Showing posts with label BIAL. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BIAL. Show all posts

16 January, 2022

The Annual Tribute post

Even as the country celebrates Pongal, Makara Sankranthi, Lohri and so on, I cannot but reminisce and thank my stars for where I am, what I am today professionally. For it was on this day, I flew off my comfort zone to build a career, a name in the Industry, and most importantly paved an opportunity for myself to pursue endless learning. Incidentally, I celebrate my Silver Jubilee year in Retail this year - A Retailer by Profession and Choice since 1997.


I grew for the most of my life in the erstwhile Madras until my Post Graduation. My first posting was at Kolkata to manage Musicworld. Honestly, this was the farthest maiden travel I had taken in my entire life of 21 years and also travelled for the first time ever in a 2nd class air-conditioner sleeper coach by Coromandel Express. A year later, I returned to Chennai (the name had changed by then!) and started at Foodworld, India’s first organised Grocery retail chain. After 3 years with the company, I sensed I was not going to grow much – internal challenges, business model clarity and so on. Based on a newspaper Ad in The Hindu, I applied for a job which was based in Bangalore. My interview happened inside the retail store of the company at the Spencers Plaza Mall and in a week’s time, I received a post from the employer informing about my recruitment.


I left my hometown on Pongal / Sankranthi day by a KSRTC bus from Chennai to Bangalore with 4 bags and a heart full of dreams. Honestly, at the bottom of my heart, I was shooting in the dark but somewhere my gut feel was I would certainly not waste my life, as I was doing in Chennai, living in a comfortable cocoon under the aegis of my beloved parents. Much to their chagrin and admonishment, I stepped off the home towards a vast world which was filled with VUCA even back then. I joined Pantaloons Retail which was setting up the country’s first seamless mall by the name “Central” at Bangalore followed by aggressive expansion at Hyderabad, Pune and so on – clear focus on upcoming Tier 2 cities. Though I had my own tons of challenges in a new city, to which I had travelled just thrice before that in my lifetime, I was fortunate to be filled with fantastic colleagues, a small but worthy bunch of well wishers and an extended social ecosystem. 5 years later, I was popularly known as the guy who set-up the entire Travel Retail business at India’s first private airport – BIAL. A few years later, I was fortunate to work with India’s largest café chain – CCD and set up 100s of cafés across the country while traversing the length and breadth of the geography. 



Made some money, loads of friends and a large, extended camaraderie with the who’s who of the city – from the State Bureaucracy to Retail, friends of friends and with a very large set of colleagues and strangers. Bought my first car, a Hyundai Santro on which I travelled 75,000 kms over 3 years – mostly between TN, Tirupati & KA and a single non-stop drive to Goa. Loads and loads of memories that I can cherish all my life. Regrets, yes many many too. But that shall remain buried within me, always. Best to leave it that way!


I returned to Chennai in 2012 and ever since “settled” in the city which has given me everything though I haven’t settled with my dreams, or rather settled my dreams, professionally, personally and as a publicly obligated person as well. Lots of unfinished things yet. Though in whatever small way possible, I continue to give back what I have – knowledge, guidance, money and of course in my physical capacity as well. Over the past decade, I have taught at at least a dozen B-Schools, run Retail Management as an Elective course for 2ndyear students and travelled extensively across the State and also pan-India on work and leisure. There’s still a lot more to see, explore and share and I am at it.

I wonder what if I had stayed back to please my parent’s wishes in 2004. Wonder how things would have been – something that we can only imagine but can never say with certainty how it would have spanned. But the courage I took on myself, guess I was right.  

15 January, 2021

Uttarayan and my Professional Life


On 13 Jan. 2021, I was driving back yet again to Chennai from Bangalore on my XUV500. Even as my playlist kept jumping from 90s Tamil film songs to the latest tunes, spiritual discourses to FM Radio, my thoughts kept wandering from one to another to another. I was driving back in a spacious SUV, all alone and reasonably well placed in life than what I had imagined for myself 24 years back when I first joined the Retail Industry scooping Ice-Cream at Baskin Robbins as a part time salesman during the day, learning computer languages in the morning at NIIT and studying B. Com in the Evening College. I am ever thankful for my Stars, the Creator’s benevolence, blessings of Elders and good wishes of my close friends for where I am today in life. Professionally, Socially, personally and of course, most recently on the spiritual lane. 


It was a Makara Sankrathi / Pongal day that I landed up at Bangalore in 2004 to be part of a revolution in the making, little which I knew when I was interviewed in Oct. 2003. Even on the inaugural day of Bangalore Central in May 2004, none of us back then knew how big the Indian Retail Consumption story would grow to and that some of us would be a strategic part of it with our own tales of success, failure and most importantly, that of abundant learning.



As the playlist kept changing every few hours during my recent drive, I couldn’t help but realise how my life has been such a roller-coaster drive and that I have enjoyed, messed up and have overcome many such moments all along. The morning chills of my bike rides from my temporary stay at a cousin’s house in RT Nagar, Bangalore back in 2004 all the way to MG Road (where the Mall was located) and getting lost every now and then on my way to Jayanagar 4th block where the Regional Office of the erstwhile Pantaloon Retail was once located gives me the chills in the spine till date. Honestly, I never thought I will come this far in my professional life, that I would write about the last 20 years every now and then and fondly recollect the moments that has made me an eternal Student of Retailing for the rest of my life.



Last Sunday, I had met a former colleague for Lunch at a posh Restobar which was once upon a time a suburban hamlet that was Sahakar Nagar. I was sharing how I could never feel “belonged” at “Bengaluru” although the city has given me so much. My retail resurrection has happened multiple times and Bangalore has lifted me up multiple times. A few other cities hold as much or more importance to me – of course Madras being my hometown is always the dearest. Every time, I enter or exit Bangalore city - the iconic arch at Attibele, the retail library that is Brigade Road / MG Road, the eponymous UB City, the wet markets of Malleswaram or Basavangudi, the Windsor Manor underpass, Mekhri Circle, the new Airport Road towards KGIA and so on – each one of them have a deep meaning and a related anecdote in my life. But the attachment is always temporary. Just that this temporary attachment turns 17 this Uttarayan season and remains an undetachable part of me forever. 


