Showing posts with label Bangalore Central. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bangalore Central. 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.

30 August, 2020

The Future of Retail

The writing was on the wall for a long time. Many old timers like me and thousands of retail enthusiasts in India and worldwide were eagerly waiting for the announcement. That the Reliance Group was a strong contender to buy out The Future Group lock, stock and barrel was a known fact. And that Amazon and Walmart were discussing the final nuances was also a known thing. And then, it happened finally. It Happened In India – on 29th August 2020, Reliance Retail and The Future Group formally announced in the media that the former had bought out the wholesale, retail and warehousing business of the latter in full. A red letter day for self made Entrepreneurs, groaned many on social media and in passive interactions. The man recovered his 30 year’s investment of time, quipped many others. A few former employees were seen sulking in public and private, some even wept at this outcome. At the end of the day, it’s a business that has changed hands, owners and course. Life moves on, so why fret, said many others. 


Kishore Biyani and his cousins started the traditional business of selling dress materials for men in Calcutta in the 80s. As a family driven business from the “Maheshwari” community of Marwaris, the family spread their work load. Each one of them had an important role to play – from sourcing to selling, accounting to managing working capital. They named the company “Pantaloon” as they were selling Pant lengths for making patloon, the Indian namesake for western clothing. When the family gathered pace with their wholesale business, was born an idea of retail models such that customers could grace the shop and buy. They opened their fancy big outlet at Gariahat, Calcutta in the late 90s. The shop was a runaway hit and also boasted “Green Card” – a loyalty platform. Yes, 1990s. With the stupendous success of the fashion format, the company decided to cater to the other essentials for the family – Roti, Kapda aur Makaan. Thus was born Big Bazaar on VIP Road, Kolkata in 2001. All along the Biyanis were shuttling between the city of joy and the city of dreams. With dreams unlimited. 


I joined the group in 2004 when the company ventured with Mall Retailing – Bangalore Central which opened it’s doors in May 2004 And has over 45 Malls to its credit till date all India. The company opened some format of retailing in every residential locality of India’s top 100 cities – from Gauhati to Madurai, Baroda to Bilaspur. At some point, the company was selling everything from a humble Rs. 10 samosa to the entire wardrobe for the house with accessories, furnishings, paraphernalia and everything in between. After the big slowdown of 2008, Kishore Ji in his inimitable style conceded at the 2009 India Retail Forum at Mumbai that the company wanted to be “everything to everyone” and failed miserably at it. As a person who only gathers learning and lessons from failures, he simply moved on to build a coveted “Pantaloon Fashion” business which he sold at a handsome profit to the Birlas. Once again, he painstakingly built other fashion retail brands including Cover Story and fBB alongside the equivalent of India’s very own Walmart – Big Bazaar. 


For every 10 customers who frowned at the business model of BB, 100 others became loyal patrons everyday of the multi-category retailer infamous for crazy deals and price-offs. During these last 20 years, there were several internal and external forces that wanted a slice of the Golden Sparrow – a pneumonic which the group added to it’s logo when the company’s name was changed to The Future Group – Sone Ki Chidiya tagged along with. When Reliance Retail was contemplating to enter the retail business in 2008, they had obviously explored a buy out. However, the company built it’s own fort with all it’s might. Amazon and Walmart made several attempts all these years to get a pie in the business but couldn’t lay siege in a big way. In turn, Bharti-Walmart ended up selling their retail business “Easy Day Stores” to the group several years back even as Carrefour bowed out of India with a single store in East Delhi which never took off. The group and it’s Founder were building a mighty retail company with several formats, several business models including a foray in to packaged FMCG with the “Tasty Treat” Brand which was an outcome of the private label business of the company through its grocery retail business. 

It’s all about timing, as they say in business and bourses. 


The Corona Crisis was a great opportunity for the Promoters to exit the business especially when the richest man of Asia was willing to write a cheque. This was not a hostile bid. Yes, there has been mounting pressure from Investors, bankers and share holders due the company’s debt levels. But a bailout, if needed was only favorable for the Biyanis. As they didn’t just sell grocery, household, electronics and fashion alone. Kishore Biyani was a Dream Merchant. He made millions of Indians to dream. To dream Big. To dream big about building scale and grow their businesses. For thousands of naysayers of the group’s way of running the business, lakhs of small time business persons grew their small ventures inspired by the self-styled and non-conformist serial Entrepreneur who tried to sell everything a consumer can consume, literally and figuratively including insurance and EMI-led credit to shop more at his 1,000s of stores. Some even went public or raised private investments. He strongly believed in a consumption led economy and Kept repeating that the Great Indian Consumption Story is yet to take off in a big way.


