Showing posts with label Bhart Retail. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bhart Retail. Show all posts

18 September, 2012

The Retail FDI brouhaha!

 

Best Price Ludhiana

Popular Media is in full force discussing the pros and cons of opening up FDI in multi-brand Retail, announced by the Manmohan Singh led Union Government of India on 14 Sep. 2012. Finally, it happened. Rather, it had to. On 9 Jan 2012, the same Government allowed 100% FDI in Single Brand Retail, acting as a precursor and paving the way for the current policy decision. The UPA Alliance which leads a multi-party coalition Government has finally had the spine to push this through, alienating some of its own partners putting its Government in jeopardy. With the current policy in place, it means that multi-national Retailers such as Wal-Mart, Carrefour, Tesco and their likes can invest in India on their own as well as in Joint Ventures with Indian partners or Business Houses. But, there is a catch. FDI in Retail has been made a State Subject which means that each State has to provide an approval for each partnership that is proposed and to be allowed to be operated within its precincts. This is a bit absurd, to say the least. The policy states that over 30% of input must be locally sourced, which in my opinion is a very good thing for Indian traders and businessmen.

(Suggested Reading: Starbucks in India)

So, lets see what’s in store for consumers with multi-brand FDI in Retail;

Pricing

By allowing FDI in Multi-brand Retail, the end consumer is expected to get better pricing for most products. In case of Agri-products, even the Farmers are expected to command a better pricing since they would be dealing directly with the Retailers. Since these Retailers purchase large quantities of products from FMCG companies directly, they would be able to get better margins and would thereby pass them on to Consumers. This is largely in case of Grocery Retailing. It would be similar in Electronics Retail too. Fashion Retailers who run a chain of stores would be able to procure their merchandise at better rates from manufacturers and would again pass on the benefits to their customers. This is one important area where everyone gains!

Assortment

At the moment, products manufactured / produced in one part of the country are not available in many other places. This is mainly because of Supply Chain Constraints. Multinational Retailers don’t just bring big bucks, but also the knowledge and know-how of how to do things better. This, would be an important part of the proposed Retail expansion of Organized Retail, with traders getting more scope for their products. Customers will get a wider variety and range than before which will throw open new options and opportunities for consumption.

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Generate Employment

Retail trade as a whole employs about 8% of the population in the country, directly and indirectly. These people are paid a fixed amount as compensation and do not benefit with other Government schemes such as Pension Fund, Provident fund, Employee State Insurance, Gratuity, etc. Modern Retail already provides most of these benefits to its staff. With more and more Organized Retail Stores opening up, it is expected to generate higher employment across the country.

(Suggested Reading: Retail Staffing)

Credit availability

One of the popular qualms is that the neighborhood Kirana provides free credit which the Organized players may not be able to and would hence lose out on. This is incorrect. Spending through credit/debit cards has grown over 6 times in the past decade within Modern Retail. Customers are happy to swipe their cards even for smaller transactions, more for ease than anything. Retailers like Shoppers Stop and Big Bazaar have co-branded cards, thus exciting customers with higher reward points for purchases.

Recreational Spaces

Modern Retail is not just about shopping in a comfortable environment but also includes a lot of fun and entertainment for families. These large stores have F&B facilities, gaming zones, etc. where children can unwind while parents are shopping. It is also an excuse for families to go window-shopping and end up buying something or the other!

And here is why a few segments of the people are against it;

Kiranas would shut-shop

The oft-heard uproar is that Kiranas would shut-shop due to the emergence of big-box multi-national Retailers. This is untrue. Kiranas have their basics right, starting with Location, Pricing, Assortment, Credit to Customers, to name a few. Large Retailers take time to crack even some of these points. Having present in India for over a decade, Domestic Retailers such as Foodworld, Spencers, Reliance Fresh, More, etc.  haven’t got their act correct, I would say. If they have a good location, then their pricing is (obviously) not so competitive and even if they attempt to, then they are in the Red. Merchandising is one of the most difficult paradigms of the Retail business coupled with severe Supply Chain constraints in the Indian scenario. Given these, it would be almost impossible for large Retailers to succeed, whether they are of Indian origin or International.

