-origin Airlines and Airports over the last two quarters. For a 12 month period ending Sep. 09, over 90 million people took to Indian skies - that's a mindboggling 250,000 people every day. This includes departing and arriving, domestic and international passengers (pax.). 75% of pax are domestic while the rest are international - and that's approx. 190,000 pax. In this, over 40% fly Low Cost Airlines; that's over 75,000 pax everyday.

Low Cost Airlines have been confused with Low/No frills airlines in India. Globally, No-Frill Airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair do not provide many services on ground and on air to pax. Their turnaround time (duration on ground at the airport between a landing and take-off) are minimal, between 40-50 minutes per location and the aircraft spends more time on air (hidden from the public eyes) rather than being seen on the tarmac, more as an advertising and brand-building activity, like the Legacy carriers. Legacy carriers or full service carriers operate on a hub-and-spoke model - they bring pax. from several cities and pass them on different flights to other cities; and are those which provide a host or services such as check-in & security check assistance by ground staff, lounges for pax. of various seating classes such as business, economy, etc. and F&B on ground (in case of flight delays) as well as on air.

Low cost carriers actually focus on "lower cost of operation" which means leaner staff on ground and on air. These airlines encourage pax. to check-in before they visit the Airport or to use the self service kiosks rather than the manned counters which are fewer in number and take more time. Ever since the launch of Air Deccan, the low-fare regime started in India. Although the airline followed most principles of a Low-Cost airline, it was also instrumental in bringing the "price-war" between the airlines. Suddenly, the big boys were offerring throw-away prices that the common man grabbed with ease and hapiness. One merger, one take-over followed and a few closures are in the offing. But even these airlines may pull off with the increasing domestic air traffic. So, Low-cost airlines and Low-fare airlines are not to be confused really.

Aircraft food is generally abhored by frequent travellers (by popular definition, these are pax. who undertake over 12 trips a year) and prefer to eat at the Airport Terminals or outside. These are also pax. who are considered to be well-traveled and a bit more evolved than their counterparts in understanding and appreciating the Airport F&B offerring such as variety and quality, not to mention the superior Customer Service (in comparison to what was available earlier). In many parts of the world, it's quite common to see Starbucks, McDonalds, Illy and many international brands at airports which provide the continued offerring to its patrons. However in India, this trend is quite new, probably a few years now. The first few organized F&B retailing outlets were commenced by India's largest chain, Cafe Coffee Day - with outlets across over 35 airports, this is the largest Travel Retailer in India at the moment. Mumbai CSIA, India's busiest airport where I was passing through today has over 11 touch points across various locations.  Organized retail footprint at Airports was pioneered by Bengaluru International Airport when it was under planning and construction stages between 2005-2008 where Cafe Coffee Day operates three outlets.

With over 75,000 pax. who fly Low cost airlines which do not provide (complimentary) F&B on board , that is already a huge market potential. Assume 30% of these pax. would consume at Airports and if each spends INR 100 per visit, the total turnover is approx. over INR 25 lakhs everyday! And among the rest, if 50% of them, ie., 25,000 pax  spend INR 40, that is over 10 lakhs. And such multiplication (which is not complex) is anyone's guess while using some common sense and a calculator. However, the BIG picture is the impending F&B opportunity at airports. Today, more and more passengers, irrespective of whether they fly Legacy carriers or Low-cost, are preferring to consume at the Airports. Bars and Restaurants are added attractions and it is quite common to see pax. arriving early to the Airport to have a quick bite of their favorite food or to have a drink - one for the runway! as I always say.

With more and more newer air passengers getting added everyday, this is one opportunity that cannot be missed. And Cafe Coffee Day would only continue to lead the way!

Thank you, HR

It was a surprise to see Zoho Corp, take up front pages of leading newspapers today (20 May) to celebrate International HR Day. Seemingly, t...