As a Retail professional, my second stint was with the group where I saw firsthand decision making of a slew of deals; how to take risks with determination and a cushion to fall; gather self motivation and courage to keep moving, no matter what. If one thing doesn’t work one way, try it another away. And a 100 other ways. It would eventually work, after all. It had to. Had I not moved to Bangalore on that Sankranthi day of 2004, much to the chagrin of my parents with 4 bags and a bagful of dreams, my professional career, a Retail dominated one at that wouldn’t have occurred, probably. I am ever grateful to the Leadership Team at the erstwhile Pantaloon group who guided me as a young man with a mere 2.5 years’ experience and of course my many interactions with Mr. Rakesh Biyani with whom I worked closely while setting up the Concessionaire Business at Bangalore Central. 


I personally see this as yet another lesson for budding as well as well settled Entrepreneurs  - to believe in oneself and keep moving with earnest efforts. If you do well, you will succeed. If you don’t do as well as you could have, yet have built something incredible, then there will always be someone to support you, invest in your dreams or perhaps buy them out. 

The Great Indian Retail story is yet to be fully told. I am glad I am a part of it.
A Retailer by Profession and Choice. Since 1997. 

07 April, 2012

Music can convert more customers!

salon style

I asked him, “are there people in your store who have had a love-failure"??” and obviously he was confused. He called for his supervisor and I repeated my question. Both of them gave me a warm smile and declined that there wasn’t anything of that sort. So, why play such boring music of love-songs at a Hair Salon post noon?!? I quipped. He was quick to change the music and I told him that it wasn’t for me but for his employees too. This incident happened recently at a hair salon when I was out for my monthly activity. I have been a firm believer that “air play” or the music that you play at your retail store, irrespective of its format has an impact on the customers and their tendency to shop/consume more. And there is no standard laundry list of what kind of songs to be played across formats – these are learned over time and are specific to the history (of customer behaviour) and the geography (of the store’s location).

A salon must be playing peppy songs  most often. As it is, a hair cut or a similar activity is a reasonably boring one (and I specifically refer it only to men) while women seem to focus more on the job being done. The staff must be happy and cheerful all the time – after all, they promise to change the way one looks and this is an important thing that most Senior Managements at Retail companies give a miss. While they focus on clean and hygienic environments (which is a must in a salon), things such as mood-lighting and sound (read: music) is often ignored, though not intentionally. It could be different for various services within a Salon. For Ex., the music to be played while a hair-cut is being undertaken could be significantly different than when, say a body massage is being given. I was a month ago, outing at a Kerala Ayurvedic Massage centre, its more of a therapy than just a massage, I would say and to my surprise, there was no music! The whole place was smelling of essential oils, which seem to be suffocating at some stage. I did share my feedback with their front-office and they gave a lame reason – that the speaker wasn’t working. Hope these things get corrected.

Salon 1

For my new born child, I was looking for a cradle and visited many stores that stocked “Baby Products” in Chennai. Not one was  playing music! They could easily be selling music CDs and DVDs for kids of various age – though these are low-margin, low-value items, they increase the basket size without much effort. Mom and Me, the baby products and maternity store operated by Mahindra Retail was playing a DVD on their LCD screen which was located 15 feet above the ground. One had to look up all the way to see what was going on. Ofcourse, it was better to play something than nothing, I felt.

Saravana Stores, a regional Retailer based out of Chennai which has one of the highest footfalls into their million square feet stores recently was playing “Jam” by Michael Jackson, while most of their customers wouldn’t have even known the pop icon. India’s largest Hypermarket Retailer Big Bazaar had sometime ago tied up with a Radio station with national presence but which plays regional songs. Makes sense. Retailers need to talk the same language as the customer and create the mood for consuming more. Cafes and eateries such as Café Coffee Day, Gloria Jeans, Pizza hut, etc. typically play the latest hits while a fine-dine restaurant plays mellow music, usually instrumental such as a piano or piped instrument. Pubs and Bars, as always play music that is so loud that patrons have to speak at the top of their voice to be heard. Grocery stores may choose to play local music but not something that is very jazzy! Department Stores and Malls too play soft music most often. The moments of truth, irrespective of the retailer’s origin or market remains the same.

The power of air play is huge. Few Retailers have realised and used it well. Hope to see many more use them smartly – afterall, good music can aid in higher conversions!

01 January, 2012

Retail in India–Way ahead for 2012

Customer Checkout 

Organized Retail in India has come a long way over the past decade and 2011 was expected to change the wind towards the positive side, due to allowing FDI in Retail. Thanks to political unrest and the opposition parties claiming hoarse, FDI in Multi-Brand Retail has been put on hold (hope not shelved) while FDI in Single Brand Retail has quietly been allowed, atleast on paper. While a few International Brands such as Benetton, Tommy, Diesel, Esprit, etc. have been operating in India for many years now through Joint Ventures with Indian partners, a beeline of Brands wanting to enter India is expected in 2012 – a hope that many in Retail have been holding on for sometime now! The coming months are expected to be exciting times for our Industry and here’s a view on how this landscape would evolve;

Malls

From a lakh square feet to a million square feet in 10 years, modern shopping centers aka Malls have walked a long journey all these years. Today, Malls are not places for consumers to just shop but a generous mix of shopatainment – which includes Shopping, Dining and Entertainment. While there are over 200 operational malls today in the country, another equal number is expected to come up in the next few years. A number of mall projects which commenced during the slowdown in 2008 are ready for occupancy now and many are expected to launch this year.

