24 December, 2013

‘Santa’stic Holiday Shopping!

Santa Claus is a symbol of positivity and cheer, is well known. But he has been used as a constant Brand Ambassador by Retailers all over the world for quite many years now. Retail Stores use various displays of Santa at their precincts – some use static images and some use real men (or women) as real life Santas who give away candy bars and chocolates, goodies and gifts to children and elders who pass by the store. Santa is a global symbol of mass Retail Advertising, I would say. From Brown Goods to Apparel, all Retail formats use Santa in their copy some way or the other to connect with their audience and to bring the relevance of shopping during this season.

Afterall, Christmas is not just a religious festival, not atleast in India, one of the most secular countries in the world which embraces all forms of worship in its country. While it may be rare to have a Masjid, a Temple and a Church to share walls, its not uncommon for people across religions to celebrate each others festivals. Diwali and Id are two other festivals which are celebrated with much fervor all over the country. Christmas is no more restricted to Christians in India, but to the community at large. Many Hindu and Muslim homes decorate their premises with small and large Christmas Trees and Stars in their balconies and order Cakes to consume with their family and friends.


This Christmas Season, leading Retailers have used Santa in their campaigns. Pantaloon Retail, formerly owned by The Future Group and now by Aditya Birla Group has a “Buy 2 Get 1” Offer on its entire range of products. Shoppers Stop, India’s largest Department Store chain with over 61 outlets across the country has a 20% cash back offer in the form of Discount Vouchers. While the offer is only for a limited period, it would promote future walkins and shopping due the Discount Vouchers being provided with every shopping worth Rs. 5,000 or more.

Pantaloon SSL

Its also a great time to shop for Consumer Durables. Chennai’s leading Retailer Shahs and Viveks are offering massive discounts on LED Tvs, Washing Machines, Refridgerators, Cameras, et al.

Viveks Shahs

Leading Brands like Apple and Samsung, surprisingly do not have any special schemes this Christmas – Diwali is probably a bigger festival for shopping personal gadgets. Now is the best time to fill your homes and wardrobes. So rush to your nearest Retail Store and shop more, save more! Have a Santastic Shopping Season. Merry Christmas.

03 December, 2013

Catch up Game: Organized Retailers vs. Kiranas

I join my wife every month for shopping grocery and household items at Food Bazaar, the flagship Retail format of The Future Group, which is also India’s largest Retail company. She is part happy that I accompany her in household chores, but she also knows why am I there – for my own benefit, when I get to observe how consumers behave within the store. I click pictures, tweet them and seek responses from friends and colleagues within the Retail fraternity. During my recent visit, I spotted a poster which said Rice Bags can be delivered to the doorstep if the customer chooses to. In the southern part of India, rice consumption is quite high. A middle class family comprising four members buy 20-25 kgs of rice every month. There are different variants in Rice and depending on their food habits, people buy appropriately. It used to be a common practice until a decade or two ago when Rice merchants would visit homes and sample rice to their customers at their doorsteps. After finalising the right variety, the merchant would deliver gunny bags of rice to the customer’s homes. Conceptually, the more you buy, the lower the price. So families would usually buy 2-3 months of stock at one go. And it was a usual practice to give credit for payments – usually a month’s time, sometimes even on installments. All this changed with the advent of corner shops and small grocery stores stocking rice and offering them in smaller quantities at an attractive price. With joint families becoming smaller nuclear families, the size of residential units also shrank. Which meant that the space to stock also was limited. Hence, customers started buying smaller packs, more often. To ensure customer loyalty, the Kirana stores (Mom & Pop Stores) also used to offer credit facility for customers.
Rice Delivery
Things started changing in the late 90s, especially in the South (of India) when Organized Retailing started taking shape in the country. Nilgiris was one of the first Retailers to set up a large format store that could accommodate over 10,000 SKUs. Foodworld (from the RPG Group) was the first Retail chain that spread its stores every 4-5 sq. kms in its home market in Chennai, followed by Bangalore and Hyderabad. Over time, they started imitating everything that the small grocer did, and 20 kg Rice Packs was a crowd puller. Foodworld used to sell about 300 tonnes of rice a month across its network and hence could get a good price from the farmers directly. Its huge warehouse in the outskirts of Chennai would sort, clean and pack the rice in 20 kg bags, easy to carry. In fact, the staff had targets and special incentives to just push the sale of Rice Bags! Such was the frenzy.
The trend has continued till date. Large quantities are always preferred by Retailers and Brands. Ground wheat known as Atta, the base material for making batter for preparing various varieties of Roti is another packaged commodity today across the country. Annapurna from Hindustan Unilever and Ashirvad from ITC Ltd. are market leaders in this segment. Salt, Oil, Corn Flakes and many more categories have taken the route to bigger pack sizes to show better pricing to customers. Diapers, in recent times is another killer category. Traditionally, Diapers were not being used in most parts of India until a decade ago. There were two reasons – one, it was felt to be unhygienic. Second, they were priced very high. Mamy Poko, a Korean brand landed in the country 5-6 years back and has sent local players such as Pampers running tizzy.
Rice Range
Organized Retail in India is still less than 10% of the total market of about USD 200 billion. But Retailers in the Grocery segment have seen their business only grow, despite the advent of more and more players. The reason is simple. Retail is a game of scale. The more you grow, the better you leverage your expenses. One of the main reasons why small grocers were unable to scale up was capital. And the reason why large Retailers like Spencers, More (Aditya Birla Group), Smart, Heritage Fresh and the controversial Subiksha that went bust and many more Hypermarkets such as Star India Bazaar (from TATA Trent), Hypercity (K Raheja Corporation) and Spar are facing the heat, is due to their inability to meet customer’s expectations mainly through right merchandising, stocking and pricing. 
I wonder sometimes, who is playing catch-up, whether it is the Kiranas or Retailers. Both have a lot to learn from each other. And there is no reason why both cannot succeed in India in times to come. The key here is adaptability.

21 November, 2013

Brewing Cheer with Beer!

I recently happened to meet Rahul Singh, Founder and CEO of “The Beer Café”, an upcoming chain in Delhi NCR, based out of Gurgaon. Rahul comes across as an affable person, having spent over 20 years in the Indian Retail Industry. Before turning entrepreneur, Rahul was working for Reebok as Executive Director and was responsible for sourcing apparel for domestic as well as export markets. An electrifying guy, Rahul seems to have a natural flair for entrepreneurship. It was a chance meeting to discuss a business proposition but turned out to be a very engaging 90 minutes one on one. Prior to The Beer Café, Rahul  was responsible for creating the first ever indoor Golf centre along with F&B and Entertainment at Gurgaon, at the upscale Ambience Mall.


I couldn’t resist but to ask Rahul how many months did he take to come up with the idea of a Beer only place. He was quick to retort saying that it took him just two months! I loved the way he simplified his method of narrowing down the concept. According to Rahul, there are three broad categories in the F&B Business – Fine Dine, Quick Service and Fast Food. He chose the Fast Food model. Within that, there were two options – to focus on food or beverage and he chose the latter. And within Beverages (read Coffee Café chains like Café Coffee Day, Barista, Costa Coffee, Gloria Jeans and Starbucks which have more than 2,000 cafes in India), he chose cold beverages and that’s how the idea of Beer Café was born. Simple idea that relies on classy execution.

Rahul wants his chain to be the CCD of beer and conversations. Alcohol frees up the mind and the soul and today, one has fewer choices to consume a pint of beer, either at a restaurant or at a Pub (home parties are a limited choice though). So, he wanted to set-up Beer Cafes in convenient locations where people could drop by with their friends or colleagues at work for a quick chat or a relaxed conversation.


