Showing posts with label Crossword. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Crossword. Show all posts

29 December, 2019

Book Retailing - Retail 2020 (Article #5)

Who killed the Sony Walkman? Apple iPod. Who killed Kodak Films? Digital Cameras. 


There are many such presumptive answers most of us carry, mostly opinions I would say. When the iPod was launched in 2003, it was helmed as the most disruptive Music innovation of our times. For, a small device that could be kept inside the coin pocket of a Levi’s Jeans could carry over 1,600 songs in a format created exclusively and patented by Apple. This, compared to an Audio CD which could carry at most, over 300 songs and that too in low audio quality and also needed a player with electricity to play while the iPod merely needed an earphone with a battery charged in advance. No, the iconic iPod didn’t kill the Walkman. Sony failed to innovate, despite having held a leadership position for 3 decades.

Now, let me ask – who killed the Bookstores? Amazon? Flipkart? Guess my response in the previous paragraph would have clarified the position I take while answering this question. 

Book stores worldwide and in India are not just a retail outlet but an intrinsic part of the cultural and community fabric of the society. “Do not live in a city which doesn’t have a bookshop”, goes a saying. With less than 10% of Indians using English as a medium to read and communicate daily and an average literacy rate of less than 50% across India after 72 years of gaining Independence, I guess we have a long way to walk as a country. While vernacular books (and the habit of reading is reasonable), this segment of the society is not a voracious reader, thanks to our education system which believes in the habit of mugging answers and not really cultivate the pleasure of reading. I take pride in saying that the erstwhile Madras, now Chennai is perhaps the first city in India to get an organized bookstore in the name and style of “Higginbothams” which still stands an edifice for the retail business of selling books and beyond after a century and a half. With the iconic structure on Mount Road that stands an icon in the city since the 19th Century to the less than 120 sq. ft store which opened earlier this year through the new franchisee who has taken up space at Chennai International Airport, the brand has stood the test of time spanning decades. Alongside came many hundreds of independent bookstores across the country over the past 5 decades or more. Many of them were first time Entrepreneurs who merely opened a bookshop because they didn’t get what they were looking for at other bookstores. 

Many of these bookstores have, interestingly survived not just the competition from organized book retailers over the past 25 years but also from e-commerce companies who sold books online at insane discounts, at times forgoing their business margins and most recently from E-Publishers led by none other than Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing. With the onset of Malls around 2002 onwards, almost every one of them would have a bookstore of repute in premium areas. Brands which most Mall rats would remember including Landmark, Crosswords, Odyssey, Oxford Book Store, to name a few were a regular meeting spot to browse, read and buy books of various genres, cults and subjects. While the Tata Group bought the Landmark Retail chain for an estimated Rs. 100 Crores, Odyssey was acquired by Deccan Holdings and went on to become India’s first “retail” brand to be featured on the jersey of a cricket team during the IPL Tournament in 2009. K Raheja Group owned Crossroads, which is part of Shoppers Stop and Hypercity chain (eventually Inorbit Malls as well) commanded premium retail spaces, thanks to the bargaining power of the group. 


However, over time, these organized retail businesses became sluggish and slowed down on Sales. Visitors and shoppers to bookstores declined and ultimately many of the chains went bust, hailing a new era of depending on online booksellers like Flipkart and Amazon to order books and getting them delivered at home for reading at their convenience. Honestly, this is similar to ordering a crisp Masala Dosa from Swiggy and eating on your personal dining table, if you know what I mean. Just like fresh food consumed at a restaurant, books also have an aroma and a feel, the smell of paper that is unique to bookshops and to lending libraries. 

But then, the world had another view, an alternate view. Akin to how we felt that the iPod killed the Walkman, the world believed and still believes that E-Commerce killed the offline Bookstore business. I humbly beg to differ. There was an impact of online retailers on the over retail industry but to say that the retailers went bankrupt because of them is a skill of over imagination and an act of blaming the burgeoning technology industry for all our miseries. Having firsthand seen many of these bookstore chains as well as “Indie” bookstores as a consumer, as a Trade observer, as a Retailer, as a Retail Leasing Manager and as a Key Account Manager negotiating space inside book stores (during my stint at CCD), I can say with confidence that the Retail Industry themselves was mostly responsible for this calamity. 


During the 90s, when I would visit the basement store of Landmark bookstore in Chennai, the boys and girls knew exactly where a title was; they could recommend more titles based on the reader / consumer interest. However, over time the staff were untrained about the business and most importantly, lacked a passion for book reading and retailing, let alone a sense of camaraderie with the book lovers. This, in my very humble opinion is the sole reason for the decline and demise of the book retailing business. Customers expected the sales guys to know about the book itself, not just which shelf they were placed at. And they missed this in action. Their only choice was to move online where they got what they wanted. Not the discounts, if you know what I mean. 