Supermarkets

The neighborhood supermarkets have evolved the most, among all formats of Retail over the years. Size was always a concern for players like Spencer’s and More – getting it right was a challenge, either the stores being too big with empty shelves or too small with regular stock-outs. Many players have exited the marketplace while a few like Food Bazaar and Nilgiris (through franchises) are increasing their presence assuming scale-up would help them gain overall net margins which range in high single digits. This would be the first format, in my opinion that would straighten up – only serious players would exist and they would do a great job while many others would exit – hopefully this year.

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Hypermarkets

With foreigner CEOs and advisors engaging the managements of Indian Retailers, it was widely believed that Hypermarkets must be large, really large like the ones in western countries.Thanks to some early learning, many players like Hypercity and Total have corrected their ways of working. Small is the new Big, with Hypers ranging from 20,000 – 45,000 in prime retail areas in multi-level locations compared to the earlier proposition of being over 60,000 sft – one single floor in suburban areas! Newer players especially multi-nationals like Tesco and Target are expected in this format in the coming year while existing players are planning massive scale-ups.

Department Stores

These large format stores, the blue-eyed ones due to their colorful appearance was and is expected to be the only ones to see some EBIDTA in their early years. That’s a boon and bane in a sense in this format. To ensure they attract high-spender footfalls regularly, they should turn their stocks quite often; that means having the right mix of merchandise is extremely important which is a direct impact of having high quality staff who can choose the right merchandise every consecutive season. This is a vicious cycle and players like Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, Westside etc. have got it right while a few of them are still struggling to learn.

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Specialty Retailers

Stand-alone specialty stores of international and even domestic brands are seeing dwindling numbers. The total number of stores that were being added year-on-year have reduced considerably. If it was 20 new stores and most being unprofitable four years ago, the numbers have reversed, thankfully. Most brands don’t talk about crazy numbers anymore, only well-merchandised stores and outlet level profitably.

QSRs and Food Retailing

It seems cooking and eating at home is a more expensive proposition these days thanks to high food inflation and going by the sales of pizza chains and fine-dine restaurants. While Dunkin Donuts is almost ready with its first outlet, Starbucks is slated to open quite soon too. Café Coffee Day will ad over 200 new cafes this year while Dominos and Pizza Hut will have company in California Pizza Kitchen and a few others. This would indeed be the most exciting format to watch indeed!

Greenland

Kiranas

The unorganized retailer down the road doesn’t pay taxes or offer health benefits to employees; no one ever checks the quality or quantity of goods sold; BUT he is able to offer lower prices everyday to consumers with other additional benefits such as short-term credit and quick home delivery. Modernisation is the byword for the them and they are indeed giving a touch competition to the organized players.

E-Commerce

But the real competition, if not threat to all formats of retail in 2012 is going to be through E-Commerce. Sadly, many brands and retailers are not paying attention to the increasing internet user base – over 100 million as of 2011 compared to just three million in 2001. This has allowed fly-by-night operators to open websites that sell everything from toothpaste to watches, apparel to expensive jewelry! Most of them have no clue how e-commerce works and many are even buying merchandise and selling – something which goes against the fundamental philosophy of transacting online!

27 November, 2011

FDI in Retail–the saga continues!

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It was a much-awaited, welcome move by the Cabinet of the Indian Parliament to allow 100% FDI in Single Brand Retail and up to 51% FDI in multi-brand retail on 24th Nov. 2011. A surprise announcement, given that the winter session of the Parliament is under progress, which hasn’t been functioning fully due to various issues in the fore. The announcement comes after two decades of reforms that started in 1991 and over 10 years of strong growth by the Organized players of the Retail Industry in India. The Left parties along with the main opposition party in the Parliament, viz., the BJP have been publicly protesting against the decision. One senior member of the party has announced that she will burn the Wal-Mart store if it opens anywhere and she is ready to court arrest for the same! Such has been the tensions on this topic for many years now. Even the general public (read: Consumers) have been left confused due to various approaches proposed by those who are for- and against allowing FDI in retail. The issue has been politicized more than it is, by a section of those who claim that allowing foreign retailers will harm the livelihood of small kiranas (mom and pop retailers) while another view is that it would create millions of jobs and would bring down food inflation.

