31 December, 2010

Summarising 2010

I read through my own article written exactly a year ago and I was able to realise the positive energy around me these days. Indeed, Retail is back in action and retailers are glooming. Employees of various Retail Companies are busy, scouting new locations, charting exciting Marketing Plans and working towards the best Customer Service possible. After all, consumers are happier too. The first instance where consumers stop spending during a slowdown as well as splurge their excess funds is in Retail and it was quite clear this year. Large Retailers have reported between 15-40% increase in Sales year on year. While the main challenge in 2009 for Retailers was to bring consumers to the Retail stores, it was increasing the wallet-share that was the key focus area in 2010. I should say that most Retailers have been successful in this regard, which is clearly visible basis the current mood in the economy.

The year started off a bit dull, until the union Budgets were announced. Housing Interests once again fell down drastically, pushing the economy at a higher pace. Automobile manufacturers passed on additional discounts and freebies encouraging consumers to buy now, buy more! Apparel Retailers witnessed higher throughputs, largely because the shopping cycles had reduced in the previous four seasons. F&B and Restaurant players witnessed the “bill values” go higher since people were spending more these days than earlier. Large international players such as Spanish Fashion Brand Zara and UK based toys retailer Hamley’s who had earlier shown interest in the Indian market, entered with large stores in Delhi and Mumbai and are expanding across other cities. French haute couture house Nina Ricci and shoemaker Christian Louboutin and Italian fashion label Max Mara are also eyeing India, according to Boston Consulting. Marc Ecko will launch the brand in the coming spring in a partnership with RPG Group’s retail flagship Spencer’s Retail Ltd, which plans to have in place at least five international alliances next year. Yesterday (on 30th Dec. 2010), Carrefour, the world’s second largest Retailer from France opened its door for shoppers at the most unlikely location at Shahadhara, in East Delhi. "The opening of this first store marks Carrefour's entry into the Indian market and will be followed shortly by the opening of other cash-and-carry stores," Carrefour CEO Lars Olofsson said in a statement. Bharti-Walmart opened a handful of Cash & Carry stores this year at Zirakhpur, Kota, Ludhiana and Bhopal, with a dozen more lined up for the next three years.

Meanwhile, Indian Retailers have been keeping pace with the speed at which shoppers have been marching. India’s largest Retailer, The Future Group has opened several large format retail locations including Central Malls, Home Town, Pantaloon Fashion stores and most importantly, the company’s flagship Big Bazaar. At the India Retail Forum held in Mumbai in September, organized by Images multimedia, the father of Indian Retail Industry Kishore Biyani responded to a question and said “The biggest lesson learnt is we cannot be everything to everyone and have hence aligned our way forward accordingly”. Cafe Coffee Day, India’s largest cafe chain crossed an important milestone in its journey – the 1,000th cafe and the numbers are growing month after month. Shoppers Stop, Hypercity and Crossword, all part of the K Raheja Group are expanding in a frenetic pace to reach out to the upwardly mobile whose incomes have rose 10-50% since the past year. Spar Hypermarkets and Lifestyle Department Stores are also expanding in their own right. Every Retailer in the country is on expansion mode and the overall optimism seems to be surging high. Airport Retail took a different dimension since the commencement of Terminal Three or T3 at Delhi. The largest airport in India at the moment, the Retail spread is something that’s indeed worthy a case study by itself in times to come. PVR and INOX are determined to entertain more cinema-goers this year with more screens & multiplexes.

Alllll izzz Welll, one of the most popular songs of the year from Amir Khan’s 3 Idiots seems to fit well into the current Retail scenario. Atleast, that’s what everyone around seems to believe! After all, group conviction is the best way to win self-conviction... The year 2011 is expected to be a much better year for Retailers and for us in this business. My overall take is similar although I am personally treading with caution. As an industry, we have committed some expensive mistakes between 2006-08 and we should ensure that same are not repeated. With that, I would like to Wish each one of you a very Happy and a Prosperous New Year ahead. Happy Retailing... 

30 November, 2010

A curious case of Autorickshaws and Kiranas!

The prepaid queue at the Bangalore City Railway Station was long, but we decided to wait patiently instead of choosing one of the touts who were continuously stalking us. After all, many auto drivers have been waiting patiently notwithstanding the early morning chillness for their turn to pick up a customer at the prepaid counter for a long time. In our city like many others, the night fare (10 pm – 5 am) is usually 1.5 times of the normal and is quite well accepted. So the prepaid fare to my house was Rs. 200/- as against the more luxurious Meru Cab which we took during the onward journey that cost us Rs. 350. While sitting in the auto this morning, I was thinking about need and necessity. At 5am, all we needed was a transportation to reach home safely. During the peak hours last Saturday we had chosen a taxi – we had time at our disposal and didn’t mind paying a bit more for the comfort of a/c during the day time. Is there a lesson or two, I was guessing if one had to compare autos and kiranas. Just after sometime, the headline of a leading English newspaper claimed that 15,000 additional autorickshaw permits were being issued shortly and the total number of such vehicles plying in the city would touch close to 95,000 vehicles!

That’s a lot for a city of size of Bangalore, many would argue. I disagree a bit. It is based on the age-old principle of demand and supply, according to State Transport Commissioner Bhaskar Rao. The power of permit makes the auto driver a ruler. We need more autorickshaws to reduce the nuisance. Liberalising the over-regulated permits will no doubt increase their numbers on road but the good part is that it will also increase options for the commuting public. Auto drivers will have to oblige then, he said. Quite true. In the long run, with personal mobility becoming a compulsive habit and the acceptance of public transport as a sustainable and viable mode of commute, Autos will become more of fillers – running short distances and acting as the last mile connectivity – be it from bus stands or Metro stations while taxis could turn out to be the preferred mode while travelling from home to airport or railway station.

