Showing posts with label Kishore Biyani. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kishore Biyani. Show all posts

11 July, 2019

Elevating the Pantry Shopping Experience

I was at the FoodHall on Linking Road at Mumbai for a recce on behalf of an FMCG Brand that I am working as a Retail Advisor. This was my first visit to the store and I have heard quite a lot about the concept which has been around for over half a decade and with the number of Stores / Store business growing quite well, YoY. The 4 storied outlet spread over 6,000 sq. ft. approximately houses everything that a Food Bazaaar sells, from Grocery to Fresh Vegetables, Oils to Snacks and so on. Except that most Indian Brands do not find a place here. Most Indian “mainline” or mass FMCG Brands, perhaps. And its not just the merchandise that’s different, rather the entire shopping experience. With the assortment of products spread across the four levels, almost NIL promotions or Discounts and a very private shopping experience, I guess the concept has caught up quite well with shoppers. 

I did see atleast 3 Celebrities (Cinema related) in the 2 hours that I spent at the store. They had a private shopper along with them not just to carry a basket or push the trolley, rather to ably assist them in their choice of products to purchase. They seem to be at ease while just being there and of course the entire elevated customer experience which makes the format a hit with the high and mighty. 


Cut to 2002 when I used to run Foodworld Stores as Operations Manager. Even then, my store at RA Puram, would attract quite a bit of celebrities given that this was one of the premium locations in South Chennai. I would personally assist film stars likes Ms. Khushbu Sundar, Ms. Sarika Kamal Hassan, the former CEO of Ford India who would live at the Boat Club Area and the families of the top brass at Hyundai who had chosen this part of town to form small communities of their ilk. The reason for them to shop at an air-conditioned environment (in 2002) was not just convenience but privacy too. However, over the years, the much coveted “Grocery Shopping” has evolved along with Customers. 


Today, the good old Big Bazaar looks shinier than before. The Future Group has created a new vertical in FBB – Fashion at Big Bazaar which has actually evolved from the learnings of the apparel department of Big Bazaar. One would recall the Group sold its jewel-in-the-crown "Pantaloon" business to Aditya Birla Group couple years ago. And now they have built FBB from scratch as well as the upmarket Cover Story which is a dazzling women’s-only store with fast fashion curated from London & beyond. Similarly, FoodHall is a great evolution from the erstwhile Food Bazaar but with an elevated shopping experience. Note – the elevation is not just the imported olive oils and nuts, wide range of cheese, or organic vegetables, rather the entire experience. 


The FoodHall also has a Deli, a Café and a Chocolate Bar, an in-house curation where a Chef prepares fresh chocolates with a Tempering Machines to produce interesting cute-looking chocolates which costs upwards for Rs. 500 for 6 pieces. Connoisseurs Delight, perhaps. The Cellar stocks and sells some of the finest wines from the world. And the Fresh Poultry / Meat / Seafood is a massive hit with an exclusive area demarked in so manner that there is absolutely no stench that comes out of the area. Overall, FoodHall has elevated the Grocery Shopping in India. 



Recently, RP-SG Group which runs Spencers Retail acquired Godrej’s Nature’s Basket which is a similar concept as FoodHall but the latter beats the former hands down with it’s range, assortment, pricing and customer experience. There are similar concepts in all major cities but the trend is yet to catch up outside Delhi/NCR, Mumbai and Bangalore. Is the market ready for gourmet grocery? Yes. Are the Retailers / Mall Owners & Shopping Centres ready? Perhaps, No.  It’s not just the shop or the real estate that would elevate the experience, rather the Retailer’s vision and readiness to cater to this elite segment of customers. Actor Madhavan is the Brand Ambassador for Elite Matrimony (in this age and time when marriage is not an institution but more of convenience and social status). 

So the premium Customer not only exits but also waiting. Let’s see who expands first and fast.

15 February, 2016

When Ancient meets Modern...

Baba Ramdev's Patanjali products have taken the consumer goods world by a storm over the past 24 months. While the herbal and ayurvedic brand has been around for a long time, Baba Ramdev gained massive popularity while joining protest meets held by Anna Hazare over corruption issues. He later dilly-dallied with Aam Aadmi Party and later found support from none other than the BJP which went on to form the Government at the Centre in 2014. Ever since, Baba Ramdev has been among the most searched figures in the internet, not to mention his Yoga classes and ayurvedic products. He has been, by the way imparting yoga techniques for decades and his programmes on yoga are a super hit on hindu spiritual channels in India such as Aastha Tv.


Patanjali, is a name which also belongs to the founder of Yoga and hence the correlation with consumer goods brand. At the moment, Patanjali has over 400 items across Grocery, Personal Care including skin care, dental care, herbal products, washing powder, soaps and detergents, pure Cow's Ghee, Honey and many more. These products are manufactured at a state of the art factory in Himachal Pradesh, located in the North of India with access to the Himalayas. The Brand has had its share of controversies with Baba Ramdev himself being the centre of attraction (or distraction) in various events. A section of Imams of the Muslim Community asked followers of Islam not to use these products since some of them included Cow's urine, which is considered in Hinduism as a disinfectant. It is another matter completely that there are hundreds of muslims who work at the Patanjali's massive factory spread over hundreds of acres in Himachal. With the fall-out of Maggi Noodles (a Nestle product), Patanjali wowed people with their Atta Noodles, considered a healthier option and launched them in Jan. 2016 ever since it's been a super hit. 


