Showing posts with label Malls. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Malls. Show all posts

08 February, 2021

Mall revival - Real or Imaginary?


I have been visiting Malls in Chennai and Bangalore ever since they were open for public after continued lockdowns since Mar. ’20 due to the ongoing Corona pandemic. Mall owners, Multiplexes, Retailers, Restaurants and perhaps every consumer-serving business has been quite badly hit all these months and globally, we have seen many of them go bankrupt or shut down their businesses, while a few are somehow staying afloat amidst all the chaos. In the early years of my career with India’s first seamless mall chain way back in 2005, Bangalore Central I realised how Indians shop and consume – food, clothing and entertainment go together. We are a country that meticulously plans for a movie outing with a date, family members or friends and eventually dress up to visit a Cinema Hall. Therefore, Multiplexes, ranging from 3 screens to 7 or even 8 have been a regular feature at most of the Malls across India and is credited for one of the key reasons for a Centre’s success.



With the first lockdown that began on 25 March, the entire Movie exhibition Industry collapsed at one shot leaving thousands of employees astray as well as Standalone theatres and multiplexes in the lurch. Social distancing being the key advocacy for avoiding contact with the dreaded Corona virus carriers, all public spaces were shut and the entertainment thirsty consumer cohorts turned to Over the Top or OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and the more desi- Zee5 or SonyLiv among a dozen other options. Many small and hitherto unknown, unheard movies made it to the small screen – with a screen size ranging from 5” mobile phones to 10-11” Tablets and iPads to the more popular 13-15” Laptops. In unison, many of us echoed that it would simply make no sense to visit theatres anymore, given that an outing with a family could cost as much as Rs. 1,500-2,000 including the movie tickets, pop-corn+Cola and a meal before or after the movie. 



At one stroke, all this changed. India produces and releases over 2,000 feature films annually across theatres. It took an average 7-10 weeks for the films to hit an OTT screen until early 2020. And atleast 2-3 months until they made it to the small screen through Satellite Tv. Now, they remain just historical facts and nothing more. Bollywood takes credit of atleast 1,000 movie releases annually while Tamil and Telugu produce around 300+ every year. All other Indian language films as well as a few English releases (including dubbed in to local languages) take the rest of the pie. No wonder, that the southern states have more number of theatres and multiplexes though standalone centers have reduced from 12,000+ two decades back to under 5,000 pre-Pandemic and right now, we don’t really know how many are even ready to open their doors full-fledged. While the Multiplex screens have been growing and even now, PVR and Inox, the two top exhibitors have assured to add more screens and ensure safety and hygiene of the visitors, the audience are trickling in slower than anticipated. 



In tamil language, Penguin feat. Keerthi Suresh was the first big outing on an OTT while Surya’s Soorarai Potru, an adaption of the biography of Capt. Gopinath, the erstwhile Founder of Air Deccan Airlines was the first big top hero film to release on Prime. Actor Vijay’s much anticipated Master will remain etched in history and his story to be the first big theatrical outing after the Government allowed full functioning of theatres, much to the chagrin of Doctors, activists and the general public who have been heaving a sigh of relief with lower incidences over the past 3 months in Tamil Nadu, especially with Chennai being the hotspot during the peak season of Apr. – Jun. ’20 when Corona incidences were the highest. The films is estimated to have collected over Rs. 230 crores from Box Office collections, although the calculation of such revenues have always been murky and secretive. 



Amidst all this, did Multiplexes and Malls benefit? Little, to my limited knowledge. The more matured mall rats and multiplex audience have preferred to stay away as I don’t see many takers for the safe viewing of cinemas, especially with so many people crowding at theatres. While Foodcourts are brimming, I saw / see very few patrons walking out of apparel branded stores walk out with shopping bags, despite the deep discounts which the Brands are offering. 



The biggest surprise I learnt recently was BookMyShow, the pioneer of online booking has planned to release movies on their Apps doubling up as an OTT platform! Whoa. Look what the Corona pandemic has done to us! Who would have ever thought that a ticket booking website and App would also host movies on demand on a pay per view model. Fantastic times that we live in, indeed. Whether BMS will succeed in this already crowded space is anyone’s guess. But my worry is how will retailers draw crowds to their stores, especially those in the Malls who’s bread and butter was the more affluent Multiplex audience. We are running short of patience, time and money in the bank. Mall Owners, Multiplexes and Retailers have to collectively take a decision seated on a round table, leaving aside their individual motives and egos. Dropping off Parking Fee for 4W could be a beginning. Or atleast reimburse the fee against shopping, so we draw more footfalls into the malls. Screening older films, yesteryear superhits and perhaps a nice set of Academy / Award winning films could be another option. But waiting for a day when customers would pour-over and just do “revenge-shopping” like the Chinese did - is perhaps a hope that we all want to live with, unless it remains a widely circulated article & not reality.