Cut to the real Retail Story. In spite of the increasing number of Organized Retailers, especially in the food, grocery and household segments, it’s quite common to see so many Kirana Stores coming up in smaller neighbourhoods. As is the case of “Bottom of Pyramid”, the consuming class is right there and is expanding its base as well as its propensity to consume. They are moving upwards from the Govt. run – Public Distribution Stores (PDS) to the neighbourhood kiranas whose regular clientele is moving towards neighbourhood Supermarkets, and in turn whose regulars are moving towards the large-format Hyperstores. However, all these consumers, when they need a pack of salt or sugar, vermicelli or Maggi, reach out to the neighbourhood kirana!

The case here is logical and comparable. When the product becomes a bare necessity, consumers would reach out to what’s close by and cheapest as a measure of time – the ubiquitous kirana while the monthly pantry filling or a weekend party shopping would be at a large format organized Super market or Hypermarket. The consumer is fully aware that one doesn’t derive the benefits of organized retail such as bulk discounts, buy one get one, and price-offs at the local kirana, but they know that time is of essence and hence reach out.

I have always remained a proponent of Retail FDI in the hope and faith that it would only do good to Kiranas as well as end users and consumers in the long term. Such anecdotes make our hypotheses stronger.

Long Live Kiranas; Long Live Organized Retailers!

22 November, 2010

Walk like an “Emperor”

“Show me your shoes and I will tell you how wealthy you are”, goes a saying. Indeed, it’s so true! This is one accessory that most Men care the least about. And the issue is specific to men. Women, as anybody would guess are so fond of their footwear and it’s also a coveted purchase for them. Men always had few choices – in India, in the early 80’s, it was Bata for “office wear”, and Power for “other uses”! The early 90s witnessed the entry of International Brands, initially through the grey market and then through Franchises followed by company owned stores. Today, the footwear market in India according to an IBEF Report is estimated to be USD 2.8 Billion! Since the dawn of the 21st century, the footwear market in India has taken a dramatic shape. There is fierce competition among the players and interestingly, prices have been steadily coming down, inflation adjusted. The Indian footwear Industry is expected to grow at 20% CAGR over the next few years. At present, the footwear market in India is dominated by Men’s wear that contributes almost 60%. Since the organized footwear industry in India has remained focussed on men’s shoes, the opportunity for retailing women’s footwear is enormous. At present, most women buy their footwear from nearby stores or mass markets with very few organized players such as Soles focussing on this category.

The Men’s footwear market can broadly be classified as formal wear (office wear), casual wear (evenings, outings, etc) and sportswear. While this definition is more to classify the categories, it isn’t followed so strictly by one and all, except for the urban male and a few of his counterparts in the smaller cities. The most popular, rather most advertised include “sportswear” and the target audience is clearly the youth and young adults. After all, it’s best to “catch them young, watch them grow”. And thereby Sachin, Dravid, Dhoni and various sportspersons, mostly cricketers are the brand ambassadors. Reebok, which has close to 1,000 stores (most of which are franchised) has a market share of over 50% in this segment – a rare feature when compared globally. The brand received phenomenal upcountry publicity after becoming the official partner for Kolkata Knight Riders in 2008, the IPL team owned by Shah Rukh Khan. One of the biggest strengths of Reebok is its design capability – apparently, the brand launches about 20 styles every quarter and prices start from Rs. 1,000. Adidas has remained focussed though – style and substance put together. While utility takes the cake, it is also known for its fashionable designs. Nike, the smallest player in the market yet among the big three predominantly focuses on various sports. Puma and brand digressions such as Levis & Provogue concentrate on the fashion segment. In the formalwear segment, Bata and its brands including Hush Puppies have remained the most popular across the country. Early 2000s witnessed brands such as Lee Cooper Gaitonde and Woodlands reach the masses with their popular designs and low-pricing. Florsheim, a late entrant took the market by storm due to various innovations including the stress free footwear range that starts from Rs. 5,000 onwards! The last among the batch seems to be Samsonite, the brand known for its sturdy luggages and suit cases which has been spreading its presence across the country. Footwear chains such as Metro & Mochi and Department stores such as Shoppers Stop & Lifestyle have their own private labels and are popular in the mid-segment which looks forward to latest styling at reasonable pricing. International Premium Brands such as Tods, Jimmy Choo and others have just entered the Indian market and have limited presence in major cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.

So, what’s in it for consumers? To begin with, a wide variety and choice of pricing! There are over 20 Domestic and International Brands operating in India, right from the neighbourhood to the nearby malls or speciality shopping areas. From as low as Rs. 1,000 upto Rs. 6,000, one can find reasonable footwear to suit the various occasions and activities that one performs during the day. The same set of footwear may also be available at a 30% discount at Factory Outlets such as Brand Factory or MegaMart, although it would be 18-24 months into the market with its design and styling. On the whole, for a little extra care, one can walk literally like an emperor! Keep Walking...

14 November, 2010

Much ado about noodles!