The Beer Café now has over 11 locations within Delhi/NCR and would have about 30 operational outlets within the next three months! With VC funding coming in, Rahul hopes to grow the café network substantially over the next couple of months. His only gripe: Real estate costs of First World with consumer spends of Third World. Every Retailer would agree to this quote. Operating Costs, especially store rentals are extremely high and staff attrition is another big challenge. Rahul is now looking for an able COO to run the business, so he could take a bigger role in managing Strategy and Expansion.

The café is very appealing, with bright lights and a friendly attitude of staff. On a weekday evening when I passed by at the Beer Café at the Ambience Mall at Gurgaon, there were many who were having a good time seemingly. And many more would be in times to come.

07 November, 2013

Should Cafes Advertise?

I came across two special offers by India’s leading café chains Café Coffee Day and Barista today. One was through a email campaign – Buy One (Cappuccino), Get One Free. And the other was on newspapers – a combo offer of a Cappuccino and Egg Wrap at a discount of over 35%. And this was not an isolated case – both these café chains have been advertising in the mainline media for quite a while now and have also been continuously offering discounts over the past couple of months on their products. And all this for attracting footfalls into their cafes. with the onslaught of new café chains such as Starbucks over the recent months and those such as Gloria Jeans, Costa Coffee and other regional café chains, this space has been witnessing active poaching of customers. However, the regulars haven’s shifted loyalty, and that’s in the proof of the pudding. If that were the case, monthly sales of these chains fluctuate quite much, which has not been the case.


The biggest effort for cafes, contrary to what we believe is not just retaining existing customers but attracting new ones as well. CCD, as it is popularly known has followed a deep penetration strategy in large cities like Bangalore (where it is headquartered), Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata. There are over 8-10 cafes of CCD within a 3 sq. km radius in Bangalore and all cafes are full with guests in peak times. Chennai, the hotbed of the South Indian Coffee culture has grown slower for CCD than other cities. That’s perhaps because the iconic Filter Coffee available in regional restaurant chains such as Saravana Bhavan, Ananda Bhavan, Vasantha Bhavan, to name a few are just unbeatable. The modern cafes also do not prepare the filter coffee and are more popular with the Cappuccino, the Latte, the Americano, the Espresso and ofcourse the cold coffee varieties which are difficult to replicate and are not easily available at other restaurants. Barista, which has slowed down its growth over the past three years and has focused on store profitability rather has been a pioneer of the coffee culture in the North, especially in Delhi. It has also been heavily advertising especially in conjunction with India’s leading newspaper Times of India about various offers.


So, this set me out thinking, “Should cafes advertise?”

The first answer that comes to my mind, is Yes, indeed they should. Every company must advertise its products and services through relevant media to their target customers. There are two kinds of advertising, I would say. One is the Corporate form; CCD came up with its campaign “sitdownism” a few months bacj which was an instant hit among the youth and was well appreciated within the Advertising faternity. And the other is advertising its products and services. But then, for cafes, in my opinion, being present in a locality is itself the best form of advertising. The store itself is an advertisement (and holds true for other retail formats too). Be it Malls or High Streets or Airports, Café are often point of direction or a meeting place. CCD at Bangalore Airport is located in a very prominent place such that no one can ever miss seeing it. Same applies for Gloria Jeans at Hyderabad Airport. However, At Delhi Airport’s T3 Terminal, Starbucks is quite tucked away and is almost missed by everyone.

The café should rather focus on the following to retain customers and to attract newer ones mainly through word of mouth;

  • Ambience
  • Convenience
  • Familiarity
  • Consistency
  • Quality

These are some factors which potential customers would consider before they step into the café for coffee and conversations. Most of them, even college kids who are the most targeted for such cafes do not like to indulge on products that are heavily discounted. Or would like to be seen in places which are positioned as being “discounted”.  I would wonder then, why do cafes scream so loudly that they have products which are “discounted” and gain adverse publicity. A satisfied customer would get ten more, goes an old saying. Cafes would do better in attracting newer customers if they provided top quality Coffee and other Food & Beverages to its customers with consistent quality and convenience (Read: Furniture, Sofas, Chairs, Plug points for Laptops, Wi+Fi, toilets) and make the place a familiar one for them to revisit. Afterall, cafes are meant to be the third alternative place after Home and Office and hence need to be the first point of recall for customers to walk into.

28 October, 2013

Chennai Airport is a sham(e)!

Even before I was part of the exciting world of Airports (in 2006), I have always been a big fan of the commercial opportunities at transit points, be it the railway stations or bus terminals, let alone airports. It was always a craze to have a cup of coffee at the railway station when we would go over to pick up our loved ones arriving from long distances, especially if the visits were made once in a couple of years. It was yet another joy to consume within trains – from Rajdhanis to Shatabdis to the passenger trains that would have hawkers selling everything from peanuts to guavas to oranges to chips and snacks. The joy of consumption during travel would somehow take over the joy of travel itself.

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I have been using airports for just over 15 years now. My first flight was to Mumbai from Chennai to attend a job interview with a leading Retail Chain, with air tickets being sponsored by the company. That was the first time I was inside an Airport terminal, although I have been several times before that to drop off or receive guests from the Chennai Airport. The airport was and continues to be an important piece of the growth story of the state (of Tamilnadu) as well as served as a gateway to the rest of Southern India. In 2005, when the Government of India announced privatisation of Airports, the most protests were seen outside the Chennai Airport, the maximum being only second to the city of Kolkata. The staff of Airports Authority of India (AAI) and allied agencies protested that their livelihoods would be lost if the airport was privatised. The Government succumbed to pressure; Chennai’s loss was to the gain of Bangalore and Hyderabad. Both the cities claim to be the Gateway to South India and came up with world class private airports in the outskirts of the city in 2008, albeit the cities have been growing faster in their respective airport corridors over the past 8 years. Mumbai and Delhi somehow managed to keep the privatisation tab on. Delhi’s T3 Airport Terminal, which is managed by the GMR Group  was built in record time and is now ranked among the top 5 in the world, consecutively for the past 3 years. Mumbai Airport, managed by the GVK Group built two new terminals for Domestic and International passengers and is struggling the political onslaught for space within its precincts which has been occupied by the public at large. Kolkata and Chennai Airports were allowed to be redeveloped by AAI and the work completed early this year with a time overshoot of over 9 months and a cost escalation of several hundred crores.

According to a recent survey by passengers on sleepinginairports.com, Kolkata Airport has been ranked 2nd worst in the world, with Chennai following a close third. What an infamy for a state which is considered the Detroit of India housing majors such as Ford, Nissan, Hyundai, Royal Enfield, Ashok Leyland, Hindustan Motors, MRF Tyres, Saint Gobain, Nokia, Samsung and many more! Chennai Port handles one of the highest loads in the peninsula. Chennai’s knowledgeable crowd contributes significantly to the Indian economy with Chennaites occupying important positions in the Indian Government as well as in global positions worldwide. And we have such a dud of an airport!

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I feel quite disappointed, first as a citizen of the country and then as a resident of the city to pass through such an unglamorous airport every week, when I travel on work. The facilities are poorly planned. The Four Cs of airports, Comfort, Convenience, Cleanliness and Customer Service are shameful, to say the least. The only saving grace is the imposing façade which looks attractive for those passing by on the Grand Southern Trunk Road outside, but nothing more inside. There are no refreshments available outside the terminal, save for a sole counter which sells local cuisine at thrice the price of what’s sold downtown and a small kiosk of Café Coffee Day. The check-in hall has two ‘counters” where one needs to stand and eat snacks or sip coffee, just next to a dustbin which usually overflows, as though it’s a sort of a punishment. There is no bookshop or any other similar offering around; the only thing that solves passengers’ woes being the complimentary newspapers. The Departure areas are even worse. The layout of shops and other convenience is so bad that one would rather not step in than feeling disappointed thereafter. Cookieman and Frech Loaf are the only saving grace in the mess, although tehir products are meant to be take aways rather than consuming then and there. No Foodcourts or QSRs, just a restaurant located at the far end of the terminal. Services such as Taxi Operators and Forex are abysmally managed, with long queues for taxis in the peak hours in the evenings with unavailability of taxis for passengers. Airside services such as baggage handling are terrible. There are only four baggage belts and checked in luggage may arrive anywhere between 15-45 minutes after you land at the airport. There are only four aerobridges and the buses which provide ground transportation from the terminal to the aircrafts are poorly maintained. There is no complimentary Wi+Fi within the terminals. The airline staff and security staff from Central Industrial Security Force or CISF have a similar attitude as those who manage the airport – one that is indifferent and unfriendly. After all, it’s not just their fault since there is no one to oversee how good (or bad) their service towards passengers is.

