Showing posts with label Musicworld. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Musicworld. Show all posts

12 December, 2021

The day to say “Thank you”


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



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

 

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


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

04 June, 2021

20 years in Retailing

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

23 December, 2019

Music Retail - Retail 2020 (Article #2)

I started my career in Retail in 1997, scooping ice-cream at Basin Robbins' second outlet in India and first in Chennai (then, Madras). As the current decade comes to an end and an exciting one unfold, I am writing a series of 20 Articles over 20 days (10 in Dec' 19 and 10 in Jan'20) on the various Retail developments I have personally witnessed since 2001 onwards. Today I have written about the "Music Retail Industry".

I joined RPG Retail as a Management Trainee through campus selection at ITM Business School where I pursued my 2-year MBA. After a 21-day orientation, we were sent to our respective “regions” as per the traditional culture of the then corporate behemoths. And mine was Kolkata, West Bengal. I reached out to my then GM – HR and asked her “why me?”. I had never crossed beyond Tamil Nadu for my vacations or holidays all my life and here, I am being sent to an unknown territory, unknown language, unknown people, unknown everything and that too on my first job. She said, this is one decision you’d never regret in your life. And I haven’t, true to her words.


Musicworld at Park Street, Kolkata was at the time the largest music store in Asia and among the largest in the world only behind the Virgin Music and HMV Stores at London. Spread over 8,000 sq. ft., the Muwicworld store was a cynosure of eyes for the locals as well as those visiting the city – returning Indians, NRIs and Music lovers from all over India and the world. The store had over 30,000 SKUs across 4 major languages – Bengali, Hindi, Western English and Devotional Music. This was the time around the turn of the Millennium when Audio Music CDs in regional Indian languages were getting launched at Rs. 299 per unit. And then, T-Series, the illustrious Music company which took audio cassettes to the masses launched the Audio CD of Dil Chahta Hai at just Rs. 99. Even at the time, the music store would clock a monthly turnover of around Rs. 50 lakhs and that December when I was managing the operations, the store peaked at close to Rs. 90 lakhs in Turnover – audio cassettes in Bengali and Hindi were contributing over 60% in volumes and less than 50% in value terms, while the CDs coupled with Gaming CDs and VCDs contributed the rest. At this rate, I thought this business would never cease to exist. I was wrong.

RPG launched HamaraCD in two forms – one where a consumer could login to the website and choose the playlist; second, a self-service kiosk placed at select MW Stores where one could do the same. The only hitch – it was priced at Rs. 399 for a track list of 12-15 songs (around 300 MB space on the disk, if I recall correctly). This was a revolutionary concept at the time and again, I thought this was probably the way forward. 


My selection into RPG Musicworld was based on multiple reasons – of course, the Management Panel had their own reasons to choose me during the formal rounds of Group Discussion and Personal Interviews. Other than that, I was a trained musician in Indian Carnatic Music starting to learn the “Mridangam”, a percussion instrument at the age of 9. I started performing on stage at the age of 11 and thereafter pursued until I hit a very bad patch in high school studies when my parents decided to discontinue the art for want of having me to focus and score good marks. I restarted learning the art after 2.5 decades from none other my Late Guru's son last year. 

There is another reason for my passion towards Music & Music retail – while at school in Class 9 & 10, I was experimenting my first tryst with Entrepreneurship (unknowingly of course, only to save some from money to eat Samosas after school) by recording playlists for friends for a fee. Here’s how that model worked. I would buy music cassettes of latest Tamil films from the wholesale market in Chennai at Ritchie Street for around Rs. 23 /- (MRP was Rs. 28/-) by cycling 6 km from home in the pretext of attending some group studies with friends or extra tuition classes. There was also a shop nearby where the shopkeeper would rent me cassettes for Rs. 10 for 3 days during which I would record songs from films which I didn’t possess in my library. Then, I would buy empty cassettes for Rs. 12 which could accommodate around 6/7 songs. From the plethora of film songs I had, I would curate a list that my classmates and friends preferred along with a title card, handwritten and sketched with my self-branding and sell it for Rs. 30-35, depending on the demand at the time. From immediate classmates to seniors to juniors, I had a long and happy list of customers who came back to me from time to time. The “venture” was short lived since I decided to focus on whatever spare-time I had on school studies. 