After much resistance, I finally tried the latest entrant in the market – Yipee from ITC. For the uninitiated, it is the brand name of Noodles launched by ITC Foods recently. While the launch saw a full page ad on Times of India a few days ago, the product was virtually unavailable at smaller shops. Reason: the brand had tied up with Food Bazaar for the launch, India’s largest Supermarket chain from The Future Group including the Retailer’s name in the full page Ad. JND – Just Noticeable Difference, taught my professor of Marketing at B-School was something that the brand had to do or rather outdo itself from competition. And that’s what Yippee has done too. To begin with, the name resonated with a start-up internet lookalike of Yahoo! Well, actually it isn’t obviously. Then, the noodle was a single twin cake, unlike others who have two cakes. And the most important difference was that it was not a cube! It was a small circular piece and looked different. The reasoning, according to many “experts” who follow this segment was that the Indian households cook noodles on flame and the “kadais” or the vessels that are used are also in the same shape. Well, the microwaveable vessels that are rampant at Supermarkets and Hypermarkets are no different – similar shape (if it was thought that consumers in the West used microwave to cook Noodles!). Well, Change is the only constant and so is the shape of the noodle.

But what makes Yipee different from say, Maggi from Nestle or Foodles from Horlicks? Nothing. All are noodles that are ready to cook and the category is getting increasing importance from marketers, brands and even Retailers so much so that this category is a favourite for many supermarkets to have their own private labels. The reason for this sudden popularity: in my opinion – speed of delivery. The 2 minute promise offered by Maggi two decades back won the hearts of many home makers and mothers and the taste of the wonderful product saw almost a generation growing up with the snack. I heard someone recently confess that during their hostel days, she and her friends would save some hot water (provided only during the weekends) meant for bath being used to cook Maggi in a vessel. Someone somewhere meanwhile founded “Cup Noodles” which needed just hot water to be poured in it to munch the snack readily. I know of someone else who has been having Maggi for lunch 2-3 times a week for many years now! Such is the popularity of snack that Maggi asked its “fans” to send their “Maggi stories” to the company and win prizes!

The only distinctive factors or rather THE factor among these many brands is “taste”. Now, this is a very subject topic, so to say. Taste, as they say is acquired by the individual over a period of time whether it is that of Coffee or Tea, Noodles or Dosa, Wine or Single Malts, Cigarettes or Cigars. So, when it is so distinctive, how come Maggi is almost interchangeably used for “noodles”? To a large extent, it is the first mover advantage that the brand enjoyed. Until recently, there weren’t too many similar brands in the space. There were ready to cook raw noodles from local players and then came Top Ramen from Nissin, Wai Wai and many others who wound up – atleast from competing on the shelves with Maggi. Nestle’s distribution strength ensured that Maggi was available right across the length and breadth of the country. In a way, Nestle changed the way we consume noodles. Maggi was the perfect “in-between” meal alternative for breakfast, lunch, evening snack, supper, late night, etc. (It is quite similar to the way Kellogg’s encouraged consumers to much Corn Flakes – but more about that later in yet another column).

There is fierce competition to conquer the mind space of consumers for top of mind recall of noodles by the brands. The good part is that the market is so large that the share for these brands would only grow in times to come. Look at the automobile market – ten years ago there were six brands in all and about 15 variants. Today, there are more than 20 car makers and over 70 variants and the market is only growing.  Maruti which had a market share of over 70% is still the market leader even today with every second car being sold in the country coming from its fold. But Hyundai, with its Santro made owning a car simpler, easier and affordable. I can imagine a similar state of affairs in this category too. Maggi was, is and will remain the undisputed leader, except that its share will reduce. Newer brands will bring more innovation (Read: Flavors) and the market would accept these changes faster. Who had imagined that a small pack of noodles, from the heartland of Chinese culture, popularised by the ever increasing faster lifestyle of the West would be stocked in almost every urban household today! 

The Head of Operations of a leading Supermarket chain (who requested anonymity since he is not the official spokesperson of the company) confirms that there is more than 50% penetration of noodles across the number of bills during the first week of the month when the pantry shopping happens. He also exclaims that the average pack size is 3 per bill which means the product would be for multiple uses or there are multiple users at home. Such facts only confirm the strength of the category! Whichever way, noodles are here to stay in times to come and the biggest beneficiary of the fierce competition is none other than “you” – the consumer. So enjoy the variety, happy snacking... 

02 November, 2010

A lot is happening over Coffee...

I remember very well my first trip on a Shatabdi Train. It was from Madras to Bangalore, an early morning train in Oct 2003. I was dressed in a blue tie with floral designs, a maroon shirt and grey trousers as I was heading for one of my first interviews after my first job at RPG Retail, where I had joined as a Management Trainee in June 2001. The urge to move into a larger role always persisted in me and during my younger days, I was more clueless about my career than I am today!  Back to the interview – I was heading to meet the big guys at Cafe Coffee Day, at that time considered as one of the upcoming promising retail chains in India, in the business of Coffee Retail. A new concept those days in India, there were hardly any coffee retail chains across the country – CCD in South, Barista in North India and a few local players, particularly Amethyst and Qwikys in Chennai. But for these, the cafe chains weren’t thought what they would be today – ubiquitous! Not that I had any F&B background or experience, except for the few months when I used to scoop Ice-Cream at the first franchised outlet of Baskin-Robbins in Chennai. The interview at Coffee Day went well, one round with the Heads of HR & Operations but for some strange reason I couldn’t take the offer.

I headed back to Chennai and in a few months joined The Future Group and came to Bangalore, with 4 bags of luggage and a heart loaded with wishes to make a great career and a happy living. Its over 7 years now since I have been in Bangalore and the rest, as they say is history. This column comes straight from the Club Mahindra Resort at Kangra Valley where I am camping for a short holiday. Dharmasala, seven km from here is famous for the Tibetan monastery and home of His Holiness Dalai Lama and also has a Cafe Coffee Day since early this year. I was proud to be there, with our boys who are providing great service to the hundreds of visitors and customers who pass by our cafe.

