Showing posts with label Foodworld. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Foodworld. Show all posts

12 December, 2021

The day to say “Thank you”


This year, I am fortunate to celebrate RED – Retail Employees Day with over 500 front end staff in my team at Specsmakers. What started on 12/12 a decade back in a few retail chains who were part of Retailers Association of India (RAI) has become an annual event now with hundreds of Retailers across the country saluting and celebrating the spirit of lakhs of frontend workforce across thousands of retail stores. The day is an important one in the annual HR-led celebration of every retail company today and in the current times, with the risky environment in which the employees brave to work is stupendous. May their attitudes soar higher and may they achieve greater name and fame in times to come. 



Looking back at myself, I started as a frontend retail staff in an ice-cream parlour as a part time employee way back in 1997 in Chennai. It was the city’s first and the country’s second parlour for US fast food chain “Baskin Robbins” and was located on the way to the Marina Beach, at Mylapore. I studied B.Com (UG) at Vivekananda College, Ramakrishna Mission in the evening from 4pm – 8pm and learnt computer languages at NIIT in the morning from 7am – 9am. During the day from 11am – 3pm, I would scoop ice-cream and desserts and learn the ropes of retailing and customer service. At the end of my computer course which coincided with my third year UG, I decided to continue my focus in the same field that I had been groomed for over 2 years, ending up in a PG in Marketing. Thereafter, my first job was as a Store Manager with RPG Retail’s formats including Musicworld and Foodworld as a Management Trainee. As days and years pass by, I thank everyday my stars, my peers, my former & current bosses and of course, the customers of various businesses that I have been associated with – due to which I remain an eternal student of retail forever. 

 

Early in my career, I chose the tagline “Retailer by Profession & Choice”. Over time, this appeared on my resume, my LinkedIn profile and as my introduction at 100s of seminars on Retail that I have been privileged to address to students at B-Schools, employees and entrepreneurs over the past twenty years. And there are two strong reasons for choosing this tagline: One, I wanted to have something similar to how global iconic brands have (or had) – “Yeh Dil Maange More”, for example. Something, that can be related to me and only me when someone refers about me. Second, back in the new Millennium, Retail was not a preferred job, forget it being considered an Industry. It was widely said that UGs and PGs who didn’t get a proper job in Manufacturing, Banking or IT/ITES industries ended up as an FMCG Salesman or even worse, as a manager or a deputy in a “retail showroom”. Even managerial jobs in Retailing were considered lowly from a socio-economic point of view until around 2010 when the Industry started looking up – thanks to the emergence of Malls, huge network of retail chain stores and the growth of Indian business houses such as The Future Group, Tata Westside and eventually, Reliance Retail in 2008 as well as entry and scaling up of International Retailers and Brands such as Marks & Spencer, Zara, etc. taking wings and soaring high in India across Tier 1/2/3 towns. 


Today, a job in retailing is not just a coveted one but fiercely competitive too. For mid-level and senior level roles, the competition is quite high with as many as 4-5 candidates making it all the way to the final, meeting the CEO / Top management to clear the last round. I was quite excited and privileged to be a part of the celebrations at a few stores at Specsmakers today, my current organisation, cheering the staff and being with them. This is a day to thank my compatriots for their service, dedication and hard work, rain or shine. Kudos!

04 June, 2021

20 years in Retailing

We were 42 of us who arrived at Spencers Plaza at Chennai, one of the only few malls in India in 2001. Most of them had come outside of Chennai. We all had one common reason to come together, through all the diverse backgrounds that we had. We were the Retail Management Trainees to join RPG Group for a 3-week induction at the HQ located on the fourth floor of the same building. Imagine a career, where you have to work amongst shops selling grocery, beauty products, food and beverage and all within a full air-conditioned environment. Only that this luxury would be short lived until we moved back to our “regions” – our destinations to write our own destinies, all by ourselves. The day was 4th June 2001. One of the most memorable days in my professional career. 

I had unofficially joined the retail industry way back in 1997 when I would scoop ice-cream part time at a Baskin Robbins parlour, the first one in Chennai and second in India. Though I was pursuing software languages in the morning at NIIT and a graduation in Commerce in the evening at Ramkrishna Mission’s Vivekananda College in Chennai, retail and consumer business became my first love, instant love, right from the first scoop I sold. For an eternal introvert until then, I never knew I could sell something to someone for a consideration, an expensive one at that, let alone the ability to speak with my chin up. 