2013-09-30 05.58.39

I still believe there is hope. There is a plan to privatize the terminals through an open tender and the decision is expected to be taken by the end of this year with work to begin early 2014. Senior Executives from the companies which plan to bid had visited the airport to conduct a survey two weeks back were apparently welcomed by protestors from AAI, shooing them back not wanting privatization. But this time around, the Government doesn’t seem to back out. Hopefully, good sense would prevail and the airport would be handed over to a competent agency to serve passengers better.

An Airport is the face of a city and must display pride of place. It is the first point where international visitors to the country alight at. It is indeed important to put up a great one and maintain it as well. Lets hope.

22 October, 2013

Luxury at a Discount!

It’s a misnomer that Luxury Brands do not discount. Of course, they do. Just that they don’t do it so loudly and obviously as other premium and streetwear brands. Except for brands such as Louis Vuitton, Rolex, Mont Blanc, to name a few, most other premium brands promote discount sales, albeit succinctly. In most cases, they are not at their own stores but at cozy 5 Star Hotels, where the Brands hire banquet halls and quietly carry on with their business. Even then, they need to communicate what’s on offer and choose smartly created advertisements and place them on national dailies. The purpose of hosting these so called “Exhibition cum Sales” is to ward off the junta crowd, most of them being on-lookers. The moment the venue is a Star Hotel, window shoppers would think twice to drop over. It doesn’t look nice, quite obviously to take a public transport to such a venue. Secondly, shoppers still feel intrigued to browse and shop in star hotels, traditionally where luxury products are being sold world over, with India not being an exception.

The other genuine reason is also that we do not have high quality luxury retail spaces in India except for the DLF Emporio Mall in Delhi, the Palladium in Mumbai and the UB City in Bangalore. While there is a small hub by the name Bergamo in Chennai (at Khader Nawaz Khan Road), the RPG Group is coming up with a luxury destination in Kolkata. Apart from these, there are hardly any retail spaces that fit in to the luxury brands’ portfolio. And that’s precisely the reason such Brands choose 5 Star Hotels as venues.


Over the weekend, one such event was hosted at The Westin, Chennai. Prada shoes for Rs. 25,000, Fendi belts for Rs. 15,000, Gucci Wallets for Rs. 18,000 and much more. Yes, these are apparently discounted prices. At 11.30am, on the only day  of sale (being a Sunday), the room was full of discerning customers. Though there were hardly a few pieces in each line, most of them were being bought by those who had dropped in. Many of these brands are not available at Retail Stores in Chennai and shoppers have to travel either to Delhi or Mumbai or probably outside of India to get one for themselves. The smart sales team were even wooing visitors with catalogues, taking orders thereby fulfilling sales orders. The display of items was not as what one would expect in a Retail Store for such products, but perhaps suited well for the “Exhibition” theme.

I tried on the Prada loafers, size 11, but felt it was too tight. As is always the case, the prices were not mentioned on the items, be it wallets or shoes and many people who are price conscious would rather not dare ask for prices, unless they were sure to buy!

India needs varied Retail spaces. What we have now are either too large malls that cater to the middle class or star hotels that house Luxury Brands. We do not have suitable spaces for luxury brands. Malls chains like Phoenix Market City are cordoning off certain areas within the mall for luxury brands. Express Avenue, the only Mall of over a million square feet in the hart of Chennai has created a nice mix of brands. Its so secluded that regular shoppers don’t even pass by that side.

In the meanwhile, keep looking for advertisements in newspapers like the one above. You may be able to get a good deal on your favourite luxury brand in town!

02 October, 2013

No more EMIs for shopping

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has come very strongly against the ongoing practice of Retailers like Croma, The Mobile Store, Imagine, Univercell and many more in assosciation with product companies and Banks to offer interest free EMIs (Equated Monthly Instalments). Currently, Brands like Apple, Samsung and many others subsidise their products by passing on the margins to Banks in return for offerring interest free EMIs. Using a credit card, consumers can own their coveted piece of technology or household items by converting their purchases into convenient monthly payments instead of paying at one shot. Many people have bought their first iphone or other smartphones which offline and online retailers have been offering for quite a while. Believe me, it is indeed tempting. Instead of spending ₹45,000/- all together,  one could pay as low as ₹4,000 for 12 months without paying a penny as interest. Even though Consumers could have paid the full sum, they prefer to pay in instalments. The scheme has graduated many who were having feature phones and CRT Tvs to upgrade to a smartphone or an LCD/LED Tv respectively. 

So, where is the catch? Who bears the interest cost? 

Within the organized retail trade, debit/credit card penetration is quite low at about 15-35% at the max. Banks earn 1.25-2.50% commission on such transactions from Retailers. So, at a 12% interest rate on a transaction of ₹15,000, the bank could have earned ₹1,800 as interest. Instead, it gets only 2% on the transaction. The balance 10% is usually offset by the Brand which is promoting the scheme along with the Retailer. This is on top of the Retailer margin that the Brand pays the Retailer. Therefore, the real value of the product sold is much lower than what is perceived by the customer. The Brand usually doesn't disclose the discounted price of the product so as not to lose the value the customer would derive from the product. 

The scheme has been a massive hit especially among youngsters and first time income earners who are new into their jobs but would like to impress people around them with fine gadgets et al.

The Banks usually anticipate a credit roll over, which means the customer is unable to pay the EMI and therefore pays only the minimum due in a certain month and rolls over the EMI to the next month, on which the Bank earns 3% interest on the said amount. They make up the lost out interest here too. 

RBI is of the opinion that such schemes mislead customers about the impact of rolled over interests by Banks. The new Governor Mr. Raghuram Rajan probably also believes that these schemes promote unwarranted consumption thereby reducing monetary liquidity in the system. Among the slew of economic measures that have been taken since Sep. 13, this is a key one. Retailers are fuming. With the impending festivals eason coming in, Brands and Retailers expected a surge in sales. But this scheme has come as a dampener. Many middle class pople who aspired for their favourite consumer durable or furniture may have to put off their puchases or pay in full. 

NBFCs and private financiers have however been exempted. Bajaj Finserv which has an over 40% market share in Retail credit must be happy. But for availing the scheme provided by them, customers must furnish certain other details such as proof of income, proof of address, PAN Card, etc. So, there is still hope for Retailers and Customers. May the festival of lights bring hope to one and all and increase consumption. Consumption laeds to Growth. Retail prospers. 

30 September, 2013

Airport Retailers get an added advantage

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has recently announced that Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) are not allowed to carry Indian currency out of the country. Earlier, the limit was ₹10,000 to carry with them after clearing Customs and Immigration. This was basically some loose change to meet Food & Beverage expnses while in the Security hold area. While cafes and restaurants do accept prominent foreign currencies, even foreigners try to finish their Indian currencies while leaving the country.

What brings an opportunity is for Retailers to sell Indian souvenirs and interesting take aways which can be spent using the Indian currency.

