Showing posts with label F and B. Show all posts
Showing posts with label F and B. Show all posts

24 July, 2014

Online Dining

I have enjoyed my pizzas better at the restaurant that at home, all along. It is more to do with the fun of dining – you plan a trip to the pizzeria, a walk or a short drive usually, or even at a Mall after finishing retail therapy. I fondly remember the bottomless Coke and unlimited Pizzas at Pizza Corner in Chennai in the late 90s during my most cherished college days with my gang of friends. Have ever since been a fan of pizzas and the love has only been growing. Frankly, I like pizzas from different places, be it Dominos or Pizza Hut, California Pizza Kitchen or standalone indie restaurants. One of my most favourite of course has been from “Italia”, the fine dine restaurant at The Park, Bangalore. For me, Pizza is an all time snack. I am usually game for a pizza at any time of the day (or evening) although I avoid a heavy dinner of pizzas. In fact, the love of pizza is more because of the yummy accompaniments, the cheese garlic bread and an array of toppings, especially the gherkins and olives. Am not a big fan of coloured flavoured colas and would rather prefer a strong coffee if not a lemon ice tea to drown the heavy food.

What I like best is food to be served hot and fresh from the kitchen. Haven’t been a big fan of home delivery or takeaways since I feel that the freshness is somehow lost, especially the international fare such as pastas, pizzas etc. although Indian food is still doable – we have an option to reheat the curries and biryanis at home once again which can’t be done with pizzas and pastas. Have avoided ordering pizzas at home for a long time now since I have had not-so-great experiences in the past, but that was probably because I used to live in Bangalore where the ambient temperature outside is not conducive to serve hot food by road.

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This Football season, I decided to order pizzas at home. No, I don’t follow the game but why not enjoy the delicious offers provided by F&B Retailers! So, first it was Dominos followed by Pizza Hut. On the first occasion, the pizza arrived pretty late, almost 45 minutes since I ordered. I was very disappointed with all the promises made by the company on various media, but gave a benefit of doubt to the delivery boy – he must have had a lot of orders to fulfil and mine was probably the last one. So, I didn’t make an issue about it and just left it there. Yes, I would give them a try once again in future and I hope they live up to expectations.

On the next occasion, the pizzas were served hot and were in a consumable condition even after 20-30 minutes of being delivered at home. What was surprising was it was a Sunday and was the day of the “Final” match between the two teams. And yet, the pizzas were sent on time, well ahead of the promised time. They have a future customer for sure!

In both occasions, I used the mobile applications of both these companies. The UI for Dominos is a bit confusing while the one for Pizza Hut seemed much better. In fact, I had to switch over to the website while ordering for Dominos since that seemed to be a better option. The UI is perhaps not designed by retail experts and with consumer feedback, it lacks the sensibilities that customers look for, especially people of the older age and for women, both of these segments may not be very mobile savvy. Also, one of my friends quipped on his Facebook post recently how the delivery boys call a number of times to take directions. The Pizza companies can take a cue from Uber, the taxi service guys who have a GPS enabled map on their cell phones that help the drivers reach their destination without even calling once.

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Mobile App Zomato also integrates Home Delivery along with providing reviews about restaurants and they are growing rapidly not just in India, but also internationally. Overall, I guess online dining, or rather online ordering is a great way to reach out to customers. It is also non-intrusive in a way. There is no need to call a number and go through the menu being repeated often – the menu is just there on the mobile app or on the website and helps users to choose what they want quickly and easily. Once customers are used to it, they would rather prefer this option instead of calling on the phone, whenever they desire to order food home. So, go ahead and try ordering on your phone next time. And yes, do take a minute to share your feedback. Happy Dining…

25 April, 2014

Happy Hours on the Web

The term “Happy Hours’ is better known for a “Buy One. Get One Drink Free” at most bars and restaurants all across the world. F&B Retailers have for long used this to lure customers to trickle in to their premises during the lean times, which is typically between 3pm – 8pm and Happy Hours are usually between 5pm – 8pm. While the margins on alcoholic beverages are quite high, say 200 – 500% on Sales, Restaurateurs forego some of it to get customers and utilize the time well and also hope that these customers would continue much after the Happy Hours are over. Also, consumption of food during the course of having a peg or a mug is quite high and hence they make money on it as well. I remember, a tony Restobar on Church Street in Bangalore offerred a group of 8 of us Happy HOurs even after 8pm, knowing fully well that the business that would arise out of our total consumption is well worth it.

What is new, is that e-commerce companies are now promoting their “Happy Hours” to lure shoppers to buy online during the so called “lean hours”. What is interesting is that the business on the web is busy only during a few hours in the day. As you would guess, it is during the day time, and between lunch and evening. The reasons for this kind of hectic activity is as follows;

Broadband Speed

Most (online) shoppers’ households still do not have the kind of internet speed that’s available at their respective offices. The Airtels and BSNLs of the world do not offer seamless connectivity that the IT Managers in small and large companies work relentlessly to ensure connectivity all the time for business purposes. And therefore consumers prefer to shop online during office hours. Incidentally, IRCTC sees hectic activity between 9am – 11am, especially for tatkal bookings.

Secure Access

Home internet is certainly not as safe and secure for making online transactions, and is vulnerable for hacking, especially by fraudsters who are constantly monitoring those who are shopping online. So, online shoppers tend to believe that office internet is much safer and is hack-proof, although it is indeed a misnomer

Delivery

Many youngsters live away from their families these days, mainly owing to work and do not have a permanent address. Some others do not have anyone to collect the goods being delivered, especially if they as COD – Cash on Delivery products. Hence it makes sense to get them delivered at their office making it more convenient.

Boredom

Over the past decade, the internet has been an important leveler to kill boredom. During the initial days, it was just about reading (Internet 1.0) where one could only transact one way. Then came the years when Google started invading our lives with various products, Youtube being a very important one. Social networking has seen hectic parleys over the years including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and so on. Online Shopping is a mere extension. People shop online, from grocery to gadgets, tickets to gifts, just to kill their boredom. Also, long office hours (during the week) and travel to hometown (over weekends) doesn’t allow many to shop at High Streets and Malls.

Desktop / Laptop

While mCommerce or shopping on the Apple or Android smartphones is becoming common, shoppers still prefer to see the products on a wider screen such as Desktops and Laptops as it gives them a better view of the products. Also, the reliability of 2G/3G connections is much lower than on wifi/broadband services.