Cafe Coffee Day currently operates over 1,000 cafes across the country apart from outlets at Austria, Pakistan and Czech Republic. Started in 1997 as an internet cafe, the company has grown strong due to the vision of our Honourable Chairman VG Siddhartha and the hard work of the thousands of employees who have been with the company over the years, not to forget the strong consumer sentiment and the growing coffee culture across the country. Even as I celebrate my one year’s existence in this company today, I am extremely proud of what I have been doing over the months – to identify new cafe opportunities among Key Account locations across the country. Would like to thank my former boss and Director, Mr. Alok Gupta for identifying me for the job and for providing me the necessary resources and skills to perform in my present role; a big thanks to my colleagues and peers for supporting me all through; and of course a special mention and thanks to my most valuable team – I am almost nothing without their individual effort towards the success of our collective target. This is a humble “Thank you” for all that’s happened and that’s yet to happen – after all, a lot can happen over coffee!

12 October, 2010

Chitti wears Ray Ban, drives a Bentley, shops at Joy Alukkas & Lifestyle

Chitti, the Robot created by its scientist Dr. Vaseegaran (both characters portrayed by the Superstar of Indian Cinema Rajnikanth) in the tamil film Enthiran (Robot in Hindi) that is directed by Shankar wears Ray Ban, Police and other designer sun glasses all through. There is a particular scene where the two of them shop diamond necklaces for their common girlfriend at Joy Alukkas, a leading name in ornamental jewellery in the southern markets in India. And the villainy Robot drives a Bentley, ransacks a Lifestyle Department Store only to stock up everything that’s needed for its lover. The scientist and his robot travel in a Mercedes CLK while the scientist’s home is shown as an exquisitely designed villa. All through the film, the leading characters including Aishwarya Rai wear designer stuff, exclusively crafted by ace designer Manish Malhotra who shot to fame since the late 90’s when he designed outfits for the likes of Shah Rukh Khan and his contemporaries of the Hindi film industry. This is Manish’s second outing in the South after the previous hugely successful Sivaji (2007) which had the super-hit combo of Rajnikanth & Shankar. Meanwhile, Salman Khan’s recent Dabangg portrayed him as a Police officer whose moustache and Ray Ban became more popular at some stage than the plot of the movie itself.

So, what’s with film actors and Brands? What is the underlining message? Well, there are two, in my opinion. One, that the film shows the characters as having been “evolved” using the latest – be it gadgets or cars, clothes or accessories. Second, “brand placement” or “product placement” is seen as a great opportunity by many brands (including retailers) to create aspirational value. While the trend has been popular in English and European movies for many decades (James Bond and his love for cars and gadgets, for example), the trend has been on and off in Indian movies. I remember another Tamil movie “Tenali” (2001) which featured Kamal Hassan as a “hyper” patient who is scared of almost everything in life, portraying Toyota Qualis as a very reliable car when it hits the edge of a mountain wall and nothing happens to its occupants. Shah Rukh Khan in the movie “Don” (2006) sported Tag Heuer watches which became hugely popular among the relevant target groups. Most recently, Sonam Kapoor in the film Aisha (2010) sported trendy bags and sun glasses while also shopping at Delhi’s DLF Emporio, the most upmarket Mall that houses Dior, CK, etc.

But the big question is do these product placements have any impact on “consumers”? Yes and No. While there is certainly an impact on the consumers about the awareness of the brands and products, the aspiration to own them is limited, given the fact that most of these brands appeal to the top-end of the society. As much as a Rajnikanth or Salman fan who pays over Rs. 300 for a movie ticket during the first week of release would love to own one of those sun glasses, he just can’t afford it. And it applies to clothes, accessories, and even cars. So, do these placements atleast bring walk-ins into the Retail stores? Ace designer Deepika Govind feels not necessarily as those who wear designer stuff may not want to wear something that’s very common. “Such clients follow global fashion and hence do not pick up something off the shelf worn by actors and actresses that are available off the shelf”, she says. It could be a bit different for street wear as promoted by the likes of Hrithik Roshan or Ranbir Kapoor but the following is limited and appeals mostly to the urban audience. Budding designer Aarti Tibrewal opines that the characters portrayed by films stars have indeed impacted what the audience what to wear. “At the same time, the commercial success of the movie has much to do with the brand recall,” she says. For example, the Anarkali dresses worn in them movie “Devdas” (2002) were popular also because the movie was a box-office hit, while Aisha didn’t fare as well as it was expected to be and hence the follow-up was also mute.

Retailers like Cafe Coffee Day and many other restaurants and bars allow a lot of movie shootings at their outlets so the audience are able to connect easily with their favourite hang-outs.  While some charge the producers for letting their “space on hire” a few exchange it for the publicity they would derive. Brands, on the other hand use this primarily as a promotional tool, taking their product range to a wider audience. While the topic of “success on product placements” can be debated a lot, immediate results vouch for its success. A quick check at the eyewear counters of Department Stores in Mumbai and Chennai / Bangalore confirmed that there were a number of enquiries for sunglasses after shoppers saw Dabangg & Enthiran respectively. May not be the same for the Mercedes and Bentley though. Anyway, I am planning to increase my Ray-Ban collection, so what about you?  

02 October, 2010

A Retailer cannot be everything for everyone!