Yet again, I moved to Bangalore during Uttarayan 2020, bag and baggage for my current role at Levista. What was once supposedly a guest accommodation at my current abode in the Western suburb of Bangalore, Peenya and “the so-called home” at Chennai has now been reversed, with me spending more time at my own Bangalore Headquarters even as we march against an insurmountable business target of achieving Rs. 100 Crores of turnover for the 4 year young brand in the next 12-18 months. Am I dreaming, yes. Are dreams good, yes. Do they get achieved, sometimes yes. And how about this one, I am working harder than ever for it. 


I am once again grateful to this once-upon-a-time quaint town which has given me so much yet remains detached from my life and expects nothing from me, other than gratitude and thankfulness in my thoughts. But I vow to make this city proud of an outsider like me, in one way or another and give her the due recognition as I share a great part of my professionally somewhat-successful career to this place. 

I won’t get attached to her ever. But would always ensure that this city is always a part of me and My Retail Journey in the making. Forever.

28 July, 2020

A lot happened to Coffee


I was taking an 8.30am flight that morning when News channels at the Chennai Airport flashed that Mr. VG Siddhartha had gone missing the previous night at Mangalore. He had asked his driver to stop the car and walked along the now infamous bridge along Nethravathi River near Ullala town only to never return. His dead body was found two days later along the coast and was cremated the same day at his native town, Chikmagalur. Those unfortunate three days, I happened to be in Bangalore on work. I was restless right from the moment I heard the news, the two days of suspense and finally watching the last rites on a TV App on my mobile even as my Cab was passing by Coffee Day Square on Vittal Mallya Road. I was breathless for a few hours even after reaching my hotel room that night. Sometimes, I still get nightmares.



Although I was never too close to “Chairman” as we called him, I had the rare opportunity to work closely with him between 2009 – 2011 when I was General Manager – Business Development at Café Coffee Day setting up 140 new cafés within the confines of retail precincts including Airports, Metros, Hypermarkets, Supermarkets, Apparel Department Stores, Cinemas, College and University Campuses and so on. We would meet twice a month or so to go through the potential sites that were on offer and he would share his wise views whether to proceed or not, given his global experience in the Coffee business. 




He always wanted to make Café Coffee Day one of the most loved homegrown Indian consumer brands. Legend has it that the farmer’s son was fascinated how Coffee was brewed, served and enjoyed at cafés in Europe, the US and the world over when he would travel on work in the 90’s across continents. Initially, CCD as it is known lovingly was stated off as an Internet Parlor on Bangalore’s Iconic Brigade Road. However, VGS as he was addressed affectionately decided to sell Coffee for a fee and offer the Internet for free even as he would sip his coffee slowly and see the future of coffee cafés all over India. 


The company started off expanding in Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad and quickly moved to Bombay and Delhi. There would be constant comparisons in the early part of the new Millennium between CCD and Barista, though CCD evolved & grew sooner than Barista and others, thanks to a very strong team that focused their strengths on F&B, Café Operations, Marketing and of course, a very well laid HR Foundation. That every cup of Coffee should be consistent was a goal that each one of us tried to achieve to the best of their abilities. 


Mr. Siddhartha gave a different “meaning” to Coffee in a predominantly tea drinking country. After all, during its hey days, CCD was serving over 2 lakh cups of Coffee through Cafés and Vending machines installed at Offices, Colleges, Canteens and so on. “Coffee?” became a buzzword in India. For friends to catch up, for asking a Date, for an informal job interview and so on. In fact, I would wonder if there is any Start-Up in India which has never had at least one of their many discussions at a CCD nearby. VGS made Coffee the unofficial beverage of Indians who are on the move – from Airports to Colleges, Malls to Multiplexes and beyond. Today, if Coffee is a popular drink across the span of the country and is a preferred ice breaker, the credit solely goes to Café Coffee Day and the visionary Late Shri. VG Siddhartha. In fact, in my current role at Levista Coffee, one of the audacious mission statements I have been crafting is how to replace the first beverage of the day, being Tea to Coffee across millions of Indian households. Among the erudite and the educated, this would be a relatively easier task because VGS & CCD have already built much familiarity to this fascinating hot beverage across the predominantly Tea consumers even within Tier 2/3/4 towns in India. 


Over the past 12 months, so many people have asked me why he committed suicide – such a successful Entrepreneur who build a fledgling empire, with one bean at a time. Almost. And my reply has always been the same. Neither I nor anyone else was standing next to him when he fell off the bridge. No one other than him would know what was running in his mind on that fateful evening of 29th July 2019 or the few days and weeks ahead of that. Was it political? Business? Debts? Societal Pressure? No one knows and will ever know. 


Law has taken its due course, so have scrutiny by the authorities. But this is all post-mortem. The world lost another soul to suicide. As we always say, one is driven to this malaise called suicide. It’s sometimes a meticulously planned one. Like my maternal uncle did in 2014. Like many of us are pushed to the decision in a whim. Most of us, including me don’t’ end up doing it for some reason or the other, With VGS, we just don’t know. However, a lot happened to Coffee since 1997. Coffee as a product, CCD as a brand and VGS as an Entrepreneur will always have a page in the Indian Consumer & Retail book. So much to learn from this episode. May his Atma attain the Lord’s Feet and I pray to my cherished Deity that his soul attain Mukti. Om Shanthi.

Here are my Obit , RemembranceHomage articles I wrote last year. 

24 December, 2019

Luxury Retailing - Retail 2020 (Article #3)

I started my career in Retail in 1997 scooping ice-cream at Baskin Robbins’ second outlet in India and first in Chennai (then, Madras). As the current decade comes to an end and an exciting one unfolds, I am writing a series of 20 articles over 20 days (10 in Dec ’19 starting 22/12 and 10 in Jan ’20) on the various Retail developments I have personally witnessed since 2001 onwards. Today, I have written about the Luxury Retailing Industry which is pegged at US $ 1.3 Trillion globally and growing at a CAGR of 12%.