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I read this recently on the web;

“If I want to find something, I will Google it. If I want to buy something, I will Amazon it.”

Very powerful statement.

Amazon India recently launched a campaign to encourage shoppers to shop online during the evening hours, promising them best deals in town. I guess more and more etailers would follow this trend shortly. "Working hour visits are the highest—there's a spike around lunch time and evening and dies out at night," said Sandeep Komaravelly, vicepresident, marketing, Snapdeal.com told in a recent interview to The Economic Times. "Besides, weekdays are busy for shopping online, while weekend traffic drops by 10-12 per cent, particularly on long weekends like this one." Hasbro Clothing, the parent company of basicslife.com runs 100 exclusive offline stores and also retails via 800 multibrand outlets. "Office net connectivity is much faster than at home, prompting quick purchases at work," said Sriram Ravi, head, digital marketing, Hasbro Clothing. "We get 20 per cent daily orders around lunch time and marked increase during office closing hours. People are done with the day's work and use the last hour to browse and buy from shopping sites, while on weekends, sales in retail outlets are higher." Average time spent in buying boxers or handbags or shoes online is five to 10 minutes and these are typically repeat buyers, familiar with a site and knowing what they want.Same-day delivery options are also pushing buyers to shop during office hours. For example, eBay India offers nine-hour delivery, but for this, orders have to be placed by noon. At Amazon, orders have to be placed by 10 am to qualify for sameday delivery according to The Economic Times.

Honestly, there is no good time to shop. Anytime is a good time, from the view point of Retailers. It’s just a matter of time that Offline Retailers would also start offerring discounts during lean hours, a practice started by United Colours of Benneton many years ago. For now, check out the web for special deals. If you reading this later in the evening, you may be in for a surprise! Happy Shopping…

13 March, 2014

Food Retail is tuff…

Restaurant business is damn exciting. While people don’t shop for clothes and mobiles every weekend, most people drop over for a good meal frequently and a great meal, once in a while. Great Meal, I mean is a bit indulgent. It could be a Michelin rated restaurant. It could be one among the top 10 restaurants in the country. It could be a celebrity chef’s eating place. Ofcourse, the Five-Stars. The list is long. However, the food business is also one of the tuffest to be in. In fact, it is also one of the retail formats where the churn is very high. For every 6 successful restaurants, three of them fail. And the reasons for failure are aplenty, Customer Service (or the lack of it) being one of the main reasons why restaurants cannot keep up in the short to medium term. Also, investors are not too keen to fund ventures that do not show the ability to scale. 2-3 outlets is not scaling up. It should be in double digits. Most of the restaurant owners are entrepreneurs, many having chosen the route to entrepreneurship after stints in corporate life. They invest their life time savings to open a restaurant (also includes Pubs / Nighclubs / Others) and usually find the going tuff within 18-24 months of opening. That’s when the business matures and needs further investment in marketing and PR – the machinery that keeps restaurants going. I was at a restaurant called “Tangerine” in the upmarket Alwarpet locality in Chennai. The last I had been there was about a decade back. The food was excellent, just how I remember it had tasted during my last visit. However, the place was a bit worn down. The kitchen, which has limited space and equipment cannot cook more than two dishes at a time, which increases the waiting time for guests. The staff fare not all that excited, since they don’t get regular footfalls all over the week.

Lashakahari

The business is all the more difficult if they operate in niche categories. In a city like Chennai, there is a strong thrust on Veg-only restaurants. Yes, you heard that right. In fact, India is the only country in the world which has so many veg-only restaurants and that too, all across the country. I visited one last month. It is called La Shakahari. La, being a french word and Shakahari being vegetarian in Hindi language. The restaurant is located inside a residential area and I was almost being challenged by the Google Map in my phone to find the place despite its best efforts. But once we entered, we realized what a great place it was. They had a set-menu as well as A la Carte. The set-menu offerred more items for what we would have paid otherwise while ordering them individually.

One of the biggest challenges that Restaurateurs face is the inability to scale-up. Most times, it’s the lack of capital. At times, it’s the lack of intent and interest to grow. A potential investor would indeed be able to show inclination to projects which are tried and tested. However, many entrepreneurs just don’t expand. Another option to scale up is the Franchising route. However, the risk is you would lose consistency in the long term and many of them would probably serve food that tastes different.  For fear of not diluting their exclusive menu and taste that it offers, these restaurants remain standalone ventures and thus allow others to crop up in other parts of the city.

Of all retail formats, the F&B format is one of the toughest to operate. Many of them shut shop within 24 months of opening. If they withstand any further, then they strive to stay for a long time in their lifecycle. It also depends on the choice of real estate – Rent is almost 20% of Sales in Malls and about 12-15% at High Street locations. And that’s why you don’t find many of them in Malls not doing well or being priced exorbitantly. At the end of the day, the success of a restaurant is actually many factors playing in.

21 November, 2013

Brewing Cheer with Beer!

I recently happened to meet Rahul Singh, Founder and CEO of “The Beer Café”, an upcoming chain in Delhi NCR, based out of Gurgaon. Rahul comes across as an affable person, having spent over 20 years in the Indian Retail Industry. Before turning entrepreneur, Rahul was working for Reebok as Executive Director and was responsible for sourcing apparel for domestic as well as export markets. An electrifying guy, Rahul seems to have a natural flair for entrepreneurship. It was a chance meeting to discuss a business proposition but turned out to be a very engaging 90 minutes one on one. Prior to The Beer Café, Rahul  was responsible for creating the first ever indoor Golf centre along with F&B and Entertainment at Gurgaon, at the upscale Ambience Mall.

TBC 1

I couldn’t resist but to ask Rahul how many months did he take to come up with the idea of a Beer only place. He was quick to retort saying that it took him just two months! I loved the way he simplified his method of narrowing down the concept. According to Rahul, there are three broad categories in the F&B Business – Fine Dine, Quick Service and Fast Food. He chose the Fast Food model. Within that, there were two options – to focus on food or beverage and he chose the latter. And within Beverages (read Coffee Café chains like Café Coffee Day, Barista, Costa Coffee, Gloria Jeans and Starbucks which have more than 2,000 cafes in India), he chose cold beverages and that’s how the idea of Beer Café was born. Simple idea that relies on classy execution.

