Showing posts with label Reliance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reliance. Show all posts

02 January, 2020

Highway Retailing – Retail 2020 (Article #6)

I have just completed a 10-day vacation across North India. Being an avid traveler, my travel plans are usually frozen at least 2 months in advance, which includes booking of rooms, air / rail transportation as well as ground transportation including the last mile to the Hotel or Resort where we would stay. However. one thing which has always been unplanned, or rather difficult to plan is the place to eat / take a break during such trips, especially while travelling by road. On our last leg today, we drove from Jaipur to Delhi, a distance of 270 Kms which took us around 4.5 hours non-stop. Due to intense Fog in this part of India, we wanted to reach as close as possible to Gurgaon before we took a break. Thanks to constant protests across country on some pretext (currently the NRC) or the other, we decided we wouldn’t stop midway and filled our “tanks” at Jaipur during breakfast. Sadly, the weather played spoil sport and my flight was delayed by over 2.5 hours, thanks to the Fog.


To give a perspective, there are an estimated 40,000+ Fuel Stations across India. Of these, at least 90% of them are branded by PSUs including Indian Oil Corporation which has close to 40% of the outlets, followed by Bharath Petroleum, around 30% and Hindustan Petroleum, around 25%. Lastly, there are the privately-owned OMCs - Oil Marketing Companies such as Reliance, Shell and Essar which are less than 5% in number and growing faster than the PSU OMCs. During my stint at Café Coffee Day in 2009, I signed up two exclusive contracts with Shell and Essar which were riding high on the deregulation of fuel prices which meant that the OMCs could fix the price for Petrol and Diesel. Although they have maintained their prices on par with the PSUs, there are benefits they cater to the consumers beyond filling high quality fuel. For Ex., all Shell Outlets have clean rest rooms separately for Men and Women. Some of them even provide services such as Vehicle Wash and minor repairs. The erstwhile Reliance Fuel Outlets had separate Food Courts from the Fuel Station including independent ingress & egress which was extensively put to use by the company through company managed as well as Franchised / outsourced F&B operations in the name and style of A1 Plazas. 

However, the majority of Fuel stations managed by the Dealers of the 3 PSUs do not even have basic amenities such as clean rest rooms which has been a regular qualm of most highway warriors like me. There are exceptions such as the Yamuna Express highway which connects Delhi to Agra with an Eight-lane highway which has three Toll Plazas and each of them have a neighbouring resting area including large food courts housing International and regional F&B outlets. 


Café Coffee Day remains the Number One F&B brand in India which has the most number of highway Outlets as compared to any other business house in organised F&B Retail. But this trend at CCD started many years back, beginning with the coveted Bangalore – Mysore State Highway followed by many such Highways across India. Many other regional brands such as Haldirams in North India, Sukh Sagar in the West and A2B (Adyar Ananda Bhavan) and Adigas in the South have cracked the regional markets but none at a large pan-India scale. Perhaps, Indian businesses can take a leaf out of International operators in the US & Europe who have built Billion Dollar businesses around this model. 

Personal driving as well as Cab hailing for long distances have become affordable now, thanks to lower cost of owning 4-wheelers as well as many tourist locations across India. Highway Retailing is in it’s infancy in India now and much more needs to be done in times to come. 

07 April, 2019

Desi, Videsi or Woh!

I started my 30-hour 2 Credit Retail Management Elective Course at BIM – Trichy for the 40-odd sophomores who are completing their 2-Year MBA shortly. On my first session last Thursday, I was having exactly the same nervousness addressing students as was on my first session I took 15 years back at a B-School in Bangalore which was more of a one-off Guest Lecture. As with all the time, a few students asked me in the plenary session about the potential threat of Organised Indian players towards the 12 million+ Kiranas (Mom & Pop run) retail stores in India. And how the International Retailers and the fastest growing segment run by E-Commerce Retailers (despite their humongous losses) will fare in this game. 