To my utter shock, I was posted to Musicworld Kolkata for my 1st year assignment. For the record, I hadn’t ever crossed Chennai city limits in my entire life, save for an annual vacation once in 3-4 years to Mumbai where my maternal grandparents lived or to my father’s hometown at Kumbakonam, where the entire extended family would congregate once in a while for a religious festival or a wedding. I dreaded travelling 1.5 days by train from Chennai to Calcutta. That it was 2nd class A/c was a silver lining. After all, I was going to be travelling in a/c for the first time, that far. The only other time was one of the first rides from Delhi to Lucknow when Rajdhani was launched in the late 80s. I wondered what would I do alone, in the train, all day. And then, all alone in an unknown city, unknown people, unknown language and an unknown destiny. I am glad I took that train, much to my own chagrin, lest I won’t be writing this Anniversary article today with a sense of fulfilment and happiness. 

The memories I have etched of the city of joy, is perhaps one of the greenest that I would carry to my ashes. I made some amazing friends in Calcutta, spoke Bengali in a few months, and most importantly learnt the fundamentals of retailing at Park Street. Mr. Sanjiv Goenka was based in town, so we were always alert for he may turn up anytime. Seeing consumers spend hours together to pick up a cassette worth Rs. 27 was truly amazing. With 80% of volume business coming from cassettes, 15% from CDs and 5% from VCDs and Games, the 8,000 sft store would do a monthly turnover of Rs. 65 lakhs. Yes. In 2001. And the business grew 30% more during Pujo period and during Christmas! Amazing days. 

After a year, I moved back to Chennai on “job rotation” model of RPG Group’s HR Policy to join Foodworld, where I was in charge of the first store of the group. It was here, between 2002-04 that I decided that I wish to spend the rest of my life in Retailing, selling something or the other to end users. Extended Family members around me laughed, wondering why would someone study MBA to work in a grocery shop after all. Neighbourhood was worried if I was qualified enough for an arranged marriage. 14 years later, I received my first professional award – “Top 50 Retail Professionals in India” decorated by Asia Retail Congress. And then, three more awards in Retail and F&B in the past 6 years. In between, speaking at 100s of forums on Consumer Business & Retail in India, Singapore, Malaysia and China!

Before and after my first “public recognition”, my work in retail spoke more than what I could imagine to write. Designing and establishing India’s first ever Travel Retail environment across any private airport in India in 2006 at Bangalore; setting up 140 cafes across India for Café Coffee Day; driving and doubling the dealer network of Royal Enfield from 140 to 300 in just 2 years; and growing the topline of Levista Instant Coffee by 79% during the pandemic year 2020-21; I still try my best to stay grounded and humble without taking up any of the honours on my head. 



Every time I begin my lecture at a B-School as Visiting Faculty teaching Retail Elective to 2nd year students spanning 20-30 hours for the last 16 years, I still feel it is my very first day in Retailing, my tone and throat trembling for the first few minutes in to the class. Completing 20 years in a single Industry feels like an achievement. 


But for me, as I always say – I have just begun and I have Miles to Go before I sleep. Miles2Go. And needless to say, I am a self-proclaimed “Retailer by Profession and Choice. Since 1997”. For a reason!

09 July, 2020

Is Kirana Retail dead? David vs. Goliath

For the first half of my life, I grew up in Tamil Nadu Housing Board Quarters in Chennai which had odd 800 tenements. Lloyds Colony at Royapettah, close to the Marina Beach came up in the 1960s when Late Shri. Bhaktavatsalam was the Home Minister of former Chief Minister K. Kamaraj's cabinet who’s primary motive was to provide affordable rented houses for the EWS, LIG & MIG of the state. The houses were owned by the Government of Tamil Nadu and houses were allotted to users on a rotational basis. Within the entire housing complex, there was a one commercial complex, a school, a community center for weddings & events, a park, a milk vending booth, a library, two playgrounds and about 400 trees. Yes, you read that right – 1970s. And the complex had a few shops allotted for various vocations such as carpentry, automotive, Public Distribution Scheme centers (for Ration products) and most memorably a Kirana Shop (Provisions Shop). That the shop owner was our immediate neighbour and a family well wisher was an advantage for me as I used to visit the shop as a child quite often to pick up some thing or the other and the Uncle would give me a toffee or two once in a while.

I remember vividly collecting newspaper copies of “The Hindu” which had a full page Advertisement in the early 90s when Pepsi launched in town and one could get a sample 100ml RGB against the paper clipping and we exchanged several of these at this particular shop which functioned in the name and style of “Murugan Stores”. Guess, the seeds of Retail and Consumer Business was sowed in my heart in an early age, unknowlingly. Or by design. And hence my nemonic, "Retailer by Profession and Choice".