Rahul wants his chain to be the CCD of beer and conversations. Alcohol frees up the mind and the soul and today, one has fewer choices to consume a pint of beer, either at a restaurant or at a Pub (home parties are a limited choice though). So, he wanted to set-up Beer Cafes in convenient locations where people could drop by with their friends or colleagues at work for a quick chat or a relaxed conversation.

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The Beer Café now has over 11 locations within Delhi/NCR and would have about 30 operational outlets within the next three months! With VC funding coming in, Rahul hopes to grow the café network substantially over the next couple of months. His only gripe: Real estate costs of First World with consumer spends of Third World. Every Retailer would agree to this quote. Operating Costs, especially store rentals are extremely high and staff attrition is another big challenge. Rahul is now looking for an able COO to run the business, so he could take a bigger role in managing Strategy and Expansion.

The café is very appealing, with bright lights and a friendly attitude of staff. On a weekday evening when I passed by at the Beer Café at the Ambience Mall at Gurgaon, there were many who were having a good time seemingly. And many more would be in times to come.

07 November, 2013

Should Cafes Advertise?

I came across two special offers by India’s leading café chains Café Coffee Day and Barista today. One was through a email campaign – Buy One (Cappuccino), Get One Free. And the other was on newspapers – a combo offer of a Cappuccino and Egg Wrap at a discount of over 35%. And this was not an isolated case – both these café chains have been advertising in the mainline media for quite a while now and have also been continuously offering discounts over the past couple of months on their products. And all this for attracting footfalls into their cafes. with the onslaught of new café chains such as Starbucks over the recent months and those such as Gloria Jeans, Costa Coffee and other regional café chains, this space has been witnessing active poaching of customers. However, the regulars haven’s shifted loyalty, and that’s in the proof of the pudding. If that were the case, monthly sales of these chains fluctuate quite much, which has not been the case.

Barista

The biggest effort for cafes, contrary to what we believe is not just retaining existing customers but attracting new ones as well. CCD, as it is popularly known has followed a deep penetration strategy in large cities like Bangalore (where it is headquartered), Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata. There are over 8-10 cafes of CCD within a 3 sq. km radius in Bangalore and all cafes are full with guests in peak times. Chennai, the hotbed of the South Indian Coffee culture has grown slower for CCD than other cities. That’s perhaps because the iconic Filter Coffee available in regional restaurant chains such as Saravana Bhavan, Ananda Bhavan, Vasantha Bhavan, to name a few are just unbeatable. The modern cafes also do not prepare the filter coffee and are more popular with the Cappuccino, the Latte, the Americano, the Espresso and ofcourse the cold coffee varieties which are difficult to replicate and are not easily available at other restaurants. Barista, which has slowed down its growth over the past three years and has focused on store profitability rather has been a pioneer of the coffee culture in the North, especially in Delhi. It has also been heavily advertising especially in conjunction with India’s leading newspaper Times of India about various offers.

CCD

So, this set me out thinking, “Should cafes advertise?”

The first answer that comes to my mind, is Yes, indeed they should. Every company must advertise its products and services through relevant media to their target customers. There are two kinds of advertising, I would say. One is the Corporate form; CCD came up with its campaign “sitdownism” a few months bacj which was an instant hit among the youth and was well appreciated within the Advertising faternity. And the other is advertising its products and services. But then, for cafes, in my opinion, being present in a locality is itself the best form of advertising. The store itself is an advertisement (and holds true for other retail formats too). Be it Malls or High Streets or Airports, Café are often point of direction or a meeting place. CCD at Bangalore Airport is located in a very prominent place such that no one can ever miss seeing it. Same applies for Gloria Jeans at Hyderabad Airport. However, At Delhi Airport’s T3 Terminal, Starbucks is quite tucked away and is almost missed by everyone.

The café should rather focus on the following to retain customers and to attract newer ones mainly through word of mouth;

  • Ambience
  • Convenience
  • Familiarity
  • Consistency
  • Quality

These are some factors which potential customers would consider before they step into the café for coffee and conversations. Most of them, even college kids who are the most targeted for such cafes do not like to indulge on products that are heavily discounted. Or would like to be seen in places which are positioned as being “discounted”.  I would wonder then, why do cafes scream so loudly that they have products which are “discounted” and gain adverse publicity. A satisfied customer would get ten more, goes an old saying. Cafes would do better in attracting newer customers if they provided top quality Coffee and other Food & Beverages to its customers with consistent quality and convenience (Read: Furniture, Sofas, Chairs, Plug points for Laptops, Wi+Fi, toilets) and make the place a familiar one for them to revisit. Afterall, cafes are meant to be the third alternative place after Home and Office and hence need to be the first point of recall for customers to walk into.

28 October, 2013

Chennai Airport is a sham(e)!

Even before I was part of the exciting world of Airports (in 2006), I have always been a big fan of the commercial opportunities at transit points, be it the railway stations or bus terminals, let alone airports. It was always a craze to have a cup of coffee at the railway station when we would go over to pick up our loved ones arriving from long distances, especially if the visits were made once in a couple of years. It was yet another joy to consume within trains – from Rajdhanis to Shatabdis to the passenger trains that would have hawkers selling everything from peanuts to guavas to oranges to chips and snacks. The joy of consumption during travel would somehow take over the joy of travel itself.

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I have been using airports for just over 15 years now. My first flight was to Mumbai from Chennai to attend a job interview with a leading Retail Chain, with air tickets being sponsored by the company. That was the first time I was inside an Airport terminal, although I have been several times before that to drop off or receive guests from the Chennai Airport. The airport was and continues to be an important piece of the growth story of the state (of Tamilnadu) as well as served as a gateway to the rest of Southern India. In 2005, when the Government of India announced privatisation of Airports, the most protests were seen outside the Chennai Airport, the maximum being only second to the city of Kolkata. The staff of Airports Authority of India (AAI) and allied agencies protested that their livelihoods would be lost if the airport was privatised. The Government succumbed to pressure; Chennai’s loss was to the gain of Bangalore and Hyderabad. Both the cities claim to be the Gateway to South India and came up with world class private airports in the outskirts of the city in 2008, albeit the cities have been growing faster in their respective airport corridors over the past 8 years. Mumbai and Delhi somehow managed to keep the privatisation tab on. Delhi’s T3 Airport Terminal, which is managed by the GMR Group  was built in record time and is now ranked among the top 5 in the world, consecutively for the past 3 years. Mumbai Airport, managed by the GVK Group built two new terminals for Domestic and International passengers and is struggling the political onslaught for space within its precincts which has been occupied by the public at large. Kolkata and Chennai Airports were allowed to be redeveloped by AAI and the work completed early this year with a time overshoot of over 9 months and a cost escalation of several hundred crores.