Patanjali has been giving tough competition to national and international brands such as Colgate, Nestle, P&G and many others. On the Sales & Distribution front, they follow a similar model such as the good old days of FMCG. The products are sent from the factory to a Super stockist in each Metro who in turn passes it on to Distributors who then pass on to Retail Stores. The entire Supply Chain seems to be working quite flawlessly at the moment. The demand-supply ratio is currently pegged at 1:4 as per market estimates, i.e., there is one unit available for every four people who are looking forward to buy it. This is massive. In Indian history of consumer products, Bajaj Motors has the notoriety for having made people to book a scooter and wait for several years for delivery. Patanjali is in the same vein. People of all ages and segments of the society have been embracing them.


Patanjali recently tied up with the largest retailer in the country, The Future Group and the products have been available on the shelves of Food Bazaar which is the Hypermarket chain of the company as well as in other smaller retail formats such as Nilgiris, KB's Fair Price, to name a few. This approach of taking ancient medicine to modern retail has been an interesting move by the brand which now rubs shoulders with other well established brands such as Surf, Lakme, ITC, Nestle, etc. It is imminent that no brand, irrespective of their origin or utility cannot neglect Organized Retail which was less than 5% of the market a decade back and is now at over 10% of the USD 600 billion market and growing at 20% CAGR. Patanjali is sure to make a dent in the market share of the biggies and news articles have appeared in international magazines that MNCs are already fretting over this issue.


The brand's popularity is largely due to the power of Ayurveda, the way it has been positioned in the minds of the consumers and the Brand Ambassador which is Baba Ramdev himself, who is seen and aspired as one of the fittest Indians. It wouldn't be surprising of the brand attracts significant Private Equity and grows in scale in times to come. Watch this space.


12 June, 2014

Online Grocery Shopping

Big Basket

There has been enough spoken and written about the Flipkart-Myntra deal. Online Commerce is no more a hype at the moment and there is no money to be made – that’s the response most subject matter experts are saying although they don’t want to be quoted since they are in various advisory capacities for many such companies. With a healthy two-digit margin, if offline Retailers are not able to succeed (read: profitable), then how would these companies survive- they ask. Having said that, there is not a single ECommerce company (in India) that has tasted profits yet. While many promoters have made millions of dollars collectively, the companies in question still remain unprofitable. I would presume that a very few of them would even be making unit level margins. Such is the discount structure and focus on Topline that these companies are almost forgetting that the main intention of a business is to create value through profitability and not just a valuation (to subsequent investors). Amongst the online frenzy across categories, the most dreaded and the most challenging category is grocery & daily needs including fruits and vegetables. Bangalore based BigBasket.com already has some headway while WeStaple.com from Noida and a few others who are regional players are taking the lead to establish their positions. Big Basket even has a Mobile app for Android and iOS from Apple. Take a look below at what their customers have to say;

https://www.facebook.com/Bigbasketcom 

http://venkysundaram.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/why-i-stopped-using-bigbasket-com/

https://www.facebook.com/WEstaple

Ganesh Bigbasket

K Ganesh and his wife Meena Ganesh are an entrepreneur and angel investor-duo. BigBasket, which is run on a daily basis by the founders of e-tailer Fabmart, on the other hand, is one of India’s only online grocery stores. Online grocery stores have been seeing big traction around the world, as recurring orders prop up the profitability of the niche e-commerce category. “The Series B funding for BigBasket, which should close in the next three-to-four months, will be around $40- $50 million. We believe it has huge potential, with gross margins of nearly 20 per cent. Every order is profitable for us on BigBasket,” Mr. Ganesh told The Hindu.

Bigbasket founder Hari Menon, a successful entrepreneur who sold his brick-and-mortar retail chain Fabmall and Trinetra to Aditya Birla Group, is bullish. “It’s a huge, underserved market. Convenience is a major factor in our metros. We are finding that at least 85% of our customers return after the second order.” Menon said that revenue is increasing 20% each month. Bigbasket delivers 4,000 orders daily. In Mumbai, where the average size of an order is Rs1800, it does 800 deliveries each day. The site has served 200,000 customers so far and is expanding to Delhi and its suburbs. Menon said the company did Rs85 crore ($14.3 million) in revenue in 2013-14 and was on course to do Rs200 crore ($33.7 million)  in sales this fiscal year.

While the category is exciting, most customers seem to expect the savings (on real estate) to be passed on to them, which in reality is not. If the Real Estate savings are about 10-12% on Sales, the promotions and marketing costs are much larger than that, especially the first-time acquisition cost of customers. While most players do not offer much of discounts for every item, there are chances of combined savings when you buy more quantities or multiple brands from the same company.