Managing a Rs. 7 Crores pa topline and a healthy profitability in my first job two decades back, my stint at Musicworld Kolkata is the one I cherish among the most in my professional career. I made a lot of stranger-turned friends, some of whom I am still in touch with and we start our chats where we left the last time, of sorts. But more than that, I would wonder how this business could be sustainable in the long term since piracy of music was getting popular around that time, albeit consumers had an inferior experience listening to music. In my first report to the company, I suggested that we also sell CD Players thereby inducing music lovers to upgrade from Cassettes to CDs and once they fell in love with the original and high quality of music through CDs, they wouldn’t prefer pirated ones. Due to various reasons, the company didn’t pursue the idea. 

Musicworld was among the first few brands in India to offer a Loyalty Card known as “Masti Card” wherein the holder of the card would get preferred treatment in terms of discounts and offers across various other retail formats. The concept was a big hit during it’s limited lifetime and there were even local, small-time shopkeepers wanting to be associated with MW Masti Card for the pride it offered to them. I travelled by Trams, Metro Trains, Buses and Taxis to multiple Retail Establishments from Garia to Esplanade, VIP Road to Taj Bengal to induct them into the coveted Club. Such good experiences right in my first job. Later on during my stint at RPG Foodworld, there used to be MW Kiosks with the Chartbuster Titles only and I would take special care of this vertical due to my loyalty and allegiance to Music.

I was also among the first to write an Obit Column for Musicworld when it finally downed its shutters at Kolkata as well as ceased to exist as a concept. Honestly, I saw it coming since the company, for various internal reasons, wasn’t pursuing the digital way forward even as MP3 was the preferred mode of listening to Music until online Music streaming has become the norm currently. That SaReGaMa, the company which was formed after RPG bought over the titles from HMV had a huge repertoire of music across genres (those days in digital form) wasn’t put to best use, perhaps by the company. Very sad indeed.

On Dec. 7, when the Music album of Superstar Rajinikanth starred “Darbar” released in three languages - Tamil, Telugu and Hindi, Gaana App – the online streaming company owned by The Times of India Group (ironically, the biggest competition for Musicworld was PlanetM which was owned by same The Times Group back in the 2000s) had bought exclusive rights for streaming Darbar Music which meant that other Apps like Jio-Saavn, Airtel's Wynk Music, Amazon Prime Music app and Google Music cannot officially stream them. While it’s not clear how much Gaana incurred on this, the market estimate is that the company has paid over Rs. 6 Crores for this exclusive right until the film releases on 9 January 2020. During this period, Gaana expects to quadruple the number of its userbase in South where it has been weak, with a retention rate as high as 20% Month on Month which is again 2x the market average. the song "Chumma Kizhi" from Darbar album had 28 million realtime views on Youtube in 24 hours of launch. And today, I see that the Tamil album alone has 10 Million+ Playouts on the Mobile Music App... Says a lot of how Music Retail is still prevalent, just that the consumption patterns have changed, or evolved if I may say so. 




Times have changed so much that during the Darbar Music launch, there wasn’t any CD which was actually released in the open market. While Music Retail (offline) is almost dead, online Music Retail through streaming websites and Apps is here to stay. Else, why would the young Aakash Ambani pay a premium of USD 100 million to acquire a Music over-the-top (OTT) app Saavn to add to Jio’s portfolio to build a USD 1 Bn entity? 

Picture abhi baki hai, mere dost. 

22 February, 2016

POS Conversion

I bought my first mobile phone, a Samsung R 220 in 2002 when I used to work at Musicworld in Kolkata. Those days, it set me back by over Rs. 9,500. Colour display, trendy looking and all that. Incoming call was Rs. 2 per minute and outgoing was Rs. 5 per minute on Airtel. It was mainly meant for my family in Chennai to reach me whenever they wished to speak with me. I retained it for about three years, and then moved to Nokia for about 4 years. Then came Blackberry and then my iPhones since 2012 although I first used an iPod in 2006 which my friend gifted me. Over the past four years, have got so engrossed and obsessed with the Apple way of communicating. As I always say, Apple is neither a hardware company nor Software one. It is an ecosystem. It is something like Hinduism, a way of living. Once you get used to the Apple way of life, it is very difficult to move out – you are kind of hooked on. Yes, I know and you know many who have moved on, but so be it. After using an iPod for a decade, iPhones for 4 years and an iPad for 3, I decided to buy a Macbook which I did recently. And boy, what a life this is – so well integrated. However, I use the Microsoft Onedrive to store all my data and access it across devices. Photos, of course are on iCloud. So, I have been engrossed in this system, quite well.