According to a recent survey by passengers on sleepinginairports.com, Kolkata Airport has been ranked 2nd worst in the world, with Chennai following a close third. What an infamy for a state which is considered the Detroit of India housing majors such as Ford, Nissan, Hyundai, Royal Enfield, Ashok Leyland, Hindustan Motors, MRF Tyres, Saint Gobain, Nokia, Samsung and many more! Chennai Port handles one of the highest loads in the peninsula. Chennai’s knowledgeable crowd contributes significantly to the Indian economy with Chennaites occupying important positions in the Indian Government as well as in global positions worldwide. And we have such a dud of an airport!

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I feel quite disappointed, first as a citizen of the country and then as a resident of the city to pass through such an unglamorous airport every week, when I travel on work. The facilities are poorly planned. The Four Cs of airports, Comfort, Convenience, Cleanliness and Customer Service are shameful, to say the least. The only saving grace is the imposing façade which looks attractive for those passing by on the Grand Southern Trunk Road outside, but nothing more inside. There are no refreshments available outside the terminal, save for a sole counter which sells local cuisine at thrice the price of what’s sold downtown and a small kiosk of Café Coffee Day. The check-in hall has two ‘counters” where one needs to stand and eat snacks or sip coffee, just next to a dustbin which usually overflows, as though it’s a sort of a punishment. There is no bookshop or any other similar offering around; the only thing that solves passengers’ woes being the complimentary newspapers. The Departure areas are even worse. The layout of shops and other convenience is so bad that one would rather not step in than feeling disappointed thereafter. Cookieman and Frech Loaf are the only saving grace in the mess, although tehir products are meant to be take aways rather than consuming then and there. No Foodcourts or QSRs, just a restaurant located at the far end of the terminal. Services such as Taxi Operators and Forex are abysmally managed, with long queues for taxis in the peak hours in the evenings with unavailability of taxis for passengers. Airside services such as baggage handling are terrible. There are only four baggage belts and checked in luggage may arrive anywhere between 15-45 minutes after you land at the airport. There are only four aerobridges and the buses which provide ground transportation from the terminal to the aircrafts are poorly maintained. There is no complimentary Wi+Fi within the terminals. The airline staff and security staff from Central Industrial Security Force or CISF have a similar attitude as those who manage the airport – one that is indifferent and unfriendly. After all, it’s not just their fault since there is no one to oversee how good (or bad) their service towards passengers is.

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I still believe there is hope. There is a plan to privatize the terminals through an open tender and the decision is expected to be taken by the end of this year with work to begin early 2014. Senior Executives from the companies which plan to bid had visited the airport to conduct a survey two weeks back were apparently welcomed by protestors from AAI, shooing them back not wanting privatization. But this time around, the Government doesn’t seem to back out. Hopefully, good sense would prevail and the airport would be handed over to a competent agency to serve passengers better.

An Airport is the face of a city and must display pride of place. It is the first point where international visitors to the country alight at. It is indeed important to put up a great one and maintain it as well. Lets hope.

28 September, 2013

Restaurants in Malls…

I was recently at Forum Vijaya Mall (Chennai), one of the newest in town. It was a Sunday and I was there for lunch, but the upper level of car parking was almost empty around noon, which took me by surprise. However, I was told two days later by someone who works for the Mall that there were over 45,000 footfalls on that day. The Restaurant that I was supposed to visit was located on the second floor of the Mall. As is usually the case, I checked the reviews of the restaurant on the Zomato app on my iPhone. Most of them had written good things about the place and its menu, not to forget their wonderful service. Here is a sample;

After such a good meal, the bill came to around 2500 bucks. "Not bad at all!", we thought, given the amount of food we had eaten. The service too was perfect. The waiters were very watchful, responsive and most importantly, proactive. – Amruth

A great place with tastefully done interiors and food! The options on the menu are limited, but every single item you are served taste good and also look really good on the plate! – Nandhini

If I have to be perfectly honest, there could not be a more unfortunate location to host such a lovely restaurant. A mall in Vadapalani is hardly any place for a classy place like this. Where venue fails, Salt takes North Indian Cuisine and gives it a fantastic twist, to ensure they stand out from the others. I expect much more of this restaurant in the near future. – Vaishnavi

Apart from many reviews, the one above set me thinking. Are Restaurants in Malls a viable option as compared to those on high streets? Are Mall shoppers the right TG for specialty restaurants in Malls? For the cost of operation in Malls, do restaurants make any money at all as a business option? When I spoke to the gentleman who runs the restaurant, he mentioned that the rent is about Rs. 65 per sft per month. Assuming they have an area of 2,000 sft, their rent per month would be about Rs. 1.30 lakhs. Add to that all other expenses which would be around Rs. 2 lakhs pm. On a conservative estimate of Rs. 15 lakhs of sales per month and an operating margin of 50%, the store would recover its expenses and have an EBIDTA of about Rs. 2 –3 lakhs per month. Given the way the outlet has been done, their investment would have been about Rs. 70 lakhs. So, the restaurant makes about Rs. 25 lakhs in profits (before interest and taxes a year)  and would take about 3 years to break even.

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On the contrary, business would be double, if not more were it to be on a High Street. There are a number of good quality specialty restaurants that are garnering those numbers already. So, why do Restaurants still prefer Malls? Perhaps, Brand building and familiarity. I don’t see any logical reason why someone would invest so heavily in a Restaurant inside a Mall and wait for 3-4 years to break even, when it could be faster in a High Street. What works best are for established brands such as Rajdhani, Sigree, Mainland China, etc. which have built reputation over the years and have hence chosen to be within Malls to leverage their brand value. For first timers in the Restaurant business, Malls are probably not the place to be in. This is not restricted just to Chennai but to other cities as well. I was at Chandigarh a few weeks back and they have a brand new Mall called Elante. I was almost alone at Chilis on a weekday evening, which is located in the same floor as the cinemas on the fourth floor of the mall. Restaurants in India’s most successful Mall, Select City Walk face the same fate – Restaurants are empty through the week with weekends being their only busy times.