However, the overall sentiment seems to be simple- customers would buy products online only if they value their time more than the time spent in shopping offline at Retail Stores such as Spencers, Foodworld, Nilgiris, Big Bazaar, etc. India has a huge density of Kirana Stores while Organized Retailers in the big cities are already quite popular for more than a decade now. Fruits and Vegetables are still preferred to be bought from the vendors who sell fresh quality items, most of them directly sourced from the Markets. Retail FDI in multi-brand retailing is a contentious issue and even the new Modi-led Government is not actively pursuing this at the moment, for the benefit of the trader community who form a big chunk of vote bank.

Online Grocery, at the moment is restricted only to those who work in odd-times, say BPO Employees and many others who would find it difficult to shop at a nearby store especially those who live in far off suburbs. Having said that, the Kiranas are much more active these days, offering various facilities such as door delivery to credit facilities to their customers. While Online Grocery has a great future, time will be a real reckoner.

17 April, 2014

Digital Retail is still nascent

Croma, which is a part of the TATA Group has been my preferred store for shopping all things electronic over the past few years. They customer service is friendly, well-stocked and well maintained and operated stores. The staff also double up as digital experts, mostly guiding customers on why they need to buy a gadget, rather than what they need to. The apple Assistant at one of the Croma Stores I frequent is more like a good friend and advisor now – I reach out to him regarding queries about the phone, the software, the enhancements and a whole lot. Croma’s main competitors in the organized Retail space include EZone from the Future Group and Reliance Digital, a part of Reliance Retail. Then there are the local biggies, such as Viveks, Shahs, VGp, etc in Chennai and ofcourse the most infamous Ritchie Street off Mount Road which is the hub for electronic products in the city. Croma has fared much better than the others while it faces stiff competition from Reliance which is expanding rapidly off late.

Tata photo

I visited the Croma Store on Mount Road a month back, to enquire about a revolutionary device – a a USB Stick which provided 3G & Wi-Fi services on the go. The device just needs a plug point – AC or DC; which means you can use it as a wi+fi device using the cigarette lighter slot in your car and can provide its service upto 5 gadgets including laptops, tablets, phones, iPods, etc. The device has been around for sometime and the staff say that it is seeing brisk sales every other day that it gets sold out within a few days of stocks coming in to the store. So, the store that I went to didn’t have the stocks and they apologised for the same, and said that I could pay the advance for the device and that they would call once the device reaches the store. Somehow, I wasn’t comfortable with that idea, since I wanted the device then and there.

I set out looking for the Tata DOCOMO Store that exclusively sells these devices and offers other solutions and services of the same nature. Even they didn’t have the stock at the time I went. However, the staff was quick to note down my details and said he would call me the next day as soon as he received the stocks. And he did promptly call me the next day. Within just four hours, the device was working!

Croma

So, why did the guy at Croma not do what the guy at the DoCoMo store did? Since, the sales targets were different to each one of them, simple. For a mass retailer, which attracts hundreds of customers to their stores, the kind of focused service is always on the back seat. For the guy at the exclusive store, his key targets are selling the USB sticks and converting buyers into users and users into big spenders. It’s a known fact that “data usage” is indeed going to be a money spinner in times to come for Telecom companies, with SMS being replaced by the likes of whatsApp and ISD calls being replaced by the likes of Viber, Line, etc.

I would have expected Croma, which is also a Tata Company to work closely with another division of the group (DoCoMo is a Telecom company operated by Tata Teleservics). It is challenging, since they are different companies with different cultures. Also, the supply chain mechanism could be different. The big learning was as consumers, we need to visit the right kind of stores to get our things done. While it is simpler to buy online, it takes much more time to get the sim-card activated which required personal identification at a retail store, and hence only elongates the process.

21 March, 2014

Reliance wins handsdown

The first store for Reliance came up in Hyderabad. It was a grocery retail format and many skeptics wrote off the idea, citing intense competition in this segment. Gross Margins are low, two-digits and net margins, if any are a mere 4-6%. So, how would the company ever make money? Further, there were already established players in this segment, especially in the South (of India) such as Foodworld, Spencers, Food Bazaar, Nilgiris, FabMall, Trinetra (now together More), Fresh @ from Heritage Foods – the list could go on! But patience and perseverance has helped the company in the long term. According to a report in the most respected Hindustan Times newspaper, the company would become the largest Retailer in India by Sales in 2013-2014. The company is expected to close the year with $2 Billion in Sales, approx. INR 12,000 Crores. And it made a meagre INR 78 Crores last year and has made INR 278 Crores in 2013-14. That’s not bad at all. The company has been able to achieve scale over the past 7 years and its many Chief Executives of respective businesses have built the business brick by brick, sweating and toiling between Board Rooms and Store fronts.

Take a quick look at how the numbers stack up;

Reliance Retail

It’s a commendable achievement for Reliance Retail to achieve this position. Those who know me well would now agree what I have been saying ever since Reliance joined the fray in the Retail sector. I predicted right in the beginning that they are here for the long term. With a cash pile of INR 90,000 Crores and managing the largest Oil refinery in the world, Reliance has real deep pockets. And its Chairman Mukesh Ambani is not someone to open and shut businesses. Its not in their blood. Dirubhai Ambani, the patron founder of the group tht every household in India should have a Reliance product in some form or the other. The group created a furore in 2002 when the Reliance Mobile network was launched with an exciting Rs. 501/- package making it the most affordable mobile phone of its times. Similarly, they forayed into various other businesses and turned around all of them, albeit patiently.