Many years before when I was responsible for setting up India’s first ever retail arena at India’s first private airport at Bangalore in 2006, I had a special focus on creating a luxury retail zone. When I approached global brands like Apple, GAP, Omega and many others in India and abroad, they didn’t evince much interest. For India was not even a budding Luxury market then. Mont Blanc writing instruments, which is among the Top Brands sold across Airports worldwide didn’t have a presence in India at the time with a standalone store and we were keen to bring them on board at the Airport with an exclusive store, but the principals politely declined the offer. I have a long list of such disappointments from my tenure at BIAL. 

Today, things are different. The global luxury market is pegged at US $1.3 Trillion annually (including services such as Travel, Resorts and Hospitality) and India alone has an estimated market size of $6 billion growing at 9% CAGR since 2012 – across various categories ranging from Watches to Clothes, Automobiles to Cigars, Wines to Writing Instruments and so on. Incidentally, the Luxury Market size of China is pegged at $25 Billion and growing twice as fast as that of India. USA remains the largest contributor to global luxury retailing at over US $85 billion followed by Europe at an estimated US $65 billion. 



Much of the luxury consumption in India is attributed to two budding customer segments – HNIs and their families living in Tier 2/3 markets and HENRYs – High Earning Not Rich Yet Individuals. Apart from these, the core segment remains eminent business families, celebrities in Sports and Arts and professionals in Industries such as Banking, Manufacturing, etc. to name a few. A “Titan Watch” and a “Raymond” Suit were the preferred gifts for the bride and groom at most middleclass households (including yours truly) two decade back. But things are much different today. Most Indians who consume luxury brands neither have an idea why the brand is luxury (rather, priced so high) nor do they appreciate the craftsmanship of the product. As the saying goes – Aim for the sky and you would end up at the roof, I was eyeing a Patek Phillippe for over 3 years but finally ended up with a Longines Limited Edition a decade ago (which happens to be my last luxury catch @ Rs. 1.40 lakhs then!). It was a lot of hard-earned money coupled with dreams and ambitions built over time (Miles2Go). But when I see the GenZ & Millenials sporting luxury brands today, be it a shoulder bag from Prada or a pair of sneakers from Nike meant for trained athletes, they do not appreciate the purpose of the luxurious product beyond the “badge value” it adds to their self-esteem and prestige. 

Same is the case with electronic products, especially from brands like Apple or Bang & Olufsen. Apple fanboys (and fangirls) stand in Q all night to buy their coveted new launches since they mostly appreciate the features the product offers. Unlike in India, where the latest iPhone is more a symbol of prestige in the society and the associated benefits (like getting a table faster at a restaurant – I am not kidding!). While brands like Bose remained “luxury” and niche until a few years ago in India, thanks to deep discounting and presence on e-commerce websites, they are now competing with local and Chinese imports in their respective categories. 


Having said that, Luxury Retailing in India is still in its infancy. Even if the market grows at 10% CAGR for the next five years, we would still be less than 5-8% of the global market. No wonder Indian discerning consumers prefer to make a trip to Singapore or Dubai to shop for clothes and watches every few months. That they fly Business Class and stay at Mandarin Oriental or The Palms Jumeira is adding up to the global market size anyway.

14 March, 2019

Rail Retail – The next big thing?

Among the few exciting assignments that I have worked all my life, one of the most interesting ones was setting up commercial opportunities at the first greenfield private airport in India at Bangalore in 2006. I was among the first few to join BIAL, the company which was helmed by Zurich Airport along with L&T and Siemens as Private Partners and the Union Government of India & Government of Karnataka providing the necessary statutory support. I was solely responsible for conceptualising, designing, leasing and later managing the Retail areas at the Airport which included Duty Free Retailing in the International Departures & Arrivals, Domestic Retail in all other areas, F&B outlets including Cafes, Restaurants, Pubs and ForEx outlets keeping in mind the convenience of passengers as well as increasing the non-Aero revenues for the airport company. What was then (in 2006) – Travel Retail, a national industry of Rs. 300 Crores pa is now over Rs. 3,000 Crores, thanks to upgraded Airport Terminals at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Kochi over the past decade. 


I have been an avid traveller all my life and after flying two times a week, forty times a year for a decade in work, I took to rail travel over the past half-decade ever since I turned an Entrepreneur due my business interests largely being achievable by train and more so saving travel time (during night) as well lower cost of travel and transportation, save the cost of F&B at Airports. I just got in to yet another Shatabdi trip and I ain’t surprised I know by platform number already and a clear plan of what to munch when I arrive at Bangalore as well, at the Adigas outlet where the train would drop me. Similarly, the F&B outlets at various stations are familiar to regular passengers like me and those who plan their travel around food & snacks (your’s truly included) know how early to reach the station for the last grub or drink before boarding. 


Shatabdi has been a revolutionary product (sounds like a software product from Infosys or ICICI, hic!) from Indian Railways and with faster drive time as well as complimentary meal on board. What used to be an exciting array of food items before is now a simple breakfast and a simpler meal with a beverage or two in between. The not so great thing is that there is no possibility for passengers to purchase food items even if they wish to do so. Sounds familiar to the scenario a decade and half back when low cost carriers like Air Deccan started off leaving passengers stranded ob=n board with no possibility of even buying water or snacks. Last week, I was traveling in the much touted and recently inaugurated Tejas Express from Chennai to Madurai which was inaugurated by none other than the man of the moment, the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi.The train covers a distance of over 450 kms in 6.5 hours compared to other trains which take 90 mins more than this. With traffic on rails (yeah, more trains you see) having grown manifold over the years, it’s an awesome feat by Indian Railways that they have managed to cover this distance in the said duration. While the train has several exciting features such as an access controlled door, CCTv cameras and personalised entertainment, the F&B scenario is the same as a Shatabdi. 


