Showing posts with label Odyssey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Odyssey. Show all posts

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. 

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!

20 November, 2016

Why I suspended Oyethere Delivery!

This was an idea that I set out with while studying at NIIT in 1996, that one day I would be able to order pretty much anything on my computer and it would reach my doorstep within minutes or hours. That it took me 20 years to realize that dream is another story. Thus was born Oyethere.com, my hyperlocal ecommerce marketplace which delivered (yes, we are past tense right now) products to customers within 30-300 mins from the time of delivery. We started with Tender Coconut, being the only website in the world where you can order one, and moved on to Patanjali, Grocery, Household, Books, Baby products and more. We delivered special T-Shirts with pics of matinee idol Rajnikanth and his signature dialogues printed on them ahead of the release of Kabali. In Sep. 16, we delivered authentic eco-friendly Ganeshas (Clay Pillaiyar) for the Chathurthi festival. And then we shut down. Meanwhile, we got noticed on media, print, radio and Tv for our unique efforts. But potential investors remained myopic. A few of my friends came forward to support me with small sums of funding when I reached out to them around Aug. 2015. That investment came along for a year. We were not “burning” money; no full page Ads, no high-decibel paid digital campaigns and so on. We did not even hire the so-called elite and erudite Digital Marketing Agencies who sadly learn their business at our cost.


 Meanwhile, Swiggy, by far one of the most funded hyperlocal delivery companies in India reported a 65-fold increase in losses as per a report on Live Mint. Yes, you read that right. Here is a quick analysis of what they did;

Revenue for FY 2016: INR 23,59,00,000 (commission on transactions)
Revenue per day in FY 15-16: INR 6,55,278
Daily Transactions: Approx. 21,843 @ Rs. 30 per transaction as commission
Losses for FY @015-16: INR 131,18,00,000 (INR 131 Crores)
Which means, Swiggy spent Rs. 204 (Edited) to get a transaction!  This is Wow.


In the meanwhile, Oyethere was revenue compliant from day one. We made Rs. 5 per tender coconut from the roadside vendor. And 5-25% margin from our partners such as Patanjali, CDS Supermarket, Odyssey, Brown Tree & so on. We had between 1-4 delivery boys at the max and were delivering between 1-10 orders per day. We broke even our Opex from Day one. Absolutely NO CAPEX. I was spending frugally on Marketing offline & online, while also meticulously building PR & positive visibility all around. Sadly, we didn’t have backers. Those who promised the moon and beyond (on investments) backed out citing market conditions. We didn’t have access to popular and noteworthy Entrepreneurs & Angel Investors who funded startups out of Delhi, Mumbai & Bangalore.


On Nov. 1, 2016, I decided to suspend operations temporarily until we get a decent amount of funding. Talks are on currently with various people, but sadly most Investors neither understand Retail nor Investing. So there is a big gap between what I propose and what they understand. For sure, Oyethere will not make losses like others. No way I shall allow that to happen. But that, only when we get the next round of funding. Till then, I am on a break. 

17 October, 2016

Chennai Shopping Festival

For the first time, Retailers in Chennai have come together to create a one of its kind Retail Promotion. Titled "Chennai Shopping Festival" (CSF), this is organised by the Retailers and for the Retailers of Chennai. My own start-up Smiling Baby, a baby store that caters to the needs of new born kids upto six years is a member of Retailers Association of India (RAI), an Industry body that represents our needs and requirements to the Government and other bodies. Under the auspices of RAI, members of the organisation have come forward to create a marketing property which is CSF. The idea was rolled over on our WhatsApp group by a member, seconded by a few of us and actioned by all of us in just a week's time from start to finish. We have built a simple website that provides information about the various participating stores and their offers. Take a look here.


Over 30 leading Retailers from Chennai spread over 300 stores in the city including Viveks, Odyssey, Basics Life to name a few have come forward to join in this promotion. The big highlight of this promotion is Uber has come forward to ferry passengers to select Retail Store locations by using the code CSF150 (One Free ride worth Rs. 150 for new users!).

We at Smiling Baby also have a few interesting offers.


Smiling Baby is located at E-135, 6th Avenue, Besant Nagar, Chennai. Ph. 044-43507015 / 9176300015. Open All days from 10am - 9pm. Over 100 brands are available at competitive prices across categories such as Baby Care, nursing & Feeding, Maternity, Cosmetics, Baby Gear, Toys & Games, Apparel and Accessories. The store is the ONLY Destination Store for Medala, world's best mother care brand and houses the entire range of Medela products such as Breast Pumps, Maternity Hygiene, Feeding bottles and so on. One can also find world's other leading brands such as Chicco, Pigeon, Fisher Price, Himalaya, Johnson & Johnson and many others.

Once cam also shop online at www.smilibaby.in where the products will be delivered the same day or the next day with a Cash on Delivery option other than paying by Credit / Debit Cards at the place of delivery using mobile EDC machines.

Do spread the word; visit the website and click the "Get Offer" button so you receive an SMS to your mobile. Happy Festivities. Happy Shopping.