(Suggested Reading: Store Opening )

Secondly, most of the Kirana stores (Mom-and-Pop-Stores) are first generation entrepreneurs in their 40s and 50s who started off their own little corner stores during the 80s and  90s after Liberalization. Some of them include women, who run petty shops in neighborhoods to support their family, sometimes as a main source of income and at times as alternate, additional income. Their children, most of whom are undergoing good education are moving out of the family businesses. Many youngsters aspire to become Diploma holders, Engineers, MBAs, etc. across a wide range of subjects and are hence not looking forward to continue the family’s traditional Kirana business. As it is, many shop owners are not looking at continuing their petty businesses for the coming generations. So I wonder why this hue and cry.

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Many Kiranas have already embraced modern Retail. For example, Metro AG which set shop ten years ago in Bangalore now has half a dozen stores spread across the country. Most of its customers are traders and merchants who buy from Metro and sell to end-users (customers). Wal-Mart set up a JV with the Bharti Group a few years back and runs Cash & Carry Stores in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. Its main focus is on Kiranas and Retailers to whom they sell stuff in tonnes! Even in big cities like Mumbai and Chennai, it is quite common to see Retailers shop at the likes of Reliance Mart and Big Bazaar, given the substantial savings.

Kiranas are a tough lot and represent the well-entrenched Indian Entrepreneurship and cannot be unseated so easily. Long Live Kiranas!

(Suggested Reading: David Vs. Goliath)

21 July, 2012

Why IKEA will do well in India

It has been a regular discussion point in Retail circles about the imminent Indian entry of IKEA, the Swedish Retailer which is also the largest Furniture Retailer in the world with sales over USD 30 Billion. A few years ago, IKEA announced its plans to enter India but later withheld due to the unfriendly FDI policy and other regulations. Most recently, in July 2012, IKEA submitted an application to the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (of India) to allow its Indian subsidiary to operate its business in the country. Although FIPB and FDI norms allow multi-national Retailers only to operate a B-to-B business in India (Wholesale businesses like the ones followed by Bharti Wal-Mart, Carrefour & Metro AG), the much awaited Single-Brand Retail FDI which allows foreign companies to transact directly with end-users and consumers is expected to be announced soon. And IKEA sees merit in it. After all, the Indian market by size is one that cannot be ignored, about INR 100,000 Crores of which the Organized market is a less than 10%. Home grown Retailers such as The Future Group (which operates the Pantaloon Department Store Chain, Big Bazaar Hypermarkets and Central Malls among others), K Raheja Corporation (which also runs the Department store chain Shoppers Stop) and Landmark Group (of Dubai which operates Lifestyle Department Stores and MAX Hypermarkets) dominate the space with their respective ventures Home Town, Home Stop and Home Centre. The price points at which these furniture retailers sell is rather high – and rightfully so since that is exactly what the unorganized market doesn’t offer. Also, the life expectancy of such furniture is manifold compared to the “one time use and throw” offering from the not-so-Organized Retailers. And hence they have been thriving selling premium products.

IKEA is hopefully expected to be a game-changer. Its strength lies in design – easy to use furniture for day-today utility. For any furniture, its form factor and utility are the two most important aspects followed by its cost. “Product developers and designers work directly with suppliers to ensure that creating the low prices starts on the factory floor,” says IKEA Group spokesperson Josefin Thorell. Just one sentence in the IKEA website sums it all up: “We design the price tag first and then develop the product to suit that price”. The furniture powerhouse with 330 stores worldwide obviously doesn’t like to mince words: it’s an out and out price warrior in all the 41 countries (India will be the 42nd) it operates in. At the heart of the strategy is the concept of do-it-yourself (DIY) furniture which means buyers have to assemble different pieces of the product themselves. The ‘flat packs’ design helps the retailer to sell them at lower prices. A customer has to take the delivery of the product and assemble it himself.

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Furniture is used everyday in some form or the other and hence it is most valued for their usage. In the Indian context, furniture, like jewelry is always expected to be passed on down the generations. At my own home, I have a forty year old chair that my grandfather used. And original Burmese Teak wood almirah doors which once adorned the cupboards of his palatial house. And there are millions of them out there like me who maintain their hereditary furniture in India. It is indeed almost a custom. But things are changing, rather evolving. With more and more people moving out of their home towns to larger cities in search of education and employment, the need for simple, usable furniture is on the rise. Also, with transferrable jobs across the country, given the overall market boom, urban dwellers don’t prefer to invest heavily on movable furniture. They would rather buy those which can be easily discarded, usually to their drivers, maids, helpers, etc. And this is where probably IKEA becomes an exciting idea!