(Suggested Reading: Kirans and Retailers)

Background of the Indian Retail Industry

India’s largest retailer, The Future Group is close to $3 Billion in Revenues through its various formats such as Big Bazaar (hypermarket), Food Bazaar (supermarket), Pantaloon and Central Malls (lifestyle retailing), EZone (electronics) and Home Town (home improvement) and many other brands that it has created as well as through a license to operate. The $82 Billion TATA Group has been in the consumer lifestyle business through the TITAN watch brand for over 2 decades now while its premium jewellery chain Tanishq is the biggest among its peers. India’s largest company by market capitalisation, The Reliance Industries also operates various formats through its subsidiary Reliance Retail. Shoppers Stop (India’s largest Department store chain) and Hypercity (Hypermarkets) along with Home Stop and the Crossword book store chain is expected to reach a Billion Dollars in Revenue in the next 2-3 years with aggressive expansion and brisk business. UAE based Landmark Group which operates the Lifestyle stores along with SPAR supermarkets and MAX hypermarkets along with a few licensed brands will also be Billion dollar company soon (in its India operations). The world’s largest Retailer Wal-Mart has a JV with Bharti enterprises for operating supermarkets and hypermakets while has its own 100% subsidiary for operating the Cash-&-Carry format; Carrefour from France and Metro AG from Germany have similar models as well. Many other international retailers have been peeping into the Indian economy for want a small share of its vast business potential. And then there are a number of regional players across various geographies focussing in specific verticals who have aggressive expansion plans coupled with ambitious growth plans. Most of their funding has been through internal accruals while some of the large national players are public limited companies.

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FDI – For and Against

While its fair to say that a few kiranas will face the heat due to the presence of large Retailers in their vicinity, I wonder why is the threat perception only against the international players. I would disagree that we need dollar funding for our growth – we have enough money in the economy (white, black, red, whatever) and some of the Indian business houses have more collective intellectual ability than compared with those abroad – the Indian conglomerate buying out a premier automobile company in the UK and turning it around in less than 2 years is a great example. Indian Hypermarkets, all of over 100 in number have been given a tuff fight in turn by the local kiranas, whose biggest advantage is convenience and home delivery coupled with short-term credit. The large retailers have been grappling with the single biggest problem of attrition (of staff) followed by shrinkage (or pilferage – wastages/stolen goods) which is amongst the highest in the world. India has over 12 million retail touch points and growing. While it is fashionable for some rich-kids to venture into retailing, it is indeed the livelihood of many million families that they are highly self-dependent on their own trade. in my view their threat is from anyone who ventures into the same business in their locality, big or small, domestic or international. If any, what we have to learn from International retailers is their strict adherence to processes and procedures which we tend to take easy at times. I remember, during my days at Foodworld a decade back, we used to have check-lists to be filled in my store managers and their deputies every hour to ensure the store is looking perfect at all times. Needless to say, the check-list was drafted by Dairy Farm International – DFI (incidentally, an anagram of FDI) and was shared with its then Indian JV partner, the RPG Spencers Group. Actually, there are many other things including best practices that we could learn a thing or two from International partners.

(Suggested Reading – How Odyssey gained International acclaim)

Inflation

It is a myth that allowing FDI would reduce food inflation. Certainly not in the short-term. What we lack, and very badly at that is the back-end infrastructure including logistics and supply chain. This is one area where international retailers with their vast experience in other markets such as the US, Europe, China and Brazil could bring in their expertise. Factually, it begins with the interaction with the farmer who grows the produce. What is popularly known as Farm-to-Fork. This area needs huge investments and conviction by the humble farmer that his efforts would indeed make a difference to the country, to the end user – the consumer. Let’s agree that this takes time. Maybe five years. Or more. But to convince people that allowing Wal-Mart and its ilk to open new stores would bring down inflation is a story that no one who is in the know will buy!

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Execution – the key to FDI success

The cabinet has clearly indicated a few conditions which make FDI rules difficult for execution. Firstly, it says that the matter is a state subject which means each state can decide whether it wants to allow FDI or not. Secondly, it allows foreign retailers to enter cities only with a million or more population (and we have only 53 cities such as this as of Nov. 2011). In a way it is good, that only evolved, mature markets are open for FDI investment, but in hindsight it is the Tier II & below cities that need more investments. so, these two points make it extremely cumbersome to operate. If an Indian Retailers wants to share its “board” with a foreign retailer, it is only for one of the two reasons – either it wants to reduce its debt by offloading stake (which the banks are not willing to, anymore) or to learn international best practices.

(Also Read: Low-Cost – its all about the perception)

The draft is yet to be tabled in the parliament as this column is being written and some high-voltage drama is expected over the next few days. Whichever way, these are exciting times ahead. For Retailers, its a new ray of hope to perform better for the sake of its shareholders & for itself; For Retail professionals like me, it opens up our employability & professional success; and for Consumers, it means more options & competitive environment between existing retailers and better prices for them.

All summed up in one word – Hope.