So, when Subhiksha Retail stores started expanding in the late 90s along with a bunch of new age airconditioned super markets in the “Mecca of Retail” that is Chennai including my alma mater and first job at RPG run Foodworld, conches were blown that this was the death knell for small and marginal kirana shops. Around the new Millenium, larger corporates such as Tatas, Birlas, Rahejas among others entered in to business of Organised Retail and we saw formats such as Supermarkets at Neighbourhoods, standalone Hypermarkets as well as those in basements of Malls and so on, Big Bazaar being the most popular such chain across India over the past 15 years and is India's largest Hypermarket chain. Once again, naysayers blew the conch that this would be the death knell for Kiranas. 

Then came the likes of Big Basket followed by small dotcom companies such as PepperTap, Grofers (including Oyethere.com founded by Your’s truly in 2015 and made strides) where the conch was blown yet again against the Kirans. 

Yet, amidst all this hullaboo, the Kiranas are standing rock solid with their determination, continued efforts to modernize & upgrade and of course, sustain their business with changing times by adapting to the new normal. 

Covid-19 is yet another opportunity for the Kiranas who form the backbone of India’s FMCG retail industry. With over 13 million Kirana shops across India, the Industry employs over 50 million people directly and indirectly including shop management, logistics such as first mile (from factory), middle mile (to Distributor points) and last mile (delivery of goods to Retailers / Consumers). Other than this, the Organised Retail Industry is estimated to employ a million or so staff members. The Share of Kiranas in Grocery & Household / FMCG Retail is approx. 90% which over the past 100+ days during Lockdown has increased to, perhaps say 98% since most Organised Retail stores were shut and E-Comm players remained non-operational or marginally. 


I have been saying this for over 15 years – in this battle, Kiranas are the Goliath. 

It’s almost impossible to get them off this equation – not because they outnumber organized retailers on a ratio of 9:1, rather because of the proximity that they enjoy with the end Consumers and the longstanding relationship they've meticulously built. 

According to a recent study by E&Y, over 40% of Kiranas have imbibed the Digital route including collecting online payments through Google Pay or PayTM as well as delivering through e-comm apps. Agility and Adaptability are the two main traits that these small business owners display, which is also the bane of larger companies and corporates who's employees work for a salary while the small entrepreneurs work for a living and especially to earn for the next meal. Makes a lot of difference in their approach, isn’t it.

13 December, 2019

Retail Employees Day

12 December is celebrated annually as Retail Employees Day, an occasion to thank the frontend staff who have taken up Retail as their preferred occupation. Started in the year 2011 with a few outlets, RED 2019 was celebrated with much fervour across the country with celebrities coming forward to wish and thank the front-end staff for their continued service.


It was a chance meeting that Mr. BS Nagesh, Former MD & CEO of Shoppers Stop, India’s much respected Department Store Chain, had with a few staff on the shop floor when he was setting up TRRAIN – Trust for Retailers and Retail Associates of India, that the staff said they were not being recognised for the work they do at Retail Stores. Thus was born RED, as a day to show gratitude to the staff who work multiple shifts daily, travel long distances mostly on public transport and in many cases, a primary or an ancillary bread winner for the family along with the parent. 

I am personally quite happy that RED has grown and like how over the past decade.


To give you a perspective, every 7th person in the world works in a Retail Environment, directly or indirectly. This includes people who work on the shop floor, at warehouses, those who are involved in supply chain and delivery and so on. In India, over 40 million people are directly employed in the Retail Trade which contributes to 3.3% of India’s GDP. 

Today, India boasts of over 800 Malls of which at least a Third of them clock a turnover of over 300 Crores annually. Two decades back, shopping was restricted to the nearby Kirana Shop for buying day today Grocery & Household shopping and the city centre or the “Market” area where consumers would flock during festive occasions to buy clothes, accessories, footwear, home furnishing, etc. even as the annual shopping trend (like today) was non-existent. 


The taboo of working in a Retail Environment can be best explained by me, perhaps since I have faced flak personally during my early days in Retail. 


I started my working life at the age of 19 scooping Ice-Cream at Baskin Robbin’s first outlet in Chennai as a part-time employee from 11am – 3pm while pursuing my second year B. Com (evening college) as well as attending NIIT classes at 7am, to acquire coding skills of C, C++ Visual Basic and so on. I was chided by “elders” (but not my parents) in the family for working as a “server” at an ice-cream joint and was forced to quit the part time assignment in less than a year which was feeding my pocket money. 