So, what ails Restaurants in Malls?

Mall shoppers are mostly for spending time, probably window shopping. Conversions for Retailers too is lower than on high streets. The sheer number of footfalls make up for lower conversions and therefore helps Retailers and Restaurants. Unless you are a destination such as a Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, Café Coffee Day, Starbucks, Subway, KFC, Pizza Hut, etc. These are places which plan to visit and hence drop by. Eating out is way to expensive these days, given the cost of ingredients. And Restaurants are trying their best not to upset their clientele by absorbing losses as much as they can. But then, consumers are staying away from eating places on a regular basis, as was the case a couple of years ago. For example, a could of years ago, the neighbourhood area of Koramangala in Bangalore had almost 50 eating joints, a third of whom have closed over the last one year.

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Mall hoppers prefer food courts instead, which are usually pathetically planned. Mall planners in India somehow do not build large enough food courts, with thousand of chairs and a breathable exhaust system, that are modular and scalable as and when consumers increase. Instead, they try to lease all counters at one shot thereby not having scope for further expansion in future. What would cost around Rs. 600 for a family of three in the food court would probably cost over 50% more in a fine dine restaurant within the Mall.

Restaurateurs would do well to experiment new concepts first on the High Streets. That is where people frequent. There are no SCAM, errrr CAM expenses (Common Area Maintenance) on High Street Locations and no restrictions to close the restaurant at a stipulated time. The biggest benefit of being on High Streets is that the signage builds familiarity among customers over time. No wonder, there are more successful restaurants in India and the world over on High Streets!

22 May, 2013

Inviting patrons for a great feast

The Hotel Industry in India is facing tough times ever since the global recession occurred a couple of years ago. In my current role at Royal Enfield as Head of Business Development, I travel atleast 2-3 days every week across the country. Whenever I try to book rooms in small and big cities, the room rates just surprises me. I was trying to look for rooms in Hyderabad for stay over the next few days and was surprised to find discounted rates at 5 star hotels for as low as Rs. 5000 (USD 90). The Leela and Grand Chola – both touted as 7 star rated properties in Chennai are offering over 40% discounts on printed rates, to as low as Rs. 7,000 (USD 130). Same is the case in Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Pune and is even worse in smaller towns. I stayed in Trichy, a city in central TamilNadu which connects a number of other towns of prominence in business and culture within a 100 km radius during the first week of May 2013. On the MakeMyTrip mobile app for the Apple iPhone, I could get a double room for three adults and two kids for as low as Rs. 2,500 (USD 55). The room was quite large to hold a King size bed and two single beds. I have stayed in cities like Coimbatore, Dehra Dun, Jammu, Patna and many others for similar rates in well maintained properties. The outlook for hospitality in India as such wears a glim look and with increasing inventory and competition, not to forget the choices that customers make, the pricing is aggressive at most of the properties. This is where ancillary income to Hotels are helping them.

Cappucino

Most of the hotels have in-house restaurants, mainly to cater to resident guests. Many of them advertise these restaurants quite heavily, thereby attracting visitors through the year irrespective of peak season or otherwise for room occupancy. While this practice has been there for long, its quite evident these days with a number of hotels including some premium Hotel chains advertising in the media. What caught my attention recently  was an ad (displayed above), by ITC Hotels, one of India’s largest companies in the hospitality space for their Cappuccino Restaurant at the erstwhile Park Sheraton (in Chennai) . They have advertised buffet options with prices! Do those patrons who visit these places really care for the price? I mean – everyone does. But then, do people care what the final bill is gonna be when they visit star rated hotels and restaurants? I really doubt. Restaurant incomes are an important source of revenue for Hotels. They contribute anywhere between 7-25% of total sales depending on how well these restaurants are positioned and popularised. Some of the restaurants in these hotels are even Michelin-rated – a rating by the Vehicle Tyres powerhouse Michelin which grades eating joints across the world and shares in a report that is published annually.

Suggested Reading: Franchising

Stand-alone restaurants are doing their best too, to woo potential customers. They advertise in leading newspapers regularly to attract attention and over a period of time become destinations. In some cases, they are located within hotels and Malls and in many cases they are located on High Streets. User reviews in sites and apps such as Trip Advisor, Zomato, Burrp! etc. help them gain more traction. Chains like McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Subway and Café Coffee Day advertise across the media regularly to pull customers to their outlets and many of them even offer complimentary WiFi as a hook to retain them.

Suggested Reading: Does Free Wifi help?

With inflation leading to peak rates of food items, it is becoming impossible to middle class families to venture out eating outside. But the upper-middle class seems to be slightly more insulated, fuelling the needs of these restaurants. While premium hotels and restaurants promise great food (quality) and a wonderful ambience, consistency is key. To retain existing customers and to attract newer ones. If you are planning a visit to a nearby restaurant this weekend, flip through the pages of newspapers or mobile apps and you may be in for a surprise at a hotel nearby you! Happy Dining…

Suggested Reading: Food Inflation

13 May, 2013

Shaswat Goenka–Hearlding new frontiers at Spencers Retail

 

Shaswat Goenka

After dabbling with various sectors in the Rs 14,000-crore RP-Sanjiv Goenka group for about a year, Shashwat Goenka, 23, son of group chairman Sanjiv Goenka, has taken charge of Spencer's, the retail chain, from April 1. In an interview with Namrata Acharya & Ishita Ayan Dutt of Business Standard, he talks about his personal mandate and the road map for the Rs 1,400 crore business. Edited excerpts:

What goal have you set for Spencer's?
I assumed the role of sector head from April 1. What is most important at this point in time is profitability; that's where we are all trying to go. That will be the focus for the coming year and the year after. Spencer's is aiming to deliver Ebitda (operating earnings) breakeven at a company level in the third quarter of 2013-14 and be Ebitda-positive on a full year basis in 2014-15. That's the overarching short-term goal.

Spencer's has missed its breakeven deadline quite a few times. What makes you think you would be able to achieve it?
Well, each time we have done better. We have achieved breakeven at store-level but company level is what we want to achieve.

