01 April, 2023

Goodbye Retail | Adios, amigos…

After spending the last 26 years in retail, I have decided to hang up my boots for good. I have been preparing for this day for the past few months, as I set my feet in a new direction, adjusting the sails and the compass towards another exciting destination.

As much as the destination is important, I have always believed that the journey is as important. So, I will continue to enjoy every moment in whatever I would be doing.

My most recent stint with Indian Terrain Fashions went awry for reasons beyond my control. Not only did it leave a sour taste for me professionally but also things took an unfortunate turn, sadly. This, despite me putting in my best efforts for the 8 months that I was actively involved in the company, having visited over 96 stores across India (of the 210) and making a huge difference in several aspects of the business including sales, marketing, merchandising, etc. 

Nevertheless, life moves on.

My career in retail began in 1997, when I joined Baskin Robbins in Chennai as a part-time employee, working 11am – 3pm scooping ice-cream. I would attend NIIT to learn computer languages from 7am – 9am and study B. Com at Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda College from 4pm – 8pm. Between consumers, computers and commerce, I decided to choose “consumers” and pursued MBA. Armed with a campus placement with the RPG Group, I worked with formats like Foodworld and Musicworld, where I learned the basics of retail management. Two extreme concepts, yet the fundamentals were laid well. 

I moved to Bangalore with just four bags, three with clothes and one with music cassettes to join India’s first seamless mall, Central in 2004. I landed at the most prized possession of my professional work in 2006, to join India’s first private, greenfield airport at Bangalore. Over the next 4 years, I would travel across the top 10 airports worldwide, learn about Travel Retail and speak at global conferences about the opportunity that is Indian aviation (circa 2008).I was responsible for conceptualising, designing and setting up India’s first ever Travel Retail areas at Bangalore International Airport. The Indian Travel Retail industry, including domestic retail, F&B and duty free is now estimated to be around Rs. 4,000 cr in annual revenues. 

Then came the next illustrious phase of my life – setting up 140 cafes all India for CafĂ© Coffee Day; within department stores, book stores, colleges and university campuses; hospitals and medical centres; inside the MA Chidambaram cricket stadium and Eden Garden as partner with Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders, respectively. People still say they have saved my number as “CCD Shriram”. Such a humbling feeling to hear that.

In 2012, I came back to my hometown which was now Chennai; joined Royal Enfield during its growth phase and set-up 160 dealerships all India. I also worked closely with the leadership team on the new retail identity of dealerships, morphing them from looking like an automobile store to a lifestyle concept. Bowed out of professional life in 2014 to experiment entrepreneurship – the accidental entrepreneur! Ran a flourishing Management Consulting business as well, working closely with Founders and businesspersons of eminence.

Worked on creating a chain of baby care retail stores; set-up perhaps one of India’s earliest quick commerce concept – Oyethere, delivering grocery and household items within 30-300 mins of ordering. Baba Ramdev was our unofficial brand ambassador. We rode on the popularity of Patanjali back then, whose products were elusive to find. Expert Investors laughed at my idea and said why would anyone pay Rs. 30 for home delivery. I gave up after 117 pitches probably, accepting the fact that the timing was not the best one. 

When I joined Levista coffee in 2020, little would I know that Covid-19 led pandemic would strike India and rest of the world. Despite Covid, or due to it, my team and I doubled Levista’s business in 350 days from 16 Apr. ’20 to 31 Mar. 21. India faced a nation-wide lockdown for the first fortnight that April. 

Partnered with Chennai Super Kings as the Official Coffee Partner for 2020 - the first ever coffee brand for CSK as well as with any other team in the illustrious history of Indian Premier League Cricket tournament. Also, signed up with Star Vijay’s Bigg Boss franchise feat. Actor Kamal Hassan only to see the brand stand tall and proud next to the actor on Tv, every weekend. Was a life worth having survived the pandemic, in many ways so I could accomplish all this. 

My life store as a book - “My Retail Journey - Part 1” will be released in 2023. Fingers crossed.

Now, that you have finished reading my mini life-bio above, sorry that the news of me quitting retail was a prank for April Fools Day. I am what I am because of Retail. I have nowhere else to go other than this industry which has nurtured me for more than half my life.

Thank you my retail fraternity, friends and former colleagues for all the support give to me all along. With four national level awards from the Retail and F&B Industry, 17 years as Visiting Faculty at preeminent B-Schools on Retail, as author of over 1,000+ articles, I still have a few years ahead of me and I remain obligated to many of you to make me who I am today.

Have a great day ahead.

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