The DIY concept is another unique thing about IKEA which would do well with the youngsters – the Indian population has over 65% of them under the age of 35. IKEA sells pre-packed boxes of furniture and not assembled ones, thereby saving precious retail space at their outlets. While the turnover in this business is huge, margins are wafer thin. And real estate costs don’t help either. The DIY kits would hopefully do well among the majority of users who are youngsters. They like adventure and setting up a Dining Table or a Wardrobe would be pretty exciting. Also, to manufacture in the form of flat panels is mammoth effort, which is where IKEA would initially focus their efforts on, which is also their inherent strength.

Apart from bringing down prices substantially, IKEA is expected to bring in great designs with it while entering India. Fancy book shelves, cupboards and many other art forms would be a sure hit among consumers. With their maverick pricing strategy, they would also be taking on the local businesses head-on. However, there seems to be room for atleast half a dozen large players, so the market would respond well to them.

Looking forward to assembling my first IKEA furniture soon!

29 November, 2011

Retail FDI - Letter from the Commerce Minister of India

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Last week, the Cabinet of the Indian Government allowed 100% FDI in Single Brand Retail and upto 51% FDI in Multi-Brand Retail - it was indeed a surprise move, given that the Winter session of the Parliament is on and the Ruling UPA is mired under various issues due to which the Upper House and the Lower House have seen continued agitation and adjournments. In the wake of this latest crisis, Union Minister (of India) for Commerce, Mr. Anand Sharma has written a letter to the leaders of all the leading political parties in India, explaining the reasoning behind the government's decision to allow FDI.

Here is the full text of the letter;

As you are aware, the Union Cabinet has taken a decision for liberalization of the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy in Multi-Brand Retail, which holds the potential of transforming rural economy and unlocking the supply chain efficiencies in the agri-business.

The policy has evolved after a process of intense stakeholder consultation which commenced on 6 July 2010, when a discussion paper was floated by our Ministry. Comments from a wide cross section of stakeholders including farmers associations, industry bodies, consumer forums, academics, traders associations, international investors were analysed in depth before the matter was deliberated by the Committee of Secretaries on July 22, 2011.

The matter was finally discussed by the Cabinet on 25th November and a view was taken to allow liberalization in multi brand retail. In doing so, we have consciously adopted a model with a distinct Indian imprint, recognizing the complexity of Indian society and the competing demands of different stakeholders. Over the years, while we may have transformed into a service led economy, yet even today India primarily resides in the villages and an overwhelming majority of people are dependant of agriculture. It is a tribute to our farmers that India is the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world with an annual production of over 200 million tonnes. Yet, in absence of adequate cold chain infrastructure, logistics and transportation, our post-harvest losses remain unacceptably high. A large part of farmers produce perishes and never reaches the market. A complex chain of middlemen have a cascading impact on supply inefficiencies and prices as well. As a result, on the one hand farmers are unable to secure remunerative price for their produce, while consumer ends up paying more than 5 times the price secured by the farmers.

Opening up FDI in multi-brand retail will bring in much needed investments, technologies and efficiencies to unlock the true potential of the agricultural value chain.

The policy mandates minimum investment of $100 million with at least half going towards back end infrastructure including cold chains, refrigerated transportation, and logistics. We have also stipulated mandatory 30% sourcing from small industry, which will encourage local value addition and manufacturing. It will also unfold immense employment opportunities for rural youth and make them stakeholders in the entire agri-business chain from farm to fork.

I felt it my duty to dispel some apprehensions expressed by certain political parties. In formulating this policy we were conscious of the livelihood concerns of millions of small retailers.

Informed studies of global experience has revealed that even in developing economies like China, Brazil, Argentina, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand, where FDI is permitted upto 100%, local retailers have found innovative ways to co-exist along with organized retail and are integral to the organized retail chain. In Indonesia, even after several years of emergence of supermarkets, 90% of the fresh food and 70% of all food continues to be controlled by traditional retailers.

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In any case organized retail through Indian corporate entities is permissible in India and the experience of the last one decade has borne the small retailers have flourished in harmony with the large retail outlets. Even then, we have therefore taken a view that in India we may permit FDI upto 51% equity and roll out the policy only in 53 cities with a population of more than a million. In the rest of the country the existing policy will continue, which will ensure that the small retailers are able to access high quality produce at better price from the wholesale cash and carry point.