Keeping this in mind, we had created a very large section called "The Spirit of India" at the Bangalore International Airport. Within this area was a designer boutique from ace designer Deepika Govind among others. One could buy scarves, stoles, jewellery, neck ties and many more before departing. There was also a bookstore which was operated by India's largest bookstore chain Crossword. The store had many interesting books that doicted Indian history, arts among others. I remember, the most sold book used to be "Kamasutra". Foreigners would take it as a souvenir and NRIs would take it as a gift for their friends who lived abroad.

The present rule is expected to be enforced with full force by RBI. If so, then this is a boon for Retailers to sell Indian products to those who are departing the country. 

28 September, 2013

Restaurants in Malls…

I was recently at Forum Vijaya Mall (Chennai), one of the newest in town. It was a Sunday and I was there for lunch, but the upper level of car parking was almost empty around noon, which took me by surprise. However, I was told two days later by someone who works for the Mall that there were over 45,000 footfalls on that day. The Restaurant that I was supposed to visit was located on the second floor of the Mall. As is usually the case, I checked the reviews of the restaurant on the Zomato app on my iPhone. Most of them had written good things about the place and its menu, not to forget their wonderful service. Here is a sample;

After such a good meal, the bill came to around 2500 bucks. "Not bad at all!", we thought, given the amount of food we had eaten. The service too was perfect. The waiters were very watchful, responsive and most importantly, proactive. – Amruth

A great place with tastefully done interiors and food! The options on the menu are limited, but every single item you are served taste good and also look really good on the plate! – Nandhini

If I have to be perfectly honest, there could not be a more unfortunate location to host such a lovely restaurant. A mall in Vadapalani is hardly any place for a classy place like this. Where venue fails, Salt takes North Indian Cuisine and gives it a fantastic twist, to ensure they stand out from the others. I expect much more of this restaurant in the near future. – Vaishnavi

Apart from many reviews, the one above set me thinking. Are Restaurants in Malls a viable option as compared to those on high streets? Are Mall shoppers the right TG for specialty restaurants in Malls? For the cost of operation in Malls, do restaurants make any money at all as a business option? When I spoke to the gentleman who runs the restaurant, he mentioned that the rent is about Rs. 65 per sft per month. Assuming they have an area of 2,000 sft, their rent per month would be about Rs. 1.30 lakhs. Add to that all other expenses which would be around Rs. 2 lakhs pm. On a conservative estimate of Rs. 15 lakhs of sales per month and an operating margin of 50%, the store would recover its expenses and have an EBIDTA of about Rs. 2 –3 lakhs per month. Given the way the outlet has been done, their investment would have been about Rs. 70 lakhs. So, the restaurant makes about Rs. 25 lakhs in profits (before interest and taxes a year)  and would take about 3 years to break even.

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On the contrary, business would be double, if not more were it to be on a High Street. There are a number of good quality specialty restaurants that are garnering those numbers already. So, why do Restaurants still prefer Malls? Perhaps, Brand building and familiarity. I don’t see any logical reason why someone would invest so heavily in a Restaurant inside a Mall and wait for 3-4 years to break even, when it could be faster in a High Street. What works best are for established brands such as Rajdhani, Sigree, Mainland China, etc. which have built reputation over the years and have hence chosen to be within Malls to leverage their brand value. For first timers in the Restaurant business, Malls are probably not the place to be in. This is not restricted just to Chennai but to other cities as well. I was at Chandigarh a few weeks back and they have a brand new Mall called Elante. I was almost alone at Chilis on a weekday evening, which is located in the same floor as the cinemas on the fourth floor of the mall. Restaurants in India’s most successful Mall, Select City Walk face the same fate – Restaurants are empty through the week with weekends being their only busy times.

So, what ails Restaurants in Malls?

Mall shoppers are mostly for spending time, probably window shopping. Conversions for Retailers too is lower than on high streets. The sheer number of footfalls make up for lower conversions and therefore helps Retailers and Restaurants. Unless you are a destination such as a Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, Café Coffee Day, Starbucks, Subway, KFC, Pizza Hut, etc. These are places which plan to visit and hence drop by. Eating out is way to expensive these days, given the cost of ingredients. And Restaurants are trying their best not to upset their clientele by absorbing losses as much as they can. But then, consumers are staying away from eating places on a regular basis, as was the case a couple of years ago. For example, a could of years ago, the neighbourhood area of Koramangala in Bangalore had almost 50 eating joints, a third of whom have closed over the last one year.

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Mall hoppers prefer food courts instead, which are usually pathetically planned. Mall planners in India somehow do not build large enough food courts, with thousand of chairs and a breathable exhaust system, that are modular and scalable as and when consumers increase. Instead, they try to lease all counters at one shot thereby not having scope for further expansion in future. What would cost around Rs. 600 for a family of three in the food court would probably cost over 50% more in a fine dine restaurant within the Mall.

Restaurateurs would do well to experiment new concepts first on the High Streets. That is where people frequent. There are no SCAM, errrr CAM expenses (Common Area Maintenance) on High Street Locations and no restrictions to close the restaurant at a stipulated time. The biggest benefit of being on High Streets is that the signage builds familiarity among customers over time. No wonder, there are more successful restaurants in India and the world over on High Streets!

21 September, 2013

Is there something as a Click-Only customer?

I was recently invited to attend the first edition of the Retail Marketing Summit Chennai, organized by Paul Writer, a leading consultancy which works in the Marketing space and advises various enterprises. The day was very exciting, with speakers from various Retail companies and Brands expressing their opinions. During the course of discussions, there was a topic which was discussed elaborately by the esteemed panel of guests as well as the audience. The topic of discussion was, whether there was someone called a “Click-only customer” that existed, who shops only online. There were ayes and naes but there was no single answer that could be fully validated. On the need for having an online presence and also focusing on the internet commerce business, Mr. Pattabhi Rama Rao, President of Australian Foods, which runs the Cookieman chain of stores felt that the market is too small at the moment on the internet and Retailers should continue to focus on the offline business by providing a better customer experience. In his own words, Man is a social animal and social interactions would never cease to exist. Pattabhi should be knowing well. With over a dozen years behind him in the Hospitality business, he started off the Cookie business 13 years ago. His brand of cookies were priced 10 times as that of a normal biscuit, although such a comparison is odious. He continued his focus in the business and now has over a 50 stores across the country. Most of his outlets are located in prime locations in Malls and Airports. Many of them bake fresh cookies at the store and the aroma spreads all over. It appeals to the senses and therefore converts a passerby into a customer, a customer into a loyalist and a loyalist into a brand ambassador. However, there is indeed an opportunity to sell categories like cookies online, although they are restricted to gifting and occasion based purchases.

2013-09-20 15.10.26

In another panel discussion, Calvin John of Caratlane.com which specialises in the sale of jewelry products said that a customer has purchased 35 times in a few months from their site. And he felt that there were a small but growing species of “Click-only customers” who shopped extensively online. Jessie Paul, the convener of the event and also a moderator in one of the sessions confirmed this and said that she shops grocery extensively online at BigBasket.com, a Bangalore based start-up which has been slowly but steadily growing its online-only grocery business. With more and more people shopping online, it is all about convenience and discounts? Would the charm of shopping (at Retail outlets) dwindle over time? There are references to the West and how things have been changing in developed countries. A lady from the audience says that at Macys.com, sales were 37% of the total compared to just 26% in the previous year during the holiday season. And this was countered with a view that the sales increase was only during the Holiday Season when Macy’s was very badly organized at their stores. In India, the Books category was the first to succumb. Customers (in India) bought books online from Indiaplaza, Flipkart, eBay and the likes not just for convenience but also due to the generous discounts that were being doled out. But for those discounts, would customers have bought online? Perhaps yes, but a majority would prefer browsing and buying at their favorite books stores down the road such as Crossword.