However, I was so impressed with this Industry that I ditched my coveted Computer Education only to pursue an MBA in Marketing after UG, join RPG Retail through Campus Placement as a Management Trainee and a few years later, added the tagline “Retailer by Profession and Choice” to my bio which remains till date. 

Even during my stint at Foodworld Supermarkets, my own extended family members as well as a few neighbours would mock at my choice of employment, much to the chagrin and embarrassment of my Parents. They thought I didn’t get a more “handsome job”, was working at a “shop” which wasn’t the best of jobs one could get after a respectable MBA and wasn’t “marriage worthy” although the Industry was paying good salaries, took abundant care of the employees with benefits, provided decent pay, incentives & compensation and most importantly, Customers immensely respected the Retail staff. 


Its so nice to see celebrities coming forward to thank Retail employees for their stupendous efforts and good work. Some of it is sharp marketing, one may say. So be it. At least, that way the likes of King Khan associate himself with the Retail Industry and the staff, raising the bar at how “we” are perceived in the society. 



This is just the beginning, as I famously quote that “The Great Indian Retail Story is yet to be fully told and is still to meaningfully unfold”. Watch this space. 

And thank you, Retail Industry. But for the choice of continuing to work at Baskin Robbins in 1997 despite the discrimination from the society, I wouldn't be where I am in life and most importantly, wouldn't have written this piece. 

Much obliged and always proud to call myself a "Retailer by Choice". Here's wishing all the employees working in ur Industry a great future ahead. 




09 April, 2017

G for Grocery Retail – Then Vs. Now

From shopping grocery at Kirana stores to Government Ration Shops to one of the first organized retail shops in India to the supermarkets and hypermarkets and finally now with my own mobile Apps for Grocery, I would say I have been lucky to see them all. My tryst with Grocery shopping is cut to the early 90s when I would accompany my father to the state-run TUCS shops and PDS shops and bring, rice, dal & kerosene kept on the back of our bicycles. During the late 90s, a retail shop named Subiksha opened in the heart of South Chennai – a store similar to a PDS but a bit modern with staff in uniform who assisted customers with their shopping needs and a computerized bill to support the transaction. I remember cycling 5 kms to buy 3 kgs of sugar, which would save us 10-12% than buying from the neighborhood Kirana shop. I used to be amazed at how shopping was revolutionized in the late 90s with the advent of “Shop n Stop” a modern retail store close to my house in Royapettah that encouraged self-service, which was not just a fancy thing but also a very convenient one.



I was fortunate in the early 2000s to join and work with RPG Retail’s Foodworld Supermarkets, which was one of the earliest organized retail stores in India. From consumer offers to world class shopping experiences, the company paved the way for future entrants with this format of retailing. When I joined the Future Group, I witnessed how a humble 1,500 sft of a supermarket had morphed itself into a hypermarket with Food Bazaar spread over 10,000 sft at its largest outlet then in 2004 and that too on the fourth floor of India’s first seamless Mall, Bangalore Central. Till date, our family has shopped only at Food Bazaar in over 95% of cases. That’s some loyalty, rather just the convenience of shopping the entire household I would say. Late 2000s was the challenging periods for Retail, although not as worse as what we’ve been witnessing for the past 24 months. Hypermarkets reduced their sizes and have found the 4,000 sft model as their sweetspots and are still tweaking their models.


Since the turn of the decade in 2010, we have seen online retailers come and go and behemoths like Big Basket stay on with a supposedly proven model. I would like to cite the example of IBuyFresh.com which was the online effort of Kovai Pazhamudir Nilayam, a Coimbatore based Retail store that started with fresh Fruits & vegetables and later moved on to the Grocery & Household segments. The e-commerce start-up, which was serving over 800 orders a day in just 6 months of commencing shut down abruptly one day due to viability issues. Others like Peppertap and Local Banya raised millions of dollars to eventually shut down their ventures leaving smaller players like my own Hyperlocal start-up Oyethere.com in jeopardy, what with Investors sitting on the fence not wanting to experiment on new models any further.


Much has been spoken about Amazon’s self-service, self-check-out store in America which is a dubbed as a smart-store where customers pick products off the shelves which get billed while picking-up and the check-out is super quick with just a tap of their credit cards or mobile phones (NFC payments). Grocery shopping worldwide and in India has been seeing a lot of new opportunities, of course with challenges but perhaps, remains the most interesting retail format.