“I was an eternal optimist, now I am a cautious optimist” thus remarked Kishore Biyani, considered to be the most revered Retail face in India at the concluding day of India Retail Forum 2010 recently held at Mumbai. Not surprising, as he should know better than anyone else, for he leads the Indian Retail Industry with the highest recorded turnover of over USD 2 Billion in Sales from The Future Group that has various formats such as Big Bazaar (Hypermarkets), Central Malls, Home Town, Pantaloon Department stores, Food Bazaar (Supermarkets) and many other formats with over 800 stores across the country. Many other CEOs and leaders from within the Indian Retail Industry echoed the same feeling – things are much better than 2008 / 2009 but we should tread with caution. Consumer confidence is on the high, but that doesn’t mean we can open stores left & right, one needs to move ahead with all the learning over the past 24 months according to the Head of Operations of one of the leading apparel brands in India.

India Retail Forum (IRF) is the annual extravaganza organized by the Images Group that publishes various magazines such as Images Retail, Images Fashion, F, and many other collaborative efforts with leading international publications. Apart from IRF, they also conduct Images Fashion Forum and Images Food Forum every year. These Forums are not mere conferences but a place of congregation where some of the brightest minds participate, share and learn over each other’s experiences. The two day events are busy days, with back-to-back & parallel panel discussions and presentations from eminent speakers and delegates trying to network with their peers across businesses for professional as well as personal purposes. This year saw over 2,000 participants – not bad for an event that charges an entry fee of Rs. 25,000 per person which includes lunch and dinner with cocktails on both days along with an entry invitation to the Images Retail Awards – the most sought after respectable awards that recognize the efforts of Retailers.

The agenda this year too was chock-a-block. Over the years, the event has evolved and now follows international conventions where three things happen in parallel – the main conference hall with its speakers, the retail theatre and the ball rooms with their sessions and workshops and the all day exhibition stalls where various retailers and real estate companies showcase their latest offering. The Forum was chaired this year by Mr. Biju Kurien, Chief Execuitive – Lifestyle, Reliance Retail along with the Chairman of the previous year, Mr. B.S.Nagesh, Vice Chairman of Shoppers Stop Ltd. In his opening remarks, Mr. Kurien said that India is expected to contribute 7.5% of world GDP (PPP) and stressed on the need for increased investments within the sector to foster growth. Mr. Nagesh reiterated that it was important to focus on the product offering rather than showering discounts while also informing that controlling attrition would be one of the key tasks for Retailers. Mr. Vikram Bakshi, CEO – Mc Donalds India (North & East) shared his thoughts on the current trends in food retail during his opening remarks. This was followed by a detailed presentation by Ms. Ireena Vittal, Principal, McKinsey India in which she shared statistics about the current trends and opportunities in Indian Retail with lots of comparison to similar markets such as Brazil and China. This was followed by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) panel discussion on “Permitting FDI in Indian multi-brand Retail” led by its Chairman, Mr. Thomas Verghese, Chief Executive – Aditya Birla Retail which had the most looked up names within the industry – Mr. Kishore Biyani, CEO – The Future Group, Mr. Raj Jain, President – Walmart India & MD & CEO, Bharti Walmart, S. Sivakumar, Chief Executive – ITC Rural Retail, Ireena Vittal, Vikram Bakshi and BS Nagesh. With various thoughts being expressed by speakers, the unanimous view was clear and forthcoming – India needed investments urgently to support the backend and frontend of our Retail businesses and the color of the money (Read FDI or FII or any other) really didn’t matter.

The rest of the day and the second day had various sessions by leaders within the Retail industry and community and delegates were seen sharing an easy camaraderie with one another, be it over coffee or beer. I was part of one of the Panel Discussions on Multi channel Retailing, hosted by vCustomer which has been a support partner to companies across multiple retail channels. With a 4000+ global workforce deployed at its managed centers from multiple locations worldwide, they deliver 24x7 services to more than 75 global clients including 20 Fortune 500 brands and more than 30 retailers. My co-panellists were Mr. Sanjay Gupta, COO – vCustomer, Mr. Ashish Madhav, Director Retail CoE, vCustomer, Mr. Rajiv Prakash, CEO – Future Ecommerce, Mr. Manoj Chandra, VP Marketing - Bata India, Mr. Sundeep Malhotra, CEO – HomeShop18 and Mr. Neeraj Bhalla, Director – Whirlpool. The speakers shared their perspectives on multi-channel use for better reach towards their own consumers. My view was similar too, that Cafe Coffee Day was always at the reach of its consumers be it shopping high streets or malls, transit points or other non-traditional locations such as Hospitals, Colleges, Hotels and Clubs.

The most awaited session happened to be an interview with Mr. Kishore Biyani by none other than Mr. Shivnath Thukral, Group President, Corporate Branding & Strategic Initiatives – Essar Group, more famous in his previous avatar as the former Group Business Editor at NDTV, India’s leading News channel.  The session was indeed candid and Mr. Biyani was at his transparent best, sharing some of the very rarely heard stuff – that the group has made a few mistakes, learned from them and hence moved on, that he shops only at his own group stores and doesn’t shop at fellow retailers such as Shoppers Stop. He also admitted that the group doesn’t anymore continue its approach on being “everything to everyone”. We are no more so, he said while answering a question specifically and advised fellow retailers to think about it. This was followed by an interesting session led by Mr. Vikram Bakshi and Mr. BS Nagesh where selected delegates had an opportunity to grill eminent Retail executives including Mr. Kishore Biyani, Mr. Thomas Verghese, Mr. Ajit Joshi, CEO – Croma Retail and Ms. Vibha Rishi Paul of the Future Group. At the end of the session, each winner won an hour over lunch or dinner or drink with Mr. Biyani, Mr. Nagesh and Mr. Kurien to be mentored about the business.