Like in my past lectures, I invoked the story of David & Goliath and asked who really is the Goliath which elicited mixed responses. In my humble opinion, the Kiranas and small and marginal Retailers are the Goliath up and against the modern retailers. Their collective opinion-making (and vote bank) has found the flavour of the Politicians and ever since the starting of this Millennium when International Retailers heading India-wards, there has been growing unrest over Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Retail. The decade long UPA Government kept assuring to the small Retailers that their interests would not be compromised and the just about to conclude BJP Government has also ensured policy policing for the five years although by balancing the two power centres. While FDI in single-brand retail is allowed up to 100%, FDI in multi-brand Retail is controlled with a majority ownership by an Indian entity and no FDI in E-commerce at all, except for marketplaces. 

A growing economy like India needs FDI in many Industries and Retail is not an exception. While we keep telling ourselves that India is unique and that Indian consumers have a completely different attitude towards shopping, there is much to learn from International players, from the West, East and everywhere else in between. Having spent the last 22 years in Organised Retail, having grown with the Industry and with a notable and rich experience at Leadership levels at some of India’s home-grown top Retailers, I can say with confidence that no one is going to take away the opportunity and market share of the Kiranas. 


Metro AG, among the world’s largest Retailers and from Germany stepped in to India in 2002. The Retailer made profits in India recently after a presence of over 15 years and has assured a long term game plan for the Indian entity, which doesn’t sell to end-users rather only to Traders, Shopkeepers, Kiranas and anyone who prefers to buy in bulk. The coveted Retailer was recently called upon by DPIIT to work on a model that would help the unorganised to get organised, calling for a paper which could propose better fortunes for the marginalised retailers who mostly lack technology support for billing, reordering and consumer connect. Quite similarly, Wal-Mart which entered India in 2008 has been building large warehouse-styled Retail stores where it sells directly to Kiranas, similar to Metro. Walmart India provides a lot of information and support such as a native seller-marketplace for the Kiranas to reach their Customers, Sales associates who visit the Retailers with a Tab to get their instant orders and also arranges for delivery where possible. 

Reliance SMART (now being renamed MART) has done a similar thing while what it does differently is that it also opens its doors to end-consumers for shopping, a rule in the law book which allows home grown Retailers to do so. Being Indian companies, Reliance, D’Mart and even the Future Group have the opportunity to sell to Resellers and have created independent business units to cater to this need. The FMCG business of the Future Group is now the largest contributor across many categories at the Big Bazaar stores. Online players like UDAAN have created an e-commerce platform where small Kiranas can order products on the App which then gets supplied by wholesalers from across the India to the local store, perhaps even 1,000s of kilometres away. UDAAN connects the two and makes a small profit in the process, a much laudable initiative indeed.


So, are the Kiranas at an undue disadvantage despite all these advancements, provisions and support by Organised Retailers? Perhaps not. There’s a lot more work to be done to support the smaller retailers, beyond business interest. Ultimately, the SME Retailers are consumers for many other categories, so when they prosper, the economy also does. And Retailers increase their pie.

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.

01 July, 2015

Are Cafes sustainable?

The most discussed topic these days in Retail circles in India is the impending IPO of the company that runs the Cafe Coffee Day chain of stores. The holding company, Coffee Day Enterprises is planning to raise ₹1,150 Crores from the Indian Stock Market for which Draft Herring Prospectus has been submitted recently. The company is among the few of its peers such as The Future Group, Shoppers Stop, Trent(Tata's) and Dominos (Jubiliant Organosys) who have gone public with the companies. CDE plans to utilise the money raised for paring debts and for expansion almost on an equal basis. The company started out renting its premises for Internet enthusiasts to browse in 1996 while also encouraging them to buy a good cup of Cappuccino, coffee that is prepared and presented in the Italian style for 5 times the price of a normal cup of coffee. Very soon, the company decided to change its strategy for Internet to consumer and positioned itself as a place for conversations and more. The rest is history. 