Wake up guys. We are short of time, money and patience. Repeat. 


29 December, 2019

Book Retailing - Retail 2020 (Article #5)

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

25 December, 2019

The Café boom – Retail 2020 (Article #4)

When I was climbing up Vaishno Devi hills 5 years back late in the night, I saw to my pleasant surprise an outlet of Café Coffee Day midway known as “Ardh”. The café was quite popular among devotees and visitors and many regulars were savoring their favorite cuppa at this 24hr café. One can find over 1,700 such cafes across 450+ cities in India and the brand can be credited with creating as well as leading the “café culture” in India and introducing it to three generations since 1997 when the first one opened at Brigade Road, Bangalore.


A friend of mine asked me a few years back, “what’s it like to drink a cappuccino at Starbucks in India?” – I said, enjoying a great cup of coffee indeed. He replied, “No, one spends Rs. 350 to live their American dream while spending the 90-120 mins at the Café”. In hindsight, this is quite true. I had written in my article only yesterday that most Indians buy luxury products for the “Badge Value” it offers and not really for what the product stands for and the craftsmanship. Same is with eating out as well and no wonder, the café boom has been growing year on year in India. A Café (or a local F&B joint earlier) is the third most preferred place after Home and Workplace to have a social catch-up for most of us worldwide. 

The traditional tea shops in India, since the days of the Independence struggle, would play community radio and the entire neighbourhood would gather to listen to the latest updates. Later on, it was Ceylon FM and Geet Mala which attracted the locals only before independent Tea shops and local Restaurants started mushrooming across cities. The India Coffee House, stunningly still operational through a network of cooperative societies, is a glaring example of the gossip-gupshup culture of the 50s and 60s. And then came the trendier cafés which served Italian styled cappuccinos with local snacks and gourmet cuisines to attract the well-travelled as well as the aspirational customers of popular western culture. The rest as they say is History, rather, “History in the making”. For, we have a mere 4,000+ modern style cafés across 500 cities in India – for an estimated discerning customer segment of at least 30 million consumers in the age bracket of 18-45 years. 


Café Coffee Day is the largest café chain in India with over 1800+ cafes. In store count, second comes Starbucks which entered India in 2012 in a JV with Tata Group and operates around 180 outlets – approximately 10% of the market leader. Home grown café chains such as Barista and Java Green as well as Internationally acclaimed chains such as Costa, Gloria Jeans, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and many others entered India with much fanfare a decade or so back and have already exited with huge losses since they couldn’t get the business model right. While coveted brands like Illy Coffee are available only at select star hotels, many international café chains haven’t even entered India for obvious reasons. 

Meanwhile, India has witnessed a boom in the Tea Retailing models with a number of funded start-ups ruling the roost. Market Leader Chai Point has raised US $37.5 million and has 104 operational stores across India while Chaayos has raised US $18 million and operates 65 outlets. While these investments have largely gone into brand building, the Tea-Retailing business hasn’t been profitable even at an operating level as per market sources, thanks to the low perceived value of a cup of tea, its liberal availability across the length and breadth of the Country due to abundance of supply of raw tea leaves which are grown across the country unlike the Coffee Crop which needs a special soil and shade alongside to grow with high maintenance. Incidentally, most of the premium varieties of coffee and tea are exported for a hefty price and what we get mostly is of inferior quality. The ApeeJay Group created an innovative concept by the name “Cha-Bar” as part of the eponymous Oxford Bookstore, beginning from Park Street Kolkata to Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and across India, although neither the book retail nor the tea-retail business took off as much as many other coffee chains took the country by storm at one time. 


A few years back Hindustan Unilever experimented with Bru Café at Mumbai as a brand experience center and the Tata Group has experimented with the Brooke Bond Café at Mumbai and Tata-Cha at Bangalore, both of which haven’t expanded for reasons best known to Tata Sons. Bru Café eventually never scaled since the instant coffee was not what the consumer was willing to pay a premium for. Bru and Nescafe Sunrise are the Top 2 operators in the Rs. 2,000 Crores pa Instant Coffee Market in India with over 40% market share together with numerous others such as ITC's Sunbean, Levista, Continental Coffee, Leo Coffee, Narasus Coffee and many others are stacked up one behind the other in one of the smallest Coffee Markets (by value) in the world, disproportionate to the population size. Nescafe has been able to open Kiosks at various establishments such as Airports, Railway Stations and Corporate Tech Parks while Bru has penetrated deep in to the small and medium size offices and corporates with over 25,000 installations cumulatively across all its formats.