We were also mindful of the imperative of ensuring food security for the poorest of the poor and have therefore retained the first right of procurement of food grains to rest with government for the public distribution system.

Concerns have been expressed that the multinational companies will resort to predatory pricing techniques to drive away small retail. You are aware that the Competition Commission has been established by law to ensure that such practices receive great scrutiny and I have specially discussed the matter with the Chairman of Competition Commission to build in regulatory capacities to ensure necessary checks and balances. In any case, you will appreciate that predatory pricing works in markets with high entry barriers, which is not the case in India.

The Indian consumer will undoubtedly gain significantly from this step as they will be afforded much greater choice, better quality and lower prices. In the medium term, even RBI governor feels that this step will have a salutary impact on inflation.

I have had occasion to discuss the matter with a wide cross section of all stakeholders, including farmer association, traders, consumer organizations, industry leaders, economists and there is an overwhelming case for introducing this policy. I am sure that being a political leader of long standing and experience, the benefits of this policy for the Indian citizens will find resonance with you. Policy initiatives taken in larger national interest demand political leadership to rise above partisan politics to create a healthy bipartisan consensus. This has been the strength of Indian democratic traditions.

I look forward to your personal support and understanding in the roll out of this policy for the larger public good.

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It is anybody’s guess if this letter would make any difference though in the current situation. India has been witnessing a rare camaraderie cutting across  political parties which have taken a united stance against the Government urging it to roll back the decision to allow FDI in Retail, which looks unlikely though. In the given scenario, atleast 25 cities out of the 53 which qualify for the criteria that has been set (above 1 million population) are covered under those states that have not welcomed FDI. India INC however has voiced its opinions, most of which is pro-FDI to say the least. For the next few days, if not a few weeks the entire world (read: Business houses) would be watching how things turn out here.

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Watch this space for more!

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.

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?

03 October, 2011

Dasera – Diwali Dhamaka for Retailers

A former colleague of mine, a Swiss gentleman once quipped that everyday in India is a festival day! Well, he was right in a way, maybe not quite literally though. With so many religions and diverse cultures, indeed every day may have some form of festival in India…

This October month is one of those rare ones – that benefit Grocery Retailers, typically supermarket and hypermarket chains like Food Bazaar, Reliance, Spencer's, More, SPAR, EasyDay and others. Navaratri / Dasera, which commenced on 27th Sep continues into the first week of October and Diwali will be celebrated during the last week of the month. Typically, the monthly Grocery shopping happens once a month, usually in the last week of the month gone by or during the first week of the current month. But in this case, families would have to shop twice, and probably more quantities than usual – roughly 1.5 to 2 times the average quantities. Navaratri is celebrated in different forms and signify different things for people across the country. in Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Karnataka, families set-up dolls at home – popularly known as the “Kolu”. During this period, Goddesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are prayed and celebrated three days each. Every evening, women folk and children visit houses of neighbours and are fed with “sundal” – the nine grains, one each every day. Now – this category is shopped for extensively before the festival commences which may not be consumed so much otherwise through the year. Also, the visitors are gifted small household articles usually made of plastic and this category also sees an increase in sales during the period. Fruits, which are distributed benevolently, see a surge in price and hence consumers prefer shopping at Supermarkets and Hypermarkets for a better bargain.

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In Gujarat and West Bengal, it is more a societal occasion. While Hindus celebrate it the most, people across all walks of life join into the celebrations. While “Dandiya” – an art form of dance is the most happening one in Gujarat, the Bengalis install huge “Pandals” which showcase Goddess Durga in different forms. People visit Pandals day and night and wear new clothes (in Bengal) while late evening Dandiya sessions are regular during the week. And obviously, new clothes are something that every one looks forward to! Even Western / Foreign brands (like Benetton seen below) join in the festivities by promoting themselves during this period.

Just around the corner is Diwali – the festival of lights and the biggest grosser for Retailers across categories. This festival is also celebrated in its unique way across the country. While families shop for Electronics and Gadgets, Home Furniture, Clothing and Accessories, sweets for distribution and consumption is a big hit too. Retailers and Brands have already started advertising for the ensuing Diwali as well and is expected to step up their promotions starting this weekend.