A lot happens over Coffee, is not just the tag line for CCd but also something that is real. A lot of things get done at cafe similar to CCd such as Costa, Barista, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, and of course at Starbucks, the world's largest cafe chain which entered India in 2012 in a joint venture with Tata's. I was at a Starbucks for over 4 hours yesterday, which included a one hour meeting, a half an hour call and rest of the time on Mails and office work. During those four hours, not more than two tables were empty for more than 5 mins. The cafe was running at full occupancy. There were people working on their Macs and other laptops, a few who were reading stuff on their books and devices and one man sitting next to me who watched a full movie! 



With an Investment of over ₹1 crore in interiors and hefty rents for locations, this SBUX outlet does a Sale of about ₹40-50 Lakhs a month. Compare that with ₹3/5 Lakhs that a CCD would do, albeit with 1/4 th the investment and 50% lesser opex. So, are these cafes really viable in the long term?

Answer is Yes and No. 

Cafes are viable in the medium to long term provided they receive continuous and healthy patronage. Keeping aside the Capex and Opex for a moment, the cafes would be profitable not just financially but as a Brand asset in the medium to long term when their occupancy remains high. Consumers walk in to a cafe for the coffee (and food) for only 30%. The rest is for the experience in itself and a peaceful me-only space that one doesn't get at home or workplace. 



It is far easier to be viable as a single store than as a chain of stores, for Ny format in Retail. Most of the Indian Retailers are bleeding due to unresponsive assets in the form of their stores and high costs of operations including servicing debts. This will change over time with Retailers finding new avenues for their revenues. But what about cafes? CCD took a strategic position to be the nearest cafe in every neighbourhood and that has paid off. There are over 1,400 cafes across four formats in over 250 cities in India apart from a handful of them in Austria and Malaysia. Most of the cafes for CCD are operationally viable and are not seeking money from Corporate anymore. The newer ones face tough competition with the traditional outlets, especially with the changing landscape in the out of home consumption sector.

Cafes have always been viable provided you get the fundamentals correct. So, for every Java Green and Barista, there is a SBUX and CCD as examples. As the saying goes, the 120 bucks you paid for the coffee is actually not for the coffee but for the sofa and a/c. With the increasing trend of people working in casual environments, cafes will have a large impact on our lives. Next - probably a Bollywood fil, on how cafes have made or broken marriages! Watch this space. 

12 June, 2014

Online Grocery Shopping

Big Basket

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

https://www.facebook.com/Bigbasketcom 

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

https://www.facebook.com/WEstaple

Ganesh Bigbasket

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

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

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

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

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

17 April, 2014

Digital Retail is still nascent

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

Tata photo

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

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

Croma

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

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

08 February, 2014

Smartphones & Dumbphones

In the early 2000s, there was only one mobile phone brand that was popular in India. It was none other than Nokia. It was considered the “Maruti” of mobile phones, with one model priced at a gap of a Thousand odd Rupees. Customers could choose from an array of models starting from a few thousands to a lot of thousands! Mid-2005, came the BlackBerry. A BB was the ultimate corporate tool that every executive carried; or rather wished he could carry. Over time, the company reduced the entry level prices and it was accessible to small time traders, entrepreneurs, businessmen and their ilk. The Late Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple Inc. unveiled the iPhone to the public on January 9, 2007, at the Macworld 2007 convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. The two initial models, a 4 GB model priced at US$ 499 and an 8 GB model at US$ 599, went on sale in the United States on June 29, 2007, at 6:00 pm local time, while hundreds of customers lined up outside the stores nationwide. The passionate reaction to the launch of the iPhone resulted in sections of the media dubbing it the 'Jesus phone'.The fit and finish and the premium pricing meant that it excluded the masses. It was seen as a toy for the rich and famous. Soon, Apple realized that they had to be a useful product for millions of people worldwide and hence subsequent models such as the 3G, 3GS, 4, 4S, 5 & 5S were released. The latest in the line is of course the hugely popular iPhone 5S which was launched on 20 Sep. 2013. It is also the most sold model for the company.