The Internet Commerce business in India is still too small compared to the Offline one. As it is, Organized Retail in India is just under 10% of the INR 200,000 Crores market size. And e-commerce accounts for a decimal percentage of that. Although online retailers are showing double digit growth year on year, the business model is largely led by discounts and there is no hypothesis at the moment to prove that shoppers would still buy online at full prices, except for the gifting and essential categories. In my opinion, there is room for online and offline Retailers, But the bigger growth is offline, given the levels of broadband, internet and computer penetration in India. Payments gateways for credict cards, debit cards and Net Banking is quite limited too. In fact, I would place my bets more on m-commerce - shopping on smartphones which is still an untapped category. So, if you are a Retailer or a Brand, do build an internet commerce site now, if you already don’t have one. But remember, Retail is all about customer experience, and there is no better place than the store to demonstrate it.

07 August, 2013

Expansion woes for Retailers

M&M 1

I have admired the way Mahindra Retail has built a respectable business over the past few years, ever since the launch of “Mom & Me” Stores in 2009 which sell mothercare and babycare products. In a short period of time, the company had built a massive network of 115 stores ( as on this date) spread over 10,000 – 15000 sft. primarily at residential locations in metros and mini-metro cities. The Brand has earned the respect and spending of thousands of customers for their friendly staff, wide assortment and excellent service at their stores. The market size for this category is about INR 40,000 crores and the organized segment accounts for less than 5% with small mom-and-pop stores taking away most of the business. Apart from Mom & Me, there is no other respectable national chain of repute in India other than Mothercare, which is operated in India by Shoppers Stop and kids wear sections of reputed Retail Brands such as United Colors of Benetton, Tommy Hilfiger, Zara, to name a few. Therefore, they had a massive opportunity to quickly garner market share within the organized space. Just when things were going good, they launched a new division in the name and style of “Beanstalk” which focused on Toys, Puzzles, Games, etc. While many of the Beanstalk showrooms were part of the Mom & Me stores or located adjacent to them, many were standalone locations in pitiable environments. While Hamleys caters to the upper end of this market, Beanstalk tried to bridge the gap competing with the neighbourhood stores.

Although scaling up evens out Fixed costs in the Retail business in the long term, it also proves to be a massive cost burden in the short-medium term. I guess, that’s exactly what happened to Mahindra Retail. Their swanky office in South Bangalore is spread over three floors, houses hundreds of employees and over a dozen senior recruits – from merchandising to operations to marketing and business development. While there were plans to reach a billion dollars in sales, the company could manage not more than 20% of that figure in the fourth year of its operation and was losing over INR 50 Crores every year. Obviously, the plot was lost somewhere and half a dozen senior guys moved out of the company over the past few months. The company also plans to shut atleast 10 stores in the near short term which are making heavy loses. As reported in The Mint newspaper, Mahindra Retail declined to comment on the specifics of the store closures but chief executive K. Venkataraman said in an emailed statement, “Retail Industry is cutting costs as a rule everywhere, and Mahindra Retail too does where we deem fit. Closure of non-performing stores, and some churn in management are unavoidable realities of the business, much as new stores and new management replace the lost ones.”

M&M 2

The biggest bane of Retailing in India is the Real Estate and Manpower costs which is what plaguing most of the Retailers. Ideally, the Rent to Sales ratio should be not more than 15-18% in the second year of operation but that is not to be. Manpower costs are enormous in the beginning of the business as most Retail companies believe in showing off a massive strength of show in its teams. I am aware of so many case studies from the west where frugal HR costs are the norm. But in India, we have cultivated a culture of large teams, each level overseeing the other and hence so many layers and levels. While Mom & Me is essentially present only on High Streets, a very smart strategy I would say (to keep Maintenance and allied costs lower which are a big takeaway in Malls and Shopping Centres), the unrealistic High Street Rentals are not helping Retailers much.

Mom & Me is not just a retail store – it has already cultivated a calibrated relationship with its customers during its short tenure and I am sure the company would tide over the current circumstances quite well. The challenge is whether to expand further to leverage fixed costs or to build efficiency with the current set-up. Would make for a great case study in years to come.

18 July, 2013

Car Care at its best

3M Car Care Center India

I pass through this outlet almost everyday but have always been on a rush. This time around, I stopped by and experienced first hand what they have to offer. I am referring to the 3M Car Care outlets which have sprung up across the country quietly but drawing attention from car enthusiasts and those who love to maintain their cars spic and span. These outlets are franchised and are managed by capable entrepreneurs who have an inclination towards the automotive business and customer service. Spread between 1,500 sft – 4,000 sft covering three different business models, these stores provide complete car care which include the following;

  • Car Detailing
    • Interiors / Exteriors
    • Corrosion Treatment
    • Films for sun protection
  • Car Care products Retailing
  • Car Graphics
  • Customer Engagement
  • DIY Bays

photo 2

I was warmly welcomed by a service staff who knew his subject well – he explained the different packages they offered and justified why they were expensive. There were already two vehicles which were undergoing treatment – a Mercedes S Class and a Renault Duster. I asked him how is the business doing and he gave a smile, meaning things were doing quite well. Location was not totally a disaster though. It is located on the Beach Road, close to the iconic Light House (in Chennai). Although I felt it could have been located more strategically. Another gentleman walked over to me shortly and started interacting. Introducing himself as Vijay, he informed that he was the Franchisee Owner of the store. He explained in great depth his interest in automobiles, cars and bikes alike and his love for taking good care of them. According to him, the investment on the store including security deposit is around a crore (though I felt it was quite high) and the monthly business was about 15 lakhs with a margin of 35% on Sales.

The customer lounge is powered by lighting wifi and one can use the facility while the car is being spruced up. Customers have written their compliments and feedback on Post-Its, which is incidentally one of the most iconic products of 3M.

photo 1

The company has taken up print advertisements recently which has helped increase walk-ins but what they actually need to do is much more – own the category and grow it too. The market size for Car Accessories in India is estimated to be over Rs. 1,000 crore, most of which is unorganized. Car Dealerships and private players like Carnation,3M, etc. have a huge potential, given the shoddy ways of getting your car done up at busy street-side shops. If marketed well, this could be a viable Retail model and is easily scalable. Like in many other cases, I see a bigger opportunity in smaller towns across the country where people take good care of their possessions.

For me, its about making up my mind for a 20K bill – sooner than later, I would be there!

16 July, 2013

Why Flipkart is not Amazon's competition

My former boss and CEO of indiaplaza.com K. Vaitheeswaran always used to say that the best business model on the internet retail space is perhaps without stocking inventory. In my short stint at this web company, which was also the pioneer of India's ecommerce business with the same name set shop in 1999, I added around 60 vendors in just 6 months who would list their wares-from designer clothing to everyday wear, from watches to wallets and so on. During the late 90s, internet cafes were coming up all around the country. To browse the internet on bulky 17" screens with a dial up connection that would take five minutes or more to connect would cost around Rs. 100/- an hour (and the prices subsequently came down due to increased competition and lower internet rates). Shopping online those days was a novelty - well it continues to remain so still I guess. The early 2000s saw a slew of players come and go and during the last part of the decade saw the emergence of the likes of flipkart.com, myntra.com and many others. These ecommerce companies or etailers stocked merchandise-large warehouses were set-up in the suburbs of cities and mostly internal logistics teams ensured last mile delivery. Most of them were venture funded and blew their investors money on advertising, PR and promotions. Some companies were spending as much as Rs. 1,500 for acquiring a new customer - while there is no global benchmark as such for this purpose, the sum would be recovered from the same customer when he/she spends atleast Rs.6,000/- over time assuming 25% Gross margins. Not an impossible task once the customer is habituated to the internet way of shopping. Sadly, of the 25% Gross margins, what remains is less than 1-2% and that too for smart and successful companies. Most of them, even today are reporting negative margins. Well, for any business it takes time to stabilise. Typically for product retailers, break-even happens between 15-18 months and much earlier for F&B retailers. None of the ecommerce companies in India of sizeable scale and repute are profitable as I write this article. And many of them are on the path to profitability. After burning millions of dollars. The good part is customers have taken up to e-shopping faster than they have taken to Organised Retailing. Retail Industry in India is about Rs. 400,000 crores approximately and less than 10% is fom the Organised Retailers. Led by apparel and fashion, the organised industry is seeing massive growth, at a CAGR of over 15% over the past 6-8 years. Not bad, while global retailers are seeing negative growth on same store growth year onyear. Amidst all this, the $61 Billion Amazon launched its India site in June 2013. Not much different than its previous avatar, Junglee.com which was launched with much fanfare in early 2012. Amazon.in is a marketplace, a business model where retailers, small or big can list their products and Amazon attracts potential customers to shop on its site with secure payment gateways and millions of items listed across its pages. The Amazon trust is expected to attract many more customers and in the short term, Amazon may also build large warehouses and extend direct sales to its customers, subject to Retail FDI regulations. And there has been speculation that sooner than later, Amazon would compete heavily with the likes of Flipkart. Within the online space, perhaps yes but not in the consumption space. The e-tailers have to compete directly with the physical Retailers, both Organized and Unorganized. They are the main competition for the ecommerce companies. Together, Amazon, Fipkart and hundreds of other sites would fuel up consumption using the internet. However, with low penetration of Broadband Internet and 3G on mobile phones, it is unlikely that this retail landscape would change drastically over the next five years. Afterall, half a decade is a long time in business...