16 August, 2010

New Airline guidelines – a boon to Retailers

Even as the bus was moving slowly on the tarmac towards the aircraft, it all seemed a dream for me. I would actually be taking the flight to head back home after a long four days that included a road trip from Delhi to Chandigarh, Jalandhar and Amritsar and back to Delhi - a distance of over 900 kms covered in less than 60 hours. The car journey was indeed tiresome and the trip was hectic but the wish-list was complete - A visit to the Golden Temple, the Wagah Border, Wal-Mart stores in Punjab and a couple of other meetings. All those memories were coming back to my mind as the bus slowly halted. There were just five of us in the long bus operated by India’s most efficient airline, Jet Airways as most of them were already seated and their seat-belts fastened. Usually the late comers are welcomed with a stiff and dirty look by some passengers as though the flight was held up only because of them (which was not in our case). The crew, ever smiling and happy to help, guided us to our seats and the doors were being closed, the flight getting ready for take-off. As the plane reached the runway and started moving, I was amused that this could actually happen to me – reaching the airport 14 minutes before the scheduled departure time and still being flown. Yes, I reached at 18.31 hrs. at the Terminal 1D at Delhi Airport for a flight that was scheduled to depart at 18.45 hrs. Even the lady at the check-in was amused of my (in)sanity and reassured – that she wouldn’t be responsible if I couldn’t board the craft. I have held faith in miracles and one such happened that day.
Since I had already done a web-check the previous day, all I needed to do was carry a print out to show the Security staff and run to the boarding gates. The usually unfriendly and rude staff of CISF at Delhi Airport was, for a change nice and polite and let me past the security gates, while also advising that I need to really rush as the flight’s about to take off. Even as I approached the waiting area, my name along with a few others were being screamed on the Public Address systems and I had to run across the 2,000 sqm terminal building to reach the boarding gates. Just that I was feeling a bit guilty that I wasn’t taking anything back for my family or friends from the sprawling Retail areas. What was reassuring was that there was an all-purpose retail outlet at the Arrival areas at Bangalore International Airport, managed by India’s leading Leisure Retailer Odyssey that stocks everything from toys to chocolates, books to music. So I didn’t have to worry much since I could pick it up after reaching Bangalore.



While my getting into the flight was indeed some kind of magic, it was an eye-opener and warning, given the new guidelines laid down by many of the airlines in conjunction with the airports – Check-In counters for Domestic Flights would close 45 minutes prior to scheduled departure (previously 30 minutes) and 75 minutes prior for International flights and this would be applicable at the top six airports by passenger volumes in India including Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Hyderabad. This means one wouldn’t be able to check-in at the airport after the counters close, but could still board the flight if check-in has already been done though telephone or on the Web well in advance. Over a period of time, this trend would result in passengers arriving early to the airport, like how they do at other points of transit such as Railway stations and Bus stands. Earlier, the airports were smaller and cramped, but all this changed with the Government allowing private participation in constructing new infrastructure at airports. Bangalore International Airport was the first one to be signed on paper although Hyderabad International Airport was the first to commence its Greenfield Airport in 2008. GVK managed Mumbai International Airport had its new terminal building inaugurated a few months ago and GMR operated Delhi International Airport has recently commenced India’s pride, Terminal 3, or T3 as it is fondly called. Other airports at Chennai, Kolkata, Mangalore, Ahmadabad and many others managed by Airports Authority of India are being modernised at a total cost of over USD 4 Billion.


While arriving at the airport was not seen as a major attraction a few years ago, today passengers seem to love it. For Example, Cafe Coffee Day, the first national Retail Brand to enter airports many years ago had its share of patrons arriving at the erstwhile HAL Airport in Bangalore only to sip a cup of hot coffee before they left the city which they do even today at the new airport. Currently, CCD operates over 30 outlets across leading airports in India and is planning to enter many more in the years to come. The Bangalore International Airport was the first one in the country to have a properly planned and well-managed Retail footprint, led by India’s largest retailer in the lifestyle business, viz. Shoppers Stop which also incidentally operates at Hyderabad Airport. T3 at Delhi has over 20,000 sqm of Retail areas and hosts leading domestic, regional and international brands alike across domestic & International Departure and Arrival areas. It is quite common to see passengers packing sandwiches or burgers from CCD outlets along with a cold coffee or a frappe or Pizzas & Pepsi from Pizza Hut outlets at various airport terminals, thanks to the advent of low-cost airlines (which command a 35% market share in the Indian skies) that do not serve complimentary meals on board.


While arriving early to shop at Duty Free areas in the International Departures is common worldwide, the trend was basic and functional many years ago which was again altered at the Bangalore International Airport which hosts one of the best collections of Scotch, Tobacco, perfumes & cosmetics, Electronics etc. This is the airport where leading city-side retailers such as Odyssey Books and Leisure, Ethos Swiss Watch studio and fashion designer Deepika Govind started their airport retail journey. Today, Odyssey aand Ethos have mastered the trade and operate at many other airports while planning for more stores in times to come.

There are indeed many advantages for passengers to shop at airports. To begin with, it’s a lot of time saved for business passengers and busy executives, compared to that at the over-crowded malls in the city where entering and exiting could take more than 20 minutes during the weekends. Since these store understand the pulse of their customers, they stock the right kind of products so the decision making is quicker. Most importantly, these outlets offer a value-addition to their customers by bundling various promotions – afterall, the passenger doesn’t and cannot come every day to the airport! F&B operators focus on speed of delivery and high quality products and even offer tamper-proof packing so that there is no spill over even if it were to be consumed 20,000 ft above sea level. They also offer a wide assortment which caters to the millions of travellers who could never get bored of the offering.

So, if you are travelling through an airport next time, reach early. You might be in for a surprise looking at what’s available at the airport. Needless to say, the writer is not responsible if you exceed the limits on your credit card. Happy Shopping & Dining!

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