IMG_1019

Between the rise and fall of Nokia, Blackberry and Apple, several other brands have come (and a few have gone) with their range of smartphones. The commonality of the former three is that they used their own hardware and software whereas all other devices manufactured by brands run on the Android software which is developed and owned by Google. One of the reasons why Blackberry and Apple were appreciated by their customers was that their products were unique. While the most complained thing about the Android devices is no matter how the phone looks (or feels like), the interface is just the same of the Android. The world has most number of Android phones, but that’s probably due to cheaper price points of these phones as well.

Apple has been playing hide and seek in India for the past couple of years. While the market seems promising, its China that’s a bigger opportunity currently for the company. Despite so many efforts by its Senior Management to focus on India, the California HQ team has been reluctant to do so, for reasons best known to them. This has been clearly visible in the Sales and Marketing Strategy, Distribution network and Pricing. Clearly, India doesn’t seem to be among the favourites yet. However, last week, Apple announced that it would commence manufacturing of the now discontinued iPhone4 model to play catch up with the Android device manufactures such as Samsung, LG, Sony, Micromax and others to compete aggressively in the Indian Market.

IMG_1408

I was astonished to see a huge advertisement for this now obsolete model at Delhi Airport’s Terminal 1D recently. Why would a user want to buy an expensive smartphone, which is now obsolete in the developed markets, at a price point where there are several other options! As many say, Steve would have never allowed it to happen. If you have read his Auto-Bio like me, you would know what I am saying. The business team is trying to play catch up in a market which is flooded with cheaper, imported as well as locally manufactured phones.The iPhone4 which I owned two years back was an excellent phone, but was only relevant then. Some of the new features that the competing Android devices currently provide are no match for the older Operating system of apple that this model runs on. Will this bring pot loads of money to the company? Probably no. Will this bring a distribution strength to Apple in India? Yes. Retailers like Croma, EZone, Reliance, Univercell, etc. would be happy to stock these phones and offer them at prices sub-20,000 with buy-back schemes and EMIs on Credit Cards. This is a wait and watch game. Apple has to do a lot more to upgrade users from dumbphones to its range of smartphones. It would not happen any soon. It would not happen with any one model. The entire infrastructure has to be focused on the supply chain-pricing-marketing model. While most Apple users do not downgrade (their models) at any cost, its mostly the users of other platforms who move to Apple. Price alone would not be enough to convert them to buyers and loyalists. Apple needs to do a lot more.

18 September, 2012

The Retail FDI brouhaha!

 

Best Price Ludhiana

Popular Media is in full force discussing the pros and cons of opening up FDI in multi-brand Retail, announced by the Manmohan Singh led Union Government of India on 14 Sep. 2012. Finally, it happened. Rather, it had to. On 9 Jan 2012, the same Government allowed 100% FDI in Single Brand Retail, acting as a precursor and paving the way for the current policy decision. The UPA Alliance which leads a multi-party coalition Government has finally had the spine to push this through, alienating some of its own partners putting its Government in jeopardy. With the current policy in place, it means that multi-national Retailers such as Wal-Mart, Carrefour, Tesco and their likes can invest in India on their own as well as in Joint Ventures with Indian partners or Business Houses. But, there is a catch. FDI in Retail has been made a State Subject which means that each State has to provide an approval for each partnership that is proposed and to be allowed to be operated within its precincts. This is a bit absurd, to say the least. The policy states that over 30% of input must be locally sourced, which in my opinion is a very good thing for Indian traders and businessmen.