One of the biggest reasons why Reliance has been able to reach where they are is also because of steadfast focus in the formats that they have opened and operated. They just have one Hypermarket, One Digital Electronics Format, three formats in Fashion, one in Jewelry and half a dozen international brand tie-ups. Makes it easy to focus on scaling up each vertical constantly. Reliance operates small supermarkets which compete with Kiran Stores and other organized players such as Spencers, Foodworld, Food Bazaar, etc. Reliance hyper directly competes with Metro AG, Best Price (Bharti Retail), Hypercity (K Raheja Group), Total (Jubilant  Retail), Big Bazaar (Future Group) nd other local wholesale markets and APMC operated mandis. In the fashion segment, Reliance Trends is positioned against Lifestyle (Dubai based Landmark Group), Shoppers Stop (India’s largest Department store Chain) and Pantaloon (now owned by Aditya Birla Group). Reliance Footprints has a unique positioning and doesn’t have major names for competition except Metro and Mochi who have a pan-India presence. Reliance Jewels competes with the local jewelry stores in each micro market. Reliance Brands such as Diesel, Quicksilver, etc. compete with their international competitive brands.

This is just the beginning. Look how Reliance is going to grow leaps and bounds in times to come. I am still sure that they wouldn’t have a JV with the global biggies such as Wal-Mart, Carrefour, etc. They would rather grow organically in times to come.

The game gets more interesting.

24 December, 2013

‘Santa’stic Holiday Shopping!

Santa Claus is a symbol of positivity and cheer, is well known. But he has been used as a constant Brand Ambassador by Retailers all over the world for quite many years now. Retail Stores use various displays of Santa at their precincts – some use static images and some use real men (or women) as real life Santas who give away candy bars and chocolates, goodies and gifts to children and elders who pass by the store. Santa is a global symbol of mass Retail Advertising, I would say. From Brown Goods to Apparel, all Retail formats use Santa in their copy some way or the other to connect with their audience and to bring the relevance of shopping during this season.

Afterall, Christmas is not just a religious festival, not atleast in India, one of the most secular countries in the world which embraces all forms of worship in its country. While it may be rare to have a Masjid, a Temple and a Church to share walls, its not uncommon for people across religions to celebrate each others festivals. Diwali and Id are two other festivals which are celebrated with much fervor all over the country. Christmas is no more restricted to Christians in India, but to the community at large. Many Hindu and Muslim homes decorate their premises with small and large Christmas Trees and Stars in their balconies and order Cakes to consume with their family and friends.

shopping_santa

This Christmas Season, leading Retailers have used Santa in their campaigns. Pantaloon Retail, formerly owned by The Future Group and now by Aditya Birla Group has a “Buy 2 Get 1” Offer on its entire range of products. Shoppers Stop, India’s largest Department Store chain with over 61 outlets across the country has a 20% cash back offer in the form of Discount Vouchers. While the offer is only for a limited period, it would promote future walkins and shopping due the Discount Vouchers being provided with every shopping worth Rs. 5,000 or more.

Pantaloon SSL

Its also a great time to shop for Consumer Durables. Chennai’s leading Retailer Shahs and Viveks are offering massive discounts on LED Tvs, Washing Machines, Refridgerators, Cameras, et al.

Viveks Shahs

Leading Brands like Apple and Samsung, surprisingly do not have any special schemes this Christmas – Diwali is probably a bigger festival for shopping personal gadgets. Now is the best time to fill your homes and wardrobes. So rush to your nearest Retail Store and shop more, save more! Have a Santastic Shopping Season. Merry Christmas.

20 February, 2013

For better conversions, provide solutions!

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.

Bose Soundlink Air

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.

Bose QC

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.

31 January, 2012

India: Starbucks Coffee–A Tata Alliance

 

SBUX

“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.

CCD Cup

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

12 January, 2012

100% FDI in Single Brand Retail. So?!?

DSC00049

The Government of India officially announced allowing 100% FDI in Single Brand Retail on 9 Jan 2012. “We have now allowed foreign investment up to 100 percent with the stipulation that in respect of proposals involving FDI beyond 51 percent, there will be mandatory sourcing of atleast 30 percent of the total value of the products sold…from Indian small industries/village and cottage industries and craftsmen,” Commerce and Industry minister of India, Mr. Anand Sharma said in a statement.

(Suggested Reading: FDI in Retail – the saga continues)

The Indian Industry seems to be equally upbeat;

In an interview to ET, Future Group's CEO Mr. Kishore Biyani said, "I believe both single and multi brand retail together can bring in an investment of $10 billion in the front-end alone. I think this is a significant investment in the next four to five years, and the journey has just begun." The announcement of single brand retail has come sooner than we had expected, though. It is a good move, and a precursor to the bigger one now - the multi-brand retail announcement, added Biyani.

