24 May, 2010

Make it Large

While driving back home after my MBA Classes on Sunday evening, I realized I needed to buy a freshener for my Car. The nearest outlet where I could buy was the 150,000 sft Hypercity at Marathahalli, (there couldnt be a better location at Bangalore, given that most of the IT/ITES employees dwell in this area largely with annual household incomes ranging from Rs. 20-30 lakhs) that opened its first outlet in the city in March 2010, after four successful models in Mumbai and one each at Jaipur, Amritsar and Hyderabad. But would someone visit a hyper for buying a single product? Not really. But my visit was also meant to be academic. After all, I haven’t seen the newest entrant in my business in Bangalore. So I headed straight towards the store with loads of expectations. After negotiating the busy signals, I saw the store to my right side although a number of cars were parked on the other side. Wasn’t sure if they were visiting the Hyper though. Drove further ahead, took a U-Turn after half a km and drove back to the store. Mine was the tenth car waiting to enter the basement parking. The security was polite and there were signages that suggested the car parking rates (of Rs. 15/- for three hours) and that it could be redeemed on a minimum purchase of Rs. 100/- within the store. The store had two basement parking levels, enough to park over 150 cars. Bike-Parking, I noticed earlier was in front of the Mall, not more than 50 or so. Understandable, as most who visit Hypers carry more than 2-3 bags and wouldn’t be able to carry them in a bike anyway. Basement parking, while well-lit was vast and the new security staff were yet to understand the speed at which vehicles were moving. There weren’t any speed-breakers to control our Ferrarians and Force Indians (sic), a must in most of our parking lots. After waiting for the elevator for some time, decided to walk up the stairs and ended up on the northern side of the building!

When I entered the store, the first words in my mind were WoW. This was so much needed for Bangalore. With an existing dozen Hypers of such a size, this one seems to be another important location in town. To my surprise, the F&V section was at the entrance. Why surprise – because the fruits and vegetables could get damaged after the shopping trolley is full. Some logic must have prevailed the experts, I guessed. Further ahead, I found two outlets, one that sells Juices and then a Cafe Coffee Day. While the juice bar was almost empty, there wasn’t space to sit in the cafe (with over 8 tables and 24 chairs occupied). A cafe at the beginning of the journey? Well, some logic, I said. Next was Fish & Meat seclusion, well organized as there was almost no pungent odour coming out. But what happened when the trolley containing meat was brought out to shop other things? Just shut-up and put-up, I said to myself again. Next was a wide area with a signage that read – Wine and Beer. But there were only juices and dry fruits – possibly they are yet to get the mandatory license to sell alcohol. Then I found crockery brushing walls with homeware and plastics and electrical. Finally, I was at my destination – Car fresheners, although I was advised by the polite staff that they don’t keep my favourite brand Ambi Pur. Cheap and Expensive Chinese imports only, strictly. But its upto you, she said.

Adjacent to it was a Salon and a couple of eating joints – one that sells Ice-Cream, and two other small ones that sold almost everything that was edible. One of them was aptly titled “Nashta-Chai” – liked the name and was intrigued to see their offering. “Delicacies from the streets of India”, screamed the tagline. After asking for six out of the 30 item menu, ordered a portion of Bhel Puri, a typical delicacy from the streets of Mumbai and Kolkata. Except for the paper plate and plastic spoon, there wasn’t anything local to go by. Spinach corn sandwich @ Rs. 74, Margherita Pizza @ Rs 84/-, Cappuccino @ Rs. 39/-. And possibly the only local delicacy Bisi bhela Bath @ Rs 74/- and the ubiquitous South Indian Filter Coffee @ Rs. 29/-. What’s so local, I guessed. Probably the boys who prepared them with love and perfection were. No Bill was given, just a small piece of paper scribbled with words!

Impatiently, stood up to continue my tour, errr, shopping. The travelator took me to the first floor, which greets visitors with gym equipments, tread-mills and bicycles. My wish to buy a bicycle was still not achieved as there was no BSA or Hero cycles. Some phoren brand that I couldn’t relate to or agree with for cycling within the locality to buy vegetables and enjoy fresh air! The next area was Electronics and mobile phones. As always, this is the most crowded areas. I have stopped visiting these sections anymore – have vowed to myself that I would pester the staff only when I close to deciding what to buy – I haven’t even made my mind on the brand or type, LCD, LED, Plasma, whatever. Next in line was Home furniture, a miniature furniture bazaar with half-a-dozen model rooms. This section leads to men’s, children’s and womenswear. In between was Crossword Book store. What is the book store doing in silo? I guessed. Sssshhhh. Came the answer almost on the spot. There were a few seats where some were trying hard to browse through the books – No, the books weren’t sealed, but there wasn’t any light where they were seated. The cashier empathised with me and said he also had the same feedback. We both hoped that somebody would do something about this. Good luck.

After picking my weekly pick of print media - Time, Newsweek and Business India, I proceeded further ahead through the kids clothing, casually picking a small toy and a dress for my daughter. I was almost done and was impatient to bill and leave. While coming down on the travelator, I noticed that the homeware and crockery shelves were looking full. In this business, an indication of which category is doing well through the day is the disruption on the shelves. By looking at the number of “facings”, one could say how popular a category was. If those hundreds weren’t shopping anything across various areas that I passed by (except the avid book readers and enthusiastic browsers), then what are they doing? Bingo – here was my answer. Most were filling their pantry since it is the third week of the month and they would need to top-up the shelves at home.

Surprise Surprise – 6 out of 30 cash tills weren’t working (Sunday, 8pm). No more than 2 trolleys and their families of 4-5 could stand in each Q. I went past twice to find the lowest crowded Q and succeeded in one. Surprise Surprise again – on the impulse bin were six units of Ami Pur – the very SKU that I came to this outlet. With a glad smile, picked the same and billed along with other items. The Bill amount was Rs. 450/- (and magazines were Rs. 195/-). So, a total spend of Rs. 645/- for someone who came to buy a single SKU that cost only Rs. 99/-. That’s the power of Hyper-Retail. It is so compulsive, that needs would be remembered as one walks by. When I pulled the car off my parking lot, I realized that the spacing was adequate even is some car drivers hadn’t parked well within their yellow lines. But to my horror, the ramp-up was just 7 feet or so! The adept-driver-in-the-making in me was lucky to have pulled off unscathed, but it was more a miracle than skill.

So, do Hypers do well just by having a larger box – making it larger than existing ones in the market? Not really. What separates the BEST from the others is not multiple facings of the same SKU, 3 dozen cash tills and larger complexes, but really the way it is retailed. Hyper, as the name suggests means BIG and Wide. The variety needs to be really deep and wide. Across categories. My wish to our friends in the business – Make it Large, but not just the size of the building. To ensure, we spend money and time not just during the first visit, but every time thereafter. Wishes.

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