Until last Saturday, this hasn’t changed. At the Chennai Airport’s Higginbothams store, I went to check if they had a title of JK Rowling which my daughter wanted for her vacation to which we were headed. The staff was puzzled even with the name of the author and showed his palm to a section where the Author’s books along with others was placed. A young girl came and told me that the book was not so great to which I replied it was for my kid. She glanced at me and perhaps said to herself that kids could get interested with “Fascinating Beasts” and not really adults. Now, these are the kind of interactions that book lovers expect at a “physical bookstore” while the over-hyped “phygital” concept can be put to use meanwhile by leveraging technology. For Ex., the staff at the airport could have taken my request and placed it with the HO immediately who would call me in a while and confirm if I needed the book for sure based on which they could have sent it by courier to my vacation location or to my home. Sadly, this wasn’t happening. The sales guy (and the company) perhaps thought they simply lost a sale – No, they are losing the business model itself.


There is a slow resurgence of bookstores once again, what I call as Ver. 3.0. This is mainly led by “Indie” bookstores who are getting passionate about the art of book selling.  But even they are not embracing change (Read: Technology) and adapting themselves. I can only wish them good luck as I am key in the OTP for the card transaction on the Amazon App. The book is expected to reach my home by the time I return from the vacation. 

04 August, 2019

Eulogising Friendship, one cup at a time!

Like so many other western concepts, Indians have been celebrating Friendship Day on the first Sunday of August for over 2 decades or more now, quite actively. It was in the late 90s when films eulogising Friendship grew and carved a niche for their attention-grabbing scenes, dialogues and songs. 


So much so that the song “Yeh bandhan to, pyar ka bandhan hai” from the film “Karan Arjun” feat. Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan went on to become a super-duper hit for the then generation which probably wouldn’t have been privy to the iconic “Yeh Dosti” song from the Hindi film Sholay. Similarly, films of all languages had their own friendship songs and AR Rahman’s “Mustafa Mustafa” was perhaps the most hummed friendship song in South India, especially in Tamil Nadu, thanks to the immense popularity of the 1999 film “Kadal Desam” which was among the first films of a three-way love story and each friend making a sacrifice for the other in a round-robin fashion. On the other hand, retailers like Landmark, Odyssey, Crossword, etc. selling greeting cards took cognisance to this fad, which was originally conceptualised by none other than the Founder of Hallmark Cards, Joyce Hall in 1930, only to promote the concept of sharing Greeting Cards for various occasions, thanks to a falling interest and demand for greeting cards in the US during the 19z. Much later in the year 1998, Nane Annan, wife of Kofi Annan, former UN General Secretary named “Winnie the Pooh” as World’s Ambassador of Friendship at the United Nations. Although the concept doesn’t have much takers worldwide over the past half-century, I guess Indian Consumers have taken this “social festival” actively, thanks to a full-pronged promotion by Films, Brands and Retailers.


In the 90s, it was quite popular in India for friends to buy greeting cards and send to each other, some by post and others passed on in person (this was when post cards and inland letters were fading off). Although it was gender agnostic, it was mostly to the opposite gender – what would later on become a dating fad to the generation in the 80s, 90s and early millennium. Those days, due to the lack of social networking Apps like Facebook or Dating Apps like Tinder, people would actually see, meet, greet and spend time with each other in person (as ironic as it sounds today!). 

And the most common meeting point was none other than a Café Coffee Day outlet (of course, temples, churches and other social places like parks were common too). As the by-line of the iconic retailer read, “A Lot can happen over Coffee”, many people took it too seriously to meet their loved ones at a café and would go on to propose their love and their intention to marry. While I do not have data to correlate how many such proposals would have been received at CCDs over the past 2 decades and how many were converted (!!!) to become marriages and how many would eventually become break-ups or even end up at divorces. But CCD played an important role in this real-life social networking.


The Greeting Cards industry was perhaps the biggest beneficiary because in the 90s, a large sized Greeting card would cost more than a Coffee at CCD (or any other equivalent such café, probably). There were variations in sizes – the shape of Alphabets, Cartoon Characters, pets and of course that of a heart. Archies, Hallmark and even UNICEF which worked closely with so many corporates for meaningful collaborations made a windfall during their peak years by encouraging patrons to buy greeting cards to wish one another. However, the proposition of exchanging cards became irrelevant over time, thanks to the advent and advancement of technology, especially with emails and early social sites like Orkut gaining popularity. Today, e-cards are a norm and there are hundreds of Apps which help users to create fantastic digital cards for various occasions and not just for Friendship Day, perhaps. However, CCD remains an icon for friendship and even their interiors / graphics inside the cafes portray young ones, what with the designs only getting more contemporary over the years.


From salons to cafes, restaurants to Malls, Friendship Day is a large and still untapped marketing opportunity. How I wish Marketeers create a larger than life consumption opportunity around this day which celebrates the spirit of Friendship & Camaraderie which traverses across professional and social boundaries. 

Wish people could discuss this over coffee – after all, A lot can happen over Coffee!

30 September, 2013

Airport Retailers get an added advantage

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has recently announced that Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) are not allowed to carry Indian currency out of the country. Earlier, the limit was ₹10,000 to carry with them after clearing Customs and Immigration. This was basically some loose change to meet Food & Beverage expnses while in the Security hold area. While cafes and restaurants do accept prominent foreign currencies, even foreigners try to finish their Indian currencies while leaving the country.