28 October, 2011

Selling, Upselling and Unselling

Despite my request thrice, the staff of India’s first class airline forgot to sell me sandwiches and muffin, my first and most important meal of the day – Breakfast, while I was flying from Bangalore to Delhi (on work) last week. My first request was placed around 25 minutes after take-off, and I waved at her two times thereafter, but to my dismay and surprise, she seemed to have forgotten till the flight landed… And it was a 2.5 hour flight! Was it pure negligence or arrogance or forgetfulness – I don’t know, but for sure, a lost opportunity. What I may, if allowed can call “unselling”. In our (Retail) business, a lost consumption opportunity can never be recovered. After all, a breakfast meal (to the same person) cannot be served for lunch or dinner! On a quick calculation, I was stunned to note the business opportunity of selling on board – if, for example, an airline flies 100 flights a day, with an average of 100 pax per flight, and a 25% conversion @ Rs. 120 per person, it amounts to Rs. 3 lakhs per day or Rs. 100 crore per annum in topline! Well – that’s the potential opportunity and it all depends on how best the airline staff are able to sell. However, what the airline then needs are not air hosts and hostesses but air- salesmen and saleswomen! but why not? The airlines haven’t yet spotted this as an important opportunity (I Guess so, lest she would have sold my muffin!) and I am sure this is one market that F&B players cannot and shouldn’t miss. With minimum dwell time at airports (time spent between security checks and boarding), and with a healthy >25% conversion of pax at F&B outlets across Indian airport terminals, I wonder why this opportunity cannot be real. It is, indeed.

(Suggested Reading: Travel Retail and Luxury Retail at Airports)

Over the last weekend, India’s most consumed newspaper Times of India carried 20-30 page supplements across all major cities, most of which were advertisements by Retailers and Brands wooing shoppers to choose their respective locations and products while shopping this Diwali. Prominent advertisers included large retailers such as The Future Group (Pantaloons, Big Bazaar, Food Bazaar, Central Malls, EZone, Home Town), Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, Croma, Reliance Retail, etc. What was interesting was most Retailers were promoting “bill value” based promotions – a clear tactic to entice shoppers to spend a little extra – what we popularly call as “Upselling”. This could be on and off the ground – while advertisements promote the idea, it is the sales’ staff who finally “close the sale’ and hence are the messengers by the Retailers to convince shoppers to spend more. Unsurprisingly, sales grew between 25% – 45% across various Retail stores. Electronics and Furniture took centre stage this time (specifically for promotions) while apparel and accessories including Jewellery, Watches, etc. were assumed to be sure-shot purchases for the festive season.

(Suggested Reading: Consumer Driven)

Upselling is an art, taught and trained to Retail staff right from the time they join in their roles and all through their career. It’s a bit like negotiation, pushing customers to buy more. While this is expected of every staff towards every customer who walks into the store, it is emphasized especially during festive times to increase the bill values – the amount spent by a customer on his / her shopping bill.

 

Gift Vouchers

While “gifts” of a certain perceived value are given away if the customer achieves a certain amount of bill, other tactics have also been used over time – gift vouchers being the most common one. The advantage with gift vouchers is that the shopper has to return back to the store once again and encash it or utilize the voucher for part-payment and that too, within a certain time frame. The average amount spent over and above the value of Gift Vouchers ranges between 20-35% and goes up to 70% in some cases. They are also transferable, and can hence be passed on to loved ones. This festive season, Reliance Trends is providing coupons worth Rs. 3,000 for a shopping value of the same amount.

(Suggested Reading: Gift Vouchers)

By-Products

This is a smart tactic used, especially in the Electronics business. While a battery charger and headphones are in-built with the original packaging (in most cases), the retailer or the brand could throw in an additional accessory, say a screen guard or a Bluetooth ™ headset along with a mobile phone! Instead of providing a cheap one, Samsung upsells with a Samsung Bluetooth™ headset for just Rs. 500 (MRP Rs. 899) at select retail stores including at Ezone and 50% off on other accessories for its Galaxy Tablet. Great way to engage shoppers to spend more!

Buy One Get One

An age-old tactic to upsell, this is the most common (yet boring) phenomenon one can find. Giordano offers another wrist watch when you buy one! Works well for couples who want a new one for themselves but the designs may be limited. However, it also works as a worthy gift. Last year, I bought an Esprit ladies watch as a gift and I got myself a fabric-strap sporty watch from Puma which I use while cycling. Needless to say, one can always find utilities how to use the free product.

Scratch and win!

Some Retailers offer a promotion scheme where every shopper who attains a certain bill value gets to scratch a card (or crush a fortune cookie) and wins a gift as mentioned in it. The gifts may range from gift vouchers to small home utensils to accessories or even a motor bike or a car or a house! The excitement in this case is pretty high, with each shopper hoping to win something big. Atleast, there is no disappointment that one didn’t get the big fish! SPAR, world’s largest F&B Retailer is offering a similar proposition to enable more shoppers to buy more!