“We hope the initiative is a precursor to further liberalisation in the sector in the days to come,” Rajan Bharti Mittal, managing director at Bharti Enterprises, Wal-Mart’s India partner for wholesale stores, told Bloomberg.

"The notification was expected because single-brand is less controversial, as the brand will not compete with a local retailer," said Bijou Kurien, who heads the lifestyle division of Reliance Retail, which runs department stores, hyper-markets and supermarkets.

“The opening of India’s single-brand retail sector sends a crystal clear signal that India is open for business at a time when economic opportunity is certainly welcome amidst global uncertainty,” said Ron Somers, president of US-India Business Council (USIBC).

We believe that further opening up of the single brand retail clearly shows the government`s positive intent towards bringing about reforms. We see this as an important step towards further reforms in the multi-brand sector as well said broking house ICICIDirect

“Globally, single-brand retail follows a business model of 100 percent ownership and global majors have been reluctant to establish their presence in a restrictive policy environment,” the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP), said in a statement.

SBUX

(Suggested Reading: Luxury Retailing in India)

100 percent ownership would be permitted in single brand product retail trading under the government approval route, subject to the following conditions:

  • Products to be sold should be of a single brand only
  • Products should be sold under the same brand internationally (i.e. products should be sold under the same brand in one or more countries other than in India)
  • Single brand product-retail trading would cover only products which are branded during manufacturing
  • The foreign investor should be the owner of the brand
  • In respect of proposals involving FDI beyond 51 percent, mandatory sourcing of at least 30 percent of the value of products sold would have to be done from Indian “small industries/village and cottage industries, artisans and craftsmen”
  • Application should be submitted seeking permission from the Indian government for FDI in retail trade of single brand products to the Secretariat for Industrial Assistance in the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion
  • The application will specifically indicate the product/product categories which are proposed to be sold under a single brand
  • Any addition to the product/product categories to be sold under single brand would require fresh approval from the government
  • Applications would be processed in the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion to determine whether the products proposed to be sold satisfy the notified guidelines, before being considered by the FIPB for government approval

(Suggested Reading: “UnHate” by Benetton)

Mono Brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Pepe, Mont Blanc, Rolex, Pizza Hut, Costa Coffee and many others through a JV with Indian partners have been operating in India over the past years. Some like Benetton and Nike have been operating on their own, using manufacturing/marketing as their modus operandi through a predominantly franchisee model. Over the past few years, we have seen even luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Diesel, Tumi, Armani and Versace enter the Indian Retail market through respectable JVs with the likes of Reliance Retail, DLF Brands, etc. and all of them seem to be doing well in their own way. Indian business houses such as the Tatas, Jubilant Organosys and Dabur have been happy to partner with international brands such as Zara, Dominos and Subway (respectively) and operate large franchise operations. But the fuss over 100% FDI in single brand retail seems surprising, if not confusing. Louis Vuitton, for example expects a sale of over USD 100 million from a 550 sqm outle from its only airport store in the world at Incheon International Airport, Korea. It would take LV a few years to achieve a similar number in the Indian market. In such a scenario, I wonder why would international brands invest and fund their expansion and growth in India all by their own, while there are so many Indian business houses/partners who wish to do so.

Video Courtesy: The Moodie Report

Indian and International Retailers are eagerly looking forward to the approval of 100% FDI in Multi-Brand Retail, which is not expected until the elections are over in key states such as Uttar Pradesh. Major action is expected only when the big boys of multi-brand retailing are allowed to enter India and operate directly and service end-users/customers. And that doesn’t seem to happen soon, certainly not in 2012. Hopefully, the next year – if the world doesn’t end. That is.

(Suggested Reading: Borders – a book in itself)

06 January, 2012

End of Season! End of Party time?!?

Late 2009 was the time when one could see the slow down of the 2008 Economic slowdown in India. While rest of the world including America, Japan and parts of Europe were down with Recession (read: 2 Quarters of continued negative economic growth), India was seeing its GDP grow at a modest 7%. As Kishore Biyani, CEO Future Group once said in 2008, “Consumers are sitting on the fence, not really knowing when and what to spend”. How true, it was at that time. And then 2010 happened. Growth was the new buzz word and Retailers were back in action. New swanky stores, additional staffing, high-paid executives in the upper echelons and yes, a double digit same store sales growth which was being celebrated by one and all. All izzz well – the song from the movie “3 Idiots” was the most hummed song among the Retail fraternity thereafter for the next 18 months.

lifestylePhoto Courtesy: Times of India

Consumers who were holding on started buying new houses; furniture and furnishings for their new/old houses; Cars of all sizes – from an upgrade to a sedan to the first four-wheeler in the family; brown goods – LCDs and LEDs saw growth of over 100% for some brands! Refrigerators and Washing machines were flying off the shelves; Smartphones’ sales grew than those of normal phones; shoppers were buying more footwear and clothes, not just to show-off their wealth and happiness but because they could now afford to. Monthly grocery, which is an important metric to measure consumer confidence was growing at a healthy double digit. The confidence in consumer spending allowed Retailers and Brands to invest more and more – on new stores as well as higher targets. Unfortunately, the party seems to have ended abruptly.