How do you plan to get there?
We want to increase our footprint. We will go up to two million sq ft from 900,000 sq ft currently and will expand in the north, east and south over the next four to five years.
We will achieve it over the next few years. The other important thing, obviously, would be operational efficiency.
In terms of offering, we would look at increasing international foods and regional foods. Value-added fresh is one of the areas we would like to explore.

Doesn't the fresh segment have one of the lowest margins?
We have very good margins in the food business compared to our competitors. Margins in apparel are obviously much higher but our margins in foods are good.

Any new formats for Spencer's on the anvil?
We haven't thought of any. We want to grow in hypermarkets.

Is the rationalisation process for Spencer's over?
Last year was the rationalising and consolidation process. We have exited Pune. In the past two years, we have closed 65 stores. Now, we want to start growing and in the hypermarkets.
Earlier, we had hyper, super, daily and express stores. Now, we have hyper and dailies and a few of the old express stores are still functioning.

Why did you exit Pune?
We wanted to become stronger where we are. So, we wanted to focus on the north, south and east. After we get that strong, we will revisit the west.

Why do you think the response from foreign retailers has been muted, after FDI (foreign direct investment) has been cleared?
I think people are interested. They just want to figure it all out before they come in.

Do you see foreign retailers as a threat to Spencer's?
Walmart and its likes coming in will help us. We can learn a lot from them. Back-end infrastructure will improve. There are basic infrastructure issues in India, like roads. Also, cold chains or dairy chains, for instance, are not very well developed.

A lot of options were being explored at the back-end by retailers. Any progress on that front?
We are open to FDI at the back-end but we haven't been approached by anyone.

Spencer's was exploring the IPO (public share offer) option. When is it likely?
That's something we definitely want to do but right now, the focus is on profitability.

Would you look at getting into the cash and carry format?
We have not looked at it. We want to be profitable and then explore other things.

30 April, 2013

The Third Place just got costlier!

 

Eatery 1

On Monday, 29th April 2013, The Tamil Nadu Hotels Association (TNHA) observed a one-day strike to protest against the Central Government’s decision to impose Service Tax on their businesses. Speaking to the media, TNHA President M. Venkadasubbu said, “The TNHA had taken the lead to organise similar associations in all states in this regard and a federation, the Federation of Hotel Associations, had also been formed for the first time in the country.The announcement of Service Tax was made by India’s Union Finance Minister Mr. P Chidambaram in the Union budget and had already come into effect, beginning this month… (April 2013). The Service Tax of 12.36 per cent levied out of the 40 per cent of the sales proceeds is illegal and a big burden on consumers who are already forced to bear the brunt of price escalation due to inflation. While the hotels and restaurants were already paying VAT ranging from 2 to 14 per cent, the new Service Tax levied by the Central government would amount to double taxation,” he said. ‘This problem of double taxation was discussed at a meeting organised by the Federation of Hotel Associations (comprising office bearers and representatives of hotel associations from all states) in Mumbai last week and a unanimous decision was taken to launch a nationwide bandh if the Central government did not roll back the Service Tax.’

Eating out has become extremely expensive over the past decade. I remember, when I was in Graduate School, with pocket money of less than Rs. 300/- per month, we could meet most of our out-of-home expenses including filling fuel for our bikes. Not so these days. The purpose of having a meal outside home, The Third Place as it is called is not just eating. It’s all about building camaraderie and relationship/bonding with family and friends. Ray Oldenberg defined the third place as an alternative to Home and Workplace in his research paper in 1991. Oldenburg calls one's "first place" the home and those that one lives with. The "second place" is the workplace — where people may actually spend most of their time. Third places, then, are "anchors" of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction.There were already numerous such spaces all over the world. Cafes, Restaurants and other Eating Spots are among the most sought after third-places. In India, cafes and eateries have burgeoned all over the country in the past few years. Café Coffee Day, India’s largest café chain has over 1,400 cafes across the country. Starbucks, Costa, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Gloria Jeans, Mocha and many other such international and domestic café chains have their outlets spread across major cities, providing an opportunity to people to hang around and discuss everything under the sun – from personal banters to professional meetings to matrimonial discussions, one can find all of those out there. Apart from Coffee Shops, there are over half a million eateries of various shapes and sizes across the country which provide Food & Beverage options. For nuclear families, eating out is one of the biggest entertainment these days, what with very little time to spend with the family!

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With the proposed new tax, food bills are expected to go up significantly to consumers. For example, on a bill of say, Rs. 1,000/- for a family of four, the Value Added Tax ranges from 2-14%, so lets assume its on an average of 8%. So, the bill goes up to Rs. 1,080/-. The service tax of 12.36% is applicable on 40% of the Sales, so that works out to Rs. 49.44, rounded off to Rs. 50/-. Hence the total bill to consumer now is Rs. 1,130/- just because this family chose to eat in an air-conditioned restaurant…where such a tax is applicable. The definition is quite clear – whether serving F&B in an air-conditioned area is a sale or a service. As per the recent amendment in the Law, its both. While food is cooked and sold, it is also served (by waiters) and hence considered a service. Also, the a/c facility is meant for seating and consumption, thereby making it amply clear that it is indeed a service. While this rule will bring about encouraging revenues to the Government, those that are meant to suffer are the middle-class consumers. For students and youngsters, visiting their favourite coffee shop or a fast food joint would get more expensive, thereby creating a dent on their pocket money. However, for the affluent and well to do, the proposed hike may not mean much, given that their spending power is relatively higher. In most cases, such individuals / families don’t even check the bill – probably pay (usually by a credit card) and sign-off.

While inflation and cost of consumption have gone up significantly, the income rates haven’t gone up proportionately. This has left the middle-class with fewer options for recreation. And Eating joints may not be the most preferred Third-Places anymore! For F&B Retailers, it means reduced number of visitors. And business too.