The Grand finale was the Images Retail Awards – a much looked up event in the business of Indian Retail. The award ceremony, besides honouring the most deserving companies and people in the Retail Industry, had scintillating performances by singer Leslie Lewis and stand-up comedian Ash Chandler. The event was anchored by Mandira Bedi and Anish Trivedi. The IMAGES Retail Awards 2010 followed strict international benchmarks in deciding the top honours, with IRIS Retail Intelligences Knowledge Partner and global consulting firm AT Kearney as the Process Approver. The selection process involved self-nominations as well as a countrywide poll to short-list nominees. Over 11,000 consumers and about 1,000 professionals voted for their most admired retailers across formats and categories. The list of categories, awardees and nominees are as below.

1. Most Admired Retailer of the Year: Fashion & Lifestyle - Benetton
Nominees: Bata, Titan, Levi's, Van Heusen, Tanishq, Louis Philippe, Benetton, Reebok
2. Most Admired Retailer of the Year: Food & Grocery – Food Bazaar
Nominees: More, Easyday, Food Bazaar, Reliance Fresh, Spencer's
3. Most Admired Retailer of the Year: Foodservice – KFC
Nominees: Café Coffee Day, Mainland China, Haldiram's, McDonald's, Domino's Pizza, Pizza Hut, KFC
4. Most Admired Retailer of the Year: Consumer Electronics  - Croma
Nominees: Croma, Next, Reliance Digital, eZone, Reliance iStore
5. Most Admired Retailer of the Year: Leisure - Crossword
Nominees: Crossword, Reliance Timeout, Odyssey, Landmark, Planet M
6. Most Admired Retailer of the Year: Multiplex - PVR
Nominees: Big Cinemas, INOX, PVR, Fun Multiplex, Cinemax, Fame Cinemas
7. Most Admired Retailer of the Year: Mobile & Telecom  - The Mobile Store
Nominees: Uninor, Spice Hotspot, Reliance Webstore, The Mobile Store
8. Most Admired Retailer of the Year: Beauty & Wellness - The Body Shop
Nominees: VLCC, Kaya Skin Clinic, The Body Shop, NewU, M.A.C
9. Most Admired Retailer of the Year: Pharmacy & Healthcare - Guardian
Nominees: Apollo Pharmacy, Guardian, Religare Wellness, 98.4
10. Most Admired Retailer of the Year: Home & Interiors - Home Centre
Nominees: Home Centre , TTK Prestige, Rosebys, Home Town, @home, Home Stop
11. Most Admired Regional Retailer of the Year – Kapsons, RMKV
Nominees: Kapsons, Ritu Wears, Jade Blue, Sohum Shoppe, Total, Le Marche, RMKV, MK Retail
12. Most Admired Retail Launch of the Year - Cinepolis, Editions by Odyssey
Nominees: Sports XS, Titan GoldPlus, Golfworx, Head Quarters, Cinepolis, Editions  13. Most Admired Innovative Concept of the Year - Cinediner - Big Cinemas
Nominees: Moms Lounge, Spencer's Patisserie, Cinediner - Big Cinemas, Colours, The Collective, William Penn, Presto Wonders
14. Most Admired Retailer of the Year: Department Store - Shoppers Stop
Nominees: Lifestyle, Pantaloons, Shoppers Stop, Reliance Trends, Westside, Central
15. Most Admired Retailer of the Year: Hypermarket - Big Bazaar
Nominees: Spencer's Hyper, Hypercity, MORE Megastore, SPAR Hypermarket, Big Bazaar, Reliance Mart, Star Bazaar
16. Most Admired Retailer of the Year: Customer Relations - Shoppers Stop
Nominees: Lifestyle, Shoppers Stop, Van Heusen, SPAR, Apollo, Guardian, Pantaloons
17. Most Admired Retail Face of the Year - Thomas Varghese
Nominees: Raj Jain, Kabir Lumba, Bijou Kurien, Thomas Varghese, Govind Shrikhande, Rakesh Biyani, Vineet Kapila
18. Most Admired Retail Group of the Year - Future Group
Nominees: Future Group, Landmark Group, Reliance Retail , K Raheja Corp, RPG Group, Tata Group, Aditya Birla Group
19. IMAGES Award for Excellence in Retailing – KISAN SEVA KENDRA, HOME SHOP 18

Overall, the India Retail Forum 2010 came to an end with optimism coupled with caution among participants while hoping for a better times to come. Here's wishing all of us a great festive season ahead.