(Suggested Reading: New Store Openings)

Lifestyle, India’s premier Department Store Chain was the first to announce EOSS – End of Season Sale last week. This came as a big surprise to the market – consumers aren’t complaining though. Central Malls, part of the Future Group and the largest mall chain in the country announced flash sales over the New Year Weekend, only to end up disappointing itself. Even brands like Levis which wait until Valentines announced “Sale” a day before. Spanish chain Zara, went on sale too, albeit it matches its International calendar where the end of season sale happens around Boxing Day and continues until Christmas. The new season in the West begins from January onwards. Most brands usually run on full price until Feb. 14, assuming shoppers would anyway buy, irrespective of the price-tag to fulfill their own wishes as that of their loved ones. This year seems to be an aberration.

Photo Courtesy: Times of IndiaZara

“The targets for the current year were ridiculously high; We pleaded the Management not to set such high, unrealistic targets but they were in no mood to listen, thanks to the high voltage sales that have happened over the past 4 seasons” – says the Area Sales Manager of a premium apparel brand, who requested anonymity, saying he was not the official spokesperson. The Unit-Head of one of India’s largest Department store chains quipped that the chain has more stores today in large cities and hence the pie doesn’t seem to be growing rather getting cannibalized. “Instead of increasing the customer base of loyalty members through marketing activities and TV ads, the Management is getting into deep discounting; we had one of the finest customer service staff 4 years ago, but I cannot claim so now; they (the CSAs) are paid 6-7000 bucks and obviously the quality of staff and their service has deteriorated.” This gentleman, whom I’ve known for over seven years now requested I don’t mention his name as he may even lose his job for saying so.

(Suggested Reading: Customer Service by Trial & Error)

“These days, people are walking to our stores, checking out the products and then buying online. 5 years ago, the larger players were threatening our livelihood, but these days, looks like the online players will wipe us out”, quips Ravindra, shop assistant at a leading electronic store in Bangalore. “FDI in Retail is a big threat for us; if the big international players step up their expansion like what I’ve seen in the Gulf over the past 15 years (read: Middle East), then we will all have to shut shop and find an alternative full-time job rather than running these departmental stores”, cries Syed Pasha who settled in East Bangalore 5 years ago after working in Sharjah for 15 years as a low-cost laborer.

Photo Courtesy: Times of IndiaLevis

So, is the party over already? The answer is a big NO. Retailers and Brands have to realize that short-term growth is no metric for long-term survival. Nor would E-Commerce players like Indiaplaza.com would take away their share of business. India is a one trillion dollar economy and is fundamentally a strong one, with its ability for self-sustenance. (Sale) Targets are an important part of the business but they are not the only ones to focus on. Most Retailers and EBOs of Brands need to step up customer service. Rather than pay lower and have more staff, they should consider paying higher salaries, mostly linked to sales and have lower staff on the floor who are efficient and effective in their output.

(Suggested Reading: What retailers can learn from the aviation crisis)

The Retail India Story has just begun; Internet Commerce is still under-penetrated at the moment. Retailers can and should take advantage of growing consumerism with better service with fewer stores. As always, Small is Beautiful.

29 November, 2011

Retail FDI - Letter from the Commerce Minister of India

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

Here is the full text of the letter;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

………………………………………………………………………………

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

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Watch this space for more!

27 November, 2011

FDI in Retail–the saga continues!

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It was a much-awaited, welcome move by the Cabinet of the Indian Parliament to allow 100% FDI in Single Brand Retail and up to 51% FDI in multi-brand retail on 24th Nov. 2011. A surprise announcement, given that the winter session of the Parliament is under progress, which hasn’t been functioning fully due to various issues in the fore. The announcement comes after two decades of reforms that started in 1991 and over 10 years of strong growth by the Organized players of the Retail Industry in India. The Left parties along with the main opposition party in the Parliament, viz., the BJP have been publicly protesting against the decision. One senior member of the party has announced that she will burn the Wal-Mart store if it opens anywhere and she is ready to court arrest for the same! Such has been the tensions on this topic for many years now. Even the general public (read: Consumers) have been left confused due to various approaches proposed by those who are for- and against allowing FDI in retail. The issue has been politicized more than it is, by a section of those who claim that allowing foreign retailers will harm the livelihood of small kiranas (mom and pop retailers) while another view is that it would create millions of jobs and would bring down food inflation.

(Suggested Reading: Kirans and Retailers)