22 March, 2013

Free Wifi will be a crowd puller for Retailers

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

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

free wifi

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

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

17 March, 2013

EMIs are a way of living for the nextgen

I am not too surprised to see the two main distributors for Apple in India, namely Ingram and Redington jointly releasing full page Ads to promote the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 in daily newspapers. There has been a huge Marketing blitzkrieg in this regard since Jan. 2013. No wonder, sales of Apple’s latest smartphones have seen a jump of over 100% across various Retailers such as Croma, EZone, etc. Until the launch of iPhone 5, Apple used to bundle their newest smartphones exclusively with mobile operators such as Vodafone, Airtel, Aircel, etc.Which means if a customer is not on one of the networks that has been bundled with, then he cannot buy the phone (one has to buy it with a particular network and then use the number portability option). All these changed with the launch of the iPhone 5 in India. During this time, Apple decided to release their phones to the broad trade channel through its two national authorised distributors mentioned above. Which meant that the iPhone 5 was readily available across major retail stores in the country right from its day of launch. Although there was an initial demand-supply mismatch, this was corrected soon. Apple executed the same flawlessly once again with the launch of its iPad Mini. What was more attractive is that these smartphones are available at attractive EMIs, for as low as Rs. 2,376 per month for 12 months along with a down payment of just Rs. 16,990/- The recent newspaper ads have drawn thousands of footfalls to Retail stores that stock and sell the iPhones. Although Samsung started this trend in 2012 for its Galaxy range of smartphones, the scheme has become more popular thanks to Apple’s initiative.

 iPhone5

Recently, India’s top car maker Tata Motors launched a marketing promotion for its Nano range of cars. The Tata Nano which was launched with much fanfare a few years ago remains to be the cheapest car in the world with its base model touted to cost less than USD 3,000 (Rs. 1.50 lakh). The car didn’t take off well initially due to its stripped-down features but a prolonged grim economy forced fence-sitters to downgrade their purchases and this car seemed to fit the bill as far as a comfortable city drive was concerned. However, sales had come down still more over the past months. From 9,000 – 10,000 units a month in its hay days, sales have been hovering at about 2,000 units a month of late. So, the company decided to launch an EMI Scheme which is hassle free. At a equated monthly installment of Rs. 8,333 per lakh, a prospective customer can swipe his credit card from various banks such as ICICI, HSBC, Axis, Standard Chartered and Kotak Mahindra to avail this offer across dealerships. Add another Rs. 6,500 for fuel every month. Effectively for Rs. 15,000/- one can own and drive around comfortably with a family of four in the city in a small car such as the Nano. The initial market feedback seems to be good although one needs to wait and watch how things go along in the medium term. This is one of the most innovative promotions that the Indian Automobile industry has seen in recent times.

Tata-Nano-On-Credit-Card-EMI

The younger generation which lives on what they earn today rather than save boatloads for future is spending happily on such promotions. I have personally observed so many of them earning less than Rs. 6-8 lakhs pa carrying such smartphones and showing off their ability to own them to those around. After all, their cost of acquisition is as low as Rs. 3,000 per month. They are probably cutting down their spends on other discretionary spends such as travel, food, cinema etc and rather investing on a wonderful smartphone for themselves. For a large middle class that thrives on day-today commute on their two-wheelers (the size of the Indian two-wheeler market is over a million vehicles a year), it is always a dream to travel in a four-wheeled vehicle, atleast on holidays and weekends when the entire family is outing. And such promotions actually help satisfy their needs. What needs to be seen is how long these promotions could sustain. For example, the typical target customer who would buy a Nano is one who is in the lower middle class and with the car being his first four-wheeler. But would he have a credit card to buy the car? If yes, would he have a credit balance of a few lakhs in his account, given that the entire money would get blocked if he had to swipe his card for purchasing a car and may not be left with any credit for other regular expenses such as monthly grocery, fuel, dining, etc.

Whichever way, the next-gen is hapy to live on EMIs. And Retailers should be happy!

06 March, 2013

Consumer Spend – a loot at Airports

Recently, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu launched a populist move in Chennai to commemorate her birthday – a Government funded canteen that serves one idly (rice patty) for Re 1 (1 USD is Rs. 53 approx.) Yes, you read that right, One Rupee for a Idly. The move is aimed to cater to the needs of those under the poverty line and the poor, the working class such as drivers of autos, taxis, trucks and so on. This was a way Amma (mother) as she is fondly known as, appeased the vote bank. It is not sure how much this scheme is going to cause to the State. Ofcourse, these so called welfare measures are out of the state’s coffers – tax payers money. It so happened that the very next day since this scheme was launched, I was travelling through the Chennai Airport which is managed by Airports Authority of India, a government body which also operates the Airport in Kolkata. These two airports faced stiff opposition by the unions when the Ministry of Aviation privatized the other major airports in India in 2005 located at Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. These six airports contribute to over 70% or more of the total air travellers in the country which is estimated at 110 million pax per year. While the Kolkata Airport has been recently renovated at a cost of Rs. 3,000 Crores, the Chennai Airport has been renovated for aorund the same cost and was inaugurated recently although the terminal buildings havent been opened up to the public due to lack of passenger amenities, a move that the Commercial Department of AAI conveniently seemed to have forgotten while planning the terminal building.

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I was taking an early morning flight, a long one that too to Ahmedabad via Mumbai, an arduous 5 hour journey. And I was flying Spicejet, India’s most preferred low-cost airline which doesn’t offer complimentary meals on board, rather “sells” Cashews and Sandwiches at exorbitant prices. So I chose to have a quick breakfast before the Security Check for which I had quite some time. I walked up to the nearest F&B Kiosk which was serving hot food items. I ordered a plate of idly consisting two pieces and a Vada. The damage was Rs. 100/-. Yes, you read that right. Most passengers like me had no option but to pay such steep prices at airports to quench their hunger and thirst. What was more surprising is that the staff do not issue bills for every item sold on their own. Rather, the consumer needs to insist one of they really need one. I demanded one. And bingo, the staff tore a piece of paper from the manual bill book which had pre-written “Breakfast” in many of the bills. A closer look and the TIN numbers which are mandatory were indeed printed. But VAT or Value Added Tax and other charges such as Service Charge, Service Tax, etc. were not explicitly mentioned in the bill. I couldn’t blame the staff because they were just doing their job. I quietly paid the bill and proceeded to the aircraft. Afterall, this is not an isolated case at Chennai Airport. Almost all airports managed by AAI have the same issues more or less.