The Railways could help themselves by offering “Travel Retail” on board akin to the Airlines which not only opens up an array of incremental income to the agency but also provide passengers a break from monotony in travelling seated all day (or evening). Way back in 2010 when I was responsible for setting up new cafes for Café Coffee Day, India’s largest coffee chain with over 1,600 outlets today, I charted a plan to set-up a mini-café on board Rajdhani and Shatabdi Trains. The proposal was to have a portion of the pantry car culled in to a café – a café on the move with outstanding visuals even as the train cruises at 90-110 kms between cities. The proposal was rejected by the then Head of IRCTC, the agency which was and is responsible for the commercialisation of the Railway network for reasons best known to him. Even as I was walking up to my train this morning, I saw this tuck shop selling Railway merchandise and once again I am intrigued by the immense possibilities and opportunities that beckon in Travel Retail at Railways. With the elections ahead, I don’t see any new initiatives until June 2019 but am hoping the new Ministry would take this up more seriously. For the love of travelling. 


23 October, 2016

UDAN - a A Flight for Retailers

If the Modi Government has its way, it will make the real common man to fly. No kidding. With it's ambitious UDAN - Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik (Let the common man fly) which is a rehash of the regional air connectivity proposed by the UPA Governments but with a lot more incentives to Airlines and of course flyers. The fare for a one hour flight is capped at Rs. 2,500 adjusted to inflation. Whether the one hour is block time or flying time is yet to be clarified. And many other things too. If technical details about UDAN interest you, read this column written by The Flying Engineer here.

India has over 450 airstrips/airports that were developed and built during the WW 1 & WW 2 by the British for strategic purposes. How many of you may know, unless you are from surrounding areas that we have airports in most obscure locations that one would have never thought of, such as Vellore and Salem (Tamil Nadu), Kadappa (Andhra), Gubarga (Karnataka), Raxaul & Muzaffarpur (Bihar) and so on. Most of these lay defunct with AAI not having funds to develop them or Airlines ready to ply there for various reasons. Such airports also include the ones at Pondicherry and Mysore, just to name two of them, which are very interesting tourist places but are not really well served. When local politicians announce their charter for upcoming elections, there is a mention of developing a local airport but the idea dies down after the man (or woman) occupies the high seat. Due to this, many thousands of people are forced to undertake alternate routes for travel by road and rail which are cumbersome and times taking as well. 


The Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA), which represents IndiGo, Jet Airways, SpiceJet and GoAir, has written to the Union Civil Aviation Ministry terming the proposed regional connectivity levy as “illegal” and “in contravention to the Constitution of India.” It said the government is not empowered to levy a tax on airlines to fund the regional connectivity scheme under the Aircraft Act of 1934, quotes The Hindu. And their grouse is understandable. The Civil Aviation Ministry's guidelines already includes flying to certain far-off destinations across the country including the North East which doesn't attract flight loads and hence dampens the revenue prospects for the airlines. 

Given the scenario, as a former Airport Official and a Retailer, here is my recipe for a resounding success to this ambitious plan. Commercial Revenues can significantly reduce the burden on the Ministry as well as the Airlines, if they were allowed to be rightfully exploited. Worldwide, even the top airports such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai and Frankfurt boast more than a fourth of their revenues coming from non-aero revenues. This has been, mostly a well-planned strategy executed over the past 4 decades by these airports, given the opportunity to derive non-aero incomes, especially from the millions of passengers who fly everyday across the world.

It is common knowledge that the Terminal Building in a small airport such as Salem which would have probably two flights a day will mostly remain unused all day (and night) whilst occupying thousands of acres of land. One of the best ways to put to use the idle areas is by constructing relevant retail areas in these locations. Sounds weird? Let me explain.


Continuing the example of Salem, it is a prosperous city with the Salem Steel Plant employing thousands and also being a business hub due to its native industries in apparel manufacturing and of course agriculture. People here have the money and aspirations to fly, travel the country and the world. But in most cases, they have to visit Chennai to take a flight forward. While Coimbatore is closer, it doesn't operate flights to all parts of the world or even connect important hubs within India. It is also important to note that cities like Salem do not have a so called popular Mall with domestic and international Retailers, although there is quite a bit of shopping and dining that happens all over the city. Therefore, by commercialising the landslide (the city side) areas of this airport and allowing private partners to Build-Operate-Transfer the assets to the Government, it would probably be a double whammy. The biggest issue with airports today worldwide is the safety and security factors. But this would be well taken care because the commercial areas would be located in the landside and visitors (to the Mall) will have no access to the terminal building and beyond. Only passengers with valid boarding documents would be allowed inside the Terminal Building. 

At the same time, the Restaurants at the roof top of these buildings will provide a massive view of the runway and the city as well as the parked aircraft which is always a delight to watch. A part of the vacant land may also be used to build budget hotels, thus ensuring a 365 day use of the asset. 

While the idea sounds cool, the biggest issue here is execution. AAI runs most of the airports in India including Chennai and Kolkata and currently only four airports at Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi have been privatised. It is to be noted that these four airports contribute over 75% of the air-traffic in India and also act as hubs for international travel. Much has been written, discussed and debated about the perils of privatisation of Airports over the past decade. And the Government may take the best of what has been done in since 2006 regarding airport privatisation and perhaps move on. Alternately, the airport may continue to build and maintain the Terminal building, the Runway, the ATC Tower and other technical facilities while the other areas are handed over to private operators.


Overall, Retailers have a great opportunity to grab this opportunity. India's largest cafe chain Cafe Coffee Day put up its first cafe at HAL Airport at Bangalore in the late 90's and continues its focus in the airports and has a major presence all over the country. Many other retailers can take a cue out of this and explore other retail opportunities. Chennai Airport is out with its upcoming Retail Tender, details of which can be accessed here.

I hope to see Retailers take advantage of this sky-high (pun intended) opportunity and also be a part of this upcoming growth opportunity. 

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.