With 50% of India’s population under the age of 35 years, a substantial exposure among the Gen Y, Gen Z and the Millennials to global culture and higher disposable incomes than the immediate previous generations, the Café boom is yet to even begin in my opinion. But it would be fraught with challenges. Getting the right real estate is the prime challenge. Then comes standardizing the F&B assortments so the crew at café can prepare with limited OTJ training. Third, deep pockets to keep consumers coming back for repeat visits. But the good news is that the potential Consumer is not just ready but is willing to pay a premium for discerning concepts. 

As I write this article, Gloria Jeans is making a comeback, CCD is about to get a new Investor cum Owner and a few interesting brands are scaling. Exciting space ahead. So I can write more interesting stuff about my favourite beverage, more often.


04 August, 2019

Eulogising Friendship, one cup at a time!

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


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


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

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


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


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

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

01 July, 2019

Why Coke wants Coffee...


A budding second generation Entrepreneur started an Internet café in Bangalore’s iconic Brigade Road in the mid-90s with the unprecedented boom in consumers using the World Wide Web to communicate with each other besides knowing a bit more about the world on the other side. Those days, an hour of browsing the Internet would cost ₹100 and a cup of coffee, perhaps ₹10 or so. It’s no surprise the costs have reversed today. 
 


Cut to 2019, the same Entrepreneur is expecting a valuation of $1 billion for his coveted asset, Café Coffee Day which he has patiently and painstakingly built over the past 20 years. The café has over 1,700 cafes across India now including a few outlets abroad. I was privileged to work in this team a decade back for 2 years where my team and I went ahead to set up over 140 cafes across Airports, Metros, inside large Retail formats such as Wal-Mart, Shoppers Stop, Odyssey, at Hospitals, University campuses, Cinemas and even at Cricket Stadiums at Chennai and Kolkata during IPL Matches. The bidder for CCD this time is none other than Coca Cola Company, world leader in carbonated beverages who has also been in India for 2.5 decades.

Why does Coke want coffee? Because they see an untapped opportunity to reach out to the millenials in India who are among the largest of their ilk worldwide. Pepsi, on the other hand has a majority of its business coming from snacks and food while Coca Cola Company with its wide portfolio dominates the carbonated beverages market which has seen a shy growth in India, thanks to alternative beverages, let alone a few healthier options. CCD cafes interact with over an estimated 3,50,000 patrons a day with an estimated 100,000 bills daily (assuming an average 3 persons per bill). That’s over 1.2 billion times of engagement annually, something that Coca Cola Co. can do perhaps only online with constant advertising. 


A recent report published by Euromonitor states that the Indian Coffee Market was pegged at ₹2,500 crores as of 2018 and could double in the next 5 years. With cafes becoming the third and most preferred alternative place to hang around after home and work place, Indians are embracing coffee cafes and tea bars like never before. In the immediate past half decade, chains like Chaayos and Chai Point have gained much attention from Consumers as well as deep pocketed Investors. World’s biggest café chain Starbucks entered India a decade back in a JV with Tatas and has grown to over 150 cafes till now while others like CBTL and Café Pascucci left the market even as the homegrown Barista and British chain Costa have found a small niche for themselves. Interestingly, Coca Cola Co. bought Costa Coffee last year for $5 Bn while Nestle bough the distribution rights of Starbucks across Europe for over $7 billion in 2018.

Interesting times ahead for discerning Indian consumers. Would we see us drinking Coke and Fanta along with a Cappuccino at the neighborhood café or the Mall down the road? I don’t know yet. Interestingly, Sidhartha of CCD has refrained all along from selling carbonated beverages ever since the beginning. But the brand’s future could be different. We are now seeing Spicejet logo on the erstwhile Jet Airways’ crafts. Time will tell how this story spins out. And although it’s not in my plan today, I am already fixing my Auditor’s meeting at a CCD. For the love of the brand and their coffee.