What brings an opportunity is for Retailers to sell Indian souvenirs and interesting take aways which can be spent using the Indian currency.


Keeping this in mind, we had created a very large section called "The Spirit of India" at the Bangalore International Airport. Within this area was a designer boutique from ace designer Deepika Govind among others. One could buy scarves, stoles, jewellery, neck ties and many more before departing. There was also a bookstore which was operated by India's largest bookstore chain Crossword. The store had many interesting books that doicted Indian history, arts among others. I remember, the most sold book used to be "Kamasutra". Foreigners would take it as a souvenir and NRIs would take it as a gift for their friends who lived abroad.

The present rule is expected to be enforced with full force by RBI. If so, then this is a boon for Retailers to sell Indian products to those who are departing the country. 

21 September, 2013

Is there something as a Click-Only customer?

I was recently invited to attend the first edition of the Retail Marketing Summit Chennai, organized by Paul Writer, a leading consultancy which works in the Marketing space and advises various enterprises. The day was very exciting, with speakers from various Retail companies and Brands expressing their opinions. During the course of discussions, there was a topic which was discussed elaborately by the esteemed panel of guests as well as the audience. The topic of discussion was, whether there was someone called a “Click-only customer” that existed, who shops only online. There were ayes and naes but there was no single answer that could be fully validated. On the need for having an online presence and also focusing on the internet commerce business, Mr. Pattabhi Rama Rao, President of Australian Foods, which runs the Cookieman chain of stores felt that the market is too small at the moment on the internet and Retailers should continue to focus on the offline business by providing a better customer experience. In his own words, Man is a social animal and social interactions would never cease to exist. Pattabhi should be knowing well. With over a dozen years behind him in the Hospitality business, he started off the Cookie business 13 years ago. His brand of cookies were priced 10 times as that of a normal biscuit, although such a comparison is odious. He continued his focus in the business and now has over a 50 stores across the country. Most of his outlets are located in prime locations in Malls and Airports. Many of them bake fresh cookies at the store and the aroma spreads all over. It appeals to the senses and therefore converts a passerby into a customer, a customer into a loyalist and a loyalist into a brand ambassador. However, there is indeed an opportunity to sell categories like cookies online, although they are restricted to gifting and occasion based purchases.

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In another panel discussion, Calvin John of Caratlane.com which specialises in the sale of jewelry products said that a customer has purchased 35 times in a few months from their site. And he felt that there were a small but growing species of “Click-only customers” who shopped extensively online. Jessie Paul, the convener of the event and also a moderator in one of the sessions confirmed this and said that she shops grocery extensively online at BigBasket.com, a Bangalore based start-up which has been slowly but steadily growing its online-only grocery business. With more and more people shopping online, it is all about convenience and discounts? Would the charm of shopping (at Retail outlets) dwindle over time? There are references to the West and how things have been changing in developed countries. A lady from the audience says that at Macys.com, sales were 37% of the total compared to just 26% in the previous year during the holiday season. And this was countered with a view that the sales increase was only during the Holiday Season when Macy’s was very badly organized at their stores. In India, the Books category was the first to succumb. Customers (in India) bought books online from Indiaplaza, Flipkart, eBay and the likes not just for convenience but also due to the generous discounts that were being doled out. But for those discounts, would customers have bought online? Perhaps yes, but a majority would prefer browsing and buying at their favorite books stores down the road such as Crossword.

The Internet Commerce business in India is still too small compared to the Offline one. As it is, Organized Retail in India is just under 10% of the INR 200,000 Crores market size. And e-commerce accounts for a decimal percentage of that. Although online retailers are showing double digit growth year on year, the business model is largely led by discounts and there is no hypothesis at the moment to prove that shoppers would still buy online at full prices, except for the gifting and essential categories. In my opinion, there is room for online and offline Retailers, But the bigger growth is offline, given the levels of broadband, internet and computer penetration in India. Payments gateways for credict cards, debit cards and Net Banking is quite limited too. In fact, I would place my bets more on m-commerce - shopping on smartphones which is still an untapped category. So, if you are a Retailer or a Brand, do build an internet commerce site now, if you already don’t have one. But remember, Retail is all about customer experience, and there is no better place than the store to demonstrate it.

10 January, 2013

E-Commerce Economics–Questionable?

I have been without a pair of floaters / slippers for over two months now. Just that I’ve not been able to find a Retail Store closeby where I could find a couple of options. And I have another peculiar issue – that my foot size is 11 and I don’t get options so easily across brands. In fact, I ‘ve been buying my shoes from Brand stores located in North India since the body/foot sixe of customers is generally larger there than in the south (and it applies for other forms of retail such as apparel such as shirts, trousers, shorts etc. and even accessories such as caps and belts. In the month of Dec. 2012, I was traveling down siuth towards Coimbatore, Karur, Bangalore and a few others and then was in Bihar for a couple of days before ending the year in Kerala for a vacation with the family. And in the new year, I finally decided that I need to get a pair of footwear immediately. A chance view of an eadvertisement on some news website took me to jabong.com which offered a 70% discount on a particular model of Lee Cooper floaters and thankfully, they had my size as well. Bingo, and I ordered my pair immediately. The entire transaction from browsing to selecting the size to payment confirmation and then finally the payment gateway took me all of 6 minutes flat. And yes, this happened not on my laptop but on my iPadmini what with its fast processing speed and convenience to hold. I was quite pleasantly surprised that jabong.com had its web page optimised to the tablet – given that the size of the ipadmini is considerably smaller than the regular iPad. Within a few minutes, I received an SMS confirming my order and that the folks there were working hard to get the product to me as soon as they could. This was at 9.45pm.