22 September, 2010

It was a Sunday afternoon and a lazy one at it. And that’s just when someone at home asks for a pack of NAN 3 – a health substitute from Nestle SA that’s given to children. Given that it is a product not available so easily and usually procured from Pharmacies or Drug Stores, no one at home is willing to hit the road and that’s when the friendly Kirana comes to remembrance. One phone call and it would be delivered in a few minutes, suggested one of the members at the household. The next minute, someone was making the call and the friendly voice at the other end was actually prodding for further purchases if the family needed something else. A few other items were included and it was promised the stuff would be delivered shortly. And indeed, it was. In the next 15 minutes, there was a young boy at the door with a bag full of items for well over Rs. 500/-. This can happen, most probably only in India. We as a nation are not yet fully used to shopping in a cycle – although we see major crowds at the large hyper and super markets, consumers miss out buying many things – either they are out of stock or they are out of their shopping list. This is very unlike in the West where there has been an evolution of shopping habits, usually during the beginning of the month, or even on weekends, well in advance for the week ahead. But here, most times we prefer the “just-in-time” way.
While the debate and discussion regarding opening up FDI in Retail has prevailed for long, there is little doubt that Organized Retailers could offer such services. “Free Home Delivery” is usually advertised at many Supermarkets like Foodworld, Spencers, Nilgiris and even a few Hypermarkets like Total, Food Bazaar but they all come with riders – that the distance should be within a 3-5 km radius, the total bill value should be above a certain level and that the delivery could take between 2- 6 hours depending on the day of the week and place of delivery. Naturally, since the cost of operating is far higher for Organized Retailers than the neighbourhood kiranas. The big boys need to maintain books of accounts, a mini truck or a van to deliver and a driver to drive (not to forget the maintenance of these vehicles) and many other internal processes. All these are negated with the local kirana. Depending on the level or urgency, the kirana is willing to deliver at the earliest and usually within the locality and most of them operate in one.
Cash & Carry Retailers (are they actually retailers?!?) such as Metro AG have been operating in India since 2001 and most recently Wal-Mart in a JV with the Bharti Group has been operating such stores in Punjab under the trade name “Best Price”. These stores usually sell their wares to the smaller kiranas, hotels, restaurants, etc. who in turn retail to end users and consumers. Since the large Organized Retailers order their goods directly from the brands and suppliers, they are able to pass on higher margins to the kiranas who in fact benefit from this exercise. This has been a strong point supporting FDI in Retail all along since many in the industry believe that it would do well in the long run for the Retailers, the Kiranas and the Consumers.
It is quite natural to see more deliveries over the weekends, festivals days and specials events such as Cricket Series and Public holidays as there are more people to consume at home. Not just the kirana stuff, even door-delivery of food and other beverages seems to be on the rise. Last Sunday along with the morning newspapers, there were pamphlets from atleast three restaurants in the area – all small time local operators. An A4 page size pamphlet cluttered with a whopping menu of more than 100 items printed in two colours on the back and front size. But who cares! As long as the food is tasty and delivered on time, nobody bothers. What’s important is not just quick service but the quality of products. Kiranas and small-time eateries take greater care while packing, transporting and delivering as these simple steps are their real “Brand Ambassadors”. If all three were good the first time, chances are they would be called again.
So, no matter how many large Retail formats open up in this country, one reason why Kiranas will remain in business is “convenience” – a fact that most of us live by.

Long Live Kiranas! Long Live Home Deliveries!

19 September, 2010

Creating categories – Way forward for successful Retailing

Looking at the eagerness of a family to see how a Compact Disc works was amazing – this was in the year 2001 at the Musicworld store at Park Street in Kolkata. The middle-class Bengali family was a regular at the then largest MW Store in India, spread all of 8,000 sft and among the first Retail Stores in India to be designed in bright yellow and blue by Fitch PLC. After all, RPG Management had wanted none other than among the best in the world to design their first and the largest music store in the city. Over to the family – they were wondering how a small CD with a diameter of 10 cm could play music with such clarity while the erstwhile vinyl records that used to be played on the gramophones were thicker, heavier and the voice clarity not as clear as this one. I remember chatting with my colleagues about this insight – that it is as much the responsibility of Retailers to create newer categories to grow the pie and what I was referring in this case was that the market needed more CD players, affordable and better quality, so more consumers could buy them and in times to come, would buy or should I say invest on CDs. Who would know that 10 years later not only my words would come true (in terms of cheaper options of CD players) but we would also have alternate forms of listening to music – internet, mobile phones, mp3 players, iPods and most recently I read Apple is planning to launch Watches!

Successful Retailers worldwide have created newer categories and introduced them to their core customers – usually first timers within the spectrum who could spread the good word around. Central Malls, a division of The Future Group that operates over a dozen malls in India has been the pioneer in seamless retailing in the country since their launch of Bangalore Central in 2004 (of which I was lucky to be an integral part of) is doing exactly the same. One of their recent campaigns is the “Kurti Festival”. Keeping the most popular trend, Central has launched a festival that focuses on the theme – Kurtis. As part of this festival, Central will have a mix and match section where customers could experience interesting pairing which would be displayed at the Malls. Kurti is a form of apparel – a mix of western-styled Indian-design tops mainly focussed on women. The basic difference between a Kurti and a Salwar or Churidhar is that the length in the former is shorter and the core audience are the teens and tweens (those in their twenties). While the Kurtis have been made popular thanks to our beautiful heroines in Bollywood and other Indian languages, the more popular ambassadors are the customers themselves. It’s quite common to see the college goers wearing such clothing as it is comfortable for their daily routine – travelling by public transport, self-drive in two-wheelers, attending many other chores during the day such as college sessions and mall-hopping, etc. A versatile garment, kurtis are an essential part of every woman’s wardrobe and they can create the latest fashion statement with funky styles like bohemian, bling, graphic, festive, floral, tribal, jig saw & many more. Women shoppers can create these styles by mixing and matching with different bottoms like leggings, capris, denims, shorts, short skirts and harem pants. Customers can twist their style at Central’s Kurti festival for a brand new fashion statement.

This is expected to attract more footfalls into their Malls and while the incremental conversions are high single-digit, the time spent by the clientele and their word-of mouth is as important. Many a time, these festivals indeed pull in additional footfalls and benefit other retailers within the Mall such as Cafe Coffee Day, McDonalds, Food Courts, etc. While many retailers keep experimenting with such ideas, very few succeed in pulling them off well and needless to say, Central Malls is one of them indeed. So, visit the near Central close to your and enjoy the surprises!