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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 March, 2013

Free Wifi will be a crowd puller for Retailers

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I was at the Starbucks (SBUX) outlet in South Mumbai a few days ago. SBUX, in a JV with the Tata Group  opened their first outlet in India in South Mumbai a couple of months ago. We had a long day ahead and decided to start our first meeting at this location for the sheer purpose of convenience. And ofcourse, some good coffee. Not awesome coffee, atleast for me. For which I would go back to Café Coffee Day, India’s largest café chain with over 1,400 outlets across the country which in my opinion still brews the best coffee in town despite lapses in service levels here and there once in a while. I was pleasantly surprised that the SBUX outlet offers complimentary wifi to those who wish to have a sip or grab a bite and spend time around at their cafe. Ofcourse, for me it wasn’t the reason why I chose my meeting venue there. But then, anything complimentary is welcome in this mean world, I say. So there I was, connecting all my three devices – the laptop, the iPadmini and the iPhone on wifi sponsored by Tata Communications (I felt it was a great marketing opportunity for them although they didn’t seem to use it as well as they could). I was online for over half an hour, finished my emails for the morning and was all ready to step out for my next meeting. The staff at SBUX, as friendly as they were, cheered every customer who walked in or walked out with a customary welcome or thank you respectively. Even as I was walking out, I wondered how happy I was as a customer using complimentary wifi at the café. I have a USB Data Card for my laptop, 3G for my iPadmini and iPhone. But then, its sheer convenience and speed to use wifi.

I have been extensively travelling since Aug. 2012, ever since I joined Royal Enfield where I am responsible for Dealer Development and expansion of other key pet projects for the company. I book my hotels myself, mostly on my Make My Trip Mobile App for the iPhone or on their website although the former is quicker and handy. While most of the hotels provide complimentary wifi in their rooms, only a few work seamlessly. It is usually patchy and the front office staff are usually unable to resolve the connectivity issue blaming it either on the service provider or sometimes on my device! (Yes, at a Delhi hotel, the staff claimed my iPadmini was faulty). These days I look for reviews on sites like Trip Advisor while choosing a hotel that provides complimentary wifi. And most reviews are correct and genuine, as I have experienced.

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That set me thinking, what if other Retailers provide Wifi to their customers. Would it bring additional walk-ins? Would it increase the stickiness? Would shoppers be showrooming – a term used for browsing the store for products and buying them simultaneously online, thereby increasing ECommerce? If so, would it help Retailers like Shoppers Stop and Landmark Book Stores which have a strong offline/online connect? I guess there are no immediate answers. Large Department Stores in the West have a café within their store so bored husbands and boyfriends could have a cup of coffee or a mug of beer while their wives/girlfriends are shopping. These days, my friends who live in the West tell me that Wifi is almost free everywhere around, which prompts them to choose a location for their need – be it a restaurant, a café , a book store or any other format of Retail. In India, unlike in the West internet bandwidth is minimal and the speed is not all that great. Cost wise too, it isn’t worthy for most Retailers to offer it free especially for those shoppers who just pass by and not really spend at their stores. Bangalore International Airport, where I worked many years ago was the first airport in India to offer free wifi for one hour to passengers passing through the airport. And most airports in India follow the trend albeit for a shorter duration. Atleast, large Indian Retailers should try this concept. With increased penetration of smartphones and tablets, there is abundance usage of data these days. Lousy 3G speeds by most Indian mobile networks mean an alternative connectivity which is what wifi is all about. Facebook and Twitter updates by the minute are not uncommon for those who are hooked on to their devices.

It’s just a matter of time that free wifi would become the thing of the day. Even now, I am sitting at another airport lounge while transiting from one city to another. And yes, this article would be published using the free wifi. Stickiness, I would say that I visit the lounge as often as I could, and just because of the complimentary boring food. If only the Lounge was more exciting with various marketing promotions other than the TV which is blaring music and bollywood gossip from one leading Indian channel just because they probably provide free Televisions!

14 October, 2011

Airports, A/c and Retail Opportunities

 

I came across an article recently on Times of India according to which Airports Authority of India (AAI) plans to turn-off air-conditioning in certain parts of the airports to reduce its expenses. “Our model for low-cost airports is based on a good low-cost carrier where people will get good, cost-efficient services. AC is the single biggest cost factor in airports. We are examining models to cut down the need for air-conditioning in the tier III airports that will come up,” said a senior official of AAI. Hubli in Karnataka will prove to be the first test case for this new phenomenon. The AAI is building an airport in Hubli for which the terminal cost has been pegged at Rs 60 crore (USD 13 Million). “We are going to further reduce this cost by shunning the fancy and shining tiles used for flooring and are looking at more areas for economy without compromising the efficiency and comfort level for flyers,” said sources. There is an increasing clamour among airlines, many of whom are struggling to survive and unable to pay hefty fees that the fancy new airports levy. Their logic: have economic airports with low charges so that flying remains affordable as high charges for ‘Taj Mahal’ kind of airports would have to be recovered in the form of higher fares from passengers.

(Suggested Reading: Airline guidelines – a boon to Retailers)

Another recent article in The Economic Times illustrates the financial performance of GMR Airports, the company that has built and manages two of the top 6 airports in India at Delhi and Hyderabad. Incidentally, Hyderabad Airport is the Number 1 among its peers according to the latest ACI Survey which grades airports across the world on passenger amenities and services. And yes, GMR neither switches off nor plans to switch of A/c. Their opportunity – non-Aeronautical Revenues which includes Retail and F&B options at the airport premises. World over, non-Aeronautical revenues account 30-50% of an airport’s revenues. Of this, Retail/F&B contributes significantly, over 70% in some cases closely followed by “Car Parking Revenues”.

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In India, the focus on Non-Aero income has hardly been given importance by AAI, the erstwhile operator of the top airports in India (located at Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad which are now privatised). In the year 2006, Airport privatisation was formally passed on a Private-Public Partnership model (PPP) and Delhi, Mumbai airports were handed over by AAI to two private parties, viz., GMR and GVK to modernize the respective airports. While Mumbai is half-done (not sure which half), Delhi has a swanky new terminal, more popularly known as T3, built at a cost of over USD 2.5 billion. Over 100,000 sft of space is dedicated to Retail, F&B and other commercial areas and also boasts the largest car parking facility in town! (while compared to any other Mall or Shopping Centre). Hyderabad and Bangalore had their own greenfield (built from scratch) airports led by GMR and Zurich airports’ consortium in the year 2008.