When I woke up the next morning, there was an SMS as well as an email that the product had already been shipped – and they shared a tracking number as well. Around 11am, I received an SMS that the product had reached Chennai (from Delhi where their main warehouse is located) and that it was on its way to my home. Around 1.15pm, the product was at my doorstep, neatly packed in its original box with an outer covering that was branded “jabong”. I was indeed delighted to get the product and wear it – was happy like a kid who received a new toy. From shopping to receiving the product it took less than 18 hours which I felt was simply superb. Impeccable Customer Service.

ecommerce customer

After a while, I was thinking about the economics of the entire business model. The product was at a 70% discount, so I would guess the e-tailer had a 5-10% margin if at all, had a warehouse to stock the product(s), a team that was working overnight to process the order, pack and ship it immediately and a shipping agency that delivered the product free of cost at my doorstep! No to mention the operational costs of running an e-commerce company. Well, was this worth the effort? Ecommerce specialists (and there are tons of them out there) call it the cost of acquisition – that a customer who once shops on their website would get used to the idea of shopping online and would indeed come back to them and buy once again in future. Atleast that’s what most of them in India have been doing for the past few years. But that isn’t the case. Various studies have shown that e-commerce loyalty is negligible in India (as is mostly the case outside too) and most customers who shop online are seeking better price and convenience of shopping rather than looking for a full range of products. Another recent experience confirmed this too. On 12-12-12, a book was released to commemorate the birthday of Tamil Film superstar Rajnikanth. The name of the book is “Rajnikanth – the Definitive Biography” by noted journalist and author Naman Ramachandran. I was wanting to get my hand on this book for quite some time, just that I was hoping there would be a kindle version so I could read it on one of my devices. But that doesn’t seem to be launched yet. So, I decided to buy the hard copy paper back which was priced at Rs. 699/- at Landmark, the retail venture of the Tata Group in India. Landmark is a specialty Retailer and mainly sells books and stationery, music, toys etc., among other things.  There wasn’t any discount on the book – given the fact that many hard core fans such as me would buy it whatever crazy price.

ecommerce methodology

While I was browsing the internet on Sunday evening at home, again on my ipadmini, I was curious to check out the price of this book online. To my surprise, the same book was being offered at a 30% discount across various online retailers. And I chose to buy from flipkart.com which claims to be the largest etailer in India in terms of number of billings/shipments and turnover. I bought the book immediately, my second ecommerce transaction on a hand held device within a span of two days. In this case, the shipment wasn’t as quick as in my previous example. The order was processed on Monday noon and the book arrived at my home on Tuesday. I had proposed COD (Cash on Delivery) – and hence the product would be paid for only after delivery. The delivery boy was kind enough to call me on my mobile while I was at work since there wasn’t anyone at home, After sorting out the same, the book was handed over to someone at home. And pronto – I get an SMS in a while from Flipkart – that the book was delivered to a family member. Technology used to its best, I felt.

Again, there wasn’t any logic for Flipkart to sell it so cheap – if they would lose 30% margin for a transaction (and most items on their site are on discount), then where do they make money? Assuming that their Gross Margins is around 40%, this is a ridiculous business format, to say the least. Over the months, PEs and Investors have shunned away from encouraging E-Commerce businesses in India. A prominent Indian etailer which was also one of the earliest to pioneer the concept of online shopping seems to have run out of cash and hasn’t paid salary to its 100+ staff for over two months. Half a dozen of them have either shut down or been bought over by their peers and competitors during 2012. And many more will go out of business in 2013. I am neither a prophet or a pioneer to predict what would happen to the fate of such businesses but when an etailer is operating at –15% or more (negative) margin, then isn’t it logical to say so?

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04 July, 2012

Malls and Anchors – the inseparable cousins!

A year after Borders Group collapsed, a survey by Colliers International shows that one-third of 205 bookstores shut down by the company are still vacant, according to the Wall Street Journal. Stores that replaced Borders in U.S. malls and shopping centers are leasing at rates an average of 30% lower than Borders paid. In at least one case, tenants demanded rent decreases to make up for Borders' absence. Bizarre, as it may sound, that’s the real power of anchor tenants. Anchors are those Retailers who attract the most number of shoppers walking into a mall. They could be of different formats such as Hypermarkets, Supermarkets, Specialty Retailers, Book Stores, Leisure Stores, Factory Outlets. Cinemas and Multiplexes and even Cafes and Restaurants.