If there is one category that sees a low, it’s liquor and alcoholic beverages. People generally refrain from visiting bars / consuming such beverages due to the ensuing festivities but things are indeed changing. And hopefully, this category will support Retailers in November which is expected to be one of the lowest months  for business since there are not major festivals (duh) until the Christmas season commences. Anyway, wishing each one of you Seasons’ Greetings and of course, Happy Shopping!

20 September, 2011

Alcohol and Consumers

According to a recent report by World Health Organization, alcohol use results in the death of 2.5 million people annually. Nearly 4% of all deaths are related to alcohol. Most alcohol-related deaths are caused by injuries, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and liver cirrhosis. Globally, 6.2% of all male deaths are related to alcohol, compared to 1.1% of female deaths. Worldwide, 3.2 lakh young people aged 15-29 years die annually from alcohol-related causes, resulting in 9% of all deaths in that age group. Alcohol raises the risk of as many as 60 different diseases, according to a recent study in the medical journal `Lancet'. Nearly 62.5 million people in India drink alcohol with per capita consumption being around four litres per adult per year. For every six men, one woman drinks alcohol in India. Over 40% of road crashes occur in India during the night, with one-third of them being due to drunk driving. It observes that India saw a robust increase in recorded adult per capita consumption of alcohol. When it came to only drinkers, the average per capita consumption of pure alcohol of a 15-year-old and above in India between 2003-05 was 22.25 litres (23.93 litres among men and 10.35 litres among women). Nearly 62.5 million people in India drink alcohol with per capita consumption being around four litres per adult per year. For every six men, one woman drinks alcohol in India. Over 40% of road crashes occur in India during the night, with one-third of them being due to drunk driving.

Actor Imran Khan had recently announced to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) at the Bombay High Court challenging the State Government’s proposal to ban “alcohol consumption” under the age of 25 years according to a recent news article in Times of India. The co-petitioner is his brother-in-law Vedant Malik, 22, who wants to "espouse the cause on behalf of youth below the age of 25 years", says the PIL. The respondents are the Maharashtra government, the secretary of the department of social justice and state excise commissioner. The PIL states that the government "seeks to impinge on the right of equality and personal liberty" of the youth, who are otherwise vested with the right to vote, marry, serve in the military, drive vehicles and enter into legal contracts. The PIL informs that legal drinking ages worldwide are usually 18 to 21. Incidentally, Maharashtra's and Delhi's drinking age limit of 25 is among the highest in the world, except for Maharashtra's Wardha district, where it is 30. The PIL states that the petitioners were surprised to find that the 25 drinking age limit was actually in force since September 26, 2005, but was not being implemented. "The petitioners were therefore under the bonafide belief that the age limit to apply for a liquor permit was 21 years and not 25 years,'' the PIL says. The petitioners then read news articles saying that the Maharashtra cabinet on June 1, 2011 introduced a de-addiction policy that said the legal drinking age for hard liquor was 25 and mild beer 21. They decided to challenge the higher drinking age and asked the department of social justice and empowerment and excise commissioner for the policy. They learnt that the policy was "only at a nascent stage of discussion and yet to be implemented.

I would say this is indeed a noble move had it been done by any other person than the said actor who played the role of an urban youth in his recent movie “Delhi Belly”, which was produced by his uncle and ace actor Aamir Khan. In the film, the actor and crew have professed and performed some of the most vulgar acts (some really meant only within closed doors) which even couples in their 30s (without their children) couldn’t fathom watching at the cinema! The fraternity and junta laughed off the whole episode, claimed and hailed the actor-uncle duo to have taken Indian cinema to global echelons! Neither the saffron brigade nor any mullah condemned or took them to the roads or to the court; no women’s panel took notice of such derogatory remarks in the film. A song featuring “chaste Delhi / national abuse” was reformulated in the soundtrack which went on to become a Chartbuster. Indeed, there was some criticism, but Aamir Khan himself appeared on Tv to justify this and said it was just a song, just a movie! And Hyundai Motor Corp. whose brand ambassador happens to be Shah Rukh Khan (apparently the two Khans are considered arch rivals and do not see eye-to-eye ) announced that it would sue the movie-makers due to a dialogue spelled in the film, where a modified “Hyundai Santro” is abused with the choicest derogatory words which goes “this looks like the outcome if a donkey had f****d a rickshaw!” The film grossed over INR 20 Crores during the opening weekend and was declared a super-hit at the Box-Office, an important attribute to commercial success!