(Also read: Privatisation of airports)

Instead of switching off A/c or using inferior quality of flooring and other amenities, AAI should rather focus more on the commercial opportunities. AAI follows the “Competitive Tender” model where the bidder with the highest bid amount qualifies to operate the said commercial locations. Needless to say, most of the branded players shun from such tenders due to inconsistency of participation. For example, a branded pizza chain cannot sell beyond their range, so does a branded formal wear Retailer! Most of the spaces that are tendered out are between 8-20 sqm (about 90 – 220 sft) for a snack bar or even a specialised category apparel / accessories store or a book store! It’s not only a business challenge to run a retail establishment within such a small area – but it doesn’t provide a good retail experience as well. This is a fundamental philosophy-flaw of AAI that needs to change. Change NOW.

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If done properly, AAI can expect to garner reasonably good revenues from Non-Aero revenues. Chennai and Kolkata Airports which are being modernised by the AAI themselves will be a litmus test for Retailers. These airports are as large or larger than Bangalore & Hyderabad and the customer (Read: Passenger) is the same who is spending time and money at Delhi, Mumbai and other International airports. So, the intent to spend / opportunity to serve is already huge. With the burgeoning spends in Organized Retail even in tier II and tier III cities growing by over 35% year on year, it is no surprise that passengers in smaller airports / cities would spend on good quality products and services. HMSHost, a leading player in the F&B space at airports worldwide is now the largest player across Indian airports with significant presence at Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and more recently at AAI managed airports at Chandigarh and Lucknow. Cafe Coffee Day, India’s largest cafe chain operates over 25 locations across various airports in India.

(Also Read: A lot happened over coffee!)

So now, its up to AAI how they would want to capture the wallet-spends of its passengers! As a regular user of airports, I wouldn’t mind lesser space at the terminals (as a passenger, my dwell time is no more than 45 minutes and I am not going to play football anyway), rather prefer a comfortable environment – reasonably well maintained terminals and hygienic toilets included.

Hope – the most important word in our lives. I hope things will change. Even with AAI. Let’s see.

Ashta Mudras

13 September, 2011

Luxury Retailing in India

 

Last week was a fascinating one to the world of Travel Retail and Luxury Retail. One of the world’s most coveted luxury brands, Louis Vuitton from the house of Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton (LVMH) finally debuted at Incheon Airport in Korea (which has also been ranked the number 1 airport in the world in passenger satisfaction by ACI International) amid much fanfare and excitement according to the first online update from The Moodie Report. Korea, which is famous for its “cheaper” alternatives in electronic products and automobiles (led by Hyundai) was the obvious choice for the cult brand since it is the most preferred transit destination between Mainland China, Japan and Korea and the rest of the world. Louis Vuitton was also ranked the number one luxury retail fashion brand (behind Hermes, Gucci, Chanel and Cartier) by the media house “My Retail Media” recently. LV, as it is popularly known, is most famous for its accessories & luggage (which ranges between USD 500 – 5,000) and is one of the last brands in the “Luxury” segment to enter the glamorous world of Travel Retail. Such is the potential of passengers travelling through airports!

(Suggested Reading: Travel Retail)

When LV entered the city of Bangalore in India (2008), it had installed a huge trunk outside the terminal building of Bangalore International Airport (BIAL), a first of its kind in the country but one which the brand does quite frequently across the world. Apart from this, LV operates at Delhi and Mumbai and is looking forward to expanding across other Indian cities in times to come. Hermes opened its first outlet in Pune this year, which was later followed by its flagship store at Mumbai. The beauty of this location is that it opened its store where the distance from / to Mumbai is ‘0’km (zero km)! Other luxury brands such as Gucci, Chanel, Cartier, Rolex, D&G, Armani, Hugo Boss, Omega, etc. have their standalone stores at Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. Although, the offtake is not as expected, according to market reports. There was even a recent article online in which the writer claims that the “Indian Luxury” market is a not as successful citing examples of how Nita Ambani (wife of Mukesh Ambani, one of the world’s top billionaires and the Chairman of Reliance Industries) shopped her porcelain from nearby Sri Lanka for their new billion dollar home! Indeed, Gucci, Prada and their ilk in Luxury Retail have not taken off the same way in India (estimated at less than USD 1 billion compared to that of USD 17 billion in China) but I wonder if that’s just the measure.

(Read: World’s cheapest car and its possible impact on Retailers)

The article also quotes the number of dollar millionaires – I guess, the methodology in itself is flawed. There is probably more “black money” in India than in white, hence it is not the best way to assess the wealth of native Indians. Mercedes Benz, the oldest German luxury automobile in India along with with its country counter parts Audi and BMW sold over 2,500 cars last year (at an average price of USD 100,000). Property Developers such as DLF, Prestige, Sobha and many more are developing high-end customised villas that range from INR 2 Crores to 5 Crores (USD 500,000 onwards). A typical Indian middle class family spends between USD 20,000 – 50,000 – something that’s unheard of in the Western world where Church weddings do not accommodate more than a 100 people while the big fat Indian weddings feed over a thousand people, twice a day, for 3-7 days! If western wear and accessories are any measure to say that Luxury Retail in India hasn’t take off, that’s right. But then, the Indian shopper doesn’t consider Western wear for day today use and hence their usability is restricted. The article claims that even an entry level secretary in Japan or China would sport a LV bag (it doesn’t mention if original) which is not the case in India. (But they do sport gold jewellery which is not considered…). High end electronic gadgets are favourites with the working middle class including the iPod, the iPhone the iPad and a wide range of mobile phones and related accessories.

I wonder why “Luxury Retail” in India is always connected with western apparel and accessories. Women do not sport western wear to work everyday! And the reason is simple – an average Indian (women) is more comfortable in her Indian clothing. The climatic condition is more conducive for comfortable dressing and hence their preference. Would this change in the next 20 years, yes. Would it match the world markets? No. I can assure that this market will never be the same in size as what it is in Japan or China, forget Europe or the US. Indian women and the society at large are indeed embracing western wear in a big way, especially for formal occasions at workplace. Even for holidays and other occasions. However, the appreciation for high-end Luxury remains lukewarm since the reasons to wear (other clothing) is far more. Cufflinks are famous all over the world to match blazers, jackets or suits. But a majority of people in the working class do not wear a full-sleeve shirt to work, forget other accessories! And the reason is that the Indian weather conditions do not permit wearing a heavy suit all day at work. Two thirds of the working class still commute in public transport (Metros / A/c buses) and two-wheelers and hence prefer an easy attire than the complicated ones. This is one reason why “wrinkle-free” shirts and trousers are a big draw in the country.