(Suggested Reading: National Shopping Day!)

Shop and win!

Central Malls, India’s largest Mall chain is offering a Toyota Etios (car) and a Harley Davidson (Motorbike) to be won when you shop and participate in a lucky draw! By far, the most exciting, tried-and-tested promotion globally to attract shoppers. An average middle class shopper, irrespective of whether he / she owns a car or a bike (no matter how many) wouldn’t decline an offer to own one more, especially if it is free of cost. The only catch – the winner has to pay road taxes and insurance, which may cost a few thousands. However, this sort of promotion, a raffle to say is among the ones that excite shoppers the most. Airports worldwide, including Singapore, Dubai, Heathrow, Frankfurt etc., offer luxury and high-end cars to be won for a few bucks that is spent at their airport shops. No matter, what – people buy! And buy more, and in this case, upselling just works.

(Also Read: Central Realigns the City!)

Diwali is gone, but the offers are still on! Festivals would come and go buy upselling continues. Retailers must spend a lot of time encouraging their staff to upsell, rather to talk to potential customers, to begin with. These days, many shop assistants feel they are paid to stand (there are well-dressed mannequins already) and usually talk with each other but move to a corner when a shopper walks by. Store Managers would do well for themselves if they lead by example. I have done so, many years back encouraging shoppers to buy bread when they come to buy their morning milk, to try a new range of ketchup when they are looking for noodles at Foodworld.

It’s possible. Just needs a bit of push. By each of us! Happy Selling… errr… Upselling…

06 October, 2011

Malls are also parking lots!

I recently came across an article which claims that Bangalore is the most painful place when it comes to commuting and parking of vehicles! My suggestion – is to build more Malls.

IBM Global Commuter Pain survey

A new IBM survey of the daily commute in a cross-section of some of the most economically important international cities reveals a startling dichotomy: while the commute has become a lot more bearable over the past year, drivers’ complaints are going through the roof. The annual global Commuter Pain Survey, which IBM released recently, reveals that in a number of cities more people are taking public transportation rather than driving, when compared with last year’s survey. In many cities, there were big jumps in the percentage of respondents who said that roadway traffic has improved either “somewhat” or “substantially” in the past three years.

IBM Commuter Pain Index

To better understand consumer attitudes around traffic congestion as the issue continues to grow around the world, IBM conducted the 2011 Commuter Pain survey. The IBM Commuter Pain Index, illustrated in this speedometer graphic, ranks the emotional and economic toll of commuting in 20 international cities. From right to left, cities are plotted from least painful starting with Montreal and gradually increase to the most painful city, Mexico City. But that’s only part of the story. In many cities, the survey recorded significant increases, when compared with last year, in the number of respondents who said that roadway traffic has increased their levels of personal stress and anger and negatively affected their performance at work or school.  “Commuting doesn’t occur in a vacuum,” said Naveen Lamba, IBM’s global intelligent transportation expert. “A person’s emotional response to the daily commute is colored by many factors – pertaining both to traffic congestion as well as to other, unrelated, issues. This year’s Global Commuter Pain survey indicates that drivers in cities around the world are much more unsettled and anxious compared with 2010.” 

According a report recently in Times of India, around 1,300 vehicles are fined everyday for illegal parking. And this is just the official number. I would assume for every ticket that is issued, atleast 5 are not! So, we can guess the number of illegal / wrong parking. Whose fault is it – to provide adequate parking spaces in a city like Bangalore, to ensure ample public transport is provided? And as users, as commuters, aren’t we as public responsible too? Well, there are no straight answers. In a growing urban metropolitan city like Bangalore, this is bound to happen. With the price of automobiles going down each year (and despite the rising petrol costs), more people are opting for personal transportation options, both for official as well as personal usage. And I wonder what relief a 3km Metro rail will bring in the short-term and even if a fifth of the city is connected, am not sure how useful it is going to be!

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However, there is a simple solution through public-private partnership that can significantly reduce the pain-points – build more public car parking spaces which would also double up as Retail Destinations! Call them Malls, Shopping Centres, whatever. And we already have a great example in Garuda Mall. The land belongs to the city Corporation, the structure built by a private party which was expected to house over 2000 cars and two-wheelers. And also have some shops which would provide the revenues to maintain and manage the parking lot. And we know the result – a swanky mall with 100s of shops and restaurants including some big names such as Shoppers Stop, Westside, Louis Philippe, Benetton, etc. a full-blown food court and a six screen INOX Multiplex! Avid shoppers wait patiently outside just to just enter the mall over the weekends! Movie-goers reach the Mall 20-30 minutes before the cinema commences to ensure they watch the film from the beginning. A similar example is Mantri Mall at Malleswaram in South Bangalore