Background of the Indian Retail Industry

India’s largest retailer, The Future Group is close to $3 Billion in Revenues through its various formats such as Big Bazaar (hypermarket), Food Bazaar (supermarket), Pantaloon and Central Malls (lifestyle retailing), EZone (electronics) and Home Town (home improvement) and many other brands that it has created as well as through a license to operate. The $82 Billion TATA Group has been in the consumer lifestyle business through the TITAN watch brand for over 2 decades now while its premium jewellery chain Tanishq is the biggest among its peers. India’s largest company by market capitalisation, The Reliance Industries also operates various formats through its subsidiary Reliance Retail. Shoppers Stop (India’s largest Department store chain) and Hypercity (Hypermarkets) along with Home Stop and the Crossword book store chain is expected to reach a Billion Dollars in Revenue in the next 2-3 years with aggressive expansion and brisk business. UAE based Landmark Group which operates the Lifestyle stores along with SPAR supermarkets and MAX hypermarkets along with a few licensed brands will also be Billion dollar company soon (in its India operations). The world’s largest Retailer Wal-Mart has a JV with Bharti enterprises for operating supermarkets and hypermakets while has its own 100% subsidiary for operating the Cash-&-Carry format; Carrefour from France and Metro AG from Germany have similar models as well. Many other international retailers have been peeping into the Indian economy for want a small share of its vast business potential. And then there are a number of regional players across various geographies focussing in specific verticals who have aggressive expansion plans coupled with ambitious growth plans. Most of their funding has been through internal accruals while some of the large national players are public limited companies.

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FDI – For and Against

While its fair to say that a few kiranas will face the heat due to the presence of large Retailers in their vicinity, I wonder why is the threat perception only against the international players. I would disagree that we need dollar funding for our growth – we have enough money in the economy (white, black, red, whatever) and some of the Indian business houses have more collective intellectual ability than compared with those abroad – the Indian conglomerate buying out a premier automobile company in the UK and turning it around in less than 2 years is a great example. Indian Hypermarkets, all of over 100 in number have been given a tuff fight in turn by the local kiranas, whose biggest advantage is convenience and home delivery coupled with short-term credit. The large retailers have been grappling with the single biggest problem of attrition (of staff) followed by shrinkage (or pilferage – wastages/stolen goods) which is amongst the highest in the world. India has over 12 million retail touch points and growing. While it is fashionable for some rich-kids to venture into retailing, it is indeed the livelihood of many million families that they are highly self-dependent on their own trade. in my view their threat is from anyone who ventures into the same business in their locality, big or small, domestic or international. If any, what we have to learn from International retailers is their strict adherence to processes and procedures which we tend to take easy at times. I remember, during my days at Foodworld a decade back, we used to have check-lists to be filled in my store managers and their deputies every hour to ensure the store is looking perfect at all times. Needless to say, the check-list was drafted by Dairy Farm International – DFI (incidentally, an anagram of FDI) and was shared with its then Indian JV partner, the RPG Spencers Group. Actually, there are many other things including best practices that we could learn a thing or two from International partners.

(Suggested Reading – How Odyssey gained International acclaim)

Inflation

It is a myth that allowing FDI would reduce food inflation. Certainly not in the short-term. What we lack, and very badly at that is the back-end infrastructure including logistics and supply chain. This is one area where international retailers with their vast experience in other markets such as the US, Europe, China and Brazil could bring in their expertise. Factually, it begins with the interaction with the farmer who grows the produce. What is popularly known as Farm-to-Fork. This area needs huge investments and conviction by the humble farmer that his efforts would indeed make a difference to the country, to the end user – the consumer. Let’s agree that this takes time. Maybe five years. Or more. But to convince people that allowing Wal-Mart and its ilk to open new stores would bring down inflation is a story that no one who is in the know will buy!

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Execution – the key to FDI success

The cabinet has clearly indicated a few conditions which make FDI rules difficult for execution. Firstly, it says that the matter is a state subject which means each state can decide whether it wants to allow FDI or not. Secondly, it allows foreign retailers to enter cities only with a million or more population (and we have only 53 cities such as this as of Nov. 2011). In a way it is good, that only evolved, mature markets are open for FDI investment, but in hindsight it is the Tier II & below cities that need more investments. so, these two points make it extremely cumbersome to operate. If an Indian Retailers wants to share its “board” with a foreign retailer, it is only for one of the two reasons – either it wants to reduce its debt by offloading stake (which the banks are not willing to, anymore) or to learn international best practices.

(Also Read: Low-Cost – its all about the perception)

The draft is yet to be tabled in the parliament as this column is being written and some high-voltage drama is expected over the next few days. Whichever way, these are exciting times ahead. For Retailers, its a new ray of hope to perform better for the sake of its shareholders & for itself; For Retail professionals like me, it opens up our employability & professional success; and for Consumers, it means more options & competitive environment between existing retailers and better prices for them.

All summed up in one word – Hope.

22 August, 2010

Much ado about nothing...

It is quite common to see radically minded political parties create ruckus during cultural celebrations such as Valentine’s Day, Friendship Day, etc. citing them as western concepts which India can do without. Although most of them forget that ours is a Democracy and one is free to live the way they want to, provided they fall within the legal purview of our constitution. Retailers had initially taken advantage of such events, creating a lot of hype around and managing to attract customers. While the trend still continues, many of them have toned down the way it is celebrated and have started focussing on other days of national importance. In Western countries where Organized Retail has evolved much, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and even Thanksgiving are celebrated with glee and harmony. In India, while we have been celebrating Children’s Day (birthday of former and first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru), Teacher’s Day (birthday of freedom fighter and academician, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan) and regional festivals like Akshaya Trithiya (most auspicious day to buy gold), Raksha Bandhan (sibling’s day) and Karva Chouth (prayers for the husband) for many decades now, Independence Day and Republic Day are celebrated since 1947 and 1951 respectively, ever after achieving Independence from the British Rule and since becoming a republic country. Although earlier, these days were usually celebrated with national fervour and devotion, they have been converted into social events which also include personal and family celebrations, since they are usually preceded or succeeded by a weekend.