Now that I run two startups (OyeThere.com and SmilingBaby.in), I am in the process of releasing their mobile applications. So, being the consumer guy, I want to experience first hand what the user goes through while using the app. And hence started to look for an Android device. Honestly, I have no experience in using an Android OS and hence had neither positive nor negative thoughts about them. I know so many Android fanatics and these are very intellectual people. I know many who swear by a Macbook yet use Android phones. So, am sure they are quite good. As usual, started reading reviews and searched online. Was impressed with the Lenovo K4 Note. I went to the big four sites online but the confused me more than I already was. My budget was sub-Rs. 10,000 and hence the dichotomy was much higher. Since my spare laptop is a Sony Vaio, I thought let me look for a Sony mobile perhaps they may sync well. Walked in to the showroom at Alwarpet and asked the guy for some details. They were so disinterested to even strike a conversation, forget selling the device. One guy was ignorant and the other couldn’t care less. This was the most premium store for Sony in Chennai and among the top ones in India, probably more than a decade old. Shame on the boys and the guy who has franchised it to have such a poor team of Retail sales staff, I thought to myself and walked away.


Next I went to the guys who pioneered Mobile Retailing in Chennai, Univercell. The brand has changed hands recently and the new team has perhaps washed off their hands off their Retail business. The store was stinking of sock’s odour and the boys were generally fooling around. This was the same store which made historic sales at a store level some 7-8 years back. They neither had what I asked for nor were they keen to continue the conversation. I walked in next in to a store called Studio Cell, a small time local retail chain with just a couple of outlets. The “owner” sits at the shop most of the time – I remember visiting the store 6 years back when I bought a phone for my Dad. He was there then too, and every time I went thereafter. He and his team of four listened to my requirements carefully and suggested a brand new model from a company that revolutionized Mobile telephony in India a decade back. The brand was LYF and was from Reliance Telecom. The sales guy was using a handset which we explored. It was 4.5 inches in size, same as my iPhone 6. Apparently, this is the only 4G handset in India at the moment and the call quality was supposed to be superior. Apart from some similar features with the iPhones, it seemed to be quite a sturdy device. And for Rs. 6,700, it seemed to be a steal, well almost. The sale was over in less than 8 minutes and billing done. Screen guard was another Rs. 300. So, for Rs. 7,000 I had a phone with as many features of a smartphone in the Rs. 10,000-15,000 price bracket. The phone weighed quite light and was a great feeling to one a unique piece which no one has around in town.


So, here is the learning. Customers are always looking for products (and services). Brands spend millions of dollars to build themselves and partner with trusted franchisees and companies, only to be let down at the point of sale. Small & Medium Retailers and Store owners on the other hand sweat it out. The phone that I bought could have got him a 15% margin and perhaps also some volume discounts if he sells more. He is not venture funded with dollars from the silicon valley who fund online companies mindlessly who in turn pass on discounts at the drop of a hat and have no clue how to retain customers who are always looking for the best bargain. He is a common man – a Retailer whose bread and butter comes from each Sale that happens at the store. Therefore, the “conversion” of an onlooker to become a customer and a repeat customer is a challenge these guys are addressing very well. He gives a new meaning to the term “Customer Service” which neither E-Commerce nor Organized Retailers have been able to provide consistently to customers.


The above pic was taken around 6.30 pm on a full moon evening from my spare bedroom on my 13th floor house which I use as my makeshift office. You can see the about to be inaugurated Kalaivanar Arangam, a multi purpose hall, the Doordarshan Tv tower, the Chennai Harbour & Port and ofcourse the Bay of Bengal with a full moon... Not bad at all for a 5 MP Camera! Have been using the phone for over 48 hours as I write this post. No major issues found. Ofcourse, it is not anywhere comparable to an iPhone and I don’t expect it either. I have always taken things (including people) as they are and here, I assert that I shall not sulk on this device comparing it to an Apple. As they say, with practice comes perfection and I would probably get used to Android LYF.


After closing the sale and while about to leave, I asked the Store Owner if he sells online to which he said he used to and has stopped because the big boys don’t pay his bills on time. So, I suggested him to take a look at my Hyperlocal Omni-Channel model OyeThere.com We surfed the site for about 10 minutes and seemed to be excited about the way the whole thing works. He has said he will come back with his thoughts to partner with us. He may. He may not. But I am sure, he will remain in business for a long time, coz his fundamentals are strong.