Bangalore, overall has only 10 notable Malls for a city that has a population of over 8 million people (as per the recent census). By any means, this is just not enough. World cities like New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, and even Shanghai and Beijing have a reasonably more number of Malls. And many other Retail destinations such as Hypermarkets, Neighbourhood Malls, etc. These locations, typically act as public parking spots for a particular locality during the day (since serious shoppers typically prefer late evenings or weekends). In a way, higher retail proliferation also means additional space on offer, which makes the market more competitive, such that builders and developers or Mall Management companies do not charge the Retailers exorbitantly, which in turn affects the number of stores a Retailer or a Brand operates in that market. This can be seen vividly in markets like China close by and in the US, needless to say. For example, every locality would have a Wal-Mart with hundreds of car parking lots – and it is not just for shoppers, but also for those who have work in the vicinity.  The expectation is that those who didn’t have any work in the mall may also just pop-in. And it happens many times. 

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Infrastructure is one of the biggest challenges India is facing, and Retail Infrastructure is no better. Coupled to that, we as a society are averse to walking – which is very common to see in Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Europe and other countries. They say, that cafes and QSRs do not have parking lots (worldwide) because customers prefer to walk a bit. But not in India. Even a humble “darshini” restaurant which serves local fare would see a dozen two-wheelers parked outside its shop, mostly in a “No-Parking” area. Most of us, in the name of saving time prefer not to walk even a bit. And people also blame it on pollution, lack of pavements or walking tracks and so on.

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Bangalore will see two new retail developments open its doors within the next six months. Each of them have a million square feet of Retail, F&B and Entertainment. And a couple of smaller developments are in various stages too. Together, at the moment around 5,000 cars and two-wheelers can be parked in our Malls but this expected to simply double with the new developments coming in. I assure, the next time I have to visit a place I will atleast attempt to look for a nearby mall. What about you?

29 September, 2011

Controversial Ads, Branding and Footfalls

There has been a lot of furore over the recent so called “indecent” advertisements in the mainline media by “Flying Machine” (FM), a popular denim wear brand in India for close to two decades now. The brand, which was one of the earliest entrants in the denim wear market competed with international ones such as Lee, Levis and Pepe since the late 90s and has hence maintained its position as an entry level fashion wear due to its affordable price tag and distribution reach – since it shares shelf space with other brands such as Arrow and Lee from the house of Arvind Mills. The debate is about how much indecent an ad can get and what the society would feel rather than its impact on sales! Well.

(Suggested reading: National Shopping Day)

Denim Market in India is highly unorganized – with less than 25% of all denim wear sold at Organized retail outlets such as Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, Central Malls, MegaMart, Brand Factory, Fashion @ Big Bazaar and other exclusive brand stores. We have denim wear (bottoms) starting from as low as Rs. 200 (1 USD = Rs. 48 approx) on footpaths at Linking Road in Mumbai, Janpath in New Delhi, Commercial Street in Bangalore, etc. to over Rs. 10,000 across premium brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Diesel and in the range of Rs. 20,000 – Rs. 40,000 across exclusive luxury brands such as Versace and Armani. Denim for long was not considered a comfortable dress to use in India due to various reasons;

  • The texture/fabric was rather thick – and many thought it wasn't suitable to wear during hot and humid weather which is the case across the country for 6-9 months a year
  • Washing the Denim wasn’t an easy affair since most households (in the urban areas) didn’t have Washing machines and maids would complain washing denim by hand due to its heaviness when soaked in water
  • It wasn’t well accepted in the society – Colleges had banned them, Offices preferred formal attire and hence Denim was rather dedicated for a select few special occasions
  • Women were not the main Target consumers, essentially because denim bottom wear couldn’t be well coordinated with other dresses in the wardrobe
  • Blue and Black were the only colours mostly and the “fit” was standardised

Things have changed and how over the last decade!

The fabric has been well-treated to ensure it is light-weight and easy to wear. Also most reputed brands mix denim with cotton fabric, thus ensuring sweat is absorbed and hence making it a comfortable thing to wear all through the year. A fully automatic Washing Machine from a reputed brand that used to cost over Rs. 20,000 during the early part of the past decade is almost half the price now. Most urban households have moved away from the concept of house maids (especially for washing clothes) and now boast of semi-automatic or even fully-automatic washing machines which also dry the clothes after washing within an hour! Most colleges do not have such bans anymore, as long as the students wear decent clothing! More and more offices are moving towards smart work-wear and hence denim (especially on Fridays / Weekends) at most offices and all week across companies in the IT and ITES sectors, Ad agencies, etc. is an accepted norm. Denims are now available in various colours and women coordinate with traditional looking “Kurtis” or short-tops. To the benefit of consumers and retailers, the market has indeed evolved for good. The number of “fits” available today is exhaustive and one can really choose the best fit for oneself – mostly across brands.