Look who’s talking about social causes! And in a recent interview in Times of India, the actor says he is supporting the freedom of choice! Well, we live in a democratic set-up and each one of us is free to propose our likings and wishes. But a youth icon such as Imran Khan standing up for a frivolous cause such as this is rather disappointing.

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As consumers, we all have the right to choose what we want to buy and consume. In fact retailers like Spencer’s, Hypercity, SPAR, More, Total, star Bazaar and many more have separate sections within their stores that are dedicated to alcohol. At Airports, Duty Free Liquor and Tobacco is one of the fastest selling items. I remember way back in 2001, Spencer's stores in Chennai city would sell alcoholic beverages within a distant corner of the store, or rather abutting the main supermarket. Liquor was not part of monthly shopping baskets earlier, which has changed dramatically over the years. The typical 365 litre refrigerators have given way to larger capacity ones, thanks to the increasing consumption patterns of consumers. Today, there is a specific place allotted for wine, beer, soda and other beverages within the cooling equipment. Consumers have evolved and know what to drink and when to drink. most boutique Restaurants that have opened recently have liquor permits and serve alcohol (no one really checks the age). Even Pizza Hut started serving wine at some of its outlets which was later withdrawn due to poor response. While every one talks about “legal drinking age”, it is not implemented in its spirit.

The issue arises when unwanted propaganda such as this is promulgated. When the Government issued such a notice (in Maharashtra), not a single liquor company or a Retailer came forward with such a PIL. For obvious reasons. No one wants to be known supporting alcoholism. But the way the actor has done this doesn’t merit anyone other than him with some additional publicity which I am sure he could do without. Even if he had filed it as a “consumer”, his agency could have remained silent about it. (I am not even bringing his religion into the picture as this blog is not meant for discussing such purposes).

Consumers today are well aware of their rights with permissible laws (and outside). They are learned, educated and know what is really good for them and their families. Whether the PIL is granted or rejected or not, alcoholism is a peril that will continue to daunt the society unless managed well (by each one of us) with personal and social responsibility.

Cheers to Consumers.

05 May, 2011

Best Price - Best in Class!


 

I have seen a few abroad, I have read a quite a lot but today was the first time I was part of the inauguration of a Hypermarket Store. The sixth Cash & Carry store of Bharti-Walmart, rightfully named “Best Price” opened its doors for customers today at Ludhiana. Spread over 50,000 sft on a single level, the store has almost all categories including Grocery, Fruits and Vegetables, Fresh Meat, Personal Care, Home Needs and Home Care, Electronics and General Merchandise. CafĂ© Coffee Day is the only F&B point, right after the cash counters – smart planning by the store designers. This is the third CCD after opening within Best Price stores at Amritsar and Jalandhar. Addressing a small gathering of the Press & Media, Employees, Vendors and Guests, Mr. Rajan Mittal, Vice Chairman of the Bharti Group emphasized the relevance of Organized Retail and such formats in the current Indian scenario. He expressed his pride that the group was able to open at their hometown of Ludhiana where he had lived for over 20 years and thanked well-wishers for their stupendous success. Drawing an example of the telecom industry which was in its nascent stage fifteen years back, and which was fully controlled by the Government through its own bodies, he said that the sector was opened up to private players and today, India has a remarkable tele-density. Similarly, the group is pioneering Organized Retail through two formats, the B2B model (Best Price) and B2C model (Easy Day markets) in association with Wal-Mart, the world’s largest Retailer. He also drew comparisons of how China had opened up Organized Retail, how employment is generated and millions are benefitted. Mr. Raj Jain, President of Bharti-Walmart said that the company intends to expand outside of Punjab in states such as Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan etc. South India would also be a focus with one out of the three Distribution Centers expected to come up at Bangalore. He explained how small retailers can benefit immensely by becoming members of the Best Price format – registration is simple, just a few documents to be provided and patrons can benefit from the prices offered by the store. To ensure only genuine buyers are using the facility, he said that the membership is renewed annually. Credit Cards are not accepted but Kotak Bank, which is the strategic partner to the Retailer, provides 14 day’s credit to members who are part of its own credit program.