07 April, 2012

Music can convert more customers!

salon style

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

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

Salon 1

For my new born child, I was looking for a cradle and visited many stores that stocked “Baby Products” in Chennai. Not one was  playing music! They could easily be selling music CDs and DVDs for kids of various age – though these are low-margin, low-value items, they increase the basket size without much effort. Mom and Me, the baby products and maternity store operated by Mahindra Retail was playing a DVD on their LCD screen which was located 15 feet above the ground. One had to look up all the way to see what was going on. Ofcourse, it was better to play something than nothing, I felt.

Saravana Stores, a regional Retailer based out of Chennai which has one of the highest footfalls into their million square feet stores recently was playing “Jam” by Michael Jackson, while most of their customers wouldn’t have even known the pop icon. India’s largest Hypermarket Retailer Big Bazaar had sometime ago tied up with a Radio station with national presence but which plays regional songs. Makes sense. Retailers need to talk the same language as the customer and create the mood for consuming more. Cafes and eateries such as Café Coffee Day, Gloria Jeans, Pizza hut, etc. typically play the latest hits while a fine-dine restaurant plays mellow music, usually instrumental such as a piano or piped instrument. Pubs and Bars, as always play music that is so loud that patrons have to speak at the top of their voice to be heard. Grocery stores may choose to play local music but not something that is very jazzy! Department Stores and Malls too play soft music most often. The moments of truth, irrespective of the retailer’s origin or market remains the same.

The power of air play is huge. Few Retailers have realised and used it well. Hope to see many more use them smartly – afterall, good music can aid in higher conversions!

27 August, 2011

Music Launches and footfalls!

Photo courtesy: krishmall.blogspot.com

One of the biggest blockbusters in tamil cinema, “Mankatha” featuring Ajith Kumar and Trisha Krishnan is expected to release shortly. The movie which is the 50th film of the ace actor and a landmark accomplishment has been under production for over a year now, and is expected to be no less a thriller with the actor playing a dark role (something that's unusual in commercial cinema). The same actors previous movie “Asal” (which was basking under the glory of the previous super hit release “Billa”) was a damp squib despite the hype that was generated before the film’s release. However, the crew has done an excellent job this time around and has kept the curiosity high over the past few months. It was the first time that a “single” – one song in the film’s soundtrack (which also happens to be the title track) was released three months ago. Something that’s not a done thing otherwise. The CD was priced at Rs. 55 (a little over 1 USD), comprised of a personally autographed poster by the actor and also included other hits of the same music Director Yuvan Shankar Raja, son of Music Maestro Illayaraja. A few days ago, the latest CD including 6 songs and a remix version of the title track was released for a magic price of Rs. 99/- Needless to say, the album has been dominating the list of Chartbusters for the past 2 weeks. And just now, another version of the CD priced at Rs. 149/- is out on the stands – the CD includes a sticker of the game based on which the film is named. Once the film release, the sales of audio CDs is expected to surge once again. The official trailer was released a few days back and needless to say, it looks “chic” to say the least.

Mankatha–Official Trailer, courtesy youtube.com

The first project that I undertook as a Management Trainee after joining Musicworld at Kolkata a decade ago was to measure the impact of Airplay, if any. While the results were indeed exciting, what was more intriguing me was the expectation of sales staff of an upcoming Sales surge. And the reason – Amitabh Bacchhan, Shah Rukh Khan multi-starrer “Kabhi kushi Kabhie gham” was about to be released shortly. So? I wondered. The staff who had been working in the business for a few years before I joined explained how the launch of the music album would increase footfalls by two-three fold and hence, purchases across other categories would increase. You must be kidding, I felt. But they were right. After all, the love of Bengalis to the Big B, also endeared collectively as the regions’ son-in-law is extremely touching. On the first day of the music launch, the store sold over 300 cassettes and 100 CDs while the footfalls simply doubled – in my opinion, that was a miracle! SONY Music had timed it well, just around the weekend which ensured the store achieved its target by by more than 100%. And many new shoppers walked into the store for the first time, and a few were even imagining it to a notional store like how it would be in London, Paris or New York. But the good thing was many of them repeated their visits over the ensuing months. And spent more money thereafter. Upgraded from Cassettes to CDs. Even today, this particular store attracts one of the most number of footfalls as a standalone music store anywhere in India! Proud to have been part of this iconic store. To my surprise, I personally experienced the illustration above. And when I walked out of the Musicworld store – this time on MG Road, Kochi after buying the “Mankatha” audio CD, I was smiling – thinking about the power of such launches. And how they drive footfalls and how such footfalls spend more than what they walked into the store for! Four times, in my case.