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While planning and zoning a Mall, the developers provide a lot of importance to the placement of Anchors. As the name suggests, they literally hold the ship (the mall) on their shoulders. They usually have a road-facing presence, mostly on the ground and upper floors and on either sides of the Mall if the Mall has two entrances or more. Anchors are also the first to be signed up by the Mall Developers because it is easier to attract smaller tenants basis the power of footfall attraction of the Anchors.

Let us look at some of the most common Mall tenants;

Hypermarkets

Retailers such as Big Bazaar, Hypercity, Spar, etc. qualify under this category. Hypermarkets are usually located in the lower ground as this is an area that is otherwise difficult to lease. Hypers however have the ability to pull footfalls due to their pricing and promotion strategies. Due to their low cost of operation, Hypermarkets command a very low rental structure, which is usually expected to be maintained at 6-8% of their Turnover. Malls usually provide a separate entry / exit for Hypers if they are in the lower basement with large escalators and elevators and pathways for customers with trolleys to move comfortably and safely. To have established Hypers in the Mall is a sure shot way to ensure continued heavy footfalls through the week.

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Department Stores

Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, Reliance Trends, Westside to name a few have been the Mall developers first choice to sign up in their premises. Inorbit Mall at Malad, a suburban area in Mumbai was one of the first malls to have two Department stores within. Needless to say, it attracts one of the highest footfalls for any Mall in India. Department Stores are good tenants, from a return per sft point of view to the Mall Developers. They peg their rentals at 10-15% of their Turnover and can hence pay a slight premium compared to Hypers. Also, they attract a superior set of customers which benefits the Mall overall. Premium customers also means more amenities, such as large car-parking areas, valet parking services, premium architecture, more elevators and escalators, etc.

Specialty Retailers

Brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Aldo, Zara Calvin Klein, Mont Blanc, Apple, Electronic and Consumer Durables Retailers such as Croma and Ezone, home improvement retailers such as Home Stop, Home Town, Home Centre etc. are considered Specialty Retailers who stock premium merchandise. These Retailers are extremely choosy in terms of their choice of location, sometimes no more than 2 or 3 per city. Specialty Retailers pay premium charges for high-profile locations within the Mall, usually road-facing two-tier stores or atrium-facing outlets. Since they are available sparingly, customers flock to their stores and hence the brands maintain their exclusivity.

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Books and Leisure

Crossword, Odyssey, Landmark, to name a few are chains of books and leisure stores commonly found in Malls in India. They usually do not occupy the ground floors – mainly due to compelling rents. Instead, they prefer higher floors and have a strong pull of customers who are more of impulse shoppers. Their rent-to-sales ratio is no more than 20% and also operate with heavy staffing, mainly due to pilferage issues. E-Commerce has threatened the existence of many book stores and it’s a common sight these days to either see many of them empty even during peak hours and weekends or a few of them shutting their shutters for want of business.

Factory Outlets

Suburban Malls, usually located outside the city have tenants such as Mega Mart, Brand Factory, Loot, Coupon, etc. who are deep discounters. These stores sell merchandise that belong to the previous seasons and hence at a discount. India has over 500 million people under the age of 30, and hence there is a huge opportunity to sell to a third of customers in this bracket who are aspirational, yet price-sensitive customers. They pay not more than 12-15% of their sales as rent and hence maintain a lean-mean operation. Most of their stores are non-air-conditioned and staff strength is minimal.

Cafes, Restaurants and Foodcourts

Café Coffee Day, India’s leading café chain with over 1,300 cafes across the country is among the trusted tenants to double up as anchors. Being a youth brand, it attracts the right target group for malls. Restaurant & Bar chains such as McDonalds, KFC, Geoffrey's, TGIF, Hard Rock Café, etc. are sure-shot crowd pullers mainly due to their limited presence in the cities. Also many boutique restaurants, usually high-end also are considered as anchors in some way. They are unique in their offering and are usually entrepreneur driven, which means superior service, great food and a superb ambience, consistently and all through the year. Cafes and Restaurants can stretch upto 25% of their Turnover as Rents, to gain maximum visibility.

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Multiplexes

The boom began around 2006 when the country’s first chain of cinemas PVR began rapid expansion in Delhi and surrounding National Capital Region (NCR) and later followed by the Northern, Western and Southern Markets. And then came others such as INOX, Big Cinemas, Fame Cinemas, Fun Cinemas and the most recent being the world’s largest exhibitor, Cinepolis. The movie screening business is considered to be one of the most lucrative ones in India, given the fact that India produces over 2,000 movies every year across several genres in over 15 languages. Although it is a high investment business, the returns are equally exciting.

Going back to the opening statement, sadly there is not a single retailer in India who commands the respect and power as the one that Borders does. Not yet. Developers and Retailers are always at logger heads due to high rentals charged and low / sometimes poor maintenance of the Malls. Mall Developers and Retailers are constantly in a love-hate relationship. Both need each other and cannot do without one another. Yet, there are very few successful stories of collaboration between the two, maybe countable with both hands. Thanks to the ongoing opening up of FDI in Retail and with more and more International Retailers coming in, this is one area that would only get better. And hopefully, I would get a chance to chronicle a few of them.

