Tuesday, November 27, 2018
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
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!
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.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
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.
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.
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.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
A couple of days back, I had a meeting in the city (Chennai, where I live three days a week when I ain’t travelling!). The host was willing to meet anywhere and after a lot of careful thought, I fixed it at Ispahani Centre at Nungambakkam, assuming it would take me an hour from the Royal Enfield factory/office in Thiruvottiyur to drive down to. As planned , I reached on time and we met at a café and spoke for an hour about business prospects. The location is not actually a Mall but a kind of community centre that was built almost 15 years ago, one of its kind to come up in the city. Many Retailers and brands such as Mr. Kishore Biyani’s The Future Group, Gaitonde, Florsheim, to name a few, put up a shop or two here and vacated sooner than later for various reasons – some for lack of relevant footfalls and some for high cost of operating. Whereas Café Coffee Day, India’s largest coffee retail chain has been operating here for over 14 years now; ditto for Marrybrown, a concept similar to KFC that serves Burgers and the like with specialty fried chicken on the menu. I finished the meeting on time in an hour and was heading out when I noticed another iconic brand which has quietly been operating here for well over 10 years. It used to be perceived as one of the most expensive brands till until recently they have started making products that are affordable even to the aspiring middle class lot like me. Their “sound” is probably one of the best although there are many more premium sound systems in the world. And the brand I am referring to is non other than “Bose”.
How many of you there knew that the name of the brand is also the surname of an Indian! Yes, indeed. Bose Corporation was founded in 1964 by Dr. Amar G. Bose, professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His graduate research at MIT led to the development of new, patented technologies, and at MIT's encouragement, he founded his own company based on those patents. Bose Corporation established itself by introducing the 901® Direct/Reflecting® speaker system in 1968. With this introduction, Bose achieved international acclaim by setting a new industry standard for lifelike sound reproduction. The list of major technologies emerging from Bose continues to grow. Award-winning products such as Lifestyle® home theatre systems and the Wave® Radio/CD have reshaped conventional thinking about the relationship between an audio system’s size and complexity, and the quality of sound it produces. To know more about the company and its products, click here.
Coming back to the incident, I walked in to the store to find about about the Bose Soundlink™ Air which they have been advertising quite a bit these days. This product seems to connect using wifi with any apple device such as an iPod, iPhone or an iPad. So, I got into the topic directly with the sales staff who came across to be affable and knowledgeable about what he was speaking – a rarity these days especially in the Electronics Retail business. He explained about the product, gave a demo with my own iPhone 5 and was patient to showcase other models as well. At the end of it, I was a bit disappointed as the product was not a complete package. It didn’t have built in Bluetooth™ to connect other devices and the Bass effect was minimal. I explored a couple of other models but none of them suited my requirements. And so, I thanked him for his efforts and efficient demonstrations and started to move out when I noticed the headphones display. I already use a noise-cancellation Apple earphone on my iPod which I have been using continuously over the past few months. It’s a welcome relief since the external noise, especially that of an aircraft is almost unheard while in use. Ofcourse, it has its own disadvantage. One that it gets less white as the days pass by and the other is that since it locks itself inside the ear, at times it aches a bit.
The guy at the Bose store explained that the Brand has a special technology by which all mechanical sounds – any noise produced by an electronic / mechanical machine will be cut off once the head phones are switched on. I played “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd from the demo iPod which they had and… Whoa! This was one of the best inventions that I had discovered. At Rs. 22,000 (USD 420), it wasn’t cheap either but I was too tempted to buy. After all, I have been longing for a great headphone for quite some years now. In my office job, I need to travel 3-4 days a week, usually 2 or 3 flights for over 2 hours each and road journeys of over 300-500km a day. And what better than hearing some soothing music all along.
The entire conversation with the guy at the Bose store lasted for over 30 minutes or so and he never once prodded me to “buy” their product directly – subtle inferences such as “When do you plan to buy this Sir?” “Take your time to decide because it is a worthy investment” “Apple devices are best heard on a Bose” to name a few. I was willing to wait and ask my wife to bring it along from London when she returns in sometime but the thought of owning a piece of marvel, a piece of history was too much for me to hold on to. Bingo – in the next few moments, I was having one on my hand for demo – billing done in less than 4 minutes flat. I have always been an impulsive shopper when it comes to technology albeit after a lot of thought and research & this wasn’t any different.