(Also Read: Luxury Retail at Airports)

But no one bothers to compare the gold consumption in India – the most coveted precious metal with the rest of the world. Some one from the Jewellery industry told me recently that if all the gold in Indian houses is collected and offered in the world market, the price of it would be cheaper than that of copper! Really. That’s the amount of gold that is collected and retained in India. For Indians, gold (Swarna, as in Goddess Lakshmi) is bought for various reasons – as traditional jewellery, as savings for future, as a means to display wealth and so on. A former minister from the state of Karnataka who was recently arrested and jailed apparently had a gold-plated chair and even cutlery / crockery for dining at his home according to press reports when the CBI raided his house!

I am sure that the Luxury Market as opined by experts will indeed grow - Coupled with better Retail Infrastructure and Government taxation norms. Soon, one can expect an LV at an Indian airport too. You never know. It’s just a matter of time.

05 August, 2011

Spicejet and Indigo will help Retailers grow!

 

Photo courtesy: campaonindia.in

It was heartening to read that two of India’s low-cost airlines, Spicejet and IndiGo have ordered new aircraft. My former colleague and boss at BIAL Stephan Widrig, currently the Chief Commercial Officer at Zurich Airport used to say that world over, Aviation grows twice at the rate of national GDP. And rightfully so. Except for 2008-09 when India’s aviation landscape saw a slowdown, which was mostly a perceived threat to future incomes than any direct effect on current earnings, I guess we have been flying happily. The flight I just took, a Jet Lite from Delhi to Bangalore (low-cost identity of India’s premier airline Jet Aiways) was almost full,. When my ticket was booked a week ago, the return fare was around Rs. 11,000 (USD 230). Not bad, I would say. And almost all airlines are running full during the peak hours and the load factor on an average seems to be over 80% (no of seats filled per craft).

Spicejet was recently acquired by media baron Kalanithi Maran, who runs the Sun television network across the country. Though media and aviation have nothing much to do (atleast directly to spur each other’s growth), he would be the only person who would know the reason and logic behind entering a rather unknown industry. Having said that, he has been an excellent entrepreneur in his own right and has created a niche for himself in the media industry, in which his company controls over 70% of channels and viewership in Tamil Nadu, especially in South India. While he is known to be a media-shy person, he is also known for his aggressiveness in his business approach. So, when Spicejet announced expansion plans by acquiring new aircraft and applying for international routes, industry observes are not surprised. But his team and he are doing something rather differently. Instead of buying an Airbus or a Boeing, they have chosen to buy Bombardier aircraft. Except those in the industry, many wouldn’t know that aircraft which have lesser than 80 seats are exempt from various aviation and airport taxes in India. Most importantly, they don’t have to pay landing and parking charges at these airports. Since they have smaller aircraft sizes, they can easily land in smaller landing strips of 2,000 – 3,500 metres (Delhi has 4,200 metre long runway which is capable of handling the Airbus 380, the largest passenger plane currently). Many years back, Captain Gopinath, the pioneer of low-cost flying used the same to his advantage when he launched Air Deccan, India’s first low-cost airline by operating mostly ATRs to fly regional short-haul (less than 2 hour) routes. Similarly, Paramount Airways (which is now defunct and has severe debts) used Embraer aircraft and reaped benefits until such time they were alive. Sadly, both companies couldn’t sustain for too long due to investments and cash flows. Maran, hopefully shouldn’t have that issue.

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Now, how does that help Retailers? Indeed, it does. Indigo and Spicejet have announced plans for International expansion. While Spicejet has chosen Hyderabad Airport as its hub, Indigo will use Delhi  for expanding its base. Thanks to low-cost operations, both these airlines are expected to penetrate into Tier II towns. Smaller airports such as Raipur, Ranchi and Patna have demonstrated double-digit passenger growth over the past two years. Thanks to employment opportunities, youth from these cities are living and working in bigger cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore and fly down to their home-towns when required rather than spending days together in trains like in the good old times. Now – more the number of passengers, more the opportunity for commercial establishments. And that’s where Retailers are expected to benefit. For example, after successfully operating at Bangalore and Hyderabad airports for the past three years, HMSHost,  the $8 Billion F&B Retailer has recently won 10 year contracts at Chandigarh and Lucknow! While their bid was aggressive and raised eyebrows among the Industry, the company seems to be unfazed, After all, they operate at most number of airport locations in the world as a company, and should know better than anyone else. With their knowledge and expertise, not only would they set the standard in these airports, but would also fulfil the passenger requirements to the best possible. TFS, a newly launched company 2 years ago now operates F&B concessions at Mumbai and Delhi airports (the two airports account for over 45% of aviation in India). Chennai and Kolkata airports which are undergoing modernisation by the state-owned Airports Authority of India are also expected to go the master concessionaire way!

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Regional Airports like Trichy, Coimbatore, Mangalore, Nagpur, Pune, Ahmedabad, Bhubaneshwar and many more are expected to propel aviation growth over the nest few years. Not only would they feed domestic traffic, they would also encourage the ever-aspiring  middle class to undertake their first foreign jaunts. Indigo is offering a return fare of Rs. 9,999 to Dubai or Singapore from Delhi. Add on another Rs. 5,000 or so from anywhere in India for a connecting Indigo flight and a foreign trip for a couple at less than Rs. 30,000 (excluding cost of stay which works out to be very cheap if one avails package deals). These low-cost carriers are indeed growing the market and this would only help Retail and F&B players who are currently operating, as well as intend to operate at airports. The F&B spend per pax is currently less than a dollar across Indian Airports – compare that with a pax spend (on F&B) across major airports in the world such as Dubai, Singapore, Heathrow, Zurich which ranges from $5 – $15. More so, the low-cost airlines do not provide F&B on-board, so that is another opportunity that the F&B Retailers can capture.