08 June, 2012

Franchising–The first step towards Entrepreneurship

 

Gitanjali

Franchising has been around for long. Many global brands such as Adidas, Benetton, Levis, Subway and a lot more have grown globally due to their extensive franchisee network. Even in India, Madura Garments (which owns brands such as Peter England, Louis Philippe, Van Heusen), Arvind Mills (Lee, Wrangler and Arrow), Nilgiris (a chain of Supermarkets), Gitanjali Limited (which retails brands such as Asmi, Gili, D’Damas, Lucera, etc.) Crossword Book stores, Barista (Café chain) and many other Retailers have grown their businesses through successful Franchisee Partnerships. Franchising offers a quick scope of expansion for the Retailer while the investment is incurred by the Franchisee. Many first timers and wannabe Entrepreneurs choose the path of Franchising because it is an easier model to crack – the brand (is usually) established and has equity in the market, which pulls footfalls in to the stores. In case the brand is relatively new, then the Franchise fee (usually a one-time fee paid by the Franchisor to the Franchisee) is low, keeping his / her investments within reach. Kaatizone, an Indian QSR chain with a presence largely in South India is on an expansion spree through Franchising. Mr. Kiran Nadkarni, CEO, Kaatizone told in an interview recently. “Franchising has helped us in two major ways: We have been able to generate momentum in expansion quickly. Secondly, the local entrepreneurial talent has helped manage the store operations and brand experience better. Since we are planning to set up a large number of stores, franchising is the best strategy for growth.” Kaatizone has 19 franchises in six cities now and is planning to expand across the country.

The gestation period for recovery of investment can vary from 6 months to 3 years, depending on the location of the store (Malls, High Streets, Corporate locations,etc.) product category, and Brand identity and recognition. Investments could vary from Rs. 5 lakhs to Rs. 2 Crores, depending on the Brand. Some Retailers charge a one-time Franchise Fee and others charge monthly/annual commission on Sales in addition.

Nilgiris - Franchising Opportunity

Advantages of Franchising

Scalability of Business

The Franchisor would be able to scale up instantly by going through the Franchise model. The prospective Franchisees could be spread across the country and hence the business could be expanded quite fast. This is one of the most important reasons that Retailers choose to go the Franchising way.

Immediate availability of capital

The Franchisee brings in the additional capital that is required to invest and operate the business which is a very important factor for the Franchisor.

Day to-day Operations

Usually, the set-up costs, which are substantial are borne by the Franchisee. He also bears running costs such as daily operational expenses (manpower, electricity, housekeeping, interest on capital, depreciation, etc.)

Drawbacks of Franchising

Customer Touch-points

One of the biggest drawbacks in Franchising is that the Retailer usually loses touch with the customers. The front-end is managed by the Franchisee and hence the Brand doesn’t have much role to play in the Customer Engagement as such.

Loss of Operational Control

The daily operations are managed by the Franchisee. Although there are parameters which need to be followed, there are occasions when the Franchisee takes things under his control which could be potential threats in terms of running the business.

Loss of Focus

Once a Franchisee believes in the model, he / she expand their business across various brands and categories. Therefore, the required focus on the business may dwindle over a period of time. It is quite unlikely that the Franchisee would spend the same amount of time and effort on businesses that don’t yield similar returns.

FDI in Retail has already opened up for Single Brand Retail and the country is eagerly watching the Government’s steps towards their decision on allowing FDI in Multi-Brand Retailing. This is indeed a good time for individuals and entrepreneurs in the making to take their first steps towards Organized Retail through a Franchise Opportunity.

Best of Luck.

24 May, 2012

The Dangerous Minimum Guarantee Model in Retail Expansion

Aggressive store expansion means two things – heavy capital expenditure and lots of people to manage the stores. Every brand worth its salt wants to boast an extensive Retail store network across the length and breadth of the country no matter what the store level EBITDA is. While there are various ways to expand its network, some of the commonly used ones by Retailers are Franchising (more on that in my next column) and CoCo – Company Owned Company Operated model. While Franchising could mean faster expansion, there are chances that the Retailer may lose control on the quality of customer experience among other things. The CoCo model is very expensive to scale-up unless backed by a solid VC / PE Firm. One of the other means to raise funds for expansion is through the Capital Market – recently Specialty Restaurants that runs the Mainland China, Oh! Calcutta, Sigree and other restaurants debuted their IPO, the first of its kind in the F&B Industry in India (while Jubilant Foods which runs Dominos Pizza in India is also listed, it is not in the Restaurant business but into Casual Dining). Retailers like Café Coffee Day, Dominos, Foodworld, Spencers, Zara, Tommy Hilfiger and many others have invested heavily on their own in terms of store expansion across the country, while others like McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Madura Garments, Reebok, Adidas, Benetton, Nilgiris, etc. have taken the Franchisee model.