Sensing an opportunity, one of the first retailer in the country to take advantage was The Future Group. Way back in 2004, the company which operates the largest Hypermarket chain under the trade name “Big Bazaar” created a unique concept “Sabse Sasta Teen Din”, which translated into English means “the cheapest three days”. When they first experimented this concept on 26th January, India’s Republic Day which also happens to be a National Holiday, the queue outside the store located at Lower Parel in downtown Mumbai was miles long and the store had to be shut for a few hours to ensure safe exit of those who had already walked into the store! Ever since, there was no looking back. Founder & CEO Kishore Biyani who is known as the pioneer of Organized Modern Retail in India has experimented more and more – a mantra that he and his company lives by. The three days became longer and usually were tagged to the closest weekend and over a period of time, more such events were created. As always, many others in the business followed suit and started following their own trends – creating marketing concepts that suited their respective business models.

2010 was a bit special though. To celebrate the 63rd Independence Day on 15th Aug., almost all the large Retail players in India attempted such a concept in their own way. Newspapers were abuzz with articles, write-ups, advertorials and full-page advertisements. Needless to say, news publishing houses would have cashed in on this opportunity; after all, they have been quite starved over the past two years with minimal ads by Retailers who pulled back their spending after the global recession which impacted Indian consumers more psychologically than financially. The message from players across product categories ranging from apparel to electronics, grocery to home furnishing was loud and clear – discounts ranging from 10-60% over the weekend. The hype was carefully built-up over a period of time and the buzz in the minds of shoppers was clear – visit the stores at the earliest and get the best out of the season. Erstwhile popular but now dormant retailers like Viveks, one of the oldest and trusted electronics dealers with a strong presence in South India bounced back with amazing offers. In fact, this was the very place where my parents purchased our first prized possession, a Crown Colour Tv in 1981 at a nondescript location called Luz Corner in Madras, (now known as Chennai). Over the weekend, my mother went there again, this time to buy a Microwave Oven, a reasonably new gadget in the life of Indian homemakers that promises comfortable yet delicious cooking. Well, she visited the store for just one reason – her trust in the brand “Viveks” continues to remain strong, where almost all our household items have been purchased for the past three decades.


One of the most exciting concepts created this year was again from Big Bazaar, aptly titled “war on inflation” – helping housewives to fight the price rise in the economy. While everyone from the Prime Minister to my car driver have been talking about the rise in prices of essential commodities and the measures that must be taken to curb them, The Future Group was the first one to create an impact. It has been running various campaigns in the media, highlighting the fact how Big Bazaar can together fight with the middle-class households by offering products at lower prices and shoppers can buy large quantities and store them for future usage – a form of hedging, if one could say so. Expectedly, all the stores in the country, numbering over 125 were over flowing with eager shoppers who started thronging the stores since as early as 9 in the morning until 10 in the night.


Somehow, the focus of shopping during the season remained on categories such as Grocery & Household and Electronics & Appliances. E-Zone (another Future Group format) and Croma (from the house of Tatas), both of which operate in the premium consumer durables space and target SEC A & A+ went ballistic about their offering, by providing never before prices coupled with freebies. Most notably, both were offering spot loans from Bajaj Finance, wherein select products could be purchased on EMI – Equated Monthly Instalment after paying a token sum as down payment. The processing of loans was quite simple – in just a few minutes after obtaining some basic documents such as an address proof and an identity proof, loans are sanctioned on the spot if one holds a credit card. I was amazed at the speed at which loans ranging from Rs. 10,000 – Rs. 60,000 was being sanctioned, without any collaterals or scrutiny. It is anyone’s guess what happens if the loan is not paid back or the borrower vanishes once for all.  Reliance Retail which operates multiple formats kept its communication straight – highlighting the number of stores and thereby the inherent foothold it holds in the business. Some traditional local retailers tried their best to match up with their national peers. While they successfully demonstrated their presence in the business and their respective leadership positions among their target customers with full-page ads in national dailies, they also showed that they could offer at prices similar to those offered by national players thereby conforming their positioning – they remain equal if not cheaper compared the newer larger entrants within the business.


One question that came to my mind over the weekend – why so much fuss to offer the best to customers! Do we need special days in a year to pass on the benefit of margins to shoppers? Is it just a trend that’s getting started or would we evolve as we move forward? Many in the Industry already agree that in India, we just can’t rely on Thanksgiving and Christmas Shopping like in the West, since we have more than 300 days of festivals all through the year across six major religions, a dozen national holidays and many more regional excuses for shopping. Isn’t it better to maintain a momentum and build shopping behaviour all through the year rather than just creating hype during a one-off period? Am sure, the answers could be mixed and diverse, just like our Retail environment. Well, that’s the best thing about us. Incredible India. Jai Hind.

A Firefly finally takes off

Monday - 22 Jan. ‘24 is a very important day in my professional life. I complete eight months today in my role as Executive Vice President a...