Photo Courtesy: Cinebuzz.in

With digital music all over the place, do physical CDs have any shelf space worthiness at Retail stores? Of course, they do. The penetration of smart devices such as iPods and other similar personal music players, music on mobile phones and tablets etc. is still very low when compared to the spread of Music players (at home). Also, the enjoyment of hearing music on a personal headphone or earphone cannot be comparable to the one while hearing on a Home Theatre system or even in a Car stereo. Needless to say, consumers are already listening to their favourite music across various gadgets, but that doesn’t mean the end of physical audio. When FM Radio was opened up a decade ago in India, the Music Industry feared severe sales arbitrage. Yes, it did some damage. But the industry didn’t get wiped out, as was expected. This market is huge, and its all about how the consumer is served, across various avenues. The good old LP Player and the iconic Sony Walkman™ took many decades to get discontinued. Audio Music Cassettes still have a market opportunity and so do Music CDs. I fear no wipe-out of these media – just that they would become far cheaper in cost, thanks to technology involved in production as well as alternative options for consumers. So, shoppers would keep coming to the stores to buy their favourite music off the shelves for a long time to come.

For now, am back to listening my favourite sound track these days. Waiting to play the game – Mankatha! In real life too, soon. More in my next.

15 May, 2011

Paribartan! Retail revival in West Bengal?

My initial happiness started worrying me after sometime – after all who wouldn’t want to achieve their Sales targets! When I was told earlier in the day that the store would close by 4pm, I was a bit happy as I could go home early. But that day, I stayed on, for I wanted to see the people’s leader who would be walking down Park Street with her followers. Yet another protest; yet another reason to bunk work, thus grinned Mr. Bannerjee, my senior colleague in his typical Bengali accent- not that he was complaining, but he was more concerned about reaching home which was at suburban north Calcutta since most taxi drivers would take off from work and those plying would demand double charges. Along with Musicworld, where I was the Operations manager 10 years ago, most other retail stores & F&B outlets along the stretch downed their shutters early due to a protest march organized by a relatively lesser known regional party, The Trinamool Congress. “So where is their leader”, I asked my colleague Sandeep Mallick. “There you see, that short lady in hawai slippers, she’s the one” he replied. I was stunned that such a simple looking person could lead a party and a few thousand followers –for her party as well as her protest march that particular day. I was more familiar with an erstwhile woman Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu where I came from, who would adorn more jewelry than that of a model who poses for Jewelry brands would until she vowed never to wear any ornaments after the ruling DMK put her behind the bars citing various scams. After 10 years, she is back in power today and is expected to run the state in a few days, hopefully more efficiently than the decade that passed by.

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Just a few months back (in 2001), the Communist Government had assumed power, this time with a new Chief Minister though, Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, after the octeganerian former CM Jyoti Basu relinquished the seat of power. Buddhadeb, over the next 10 years tried his best to bring reform and change the business landscape but the fundamentals of his party would not allow him to take brave steps too often. And the rest, as they say is History. Singur and Nandigram were bitter memories that the industry would like to forget. Prestigious projects moved out of the state due to government apathy and the worker’s lethargy. The overall mood in the Retail Industry which peaked all over the country in mid-2000s didn’t have much impact in the state, thanks to a workforce that quite didn’t enjoy working in the modern retail formats. Though money was good, many felt that the jobs were lowly and probably they deserved better. A typical middle class Bengali who reads atleast two newspapers every day, one in English and one in the local lingua, is quite updated with the latest within the Organized Retail set-up across the country. Recently, I was a speaker at the “East India Retail Forum”, organized by IMAGES Retail, India’s premier retail publication in Jan’11. There were over 100 retail honchos across the spectrum who attended the event and the mood was upbeat about the impending Retail transformation that’s on the anvil. Miracles are certain, they believed and I too did, given the slow but steady change in mindset that I had seen over the past year – on my first visit to Kolkata after 10 years since I moved in 2001, I wrote on my twitter (@shri611) “so much has changed, yet nothing much has actually changed here!” What I meant was while there were new high rises and a strong immigrant workforce that had moved in, the old-timers remain what they were, reluctant in some cases to change and a few even questioning why they should.