24 December, 2018

GST on Cinema Tickets

The Union Government of India has recently announced a reduction of GST on Movie Tickets from 28% to 18%. The Film Industry took collective credit for hard-bargaining this issue with the Prime Minister and many celebrities thanked him on social media. However, the average movie-goer isn’t too kicked.


2018 has been very average for the Indian Film Industry with many high profile, high budget Hindi films tanking like no other, notably Shah Rukh Khan’s latest outing “Zero” and Amitabh Bachhan / Aamir Khan’s magnum opus “Thugs of Hindostan”. Needless to say, the only saving grace was Superstar Rajinikanth’s 2.0 directed by ace Director Shankar, his third outing with the mega actor after Sivaji - The Boss (2007) and Enthiran (The Robot) which released in 2010. Produced by Lyca at an estimated budget of over Rs. 550 Crores (a little less than USD 80 million) - perhaps the only Indian film to have been invested so much upon. And to everyone’s surprise, the film has raked over Rs. 700 Crores at Box offices worldwide in its first three weeks of release and is still seeing full occupancies during the Christmas / New Year weekend as well. Karan Johar took up the release of the film in the Hindi Belt and has done a fantastic job indeed. 


I was at Delhi two weeks back and finished my meetings ahead of schedule and was sitting over a Cappuccino in one of South Delhi’s tony Malls. Was quite excited to watch 2.0 in Hindi (after watching 4 times in Tamil already at various theatres in Chennai). The ticket cost for 2.0 in 3D was Rs. 450 including GST. Add to that, my proposed indulgence of Popcorn, Nachos and Coffee and I would have ended up spending at least Rs. 1,000 over 4 hours. At a spur of the moment, I decided against it and went ahead with some other plans. Of the Rs. 450, I guess 28% would have been taxes. So, I would have paid about Rs. 120 as GST which would now be reduced by Rs. 40 approximately (depending on Ticket costs). 

Is reduction of GST on cinema tickets a good move? Yes. 

Will it draw more audiences in to the Cinemas / Multiplexes? Perhaps Not.

Here’s why I reckon so;

Most theatres focus on the F&B offering than the core - Movies. Multiplex chains like PVR and SPI Sathyam (now owned by PVR) focus on the “experience” of watching a movie while standalone Cinemas too have focussed on improving facilities. Sadly, reduction of GST is not enough to draw audiences. We need better content from film makers and needless to say, a sharp reduction in F&B prices. By reducing the prices and focussing on volumes, the Theatre Owners would see a significant jump in occupancy which hovers around 40% on weekdays and approx. 70% on weekends. 



GST is now reduced from 28% to 18% on Tvs - Smart Tvs which come with built-in OTT Apps like SunNxt, Hotstar, Zee5 and of course YouTube. Theatre Owners, hello there?!?

03 October, 2018

My i Vs. Mi Experiences

I purchased my Mobile SIM card for the first time in the year 2002 in Chennai from Aircel and that number is still active. My my first handset was an Ericsson followed by Samsung R220, the first mobile phone launched in India with a multi-colour display. This was followed by a few Nokia models over a decade and a Sony Ericsson P1i before I finally moved to Blackberry. A few models and 4 years later, I moved on to the Apple Ecosystem with iPhone 4S in 2011. I upgraded to 5S, 6 and 7 over the years as well as including other i-Devices such as 3 generations of iPod, 2 variants of iPads, a MacBook, Apple Tv and finally an iWatch. With a paid plan for Apple Music and a huge storage on iCloud, I don’t have to worry about my stuff on the hard disk anymore, for its all safe and secure, “Up in the Air”. Hopefully. With a seamless integration within the iOS, it is almost impossible for me to move out of the Apple Ecosystem anymore and I guess I will remain clued in here. however, when the announcements for new models of iPhone XS & XS Max were announced last month, I had less interest than last year for the iPhone 8 & X. Somehow I felt that Apple has stopped making mobile phones for common users and is perhaps focusing on a niche segment who can use most of their offering.


Notwithstanding my self-prejudice for a coveted Brand and its products that I love so much, I decided to visit a Retail Store to physically touch and see the new launches. On a sunny Chennai afternoon last weekend, visited an upmarket Mall in the City, which for some strange reason has four retail stores next to & opposite to each other who sell multi-brands of Mobile phones and accessories apart from an Apple Premium Reseller (APR) and a Mi Experience Store. Even before I could visit the APR I happened to see the new iPhones at one of Tamil Nadu’s leading multi-brand Retail Store. The Staff were as uninterested as I were and they hardly explained why the new damn thing costs a lakh and fifty thousand bucks, with which one can but at least three new laptops or 15 mediocre mobile phones or perhaps even 5 top-end new mobile phone models. I didn’t bother to even ask queries and quickly moved on to the next chore with the family. Was having a sad grin on my face that the same “me” had waited at the same Mall five years back in a queue for four hours on a sunny November afternoon along with my better half to buy my Apple iPhone 5S on the launch day. How things change, huh!