(Suggested Reading: Customer Service)

So, do brands in this space still need controversial aspects to advertise, to divert attention? FM is not the only exception. During a Fashion Show last year, actor Akshay Kumar, the brand ambassador for Levi’s walked up to his wife and yester year actress Twinkle Khanna who was seated in the front row for her to open the button fly in full public view! The act was a trending video online and the photos would have been searched a zillion times! Bizarre, some quipped. What a great attention seeking tactic, many others said. “Seeking Cheap Publicity” – a few blasted. Well, no more than that.

Leading Business newspaper The Economic Times has carried an interesting article over the weekend that illustrates how internationally denim brands use controversial advertisements and other such acts especially in the print media to create attention. The big question though is “Has it increased Sales?”. the answer is a big NO. But what it does is create a flutter effect – people get talking about it and the word spreads faster these days than before, thanks to powerful social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook. For Retailers (and Brands), the most important outcome for any investment is a substantive increase in footfalls at its stores. Research has it that only 30% of men and 60% of women who enter a store undertake “product trials”, however over 80% of those who took a trial end up buying the product. And this applies all the more for Denim-wear because each fit is different and unique in its own sense. Now, do such Ads pull shoppers into the stores? No. And hence the question of “new trials” doesn’t arise. However, Ad agencies benefit enormously in the meanwhile. #justsaying

(Suggested Reading: The Levi’s way of collaboration)

I bet if such ads are a great way of brand-building, especially when the Brand is communicating to middle-class masses who neither understand nor appreciate such bold communication. It is a lot different when showcased at Fashion Weeks in London or Lisbon, Paris of New York. For now, the focus should be on creating Ads that have a pull-effect; one that attracts the eye of potential shoppers and drives them to the stores. If not anything, the Retailer’s names and contact numbers could have been a font bigger in the said Ad. If only someone is wanting more footfalls, that is.

19 September, 2010

Creating categories – Way forward for successful Retailing

Looking at the eagerness of a family to see how a Compact Disc works was amazing – this was in the year 2001 at the Musicworld store at Park Street in Kolkata. The middle-class Bengali family was a regular at the then largest MW Store in India, spread all of 8,000 sft and among the first Retail Stores in India to be designed in bright yellow and blue by Fitch PLC. After all, RPG Management had wanted none other than among the best in the world to design their first and the largest music store in the city. Over to the family – they were wondering how a small CD with a diameter of 10 cm could play music with such clarity while the erstwhile vinyl records that used to be played on the gramophones were thicker, heavier and the voice clarity not as clear as this one. I remember chatting with my colleagues about this insight – that it is as much the responsibility of Retailers to create newer categories to grow the pie and what I was referring in this case was that the market needed more CD players, affordable and better quality, so more consumers could buy them and in times to come, would buy or should I say invest on CDs. Who would know that 10 years later not only my words would come true (in terms of cheaper options of CD players) but we would also have alternate forms of listening to music – internet, mobile phones, mp3 players, iPods and most recently I read Apple is planning to launch Watches!


Successful Retailers worldwide have created newer categories and introduced them to their core customers – usually first timers within the spectrum who could spread the good word around. Central Malls, a division of The Future Group that operates over a dozen malls in India has been the pioneer in seamless retailing in the country since their launch of Bangalore Central in 2004 (of which I was lucky to be an integral part of) is doing exactly the same. One of their recent campaigns is the “Kurti Festival”. Keeping the most popular trend, Central has launched a festival that focuses on the theme – Kurtis. As part of this festival, Central will have a mix and match section where customers could experience interesting pairing which would be displayed at the Malls. Kurti is a form of apparel – a mix of western-styled Indian-design tops mainly focussed on women. The basic difference between a Kurti and a Salwar or Churidhar is that the length in the former is shorter and the core audience are the teens and tweens (those in their twenties). While the Kurtis have been made popular thanks to our beautiful heroines in Bollywood and other Indian languages, the more popular ambassadors are the customers themselves. It’s quite common to see the college goers wearing such clothing as it is comfortable for their daily routine – travelling by public transport, self-drive in two-wheelers, attending many other chores during the day such as college sessions and mall-hopping, etc. A versatile garment, kurtis are an essential part of every woman’s wardrobe and they can create the latest fashion statement with funky styles like bohemian, bling, graphic, festive, floral, tribal, jig saw & many more. Women shoppers can create these styles by mixing and matching with different bottoms like leggings, capris, denims, shorts, short skirts and harem pants. Customers can twist their style at Central’s Kurti festival for a brand new fashion statement.

This is expected to attract more footfalls into their Malls and while the incremental conversions are high single-digit, the time spent by the clientele and their word-of mouth is as important. Many a time, these festivals indeed pull in additional footfalls and benefit other retailers within the Mall such as Cafe Coffee Day, McDonalds, Food Courts, etc. While many retailers keep experimenting with such ideas, very few succeed in pulling them off well and needless to say, Central Malls is one of them indeed. So, visit the near Central close to your and enjoy the surprises!


10 years in Madras - A recap

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