Reebok Store 1

There is another alternate model – One of the easiest ways that a few Retail Brands have taken to, which is known as the “Minimum Guarantee” model where in a Second Party is appointed to manage the store(s) on behalf of the company while the Retailer itself invests on the business. Let me explain this in detail. Assume that the store fit-out costs for a 1,000 sft store is Rs. 40 Lakhs plus stocks to the tune of Rs. 50 Lakhs, then the Retailer invests Rs. 90 Lakhs to set up the store and also bears the Security Deposit to the landlord (6 – 10 months’ monthly rent).  Once the project work is completed, the store is handed over to a second party, also known as a Managing Partner or a Managing Franchisee who is responsible for the day-today upkeep of the store. All direct and operating costs such as manpower, electricity, rent and incidental costs are taken up by the Retailer and the Partner is also paid a lump-sum ranging from a few thousands to a couple of lakhs – just to operate the store everyday. The logic is, if there were to be an Area Manager to micro-manage the store (and a cluster of them in each city / region), then the costs would be substantially high. And hence the Managing Franchisee model. The partner also has sales based incentives, that is if the store achieves a set target, then he receives a further commission, usually as a percentage to sales. In many cases, the Partner leases his own property to the Retailer, which means the Rental income comes back to him! In a few cases, either the same partner operates through kith and kin or through friends and relatives who become partners! And then, there are incentives for introducing new partners and locations in other cities. This is indeed a vicious cycle.

In the name of faster expansion and quick growth, many Retail Brands have resorted to this practice. While there is nothing wrong in this approach, the Managing Partner usually gets the cake and eats it too. Without any investment, he has a full time job, a respectable retail profession and a handsome income too. While it is not clear whether the practice has been globally prevalent and if yes, from when – it is quite popular in the Indian Retail scenario over the past decade. While Retailers like Madura Garments have stuck to the tested Franchise model of “Buy and Sell” merchandise (that is the Franchise has to purchase all the merchandise with a small percentage of returns back to the company), others like Reebok, according to press and media releases in the recent past have opted the Management Partner model.

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There is no correct or wrong way to expansion. As long as the means are ethical and law-abiding, there is no problem. But concerns arise when there is maniacal expansion with sometime, ulterior motives of helping / supporting some known people to become Management Partners. At the end of it, the Customer decides on the success or otherwise of the brand. And that’s what matters.

07 April, 2012

Music can convert more customers!

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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!

11 December, 2011

Retail Employees Day! Thank you folks!

No matter how popular or old a retail brand is, they will not be able to reach out to their customers without the continued and trusted efforts of their employees. Retailers across the country have come forward to support an initiative called "Retail Employees Day" to be celebrated on the 12 December every year. An organization by the name TRRAIN is behind this idea. TRRAIN is the brainchild of the most respected Mr. BS Nagesh, the Vice-Chairman of K Raheja Retail which manages various retail formats such as Shoppers Stop (Department Store), Crossword (Book Store), Hypercity (Hypermarkets), Home Stop (Home & Living) and InOrbit Malls. Nagesh has been part of the Retail industry over for over 20 years and is seen as an icon among the retail professionals young and old, a kind of role model that every retail manager wants to become! He has been through the industry's ups and downs and has always been there to support the various ideas and initiatives of the Retail Industry. 

Retail staffing in India has come a long way since the 1980s. The old-fashioned “showroom salesman or salesgirl” is now referred as “Customer Care Associates”, thanks to the proliferation of modern and organized retail formats. Even stand-alone traditional retailers have embraced this well and provide respectable employability to their front-end staff, who can make or break the business. The final “conversion” of a potential customer into a real one is in the hands of the CCA and hence, a lot of importance to their well-being is being provided. In the good old days, they were paid a lumpsum as salary but things have changed today. They are covered under Minimum Wages Act, are to be provided PF, Gratuity and ESI and needless to say, additional income options such as performance bonus and variable increments. CCAs undergo a fortnight, if not more of classroom training before they enter their dream world of employment at the swanky retail stores. Within two years of commencing their first job, many smart ones move up the hierarchy as floor managers, department managers, etc. There are even classic examples of front-line staff making it to senior positions and more are in the making. The dedication of some of the staff is exemplary, to say the least. I personally know a few who have gone out of the way, beyond their call of duty at many times. 


I have been personally involved in training the front-end staff right from the beginning of my career. A fellow colleague, who used to sell DVDs and Video Games at Musicworld Kolkata ten years ago has now grown to the rank of a Regional Manager at one of the most reputed music companies in the world! I was also a certified trainer at RPG Institute of Retail Management, an inhouse training agency of RPG Retail which was created to focus continued training and development to the front-end staff. I have trained over 2,000 staff members ahead of the opening of Central Malls at Bangalore, Hyderbad and Pune during 2003-04. They stand all day, greet customers with a smile, make your shopping and dining experience a great one and at the end of day, deserve more than their salaries.
On this day, I salute these heroes – without whom the Organized Retailers cannot grow the way they aspire to! My heartiest thanks to each one of them for making us proud; Cheers guys! 

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.