My wife has been asking me to buy her a wearable device to measure footsteps, which we have been exploring for the past few days. Surprisingly, Croma and Reliance didn’t have a wide range while the Mi Experience Store at Express Avenue Mall didn’t have the widely popular Mi Watch 2. The staff at the Mi Store was unapologetic that it wasn’t available at their flagship store in South Chennai and instead advised us to visit a few days later when it would arrive at the Store. Really? Do Brand staff think Customers will Queue up anymore for their once coveted products? We ended up buying at another store whose Sales staff surprised us and matched the same price as the Mi Experience store where the device’s price is Rs. 200 lower than outside. At the Mi Experience store, I saw a wide range of products including LED TVs but another flagship Mi A5 model of Mobile Phone wasn’t available, once again. 


Recently, I was reading how Best Buy has embraced omni-channel in the US by ensuring a wide variety of models across Brands were made available at the Store and the Retailer also offered multiple models of delivery such as in-store, same day delivery, Day +1 delivery, at home delivery, etc. This was the only way they could counter the intense competition from Amazon in the US. Back in India, things remain unchanged. Croma has a namesake omni-channel model but the staff are disinterested in taking the effort. The bigger surprise was Mi Experience Store, where the staff could have immediately engaged with us, potential buyers of a Watch to browse the range on a device kept right at the store where one could browse and buy with a deliver in a day or two, Lost opportunity. 


This is just my personal experience and am damn sure there are millions of such experiences across the world where Customers are walking away without purchasing, thanks to disinterested staff and their respective Managements. A report in the Economic Times suggests that of the 1 lakh units kept ready for the opening weekend in India, not more than 50% were sold, thanks to low interest of Customers for various reasons, from new innovations to pricing. This is a first for Apple, what with already sagging Sales and the same trend could continue if they keep making iPhones which people stop buying for snob-value. And a younger brand like Mi which boasts of giving a run for money with its devices could do better with Merchandise Planning some Staff training. hope that’s not asking for too much from a Brand which has apparently carved a niche for itself.  

19 August, 2018

Can Malls resurrect?

I went to a once-upon-a-time popular Mall in Chennai a week back – to watch a movie at Inox. I went 10 mins before the show began; during the intermission, I bought a Samosa and Tea for Rs. 200 and left the venue just after the film ended. There was nothing for me in the mall to hang around. No coffee shops, interesting retail concepts, a poorly scattered food court and absolutely uninteresting Mall Management. The toilet was a saving grace, neat and clean as always. 


Chennai Citi Centre was one of the earliest new-age Malls in Chennai which opened almost a decade back. Compared to the previously popular and hugely successful Spencer’s Plaza, Citi Centre managed by the ETA Group preferred to lease retail spaces as against selling them like Spencer’s. The initial euphoria was huge – located on RK Salai leading to the world-famous Marina Beach and the road being used by two former Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu viz., Dr. Karunanidhi and Dr. J Jayalalitha for their daily commute. The road was in its best form all these years with Traffic Police stationed all day and night as well as reasonably safe. The Mall opened with Chenai’s iconic Landmark Store, Lifestyle and Inox as anchors followed by Foodworld, Mc Donalds & KFC in the food court and roof top; a slew of national and international brands followed. The “Marina” food court had some interesting concepts offering a range of food and beverage options. Café Coffee Day was conspicuously missing inside. Instead, CCD opened a café right opposite the Mall which continues to be a crowd puller. The Atrium would be used for interesting events and activities.

A few years in to it’s bull run, Express Avenue Mall opened 3 kms away, followed by Phoenix Market City two years back. With a spread of no more than 2 lakh sq.ft for Retail and F&B, Inox Cinemas spread over 30,000 sft, private Office spaces spread over 20,00 sft. and two levels of basement Car Parking, the Mall had little to offer in terms of retail space. As always, Small is Beautiful. Plus, it had a great locational advantage. But the Mall Management let the mall die a slow death for reasons best known to them. Almost all the original Retailers have vacated but for Basics Life and Giordano apart from Lifestyle and Inox. I approached the Mall Management two years back and suggested we could do wonders with what we have on hand and give a run for money due to its locational advantage and easy access to South Madras. They refused to oblige and have remained adamant on letting the opportunity pass by. Even now, the mall is sitting on a gold mine, if only one could take a serious look at what could be done to make it great, once again. 


