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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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...