21 November, 2011

What Retailers can learn from Kingfisher Airlines

The past few weeks would have been one of the most tumultuous for India’s five star Airline, Kingfisher! The Airline and its promoter Dr. Vijay Mallya were in the news (and continue to be) for all the wrong reasons. The India Media which I personally respect a lot were making some scathing remarks and reports all of a sudden about the airline’s business health although it knew about it for many years now being a public limited company. With a debt exceeding Rs. 7,000 Crores (USD 1.80 Billion), Cash-and-carry of Fuel at airports and a few flights grounded for reconfiguration of seats, the Airline was abused by one and all including those who otherwise held it in high esteem. It was common to see many passengers at airport lounges discussing their wisdom and advising how the Airline should be run and how the promoter and the Management can do better. These were some of those who earlier yearned to be seen in the Kingfisher Lounges at airports! In fact, some subscribed for the Kingfisher-Amex credit card so they would get free and immediate access to these Lounges (obviously not for Kingfisher parties which were for the most elite). And some would go any length to get a Kingfisher calendar (in the same lines of a Pirelli calendar). Serious. No Kidding. Anybody who is somebody had a word of advice for the airline. They should do this; they shouldn’t have done that and so on. Naturally (sic).

I am not an Aviation Expert or one who shares Management Consulting for free. I have my own thoughts about the airline, and those are my views. Running a USD 2 Billion empire and being the second largest liquor company in the world (UB is expected to reach the number one position sometime in 2012), I believe Mr. Mallya and Co. knows their business best despite the unconventional ways of how entrepreneurs run their business (rare to see them plunge in Horse & Car Racing or hosting the most enviable parties at Monaco & Monte Carlo). The airline is going through some turbulence and I am sure they would come out of it sooner than later. Whether someone picks up a stake in the airline or if the Banks bail them out is one thing, but the exemplary five-star service which Kingfisher introduced is something that is worth living for. As eminent scholar Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar said in his recent article, “Kingfisher is worth saving!”

There are some interesting learning that our Retail Industry could take from the state of affairs of Kingfisher, which I have listed as below;

Scale-Up but at what cost

The airline was founded six years ago and has hence scaled up reasonably well, in fact started flying international since 2009 after acquiring Air Deccan (which was seen as the main reason for buying out). However, some of the routes it was operating were just not profitable. A Few were as per govt. Regulations such as flying to the North East of India, but there were some routes that could have been avoided. I guess this applies to Retailers as well. In a quest to expand their presence some Retailers like those in the F&B business such as cafes, speciality restaurants, etc. enter new cities and towns although they would just not be profitable ever! For Ex., the number of staff who are required to manage an outlet, a region & a territory would just not make sense unless the number of stores are reasonably big.

Being Everything for Everybody

At the India Retail Forum in 2010, Mr. Kishore Biyani of The Future Group made a statement which many of us in the industry vouched for – “A Retailer cannot be everything for everybody!”. Such powerful words. And makes so much sense. This applies a lot especially for Luxury Retailers. One thing that Kingfisher did was to position itself for the fashionable few with all its flamboyance and exclusivity. Later, when it bought out Air Deccan, it created a platform in the low-cost segment with “Kingfisher Red” which was recently scrapped off. In the meanwhile, Kingfisher was offering differential service patterns across its flights – some were served hot food on the house while some had to pay exorbitant prices for cold sandwiches!

Price Matters – Discounts don’t work all the time

In tune with many other airlines offering everyday low fares, Kingfisher was also pricing its fares accordingly. This, I believe was one of the earliest and biggest mistakes the airline did although it had an option not to do so. Many Retailers, to gain easy and quick market share especially Hypermarkets and Supermarkets work aggressively on their pricing and create hundreds of loss-leaders. That way, they attract footfalls in the initial stages although they would never be able to lift prices in future. This is a dangerous strategy that Retailers should keep monitoring constantly. Although it is fine to change the market positioning once in a while, one has to be careful in the long-term.

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Competition – Creating a Niche for oneself

Over time, Competition will increase, irrespective of which business one is operating in. For Kingfisher, it was initially the low cost Indian counterparts and over time, International airlines were also competing for market share. This applies to Retailers such as those in the Fashion segment. It is but natural that international brands would enter India eventually, given the potential the 10 million plus affluent households we have which is their main target segment. This should be part of the Strategy and not a knee-jerk reaction.

Managing the Media

Most importantly, Media should be well-managed – always. To say the least, lesser the better. Kingfisher has been the darling of the Media, with all the red short skirts, the sexy parties and those PYTs who are partying. Every move of the airline has been well covered and captured right from the first page, the Page 3 as well as in the last pages of the newspapers (the sports pages, usually). TV Channels have never missed covering its important times, and there is even a channel dedicated to the Good Times! Most Retailers fail to engage the Media well – either they are over exposed or under-exposed. Well, its worth discussing the business priorities and problems from time to time to- and with the media, rather than bringing it all at once. The recent discussions and view points on allowing FDI in Retail is a great example. Many Retailers, who were initially reluctant on the subject have now done a volte-face because they are cash-strapped by agreeing to bring in foreign retailers in to the fray! This stance will affect them sooner than later, with the media as well as their consumers.

Life’s lessons come from various quarters all the while and this time it is in the form of Kingfisher airlines. It is up to us to make good use of wisdom, irrespective where it comes from.

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…

We are already working 70+ hrs, Mr. Murthy

The world is split into two for the last week or so, ever since India’s self-made billionaire and tech mogul Mr. Narayana Murthy (NRN) said ...