Citi Centre is not an isolated case. During the Mall boom in India between 2006 – 2012, about 800 Malls of all shapes and sizes were operational at its peak across India’s Top 50 cities & towns. Thanks to a slowing economy since 2013 onwards, uncertain consumer sentiment and tough business conditions, more than half of them have shut down or have morphed in to Office spaces. A recent research report suggested that the Mall vacancies have improved off late and over 80 Malls are expected to open in the next 24 months across India. As we speak about this, VR Chennai opened its doors to the city just a month ago, spread over a million sft. 

So what happens to these Malls which do not get the desired traffic (of customers) anymore? Many people compare this situation to the Ghost Malls in the US, which I believe is not fair. The Indian Economy continues to show strong signs but for some shortfalls here and there. Older Malls can be resurrected, if only the Mall Owners prefer to do so. In our country where most of the Malls are owned by Real Estate companies, their only focus is generating a certain “revenue” per sft. Taking an extra mile to get consumers walking in regularly and keeping them hooked – this is no rocket science. Can be done pretty easily at much lower costs with very minimal efforts. Add to this, inefficient Management Teams in many cases who have never worked earlier in Malls or have a deeper understanding of Retail dynamics. Just that the Mall Owners must come out of their slumber and their fixation for a certain “fixed” revenue model and consider Professional Management. Malls are community centers and Mall owners must connect with the consumers and not just their bank a/cs.
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20 July, 2018

Multiplex & Movies - Convenience or Complex?

It’s been a week since the Maharashtra Government passed a mandate that Cinema goers can bring their own snacks / food items and that the Multiplex owners cannot stop them from consuming the same. The response to this from various sections of the ecosystem has been mixed. While a section of film viewers is excited that they can carry their preferred snacks inside the theatres, another set of patrons are quite upset, so much so that there has been much disdain about this on social media. Some have compared the expected outcome to that of train journeys where passengers would bring parathas and Idlis and how the whole cabin would smell (or stink) of various Indian spices, especially.

On the other hand, Multiplex owners are clearly unhappy. They would be losing a majority of their revenues, estimated at approximately 30% of their Turnover. This would hurt their business economics and may even make a few screens unviable, especially inside Malls where the real estate costs are significantly higher. To give a background, there were about 12,000 standalone screens and less than 50 multiplex screens a decade back. As I write this article, there are an estimated 2,000 multiplex screens (Screens inside a multiplex & not just the number of Multiplexes) while over 4,000 standalone theatres have shut down, unable to cope with the latest improvements in technology, leading to lower patronage of users, and subsequently inability to maintain the screens. Due to heavy investments, Indian entertainment companies are adding no more than 150 screens pa while International players like Cineapolis couldn’t cope with the spiralling costs, which are never offset with premium services such as push back seats, exclusive box areas and so on. In comparison, the US has 40,000 screens and China, about 24,000. In the same tune, the Box Office Market in the US is about $10 billion pa, $5 billion pa in China and about $3.5 Billion in India. The average ticket price in the US is about $8, $5.5 in China while India is at a distant $2.


India makes about 2,000 films pa, 60% of which are from rest of India while 40% is in just one language - Hindi, which has a national appeal. From Amitabh to Shah Rukh, Rekha to Deepika, Hindi film stars have always been able to captivate the imagination of a majority of Indians, undoubtedly. Then there are regional stalwarts in almost every State of India who command record salaries as well as have magnificent BO openings when their films release. Despite all of this, the average time for a new movie to have a pirated version available online is under 12 hours. The July 9 release Kaala feat. Superstar Rajinikanth had its pirated version available by 8 am, even as the film only released in Singapore and Malaysia the previous night. Online activists are quick to bring down the ratings of a film with Video reviews published on YouTube which further minimises the potential of the film even during the first weekend. Interestingly, many films which had lukewarm opening have been able to boost theatre viewership through similar online reviews, positive ones of course, sometimes even rigged/paid. 