While the discussions on FDI is raging all along, Mr. Mittal expressed that the intellectual debate was over and it is now time to act – to open up the Retail sector and allow 100% investment across various formats. The white paper on allowing FDI was published by the Government and the industry has replied their thoughts and concerns. Currently 100% FDI is allowed only in the B2B model while 50% FDI is allowed in the B2C formats, although foreign companies can invest upto 100% in single-brand Retail. Such investments would allow multinationals to invest in back-end supply chain, only which would fuel front-end business. Bang on.
Well. It is easier said than done but eternal optimists like me who intend to spend our lifetimes in this ever exciting industry believe that this should happen sooner than later, for the larger benefit of the society. If one such store can offer direct and indirect employment to over 200 people, it is not so difficult to gauge the overall employability that the sector can generate. Currently, over a million people are part of Organized Retail in India but this number should increase significantly – by 5 times or more in the next 10 years, if only the Industry is allowed to grow. Specific to the Cash & Carry format, small traders and retailers can benefit immensely, thanks to the EDLP or “Every Day Low Pricing” philosophy (although founded by ASDA) but  implemented aggressively by the Grand Old Man of Modern Retail, Sam Walton – the founder of Wal-Mart. He believed that consumers must benefit everyday with lower prices – the reason was two-fold – one, that customers would not hoard commodities for the future; two, that they would visit the store more often, a smart way of driving repeat footfalls. For a nation that has over 10 million small and medium retail stores, India doesn’t have even 50 Cash & Carry Stores! Metro AG, the German Retailer opened for business in 2001 and operates half-a-dozen stores, while the French Retailer Carrefour commenced in 2010 and is still studying its first store located in the suburbs of Delhi.  The Future Group and Reliance Retail are also carefully monitoring and are expected to launch their own Cash and Carry formats soon. Expect a lot of action in this space. And if you are a professional running your own business, be sure to reap rich benefits from such stores. Long Live, Organized Retail. 

11 July, 2010

FDI in Retail – A never ending discussion!

5th and 6th July 2010 would remain etched in the history of Indian Retail for some time to come. While the country witnessed an unprecedented (sic) response to a nation-wide Bandh (shutdown) called by the opposition parties against the recent Fuel price hike (after the Government deregulated Fuel prices) and to show their solidarity against rising levels of inflation on Monday, leading to estimated losses over USD 3 Billion, Tuesday was a green letter day for Organized Retailers. The Government of India (GoI) announced a discussion paper to debate on allowing FDI in multi-brand retail leading to mixed reactions across the country and outside. Everyone who was anyone in the Retail realm in the country had comments to make. Rightly so, as this public debate was much needed; while the fundamentalists have always argued against the entry of foreign multinationals in Retail, those in the business have usually welcomed the idea, although with caution. One of the biggest criticisms against such a move by the country is that the small retailers (Read: Kirana Stores aka Mom-Pop stores) would lose business to the modern, organized retailers.


Currently, Indian Government allows upto 100% FDI in Cash and Carry (B2B), 51% FDI in multi-brand retail and 100% FDI in single-brand retail – that means, the brand can sell various categories of products with the same brand identity – apparel, accessories, watches, footwear, etc. Insofar multi brand retail, the restriction is to ensure that Joint Ventures are formed only with Indian partners, thereby benefitting Indian business houses. Although this was allowed by GoI way back in 1996, apart from the then dominant RPG Group which formed a JV with Hong-Kong based Dairy Farm International to form Foodworld Supermarkets Ltd., not many business houses took advantage of the model. Organized Retail was after all not so lucrative those days and my own kith and kin didn’t take me so seriously when we would discuss the upcoming opportunities. Today, the top business houses in the country including Tatas (Westside Department Stores, Star Bazaar hypermarkets), Birlas (Aditya Birla – Fashion Retail, More Hypermarkets), Ambanis (Reliance Hyper and other formats) and Mittals (Bharti-Wal-Mart) are focussing on this business. Some of the concerns on allowing FDI in multi-brand retail are captured here;