25 June, 2013

Product Vs. Experience

A couple of days back, I was having a conversation with a colleague regarding Brand Experience versus Product specifications. He was of the view that a customer proposes to buy a certain brand or a product but the actual retail experience is utmost important to close the Sale. It got me thinking and the result of some intellectual head-scratching is this column. At the end of the day, it’s the product that the customer is ultimately going to use and may or may not remember the sales experience, especially for low-value items. In fact it may even qualify for certain high value purchases.

For example, Bose which manufactures some of the finest sound systems in the world  advertises heavily online these days (in India), about its products. They are usually banner ads and I find them all across – there is a certain way the online advertisers follow you (which I will cover in a subsequent blog later). But I wonder what kind of experience that Bose is driving while advertising its products online. For one, Bose is not bought. Bose is lived. In a sense that the experience of Bose is something that the consumer lives with during the lifetime of the product. Having said that, would a potential customer walk in to a Bose store after seeing the online ad? Probably yes. Bose banner ads direct the user to the Bose website. It is upto the customer thereafter to seek whatever information they need. And therefore, there is no closure of sale! Is Bose trying to popularise the brand or is it a sales technique? I guess it is the former.


On the other hand, Samsung advertises its most famous Galaxy range of smatphones online too. In this case also, the company is building the brand but the nodes (read Retail touchpoints) for buying the product are umpteen in number than in the case of Bose. For, a Samsung Galaxy is available at thousands of retailers across the country in comparison to a Bose.

While the online ad would build curiosity for a brand like Bose, it would convert more customers for Samsung. And these are just examples.

Read More: The Bose Experience

While at the Retail Store, when a customer intends to buy a mobile phone, irrespective of the store experience, the customer would choose from one of the four main Operating Systems – the Android, the BlackBerry, the Nokia OS and the Apple iOS. It probably wouldn’t matter whether the retail store is Croma or EZone or Reliance Digital or a regional Retailer such as Viveks or Girias or for that matter, small time shops that sell these types of phones. In this case, its just the product that matters and not really the experience. Ecommerce is playing an even more important spoiler for Offline Retailers in terms of snatching away customers. Is there a physical experience in online shopping? Not really. Indeed, there is a lot of science in designing a great website / webpages but that’s more technical. Playing with the layouts is a tried and tested way for online retailers to keep improving the shopping experience. But there is really no “customer experience” as such while shopping online.

There is no doubt that the customer would return to the Retail Store to buy a similar product the next time around if the experience at the store was extraordinary. Therefore it is indeed important for Retailers to ensure a consistent Consumer Experience at the outlets. At the end of the day, between product (availability) and experience, the customer would choose the product.

18 June, 2013

RIP Musicworld

music world

It was a bright sunny sunday, June 24th 2001 to be precise. I landed in Kolkata in the morning by train at Howrah where my former classmate picked me up at the Railway Station. The smell of freshly procured fishes welcomed me as we passed by the Howrah Bridge over the Ganges in a yellow taxi – the iconic Ambassador which still runs in the city even now. After lunch and a short nap, I walked down Russell Street towards Park Street, the most popular shopping alley in what was then known as Calcutta. At the corner was an iconic orange and purple signage aptly named “music world” – the main branding purposely in small letters to convey the casual attitude of the brand. As I entered the store, I was in for a shocking surprise. Over 8,000 sft of space allotted to music – cassettes and CDs. There were separate areas for different genres of music. At the entry was Hindi and Bollywood – the Bengalis loved hindi film music as much as they loved their own. RD Burman and Kishore Kumar, were afterall local boys who made it big in Bollywood. And so was Amitabh Bachchan who used to roam around Park Street looking for a suitable career over 50 years ago. The influence of Western Music was notable on Bengalis – From Carpentars to Led Zep, from Michael Jackson to Madonna, people here listened to all forms of music. Regional Music – Bengali language was located at the far end of the store along with some titles from other parts of the country such as Tamil, Kannada and Telugu. Rabindrasangeet, the music compositions of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore sung by various artists had a separate section. This was the largest music store in the country.  And I was going to be managing the store from the next day onwards! Whoa! I was so excited.

Life at MW as it was called was pretty cool. The store would open for business around 10am and would close by 8.30pm as per local government norms. Customers would slowly start trickling in the morning, typically housewives and retired people and a number of NRIs who were on vacation in town. College goers and those who work in offices nearby would peep in during lunch hours before or after having a delicious meal at one of the restaurants on Park Street. Evenings would be college goers and music enthusiasts. In 2001, the store used to clock a sale of Rs. One Lakh per day selling music cassettes worth Rs. 35-55 each. DVDs were slowly growing then, and Video Games were starting to become a rage among the young and old slowly. Need for Speed was the most sold video game of those days. The RPG Group which was the company that owned musicworld launched with much fanfare “Hamara CD”, a kiosk which can create a customised CD of songs from across their extensive catalogue. The concept took off well though the prohibitive price of about Rs. 350/- per CD was too much of an ask and a deterrent to growth. Eventually, it died a natural death.  There were so many album releases and launches almost every other day. It was great interacting with the guests, notably of them included Sourav Ganguly who had come for a music album launch and Diya Mirza who had come to promote her film “Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein” (RHTDM, which was originaly made in Tamil as Minnale). Artist visits and Launches would culminate with a High Tea at the Flurys next door, one of the oldest and most respected Cakes and Pastries shop in the country. I had a great team to work with and each member knew their job so well. In fact I am still in touch with a couple of them and one of them has stayed back with the same store till date – for over 14 years!

Dada MW

Even during those days, I was of the opinion that music would become free sooner than later. And to promote music, we had to promote music players and alternate sources which could play music. Early 2000s were the time computers were beginning to become a part of our corporate lives. Thick cardboard files were replaced by Floppy Disks carrying 20 times the data and which could fit in easily in a shirt pocket. CDs were just about to be gaining popularity. MP3 was a fairly unheard of format then. I remember discussing in various internal meetings that the company should sell music players along with music Cassettes and CDs. Naturally, as a freshly passed out Management Graduate from a Business School, my pleas fell onto deaf ears. I believed that unless we promoted CD players – the huge decks and portable ones, there was no chance that we were going to sell more CDs. I had already sensed that cassettes would see their end sooner than later and the next big wave was hearing music on computers and laptops. Almost every single senior that I interacted with laughed me off. I also suggested that we entered the Mall way of retailing – Rahul Saraf, the promoter of the first organized Mall in Kolkata, The Forum approached me to discuss a proposal to set-up a MW outlet within. My proposal was beaten down by the Management saying that Calcuttans would not shop at Malls and would rather prefer local markets at Ballygunge or Explanade. MW entered Malls much later but by then, music was already available in various other formats across devices. Sadly, the business declined slowly and it was recently announced that the curtains would permanently come down by the end of June 2013.