(Suggested Reading: Starbucks in India)

So, lets see what’s in store for consumers with multi-brand FDI in Retail;

Pricing

By allowing FDI in Multi-brand Retail, the end consumer is expected to get better pricing for most products. In case of Agri-products, even the Farmers are expected to command a better pricing since they would be dealing directly with the Retailers. Since these Retailers purchase large quantities of products from FMCG companies directly, they would be able to get better margins and would thereby pass them on to Consumers. This is largely in case of Grocery Retailing. It would be similar in Electronics Retail too. Fashion Retailers who run a chain of stores would be able to procure their merchandise at better rates from manufacturers and would again pass on the benefits to their customers. This is one important area where everyone gains!

Assortment

At the moment, products manufactured / produced in one part of the country are not available in many other places. This is mainly because of Supply Chain Constraints. Multinational Retailers don’t just bring big bucks, but also the knowledge and know-how of how to do things better. This, would be an important part of the proposed Retail expansion of Organized Retail, with traders getting more scope for their products. Customers will get a wider variety and range than before which will throw open new options and opportunities for consumption.

DSC00026

Generate Employment

Retail trade as a whole employs about 8% of the population in the country, directly and indirectly. These people are paid a fixed amount as compensation and do not benefit with other Government schemes such as Pension Fund, Provident fund, Employee State Insurance, Gratuity, etc. Modern Retail already provides most of these benefits to its staff. With more and more Organized Retail Stores opening up, it is expected to generate higher employment across the country.

(Suggested Reading: Retail Staffing)

Credit availability

One of the popular qualms is that the neighborhood Kirana provides free credit which the Organized players may not be able to and would hence lose out on. This is incorrect. Spending through credit/debit cards has grown over 6 times in the past decade within Modern Retail. Customers are happy to swipe their cards even for smaller transactions, more for ease than anything. Retailers like Shoppers Stop and Big Bazaar have co-branded cards, thus exciting customers with higher reward points for purchases.

Recreational Spaces

Modern Retail is not just about shopping in a comfortable environment but also includes a lot of fun and entertainment for families. These large stores have F&B facilities, gaming zones, etc. where children can unwind while parents are shopping. It is also an excuse for families to go window-shopping and end up buying something or the other!

And here is why a few segments of the people are against it;

Kiranas would shut-shop

The oft-heard uproar is that Kiranas would shut-shop due to the emergence of big-box multi-national Retailers. This is untrue. Kiranas have their basics right, starting with Location, Pricing, Assortment, Credit to Customers, to name a few. Large Retailers take time to crack even some of these points. Having present in India for over a decade, Domestic Retailers such as Foodworld, Spencers, Reliance Fresh, More, etc.  haven’t got their act correct, I would say. If they have a good location, then their pricing is (obviously) not so competitive and even if they attempt to, then they are in the Red. Merchandising is one of the most difficult paradigms of the Retail business coupled with severe Supply Chain constraints in the Indian scenario. Given these, it would be almost impossible for large Retailers to succeed, whether they are of Indian origin or International.

(Suggested Reading: Store Opening )

Secondly, most of the Kirana stores (Mom-and-Pop-Stores) are first generation entrepreneurs in their 40s and 50s who started off their own little corner stores during the 80s and  90s after Liberalization. Some of them include women, who run petty shops in neighborhoods to support their family, sometimes as a main source of income and at times as alternate, additional income. Their children, most of whom are undergoing good education are moving out of the family businesses. Many youngsters aspire to become Diploma holders, Engineers, MBAs, etc. across a wide range of subjects and are hence not looking forward to continue the family’s traditional Kirana business. As it is, many shop owners are not looking at continuing their petty businesses for the coming generations. So I wonder why this hue and cry.

shopping trolley 1

Many Kiranas have already embraced modern Retail. For example, Metro AG which set shop ten years ago in Bangalore now has half a dozen stores spread across the country. Most of its customers are traders and merchants who buy from Metro and sell to end-users (customers). Wal-Mart set up a JV with the Bharti Group a few years back and runs Cash & Carry Stores in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. Its main focus is on Kiranas and Retailers to whom they sell stuff in tonnes! Even in big cities like Mumbai and Chennai, it is quite common to see Retailers shop at the likes of Reliance Mart and Big Bazaar, given the substantial savings.