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Indeed, there is a long way to go for Travel Retailers in India and yes, it is expected to be a bumpy ride, thanks partially to lack of basic infrastructure requirements and trained manpower, but atleast there is a start that’s in the anvil. It’s up to the Retailers to identify and chase the opportunities and the to make the most out of them.

26 April, 2010

Duty Free in India – a fiasco or a success story in the making?


“Nuance Group (India) to exit Hyderabad Airport Travel Retail as new Tender looms” read the headline on The Moodie Report – the most respected and authentic Travel Retail news site that never sleeps. Even though the Publisher Martin Moodie, Deputy Editor Dermott David and many other senior people were stranded over the past 10 days due the flight disruptions caused by E15 (that’s the short code for the Icelandic Volcano), the news website kept going. Such is the commitment of the people behind. Back to the headline, which also appeared in a leading Indian newspaper a few days ago, it was indeed a surprise for many of us in the Industry. Or should we say was it a surprise that the news came so late! Well. 

The Nuance Group that operates over 400 shops across 60 airports and 20 countries worldwide and which is among the largest Duty Free operators in the world entered India in the year 2006, with a JV with Shoppers Stop, India’s leading retailer. The JV was specifically formed for the Duty Free tenders that were coming up then, at Bangalore and Hyderabad for the two new Greenfield airports. It was quite a surprise to see this JV and so were many other partnerships – The Oberoi Group with Heinemann, for example. It was the first time that international players were setting their eyes in India. It was initially India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), a Govt. Of India undertaking which was the monopoly operator across Indian airports over the past 3-4 decades. And then came in the private monopoly of Flemingo since the turn of the 21st century. This was challenged by the International players in 2006 when the top five Duty Free operators of the world including Nuance, DFS, Dufry, Heinemann and Alpha participated in the tender process of BIAL. The line-up and interest in the Indian Duty Free was so impressive that many in the industry were hoping for better days ahead, guessing that the international players with their global exposure and best practices would mark a change in the country. Wish dreams were horses!


The first International player to win a tender in India was the Nuance-Shoppers Stop JV at Bangalore International Airport. This was followed by a similar success at Hyderabad International Airport. Other players such as Dufry and Heinemann made a quiet exit from India heading back to their strong bases. Alpha, which had been operating in Kochi and Colombo for over 10 years went back to focus on its territories.

A lot was anticipated by the Industry from the Nuance-Shoppers JV since its victory from the tenders at Bangalore and Hyderabad. With their impeccable track record in India, Shoppers Stop was expected to put things into perspective and bring some method to madness in this crazy business. After all, travel retail was, and is still a very nascent industry in India and who would believe me as an Airport Retail Manager a few years ago when I would say passengers would buy not just books and magazines, but also diamonds, watches, t-shirts and perfumes, even in the domestic departures of the airports! Shoppers Stop is doing an excellent job and one can see this at the Bangalore and Hyderabad Airports. And Nuance, with their global experience and success was expected to negotiate the best rates from its suppliers and pass on the discounts to its customers at the International Departures and Arrivals. Needless to say, this is a true story today and the duty free stores in Bangalore and Hyderabad have been the favourite for most International passengers in recent times, surpassing erstwhile favorites such as Dubai, Singapore and Bangkok Duty Free.

So, what really went wrong at Hyderabad? Honestly, I wouldn’t like to speculate. But there are certain points that were evident with their business model, some of which are discussed here. Sure, these are observations of yours truly and a few people around while personal thoughts of some of the readers may differ. To begin with, the size of the market was over-estimated. Going by previous experiences, the incumbent Flemingo who was operating at the erstwhile Begumpet Airport at Hyderabad did not have such a large duty free area. This, in my opinion should have been the first learning. A large airport doesn’t necessarily mean a large Duty Free Store, many of you would agree. Next, the range included high-end premium products including Scotch and Cigars, which was probably not required. The reason for this being over 60% of international passengers are either proceeding towards or returning from the Middle East and are blue-collared workers, whose primary requirements include some inexpensive chocolates to distribute among friends and family, low-cost tobacco products, whisky and rum. And most importantly, over half of all passengers belong to the Muslim community who do not consume any form of alcohol. This, according to many in the industry was the most important point that should have been kept in mind. Indeed, for the reasons mentioned above, it was widely expected that Alpha Duty Free, now a part of the Autogrill Group, which has been operating in Cochin (with similar consumer profiles) could have been a better bet for this airport.


Most recently, middle of 2009, there was an unsavoury incident at Hyderabad Airport where some of the staff of the duty free were allegedly involved in a racket that included illegal smuggling of customs bonded goods. While the words may sound alarming or confusing, what was happening actually was that the staff were taking goods out of the store that were not purchased by passengers, but by illegally using their personal details. This, according to some in the close vicinity of the Operator as well as the Airport Management was the last nail on the coffin. Afterall, the GMR Group which operates and manages the airports in Delhi and Hyderabad was in no mood to continue a situation that would give it disrepute in any form. The new Terminal 3 at New Delhi is nearing completion and once finished would possibly be the best terminal in India and among the best in the world. So, the latest news is that a new tender is being called for and the new operator “may” have a Joint Venture with the GMR Group directly, just like how Aer Rianta has entered in Delhi.


Having said all of that, Nuance has done a commendable job in Bangalore over the last two years and this is also a reflection of their best practices being continued – they are also doing great in Zurich Airport, which happens to be one of the main shareholders in Bangalore Airport. Their achievements in Bangalore include bringing for the first time in India a Formula One Racing Car to many other exciting promotions that have never been tried in the country. While there is wide speculation that they would wind up their India operations  (naturally by the Indian Media coz they love doing it), many in the know are unwilling to believe so. Bangalore Duty Free, if done well in the years to come would be not just among the most profitable to the operator, but has the possibility to be one of the best in the world. Nuance has proven time and again that it is THE BEST Operator at Singapore and Hong Kong and understands the pulse of this market quite much. I am sure the business will flourish well in capable hands and continued mentoring and look forward to its wining accolades in times to come. So, where is the Indian Duty Free heading towards? Just wait until T3 opens - and the new integrated Terminal at Mumbai International Airport. Just a matter of time, when Indian operators will show the world how this business is run best. Cheers. 

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