The Multiplex culture started expanding when a standalone theatre by the name Priya Cinema in Vasant Vihar area of Delhi set up multiple screens at Malls with its international partner Village Roadshow, which subsequently became to be known as PVR Cinemas. Today, it’s a public limited company having over Rs. 800 Crores in Turnover and has a number of innovations to its credit and is the most preferred Multiplex chain in India with a presence spanning Chandigarh to Chennai, Baroda to Calcutta. An estimated 800 malls of various sizes ranging from 1.5 lakh sft to 1 million sft came up during the peak period of India’s Retail explosion between 2006 - 2014. Therefore, almost every Mall had to have a Multiplex with a minimum of 3 screens up to 12 screens in some cases. Due to high operating costs (mostly rental & maintenance), Multiplexes pegged their ticket prices higher thank standalone theatres. In some states like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, the Government had a cap on ticket prices which added further strain on their viability. Therefore, most Multiplexes took to enhancing the experience with culinary delights with flavoured pop-corn, designer ice-cream varieties, gourmet food and so on. Therefore, a Samosa could cost between Rs. 40 – 80 per piece (Rs. 20-25 in the city) depending on which city/Mall one was consuming. A portion of Pop Corn came at 100 with higher prices for exotic flavours. There were times when consumers preferred to visit cinema halls just for dining & recreation than watching films. And Multiplex owners weren’t complaining one bit.


Until recently, perhaps 2 years ago when ardent film goers and the public at large felt that the food and beverage costs were so high, that for a family of 3 or 4, the cost of dining was 2 to 3 times the cost of tickets per person, putting heavy pressure especially on middle class families. This led to a lot of offline discussions and online debates, arguments with theatre staff and fist fights at public spaces, making the entire process of watching films at cinema theatres an expensive and an uninviting affair. With the economy slowing since 2016, Demonitisation impact, GST on Cinema Tickets and overall uncertainties galore, (The BJP Government thinks otherwise, though) piracy at unprecedented levels with nothing being done by the Government or Producers or the Film fraternity, the footfalls to Multiplexes started decreasing steadily. So much so, that as recent as Jan-Mar 2018, the average occupancy at Multiplexes has been less than 40% on weekdays and close to 75% on weekends. Except for a few mega hits (across languages), the overall Box Office earnings haven’t been one bit rosy. 

This has created a huge pressure on Multiplex chains with their dependence on F&B much more today than before. I have been organising full shows for the first weekend of every Rajinikanth movie for the past 11 years. I book an entire screen (approx. 220 seats) and distribute the tickets at face value to friends and friends of friends. Over the years, it’s almost been a custom now and many people look forward to the entire experience. I would usually organise one show on a Saturday morning of the opening weekend but due to unprecedented Marketing efforts and expectations galore, I organised 3 shows for the 2017 blockbuster Kabali feat. Superstar Rajinikanth. Similarly, I approached the Multiplex chain (am withholding the name for personal reasons) for the 2018 release Kaala but I was in for a shock this time. The ticket price had already been officially hiked by the Tamil Nadu Government and capped at Rs. 205 (in Chennai); add to this, a compulsory F&B Combo of Pop Corn & Coke for another Rs. 195, taking a single ticket cost to Rs. 400! Forget convincing 200 people, I was not ready to pay such a figure for my own family of six. So, I preferred to watch in standalone theatres, although I watched the film thrice within the first 10 days of its release. The film bombed at the BO and there has been much disappointment among Producers, Distributors & Exhibitors. Sanju, feat. Ranbir Kapoor, a film which was the official biopic of Actor Sanjay Dutt has apparently grossed Rs. 500 Crores at the BO in India and abroad, which is a saving grace to the Industry. Amitabh Bachhan starrer “102 not out” was off the screens in less than 2 weeks and is already available on Amazon Prime. 


Talking of OTTs, there has been an aggressive push by Netflix, Amazon, Hotstar and others with buying exclusive rights from the Producers even before theatrical rights are sold. With lowering data costs (for handheld devices) by the day, multiple options to view content such as Connected Tvs, Smart Phones, Tablets, etc. and the growing popularity of this medium, even pirated film watching has come down significantly as per Industry estimates. I reckon that the Multiplex owners are facing one of the darkest times right now, with lower patronage to the screens coupled with external factors galore. 