I don’t fully agree that piracy alone is the reason for the decline of the Music Industry. It is also because the industry failed to keep up with the technological advancements. I was recently reading on Forbes India about Alok Kejriwal of Games2Win and his Indian experiences when he tried to come up with wonderful ideas in the mobile telephony space. He was the one who successfully pioneered the concept of Caller Tunes in India – one could send an SMS and get a caller tune and have it stored in their mobile phone. As he painfully explains, the mobile operators wanted to charge a premium for the service and also a lions’ share of profits from the venture rather than making the concept popular. Similarly, the Hamara CD could have been a clear winner those days. But the opportunity and greed cost the company quite a bit. Over time, music world eventually started selling non-core items such as MP3 players and the like, but it was too late by then. The kiosk outside the store on Park Street was selling cheaper chinese made MP3 players for a quarter of the price. music world also failed to collaborate with other music labels in the country to come up with alternate ways of streaming music, mainly because they owned the domestic and international rights of the extensive HMV catalogue. In fact, initially HMV owned content would get more prominence in the store than that of other labels.

A couple of years back, I approached music world to co-opt with Café Coffee Day, India’s largest coffee chain with over 1,400 outlets across the country where I was the Head of Business Development and Expansion across the country. Instead of seeing it as a way to garner more footfalls and attract more music enthusiasts into the store, the folks at the company rather tried to charge a premium for space. Obviously the deal didn’t go through. Am sure, the team tried their best to revive the falling business, but what probably lacked was innovation and new ideas, not for the lack of it but for a lack of willingness, probably. It was one of the saddest days in my life when my former colleague informed me about its closure. I always knew this day would come, but it was earlier than expected. RIP Musicworld.

22 May, 2013

Inviting patrons for a great feast

The Hotel Industry in India is facing tough times ever since the global recession occurred a couple of years ago. In my current role at Royal Enfield as Head of Business Development, I travel atleast 2-3 days every week across the country. Whenever I try to book rooms in small and big cities, the room rates just surprises me. I was trying to look for rooms in Hyderabad for stay over the next few days and was surprised to find discounted rates at 5 star hotels for as low as Rs. 5000 (USD 90). The Leela and Grand Chola – both touted as 7 star rated properties in Chennai are offering over 40% discounts on printed rates, to as low as Rs. 7,000 (USD 130). Same is the case in Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Pune and is even worse in smaller towns. I stayed in Trichy, a city in central TamilNadu which connects a number of other towns of prominence in business and culture within a 100 km radius during the first week of May 2013. On the MakeMyTrip mobile app for the Apple iPhone, I could get a double room for three adults and two kids for as low as Rs. 2,500 (USD 55). The room was quite large to hold a King size bed and two single beds. I have stayed in cities like Coimbatore, Dehra Dun, Jammu, Patna and many others for similar rates in well maintained properties. The outlook for hospitality in India as such wears a glim look and with increasing inventory and competition, not to forget the choices that customers make, the pricing is aggressive at most of the properties. This is where ancillary income to Hotels are helping them.


Most of the hotels have in-house restaurants, mainly to cater to resident guests. Many of them advertise these restaurants quite heavily, thereby attracting visitors through the year irrespective of peak season or otherwise for room occupancy. While this practice has been there for long, its quite evident these days with a number of hotels including some premium Hotel chains advertising in the media. What caught my attention recently  was an ad (displayed above), by ITC Hotels, one of India’s largest companies in the hospitality space for their Cappuccino Restaurant at the erstwhile Park Sheraton (in Chennai) . They have advertised buffet options with prices! Do those patrons who visit these places really care for the price? I mean – everyone does. But then, do people care what the final bill is gonna be when they visit star rated hotels and restaurants? I really doubt. Restaurant incomes are an important source of revenue for Hotels. They contribute anywhere between 7-25% of total sales depending on how well these restaurants are positioned and popularised. Some of the restaurants in these hotels are even Michelin-rated – a rating by the Vehicle Tyres powerhouse Michelin which grades eating joints across the world and shares in a report that is published annually.

Suggested Reading: Franchising

Stand-alone restaurants are doing their best too, to woo potential customers. They advertise in leading newspapers regularly to attract attention and over a period of time become destinations. In some cases, they are located within hotels and Malls and in many cases they are located on High Streets. User reviews in sites and apps such as Trip Advisor, Zomato, Burrp! etc. help them gain more traction. Chains like McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Subway and Café Coffee Day advertise across the media regularly to pull customers to their outlets and many of them even offer complimentary WiFi as a hook to retain them.

Suggested Reading: Does Free Wifi help?

With inflation leading to peak rates of food items, it is becoming impossible to middle class families to venture out eating outside. But the upper-middle class seems to be slightly more insulated, fuelling the needs of these restaurants. While premium hotels and restaurants promise great food (quality) and a wonderful ambience, consistency is key. To retain existing customers and to attract newer ones. If you are planning a visit to a nearby restaurant this weekend, flip through the pages of newspapers or mobile apps and you may be in for a surprise at a hotel nearby you! Happy Dining…

Suggested Reading: Food Inflation

13 May, 2013

Shaswat Goenka–Hearlding new frontiers at Spencers Retail


Shaswat Goenka

After dabbling with various sectors in the Rs 14,000-crore RP-Sanjiv Goenka group for about a year, Shashwat Goenka, 23, son of group chairman Sanjiv Goenka, has taken charge of Spencer's, the retail chain, from April 1. In an interview with Namrata Acharya & Ishita Ayan Dutt of Business Standard, he talks about his personal mandate and the road map for the Rs 1,400 crore business. Edited excerpts:

What goal have you set for Spencer's?
I assumed the role of sector head from April 1. What is most important at this point in time is profitability; that's where we are all trying to go. That will be the focus for the coming year and the year after. Spencer's is aiming to deliver Ebitda (operating earnings) breakeven at a company level in the third quarter of 2013-14 and be Ebitda-positive on a full year basis in 2014-15. That's the overarching short-term goal.

Spencer's has missed its breakeven deadline quite a few times. What makes you think you would be able to achieve it?
Well, each time we have done better. We have achieved breakeven at store-level but company level is what we want to achieve.

How do you plan to get there?
We want to increase our footprint. We will go up to two million sq ft from 900,000 sq ft currently and will expand in the north, east and south over the next four to five years.
We will achieve it over the next few years. The other important thing, obviously, would be operational efficiency.
In terms of offering, we would look at increasing international foods and regional foods. Value-added fresh is one of the areas we would like to explore.

Doesn't the fresh segment have one of the lowest margins?
We have very good margins in the food business compared to our competitors. Margins in apparel are obviously much higher but our margins in foods are good.

Any new formats for Spencer's on the anvil?
We haven't thought of any. We want to grow in hypermarkets.

Is the rationalisation process for Spencer's over?
Last year was the rationalising and consolidation process. We have exited Pune. In the past two years, we have closed 65 stores. Now, we want to start growing and in the hypermarkets.
Earlier, we had hyper, super, daily and express stores. Now, we have hyper and dailies and a few of the old express stores are still functioning.

Why did you exit Pune?
We wanted to become stronger where we are. So, we wanted to focus on the north, south and east. After we get that strong, we will revisit the west.

Why do you think the response from foreign retailers has been muted, after FDI (foreign direct investment) has been cleared?
I think people are interested. They just want to figure it all out before they come in.