So, why are airport food products so expensive? To begin with, it’s the way the places are leased out by AAI. They follow an age-old practice of an out-dated tender system wherein those who qualify should propose a base price for the said location. H1, which is the highest quote gets selected. The tender period is usually for 3-5 years and doesn’t specify the architectural look and feel of the outlet. And most often, there is no seating option that is provided. This is completely contrasted by the approach taken by private Airport operators such as GVK and GMR Groups which manage Mumbai & Bangalore and Delhi & Hyderabad Airports respectively. The chosen partners need to submit and discuss schematic drawings and layouts with the airports and thereafter finalized. The design is not just contemporary but also functional and convenient. During my tenure at Bangalore Airport (BIAL) in 2006, we launched a global tender for Retail and F&B which attracted top players in the world to compete on a level playing field. The selection process was touted as one of the most transparent and efficient processes by international media which tracks Travel Retail.

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AAI’s outdated tender system is the mother of all troubles. Coupled with it is its terrible space planning with outlets spread haywire here and there. Add to it, unqualified commercial guys who have no clue of global best practices and arbitrarily follow the H1 route to choose partners. It is quite obvious that they quote higher fees in the tender and therefore over charge customers. Branded players like Café Coffee Day, Subway, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, etc who also operate at airports follow a corporate pricing policy and provide bills with all statutory requirements. Due to high entry costs and related operating costs such as complimentary snacks and beverages to airport staff, most organized players do not even venture into this arena.

A popular Indian Aviation Entrepreneur who successfully started and shut a low-cost airline often used to quip that there is a private mafia now in the form of private airport operators. But then, the government operated airports are no better.

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!

salon style

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

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

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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!

19 February, 2012

Phoenix Market City–Everything for Everyone!

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Yet another mall opened its doors recently in Bangalore – this time in the far eastern limits of Bangalore, near Whitefield. After a successful launch at Pune and Mumbai, the Mumbai-based Phoenix Mall Management has launched their prestigious project in Bangalore. This is the largest mall in town with an estimated 1.80 million square feet of space – a multi-development concept and one of its kind in the city that also includes a half a million square feet of office space, a 5 Star hotel with 236 rooms, a service apartment with 174 rooms and a multiplex spread over 55,000 sq ft. The external beauty lies in the fact that it is horizontally spread than vertically – all of four floors and a lower ground which connects directly to the most spacious parking lot which is well spread and brightly lit. The construction architecture is minimalistic with no jazz – focus is on the Retail Stores than crazy designs and confusing walkways. This mall also launched for the first time in Bangalore, marquee brands such as Zara, the Spanish fast-fashion retail chain in a JV with the Tatas (Also Read: Starbucks India – a TATA Alliance), Calvin Klein, Gant and California Pizza Kitchen. The main anchors include Big Bazaar, India’s largest Grocery and Homewear Hypermarket chain, MAX Hypermarkets, Reliance Trends, Reliance Digital and Reliance Time-Out. Regular Mall names such as Benetton, Tommy, Fab-India, Titan, Louis Philippe, Arrow are present while a few such as Café Coffee Day, Barista are conspicuously missing!

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The best thing about the mall is that it has everything – for the first time, multiple entrances – from the main entry gate, from the sides (Drop-off area), and from the basement parking area. The Ground Floor (entry level) is rather wide and broad – spacious enough to make it appear like a premium mall. Tommy, Gant and Zara welcome visitors with their bright signages and show-windows. Once inside, the shopper gets to see the wide expanse through well thought out and planned cut-off areas – from one floor, there is ample visibility to other floors.

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The anchors are also well spread. Big Bazaar is closer to the Parking Area so it would be easier for customers to take their shopping trolleys to their vehicles; however one needs to walk almost half a mile to the main road if they don’t have a personal transportation – an area that must have been given thought to. Max Hypermarkets welcome you once the shopper enters from the lower basement. Pantaloon Fashion store is placed in the upper floor while Reliance Digital (the Electronics Store) is in the lower basement too. There is a small gifts shop – all of 400 sq ft which is packed with curious onlookers for all the fancy cheap Chinese imports that the store has. The Foodcourt is as always, on the top floor nearer to the Cinema Halls while the Gloria Jeans coffee shop is sadly placed beneath an escalator with sparsely spread out seats – some wooden and some sofa seating in some random manner! Obviously, the café doesn’t commensurate its great coffee with its ambience. The other coffee shop, Costa is placed on the top floor – some logic I guess!

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I walked for over an hour, before understanding the layouts and placements, familiarizing myself – I scored lesser marks in my own purview although I wonder if shoppers would get to know it even after as many as 3-4 visits. Zoning, which I know personally had taken many months with inputs from some fabulous international consultants is to say the least, sad. Maintenance costs would be sky high I guess – air-conditioning such a wide area with two dozen security guards for over 14 hours a day is not going to be cheap or easy. The escalators – onward and downward are placed next to each other thereby not diverting traffic in various directions. Signages- although we don’t read as much – are scarce.

Overall, this Mall has tried to become everything to everyone – a premium mall in one-fourth of its space and a normal neigbourhood shopping centre with the rest. While Big Bazaar and Max are expected to draw a different set of clientele than, say a Zara or Gant, they are placed far behind – from a real estate point of view, this probably makes sense. But just that. Most people who intend to shop at a Hypermarket would be passing through premium retail stores – not only would they find it out of place but also a bit weird. Also, the Hypermarkets, whose predominant customer base are those who depend on autos and two-wheelers would find it taxing to come and shop here. And btw, Big Bazaar has its store close by – within a 3 km distance to be precise. Other than being a show piece, I wonder if they have any other reason to be here. And for the customers of premium Branded Retail stores – the car parking areas are just too far away. Wonder if that would put them off. Except if they have specifically come to shop at, say the iconic Calvin Klein.

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Firstly, does Bangalore need such a large Mall? With congested roads and consistently heavy traffic not just at the CBD but almost everywhere in the city, what we need are a number of neighbourhood malls – within a 4-5 sq km radius and within a 15-20 minute drive. And this everything under one roof doesn’t work as much. Bangalore, or most Indian cities do not attract a huge tourist population such as Dubai or Singapore. Nor are our prices globally competitive, rather more expensive. The semi-urban crowd that comes to the larger metros and cities rather stick to traditional shopping areas (Read: Downtown shopping centres, predominantly the semi-organized retail stores). The Mall also needs to attract 3-4 times what the best Mall in town attracts today – to support the single-digit conversions at its stores. For a Mall that is located so far off, it is anybody’s guess if the Mall or its tenants would do well in the first few years. Maybe over 3-4 years, the location would attract some traction.

Needless to say, the group has invested significantly and so have the Retailers. Here’s wishing them good luck in times to come.

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