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All that is about to change thanks to the latest verdict in the state elections where the Trinamool Congress has won a 4/5th majority, ousting the Communist rule after 34 years. It was a shocker to see the outgoing Chief Minister, the Finance minister and many others losing their seats in their respective bastions. Just goes to show that the average Bengali was fed-up – and probably wants a change urgently. He deserves, that’s my belief too. I started my career in Kolkata, way back in June 2001 when I reached the Howrah station all alone, with four bags and loads of dreams, to build a successful professional career. Wasn’t sure if Retail was my cup of tea (or coffee, as I am responsible these days for increasing the café count for India’s largest coffee retailer) but I stayed on. I had just one friend, Hemanth Subramaniam, a former classmate at college who lived in Calcutta those days with his parents who came to pick me from the railway station. The city was over crowded by my Madrasi standards, I thought. And the city roads were congested and there wasn’t even a supermarket to buy toothpaste and shaving cream, I thought. But my first few days at Musicworld changed all my thoughts – that Retail was indeed where I would remain. My circle of friends and well wishes grew over time, so much so that I was hosted four farewell parties when I departed in just a year! 37 Chowringhee, a building that stands proudly, built during the British era was one of my favorite inspirations that housed the Corporate Office of ITC Ltd. at whose factory near Chennai my father toiled for over 30 years to build a family and careers of my sister and myself. I had a lot to give back to the city of joy, where the loner in me was treated every other weekend by someone or the other at Someplace Else or Flury’s, at Tantra or London Pub! During my recent visits and interactions with so many people including those from Government functions as well as those in private establishments, I see an urge, an immediate intention for embracing modern ideas, Organized Retail included.

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I am neither a political analyst such as those who feature in “We the People” or “Breaking at 9” nor a mediocre journalist who screams on Tv or writes sensational headlines in newspapers to grab attention – just a Retailer at heart, by profession and choice. Apart from Musicworld & Spencers from the home grown RPG Group, The Ambuja Group and Forum have built several malls in the state while national retailers including Café Coffee Day, The Future Group (Big Bazaar, Food Bazaar, Home Town, Brand Factory), Shoppers Stop, Reliance Retail, PVR Cinemas, Pizza Hut, KFC and many others are all expanding rapidly across the state. A Central Mall is expected to open in Kolkata soon! What I look forward is just a better Retail scenario – one that the Bengali deserves and one which can change their lives and lifestyle quite well. Hoping for a “Paribartan” that would put Kolkata on top in the Indian Retail Map in times to come.

10 April, 2011

Obituary - Raghu Pillai, the Retail Wizard



If there is any regret I would nurse all my professional life, it would be not meeting Mr. Raghu Pillai, whose sudden demise this morning (April 10, 2011) has left me baffled with life’s uncertainties. Last month, I was at the Corporate Office of Home Town, which is also the Head office of Future Value Retail, where he had moved in a few months ago as CEO after being at the helm and putting up Reliance Retail to shape. I saw him walk past the cabin in which I was in a meeting; when I walked out, couldn’t spot him and left in a hurry for the next meeting. Little did I imagine that I would never see him again! It is ironical that I write this column on board a flight from Chennai to Kolkata where I started my career a decade ago at Musicworld Entertainment, part of RPG Retail for which we was the founding CEO since 1995. He suffered a massive heart attack and passed away at his Chennai home this morning and is survived by his wife, son and daughter.



Raghu Pillai was one of my first inspirations into Retail. I was among those 40 other Management trainees who were deeply inspired and influenced by his baritone-voice inaugural speech even as we were settling in our chairs that morning during the first day of the induction session at the RPG Retail’s former headquarters at Spencer’s Plaza at Chennai. He came across as a very simple and down-to-earth person but was a towering personality. His trademark Cotton half-sleeve shirts and Chinos trousers with a notebook and some papers on one hand and a box of Classic cigarettes on the other was an inspiration that many of us imitated, although out of sheer fan-following and respect than anything else. I had the privilege to interact closely with him during his regular visits to the RPG Headquarters in Kolkata – he would silently walk into the Musicworld store at Park Street and would be browsing the shelves, observing Customers and ideating new ways that we should be taking-up. Later on, when I moved to Foodworld Supermarkets Ltd., which was the Food & Grocery chain of RPG Retail, I continued to have interactions with him as I was heading the flagship store of Foodworld located at RA Puram, a South Madras residential locality where he was instrumental in opening the first Foodworld store, which was inaugurated by the late Carnatic Music Legend, Smt. MS Subbulakshmi. He used to frequent the store, usually on his way back home as we were also preparing for the store’s renovations in 2003.