Do you see foreign retailers as a threat to Spencer's?
Walmart and its likes coming in will help us. We can learn a lot from them. Back-end infrastructure will improve. There are basic infrastructure issues in India, like roads. Also, cold chains or dairy chains, for instance, are not very well developed.

A lot of options were being explored at the back-end by retailers. Any progress on that front?
We are open to FDI at the back-end but we haven't been approached by anyone.

Spencer's was exploring the IPO (public share offer) option. When is it likely?
That's something we definitely want to do but right now, the focus is on profitability.

Would you look at getting into the cash and carry format?
We have not looked at it. We want to be profitable and then explore other things.

06 May, 2013

Royal Enfield rears into new realms...

Siddhartha Lal

The last few years have seen Royal Enfield rediscover speed, with the sales of its premium bikes rising quickly. Overwhelmed by increasing demand, the waiting period for some of the company’s models has risen to nearly 10 months. The Eicher group firm, which recently kick-started production at its second plant in Chennai, is looking to grow further in the ‘mid-sized motorcycle space’. As a custodian of this iconic brand, Siddhartha Lal, Managing Director of Eicher Motors, is determined to retain the best of the old while still pushing the envelope in terms of new products. In an interview to The Hindu, Mr. Lal talks on the journey so far, the road ahead, and the attributes that make Royal Enfield click with India’s urban youth. Excerpts:

Is your transformation plan going on schedule?
Absolutely. It has been many years in the making. Our inflexion happened with the ‘Classic’ bike in 2008, but a bike in itself can never make an inflexion. It happened because we had put in everything before that — the dealers, the service infrastructure, and so on. All of that went in, and then came the new engine platform.

The bike got us into an inflexion on our volumes. For the last 20 years, we sold between 20,000 and 30,000 units. It was flat at best. And then we hit the ramp. In the last few years, we have been growing rapidly. Our growth started from 2008, and it has been great since then. Since our product and distribution fronts are now up to speed, the market is on a positive cycle for us. The visibility of the brand is at a high point right now. We hope we will be able to stretch this type of growth for the next two years.

How much of your revenue or sales is linked to the overall market, which is performing poorly? Or, are you de-linked completely?
Well, clearly at this point, you can say we are de-linked. We are growing at 50 per cent. The two-wheeler industry, however, is not. That is because we are still a very small player in the overall motorcycle industry. If we were a 50 per cent player in the motorcycle industry, we would have a limitation of growth. Since we are a tiny player right now, we can still grow much faster than the industry and not be constrained by the overall industry pace.

Is being a niche player a blessing in disguise during downturn?
Our growth is really dependent on us. For 20 years from the mid-1980s till 2008, we were hardly growing. Meanwhile, the motorcycle industry went from a few lakh units a year to nearly 13 million.

We never grew during that time. What has happened now is that we are firing on all cylinders. We are able to create a value proposition for customers, and that is fuelling our growth. The main point here is that we were able to create a real desirability among the urban youth.

Are you only riding on the urban market though?
We always had a traditional and rural market, and that is still there. But it is the urban youth who mainly ride commuter bikes. After five and eight years into their jobs, they want something better. So, they have an option to go for a larger commuter bike or they look at us, and say this is also an interesting option. This happened because we removed a lot of barriers in the minds of the urban youth. What were these barriers? A lot of people were confused over the whole shifting from the wrong foot; everyone was worried about what would happen if they pressed the gear instead of the brake. So, we fixed that. Second was that the bike was too heavy, so we went and made the stand much easier. And then, of course, the finish and the paint job — they weren’t very great.
Fixing all of this has driven demand for us.

You have had a supply-demand mismatch over the last three years. Has this helped boost demand by creating scarcity or has it dampened sales?
Well, I believe we have actually lost sales because of that. Honestly, there is always a little aura around a product that makes you wait. People feel that there is something about the product, a lot of people are buying it, and, therefore, it must be good.

So, there is that element. However, on the other hand, we have discovered that at least 20 per cent of our customers are falling out because they don’t want to wait for a year. So, they move onto some other bikes. Net-net, if you put both these conditions together, we have definitely lost out. Our first objective is to reduce that waiting period now.

What is the brand message of Royal Enfield now, compared to 20 years ago?
Originally, it was about being big, and was about power. That has subtly changed now. The ‘Bullet’ still carries a lot of the values of what originally we had. But now that is restricted only to a particular model. Overall, the message now is what we call a pure motorcycle. Other bikes are really fast, or really heavy, and or really excess in one aspect. On the other hand, our’s is about simplicity. When you see our bike, there is nothing superfluous about it. Royal Enfield is about harmonising the rider, the bike and the terrain. When you go on the highways, you enjoy going at a medium pace on our bikes. The rider is able to enjoy thoroughly.

Do you intend to have a brand ambassador?
We will never have a brand ambassador! We don’t pay people to be seen on our bike. Every movie that uses our bike is because they want to use our bike. We don’t spend one rupee on all that. Our bikes still contain that genuine feel. We believe we have created a brand which is very strong. So, it is a pull strategy rather than a push strategy. We have stayed the course. Over 15 to 20 years, when we were struggling, we never said let’s bring about a commuter bike or do something that isn’t serious.

What will you do to ensure that your product stays its course of differentiation?
Our strategy, for me, is to continue to push the envelope of making products that are even more differentiated. People don’t buy our bikes on specifications.

Obviously, we have to invest in new products. We will have many more bikes coming on the line soon. There will be more players coming, no doubt. But, I think, there is enough market for everybody. As more players come in, the market will keep growing.

So, Royal Enfield will continue to dig more deep into its niche play? Can it not become a product for the masses at any point?
Well, we can grow five-fold. But that will still never make it a mass product! I guess we are going in for much more depth in what we call the mid-sized motorcycle space. Look at our next product, the Continental GT, which is extremely differentiated and attracts a totally different segment of customers. We will have more models that have that type of differentiation. Beyond that, our ambitions are global in nature. In emerging markets, which already have a commuter market, we see a vacant space between the commuter market and the big bikes. We will provide a compelling option there.

However, in developed markets such as the U.S., we see that people are trading down from big bikes due to the current economic conditions. Therefore, we believe we will be in a sweet spot for both emerging and developed markets. That is our strategy. We want to be a global player.

What are the external factors that could prove to be limiting for Royal Enfield? Why did you decide to locate your second plant too in Chennai?
The only limiting factor for us is our own imagination. We aren’t constrained by economic numbers or the market size. With this new plant, we have the ability to expand very quickly. Of course there are risks in having both plants in the same city, but we like Chennai! We did a very detailed study, and we looked across India. But we came to the conclusion that a second plant in Chennai would be better because our entire supplier base is here. I have no intention of developing a new supplier base right now! Chennai has a very strong ecosystem of every form. Right from a paint shop to vehicle assembly and measurement equipment—everything is here! We know this area very well. If you go to an out-of-Chennai market, we have to learn everything from scratch.

Right now, we have no intention of setting up a plant elsewhere. Of course, if taxation demands, we could think of a plant elsewhere to deliver on our global ambitions. Our effort to consolidate here is our growth strategy. We will stretch this place forever, like we did in our old plant.

How was it to completely overhaul the Eicher product portfolio over the last twenty years? Do you have any regrets now?
When we were doing a review of our portfolio in 2004, we had many big businesses. But we had a multitude of smaller businesses. We had got into the garments business, tools, merchant trading, agriculture product trading - all sorts of stuff! We did a full portfolio rehash. We should focus only on a few. So, we wanted to move from being mediocre to being great.

Let us be very clear about that. We were very middling in all of these businesses, including motorcycles. But for motorcycles, we did a leap of faith, as I was sure it would grow.
So we shut down the rest of the businesses, the most visible one being the tractor business which we sold. We have no regrets.
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