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.

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.

DSC00153 (2)

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.

25 January, 2012

Retail Store Opening Time

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I recently received an email from Reliance Mart that they would opening their stores at 8am! The email newsletter was a bit incomplete in most respects – it doesn’t talk of its existing store timing (including opening and closing) and the list of all stores or a contact number such as a Customer Care number or a Toll Free number. It is anybody’s guess why this particular retailer would want to open so early – given that it is a Hypermarket format. In the footer of the communication, the cities where they operate is mentioned, most of which are non-Metro cities, which I guess could be the main reason for this move. In metro cities, people (Read: consumers) leave to work by 8am and return back around 8pm, hence most of the modern shopping environments including Malls, Supermarkets, Hypermarkets and Specialty Retailers open their stores only by 11am. Also, this is a huge cost-saving for retailers – lower usage of electricity and other utilities; staff can work in a single shift; most importantly, it provides time to set-up the store in the mornings – stock fulfillments, “facings” of products on the shelves and a sound briefing session to the staff.

At Foodworld, (a Supermaket chain part of the erstwhile RPG Retail) when I used to work in Chennai 10 years ago, we experimented opening the store at 7am – really early by Organized Retail standards. But what we realised was that we built a strong loyalty among the local residents and the neighborhood. Customers started coming in early to pick up vegetables that would have landed fresh at the store; and along with bought a packet of bread and some milk. And a few other daily use things too! I remember, we used to interact with regular customers and they would feel happy to be at the store so early! I guess this is one area where Kiranas cleverly take a lead amongst Organized Retailers. A typical kirana store opens by 7am and starts brisk business early. And closes as late as 10.30 or even 11pm at times.

The Government’s rules and regulations are not helping Organized Retailers either. Law states that women employees (who contribute to a significant percentage of the work force in the front-end of Organized Retail in India) cannot work beyond 9pm and should be escorted back home by the employer. Almost no one follows this though, thanks to lax overseeing by the respective agencies and authorities. The retail stores cannot function beyond a certain timeline, which is 8.30pm in Kolkata, 9.30 pm in Chennai and so on. Recently, Star Bazaar, part of TRENT Retail (owned by the TATAs) and Total Hypermarkets, part of Jubilant Retail based out of Bangalore extended their store closing time to 12.00 midnight, a welcome move by regular customers who heaved a sigh of relief since they could comfortably shop during the late hours! Mustafa, a local retail giant in Singapore, for example, is open all night and sees regular customer flow all through! I was told that the contribution of business between 9pm and 8am is almost 20% since tourists hop by after the city closes down.

Mustafa Singapore

With FDI in single brand retail already in place, it is anybody’s guess if more and more Retailers would want to keep the stores open late night or open early since the International Giants might want to pump in more money and experiment if customers walk in late at night. While this may work for certain categories such as grocery, household, furniture, etc. it may be obvious that fashion is not something that could work. After all, that category of customers would we wining, dining and partying late night than shopping! Café chains such as Café Coffee Day, Barista, Costa, etc. keep their outlets open until late in the night while book store chains such as Crossword and Odyssey usually wind up early. The case may be a bit different at Airports, where a majority of International Travel happens during the night and therefore, most of the Retailers are open all through the day and night.

There are a few advantages for Retailers to have extended store opening time;

  • Customer Service – During the lean hours, Retailers can provide better customer service, a typical measure to increase conversions
  • Loyalty – Retailers could offer bonus loyalty points (if they are operating such a program) to those who shop during such a stipulated time
  • Understanding Consumer Behavior – Since customers would be shopping under a more relaxed environment, they may tend to show a better behavioral pattern which may be useful to Retailers
  • Targeted Promotions – Retailers and Brands could run specific promotions during such times to increase penetration of certain SKUs

The drawbacks though, would be;

  • Increased Operating Costs – Retailers would have to shell out additional salaries to staff who work during such extended times as well as incur other overheads
  • Sustenance – Such a move, if it is experimental only for a short while can dent the brand image of the retailer among customers, leaving them confused
  • Managing the network – If the Retailer has stores across multiple cities, then it may be forced to maintain uniformity across all locations

Having said that, I believe there are hardly few Retailers who would want to try this venture. For, success is not something that comes without repeated attempts!

29 November, 2011

Retail FDI - Letter from the Commerce Minister of India

DSC00018

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!

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…

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