What hit me was the way the guy at the Bose store handled the Sale. He didn’t sell the product, not even the experience, but just like how a real staff of Apple provides you a solution – that’s what he did. I was walking back with a gleaming smile on my face, happy about my purchase. And that set me thinking.. If only retail staff were to stop selling and start providing solutions to customers… As the flute music of Pandit Haripraad Chaurasia reverberates on my ears through a Bose Quiet Comfort 3 as I write this column. Bliss.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
“We will look at expanding this partnership as a long-term relation... We are excited at building an enduring company that has a positive impact on India,” John Culver, President of Starbucks (China and Asia-Pacific), told reporters on Monday, 30th Jan 2012 at Mumbai, India. The company has signed a joint venture with the $ 80 Billion Tata Group, its first outing in India after waiting and watching the market for a long time now. Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX) operates over 17,000 cafes across 57 countries, with over 30% of them being outside the US (home) market. China has over 400 cafes since it opened in 1999. For the Tata Group, this is their second outing in the coffee business – earlier, they bought a 34% stake in Barista Coffee in 2001 which was later sold (in 2004) to the Sterling Group which later sold it to Lavazza of Italy (2007). “The joint venture with Starbucks is in line with Tata Global Beverages’ strategy of growing through inorganic growth focusing on strategic alliances in addition to organic growth,” R.K. Krishna Kumar, vice-chairman of Tata Global Beverages, told reporters.
(Suggested Reading: National Coffee Day)
The Indian coffee market has been well sought after for the past decade or so. Homegrown café chain Café Coffee Day has over 1,200 cafes across 140 cities in India and also has a presence in Pakistan, Austria and Czech Republic. The company, founded by serial entrepreneur VG Siddhartha and backed by Sequoia Capital and KKR among others has a deep rooted coffee heritage spanning over 130 years. The Coffee Day Group manages thousands of acres of coffee plantation in Chikmaglur, the coffee belt of Karnataka in the south of India and consumes most of its production for self-consumption and very little for exports (which was the other way around a decade ago). Barista Coffee, owned and operated by Lavazza from Italy comes a distant second with over 250 cafes across the country while Costa Coffee from the UK, which has a JV with Devyani International, a Delhi based business powerhouse comes close with over 140 cafes. Apart from this, there are several regional players who occupy a sweet spot for themselves in their respective markets.
So, what is in it for SBUX and for the Indian consumers?
Well, for SBUX it is a large play on an untapped burgeoning coffee market in India. With over one-third of the entire population of 1.20 billion under the age of 35, there is no better market than ours for a café chain. With increasing earning ability and higher disposable incomes, Indian consumers want nothing but the best and hence there has been a mad rush by various apparel brands in the premium and high-end spectrum of the organized Retail Market. From McDonalds to Pizza Hut, Dominos and KFC, they are all here and have even tweaked their global menu, mostly for the first time to suit the Indian palette. So Starbucks has a ready market which is waiting eagerly to lap it up immediately. For the Indian consumer, there is a lack of differentiation today; they have been used so much to the CCDs and Baristas that they are eagerly looking forward to a change. With more consumers undertaking International travel on work and leisure, they get exposed to various facets and hence are expecting similar standards and offering.
Starbucks’ entry has been a dogma for many years now. There was an aborted attempt in 2006 when it planned a JV with The Future Group. And thereafter, it has been slow. This time, they seem to have got the JV right. Rest, as they say needs proof of the pudding. Well, you can’t really go wrong with the Tatas, given the way TRENT has managed its relationships with Woolworths, Tesco and Zara. However, they wouldn’t have an easy task to establish themselves, here’s why;
- Scalability – Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore would contribute to over 1,200 cafes together, about three-fourths as many cafes in the country.To penetrate these markets wouldn’t be easy. And then to scale up. Well.
- Real Estate – While more and more Malls are coming up in the top 10 cities, High Streets will continue to remain a favourite for SBUX and this is an area they will indeed find a huge challenge, in getting the best locations
- Menu – While CCD has a more or less Indian menu (Read: suiting the local palette) no other café chain has done this – and would apply to SBUX as well
- Pricing – This would remain the most important competitive advantage that CCD would score against SBUX and probably all others. Getting this right would be a key challenge, to say the least
- People – To get high quality baristas and front-end staff is not going to be easy. With its rigorous process-driven approach, SBUX may find this as a problem but this is one that can be fixed sooner than the others above
(Suggested Reading: When Skill sets take over everything else!)
It’s now a matter of time that Starbucks would be all over, but probably not as ubiquitous as Café Coffee Day. There are neighborhoods, for example in Bangalore where CCD has half a dozen cafes within 3-4 sq. km. And this applies in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata, Pune, etc. as well. SBUX would probably take half the time (or probably lesser than) it took CCD to get as many cafes, but that’s still a long way ahead. It was announced yesterday that the first few cafes would come up at Delhi and Mumbai, which is a disappointment for me (living in Bangalore) but also strange that Bangalore has not been given its importance. Anyway, look forward to having a large café latte soon!
The above video has been shared from www.starbucks.com