06 September, 2010

Show-stopper - Shoppers Stop!

There used to be a time during the late 80s and even early 90s when this part of Bangalore was the most preferred area to settle down for the older generation, mainly due to the lush greenery and minimal traffic. After all, why would any one pass through Koramangla – an erstwhile nondescript part of south Bangalore that connects the city towards Hosur, Chennai. Etc. However, all this changed, thanks to the IT revolution and what followed was concrete invasion. Large tracts of empty lands gave way to huge constructions – corporate offices, residential block and of course, Retail stores. In India, one thing is peculiar, if not common. It’s always the unorganized retailers who enter a locality sensing consumption opportunities. The Kirana stores that sell everything from tooth paste to grocery, the Hardware stores that sell all that one would need in their homes, from door handles to curtain rods and the ubiquitous furniture stores – large shell shops that stock cots and mattresses, dining tables and other loose furniture. After a few months, if not a few years of the area settling down with people, the Organized Retailers start swamping the localities. What’s natural is that when a locality is on the verge of getting popular (from a consumption perspective), most of the big players enter together, if not in shorter bursts, thus unsettling the small kiranas.

And the same happened to Koramangla as well. After a lull for many years, organized players started penetrating this area – RPG Foodworld (now Spencer’s), Monday to Sunday (from Jubilant Retail), Viveks – the Electronics store, MegaMart (from the house of Arvind) and most notably, Big Bazaar (BB), a Future Group concept. Interestingly, this was one of the earliest outlets for the now ubiquitous value-retailer in India, a mere 35,000 sft store that was supposed to be a Pantaloon Fashion Store! There was a last minute change in the concept and thus was born BB. The store is located in a building that also houses many corporate offices and hence parking for 2/4 wheelers weren’t too many. Anyway, value-retail stores were expected to bring their shoppers by Bus and thankfully, there was a Bus-stand just outside the store. Rest as they say, is history. This BB store attracts as many people driving their own fancy 4 wheelers as much as those coming by buses and autos and is supposedly the highest in terms of returns per sft, a key metric for Retailers.

The year 2004 saw the opening up of Forum Mall, the most notable Retail landmark in Bangalore till date and rightly so, located adjacent to Prestige Acropolis, a residential dwelling that houses the crème de la crème of Bangalore. The Mall has such a unprecedented opening that the U-turn on this road had to be removed, thankfully! The first outlet for McDonalds in South India opened here and without exaggeration, there were queues waiting outside the store just to get in and have a grub. I was among the last to enjoy the frenzy, when I first entered the store almost three months after they opened. The Mall had many other firsts as well, the largest stores for Fashion Brands such as Benetton and Tommy Hillfiger, the first Apple store through its distributor aptly named “Imagine”, the largest (then) foodcourt in town with over a dozen different cuisines, and the first and among the largest cinemas in Bangalore operated by PVR. The retail chain from the house of Tatas, Westside was the anchor and Landmark Books & Leisure (which was also bought out by Tatas) was another anchor. There wasn’t a multi-brand Department store and thus all the Mono Brands present in the mall perform very well. There wasn’t anything that wasn’t amiss and the Mall ably run by a professional team from the Prestige Group went to win accolades for their achievements, in design, tenant mix, zoning and most importantly managing the multi-level car parking, among the largest & the first in the city.

The area started getting a lot of attention from construction companies as this was the closest locality for those who were working in Bangalore’s own Silicon Valley area – The Electronics City. Real estate prices of land holding soared so high that the area was and still among the most premium residential areas in the city. Almost every Retailer has a presence in this area and the only brand to have multiple locations due to its business model is Cafe Coffee Day – yes, there are five cafes within a three km radius and there are two more in the offing. Recent retail concepts such as E-Zone (also from the Future Group) and Star Bazaar (a hyper-store from Tatas) have found their own spaces and are serving their customers quite well. The one Retail concept that was conspicuously missing was Shoppers Stop (SS), India’s largest multi-brand Department Store chain. And that too was fulfilled recently. While operating three other locations in the city and one at the Bangalore International Airport, the retailer took over the same location earlier occupied by fellow retailer and similar business house “Globus”. There were many reasons why Globus wasn’t doing well; many experts felt it was the location that was the main one at fault apart from the depressing merchandising at the store level. In Retail, there are three main factors to consider before opening a store – Location, Location and Location. And that’s exactly what SS has tried to revisit. They have chosen one of the most complicated locations ever possible for a Retailer but I am sure the decision was conscious and would prove to work to their advantage. After all, who knows this business as well as they do. The store is located in one of the busiest stretches in Bangalore, just ahead of an important traffic signal where the waiting time could range from 10-30 minutes during peak hours to crawl through a 300 meter stretch. Entering and Exiting the store is not just difficult but would need sharp driving skills. The store, which is spread across 40,000 sft is self-sufficient to that catchment since most of the brands have their own stores independently or within the mall close by. The well-maintained and well-merchandised store has almost everything that a harried customer needs, but for a cafe which I guess should soon be there too.

But why one more Retail concept for a locality that already has a substantial penetration of retail formats? Well, one reason is that there is no Shoppers Stop! The unique shopping experience that the Retailer provides is not just consistent across the country but also amongst the most superior in its own form. Secondly, when an area has as many shopping formats, it becomes a natural destination for shoppers. It’s not just the Retailers who benefit due to the presence of a large number of consumers but also the shoppers – they benefit from the wider offering that they are offered and not to mention the innumerous promotions and special offers through the year. So, lets hope this outlet of Shoppers Stop is indeed going to become a show-stopper!

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...