Loss of livelihood for Kirana stores
The biggest and single largest qualm against allowing FDI in Retail have been that Organized Retail would lead to losses of small kirana stores. There are over 12 million retail touch points in India of which more than 90% of them are Unorganized. The estimated size of the Indian Retail Market (as per various sources online) is more than INR 200,000 Crores. So, 90% of those engaged in Retail business, to begin with do not pay necessary taxes to the Government. These small retailers operate on a net margin of 4-7% after all their expenses and hence the Governments (Read Political parties) have remained soft on them. These small traditional Retailers have been serving Indian consumers and their families for over four decades and remain favourites – from buying milk to bread or vegetables. Many of them provide credit facilities and some even deliver at doorstep at odd times of the day (and night), without any additional cost. These Kirana stores have been all time favourites for FMCG Companies to introduce and promote new products, new variants and various consumer promotions. All this changed since 2000 AD when organized retailers started to spring up all across the country. Those days, Organized Retail was less than 5% and was considered pricier and novel, even by urban consumers. However, Organized Retail has come a long way since then. In large cities and metros today, Organized Retailers aren’t competing with Kirana stores anymore, but with those of their own ilk – other organized retailers. It is quite common to see large advertisements in leading newspapers all through the week and weekends advertising various offers and promos to entice consumers to visit their outlets. Having said that, not many small retailers and Kiranas have lost business; In fact, they have got better and more organized than before. Those who are out of business are not because of large retailers, but because of competition in the same league – similar ones are offering better pricing and service, two main attributes why consumers were shopping at Kiranas. When consumers in SEC B and above moved towards Organized Retail, those below moved up from shopping at Govt. Run PDS Stores to small Kiranas. Maslow’s theory of Evolution?
Hence, the logic that small Kiranas would run out of business is not just a myth, but also immature. Remember, we have a billion people to feed, dress and house – there is enough and more opportunity at the bottom of the pyramid.  


Employment opportunities and benefits
Most of the Kiranas are entrepreneurs of their own right – they would have started their business using a small capital, borrowed from friends and family and the shop would actually be a part of a house, either their own or somebody else’s. The husband-wife couple take turns to run the show and some of their relatives’ children or their own add hands for support when required, especially on weekends or for home-delivery. It is amazing to see sometimes, children in their teens explaining fabulously about product attributes and pushing sales (top-ups), even better than Management Trainees of FMCG Companies. One of the biggest qualms of allowing FDI is that it would lead to loss of employment – a strange fact, since it is actually the couple who run the business and usually do not employ outsiders. Those employed are their own kith and kin and hence, the staff cost is less than 2% of their turnover, if not lower. Organized Retailers need to comply with Govt. norms with regard to payment of wages and the staff salary includes health benefits (ESI) as well as long term benefits (gratuity / pension). Therefore, Organized Retail would not only provide higher wages to those working in the front-end but would also ensure continuity of service and job-security. The Future Group along with its subsidiaries and joint-ventures, which manages various formats such as Big Bazaar, Central Malls, Pantaloon Fashion and various other formats employs over 12,000 employees!


Capital infusion and erosion of profits
Capital infusion is considered among the biggest benefits of allowing FDI in Retail. Although large business houses like Tatas, Birlas and Ambanis have enough (monetary) capital to provide, what they need is Intellectual Capital. While it is always good to say that India is a country of entrepreneurs and we know to run the business best, what we also need to know from International partners is ways and methods to run the business more efficiently – simply because they have been running their own businesses successfully across countries and continents all over the world. Having said that, the next concern is that the multi-nationals would send their profits back home to their headquarters situated outside the country. This too, is a far-fetched dream. The net margin EBITDA that Organized Retailers manage is between 4-12%, depending on the nature of their business. Typically after paying taxes of all sorts, what they end up with a single digit or a decimal profit. Note, Retail is a business that gets profitable over a period of time and with scale. So, to increase their presence and run the business across the country, a lot of capital (including profits) gets circulated. So, if there is any one multi-national that would make money and send back home, it would be a long, long time!


Decision-Makers – Final word
While all the razzmatazz of the FDI paper was being discussed in India, Carrefour SA, the French Retailer announced that it is planning to sell of its business and exit South East Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, etc. Many would know that US Retailer Wal-Mart had to exit certain European countries after its failed attempt many years ago. Japanese and Chinese Retailers have never stepped out of their terrain since they believe they know their market best. As many would agree in the business, Retail is a very local business. The players need to understand the sentiments of the local and accordingly manage the business. I was at a popular Hypermarket at Bangalore yesterday and while I was talking to their Head of Operations, I learnt that the layout was designed by two foreigners who were experts from Europe. Needless to say, the layout was not only unfriendly but also needs localization, NOW. Consumers have shrugged off the “phoren” theory of Retailing and have embraced local players because of their offering. So, ultimately it is not just Government policies but the consuming public who decide the success or otherwise of any business, and particularly Retail. Time will tell who remains in the business.

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