By allowing film goers to bring their own food to the theatres, would occupancy levels increase? This move looks more positive for a few reasons – 1) it brings down the cost of watching family entertainers by more than half, thereby making the entire effort less expensive for families than before 2) it could drive a completely new set of the aspiring middle class audience, one that is looking forward to a world class (hic!) experience watching cinemas at Multiplexes but with the ability to offset food costs 3) This move would most importantly make the Multiplex Owners more conscious about how they price their products. I have said this before and I repeat – instead of selling 1,000 samosas a day at Rs. 50 a piece, they could sell 2,000 samosas at Rs. 25 a piece. This is just one example. And with lower food prices, volumes will certainly improve – this is the main reason theatre occupancy is much higher even today at standalone cinemas than at Multiplexes. While one has to put up with spicy masala odour at Cinemas, it is of great cheer and joy to watch a film with a full house audience. And with the core Indian mentality of “sharing & caring” we could see unknown families in neighbouring seats share food & sweets. A novel way to build Communal harmony, perhaps. Much needed right now in India. 

I plan to carry specially flavoured Idlis for the next outing. Anyone wishes to share some?

15 July, 2018

We are Chennai…

It was long pending but took a drive all the way up to the latest entrant in Chennai, the newly opened (partially though) VR Chennai, a Retail Centre spanning over 6 lakh square feet (in the first phase) adjoining the outer ring road, just outside the acceptable (hic!) city limits.  Planned and executed by Virtuous Retail, a Mall Management Company which has its Mall's presence at Surat, Bangalore and Punjab, the Centre is almost an oasis, what with a fantastic spread of Retail, F&B and Entertainment Opportunities in the anvil. 



The Mall is located north of Koyambedu, west of Anna Nagar and just after the Arumbakkam flyover. That this place existed for a huge strcture such as a Mall to come up came us a surprise to many in the city including a lot of Retail Professionals. 

So why does Chennai need yet another Mall while the existing ones are not providing double digit returns to Retailers? Why yet another Multiplex while the number of cinema goes has been steadily decreasing over the years, thanks to alternate entertainment options such as OTT Apps? Why should Brands invest heavily in yet another Retail  experiment (of sorts) while the existing Retail spaces are yet to be fully sweat?


Frankly, I have no answers on behalf of the whole of the Retail Fraternity. But here are my observations.

Chennai has historically been a high-street market, despite the so-called evolution and revolution of Malls and Shopping Centres in India since 2006. One of India’s first shopping centres came up at Chennai in the late 1990s – the iconic Spencers Plaza. It was a welcome break for shoppers who would otherwise throng the likes of T. Nagar, Purasawalkam fraught with heat and humidity while Spencers (as it was nicknamed) was the first a/c mall in India (Crossroads was just coming up in Mumbai but had entry restrictions while Ansal Plaza in Delhi was non A/c). Spencers was a super hit from day one with the second and third phases coming up in bursts but that’s when the High street Market continued to dominate and thanks to a property-ownership model at Spencers, leasing larger spaces was a challenge. And the mall slowly lost its sheen.

For a city of its size, there are just three malls of a reasonable size & scale -  Express Avenue, Phoenix Market City and Forum Vijaya Mall which together have about 20 lakh soft of actual Retail (minus the Cinemas). Interestingly, these three Malls form a nice Triangle while seen on a Map. The earliest entrant City Centre (Mylapore) failed due its own inefficiencies while the Ampa Mall (Arumbakkam) did quite well in its early years and slowly added fatigue & monotony; A suburban Grand Mall (at Velachery) sitting on a gold mine lost due to internal challenges of choosing the right sort of Clients. Then there is a Marina Mall on OMR which is yet to take off fully while the Spectrum Mall at Padi is a non-starter. MARG, the construction to research conglomerate lost out on a fantastic opportunity with it’s Mall structure half complete and lying idle for more than 5 years. 



So why a new Mall now?

I personally think that this Mall is a breather for Shoppers to avoid the congested bylanes of Anna Nagar and its periphery and head to this wonderful premises instead where they get an equal share of shopping, dining & entertainment.  For Retailers, this is a boon come true of sorts. Reason: The city had expanded in the deep south on OMR a decade back; it expanded towards Tambaram five years back. However, the western suburbs have been neglected for long. With so many thousands of people heading to work all the way up to Sriperumbudur daily, there is a huge chunk of middle class settlement happening in this part of the city. Also, there are very few options where a discerning Shopper gets satisfied with variety which VR Chennai is sure to offer.



I hope PVR Cinemas open soon, with a slew of films slated to release starting with Kamal Hassan’s Viswaroopam in August all the way up to November when Superstar Rajnikanth’s 2.0 will release after the recent Kaala. Now the question is will they be able to fill the cinemas, especially with newer challenges every day.

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