Raghu was a big fan of music, as he spent many years with Gramophone Company of India (popularly known as HMV, a company that RPG Group bought over many years ago). He was a Retail Wizard – after all, he was the first working professional who had commenced the organized Retail set-up in this country. At RPG Retail, he was responsible for the introduction of various formats such as Foodworld, Musicworld, Health & Glow and Giant Hypermarkets and later on moved to Reliance Retail where he was the Group CEO for Strategy, Operations and Business Development. In Oct. 2010, he joined The Future Group as CEO of Future Value Retail and also as an Executive Member of the Board. His keen sense of understanding of markets and consumers came from his hands-on extensive experience – he used to spend a lot of time at the Retail stores. He was one person whom the entire Retail Industry looked up to – the first Retail Professional in this country to pave way for thousands of us who followed this unchartered territory.
I write this column with deep regret; it’s a pity I cannot attend his funeral on Monday morning at Chennai, but Sir, you will remain in our hearts forever as a great role-model and as an inspirational leader. May your Soul rest in peace…


19 September, 2010

Creating categories – Way forward for successful Retailing

Looking at the eagerness of a family to see how a Compact Disc works was amazing – this was in the year 2001 at the Musicworld store at Park Street in Kolkata. The middle-class Bengali family was a regular at the then largest MW Store in India, spread all of 8,000 sft and among the first Retail Stores in India to be designed in bright yellow and blue by Fitch PLC. After all, RPG Management had wanted none other than among the best in the world to design their first and the largest music store in the city. Over to the family – they were wondering how a small CD with a diameter of 10 cm could play music with such clarity while the erstwhile vinyl records that used to be played on the gramophones were thicker, heavier and the voice clarity not as clear as this one. I remember chatting with my colleagues about this insight – that it is as much the responsibility of Retailers to create newer categories to grow the pie and what I was referring in this case was that the market needed more CD players, affordable and better quality, so more consumers could buy them and in times to come, would buy or should I say invest on CDs. Who would know that 10 years later not only my words would come true (in terms of cheaper options of CD players) but we would also have alternate forms of listening to music – internet, mobile phones, mp3 players, iPods and most recently I read Apple is planning to launch Watches!


Successful Retailers worldwide have created newer categories and introduced them to their core customers – usually first timers within the spectrum who could spread the good word around. Central Malls, a division of The Future Group that operates over a dozen malls in India has been the pioneer in seamless retailing in the country since their launch of Bangalore Central in 2004 (of which I was lucky to be an integral part of) is doing exactly the same. One of their recent campaigns is the “Kurti Festival”. Keeping the most popular trend, Central has launched a festival that focuses on the theme – Kurtis. As part of this festival, Central will have a mix and match section where customers could experience interesting pairing which would be displayed at the Malls. Kurti is a form of apparel – a mix of western-styled Indian-design tops mainly focussed on women. The basic difference between a Kurti and a Salwar or Churidhar is that the length in the former is shorter and the core audience are the teens and tweens (those in their twenties). While the Kurtis have been made popular thanks to our beautiful heroines in Bollywood and other Indian languages, the more popular ambassadors are the customers themselves. It’s quite common to see the college goers wearing such clothing as it is comfortable for their daily routine – travelling by public transport, self-drive in two-wheelers, attending many other chores during the day such as college sessions and mall-hopping, etc. A versatile garment, kurtis are an essential part of every woman’s wardrobe and they can create the latest fashion statement with funky styles like bohemian, bling, graphic, festive, floral, tribal, jig saw & many more. Women shoppers can create these styles by mixing and matching with different bottoms like leggings, capris, denims, shorts, short skirts and harem pants. Customers can twist their style at Central’s Kurti festival for a brand new fashion statement.

This is expected to attract more footfalls into their Malls and while the incremental conversions are high single-digit, the time spent by the clientele and their word-of mouth is as important. Many a time, these festivals indeed pull in additional footfalls and benefit other retailers within the Mall such as Cafe Coffee Day, McDonalds, Food Courts, etc. While many retailers keep experimenting with such ideas, very few succeed in pulling them off well and needless to say, Central Malls is one of them indeed. So, visit the near Central close to your and enjoy the surprises!


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