Kiranas are a tough lot and represent the well-entrenched Indian Entrepreneurship and cannot be unseated so easily. Long Live Kiranas!

(Suggested Reading: David Vs. Goliath)

21 July, 2012

Why IKEA will do well in India

It has been a regular discussion point in Retail circles about the imminent Indian entry of IKEA, the Swedish Retailer which is also the largest Furniture Retailer in the world with sales over USD 30 Billion. A few years ago, IKEA announced its plans to enter India but later withheld due to the unfriendly FDI policy and other regulations. Most recently, in July 2012, IKEA submitted an application to the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (of India) to allow its Indian subsidiary to operate its business in the country. Although FIPB and FDI norms allow multi-national Retailers only to operate a B-to-B business in India (Wholesale businesses like the ones followed by Bharti Wal-Mart, Carrefour & Metro AG), the much awaited Single-Brand Retail FDI which allows foreign companies to transact directly with end-users and consumers is expected to be announced soon. And IKEA sees merit in it. After all, the Indian market by size is one that cannot be ignored, about INR 100,000 Crores of which the Organized market is a less than 10%. Home grown Retailers such as The Future Group (which operates the Pantaloon Department Store Chain, Big Bazaar Hypermarkets and Central Malls among others), K Raheja Corporation (which also runs the Department store chain Shoppers Stop) and Landmark Group (of Dubai which operates Lifestyle Department Stores and MAX Hypermarkets) dominate the space with their respective ventures Home Town, Home Stop and Home Centre. The price points at which these furniture retailers sell is rather high – and rightfully so since that is exactly what the unorganized market doesn’t offer. Also, the life expectancy of such furniture is manifold compared to the “one time use and throw” offering from the not-so-Organized Retailers. And hence they have been thriving selling premium products.

IKEA is hopefully expected to be a game-changer. Its strength lies in design – easy to use furniture for day-today utility. For any furniture, its form factor and utility are the two most important aspects followed by its cost. “Product developers and designers work directly with suppliers to ensure that creating the low prices starts on the factory floor,” says IKEA Group spokesperson Josefin Thorell. Just one sentence in the IKEA website sums it all up: “We design the price tag first and then develop the product to suit that price”. The furniture powerhouse with 330 stores worldwide obviously doesn’t like to mince words: it’s an out and out price warrior in all the 41 countries (India will be the 42nd) it operates in. At the heart of the strategy is the concept of do-it-yourself (DIY) furniture which means buyers have to assemble different pieces of the product themselves. The ‘flat packs’ design helps the retailer to sell them at lower prices. A customer has to take the delivery of the product and assemble it himself.

IKEA 1

Furniture is used everyday in some form or the other and hence it is most valued for their usage. In the Indian context, furniture, like jewelry is always expected to be passed on down the generations. At my own home, I have a forty year old chair that my grandfather used. And original Burmese Teak wood almirah doors which once adorned the cupboards of his palatial house. And there are millions of them out there like me who maintain their hereditary furniture in India. It is indeed almost a custom. But things are changing, rather evolving. With more and more people moving out of their home towns to larger cities in search of education and employment, the need for simple, usable furniture is on the rise. Also, with transferrable jobs across the country, given the overall market boom, urban dwellers don’t prefer to invest heavily on movable furniture. They would rather buy those which can be easily discarded, usually to their drivers, maids, helpers, etc. And this is where probably IKEA becomes an exciting idea!

The DIY concept is another unique thing about IKEA which would do well with the youngsters – the Indian population has over 65% of them under the age of 35. IKEA sells pre-packed boxes of furniture and not assembled ones, thereby saving precious retail space at their outlets. While the turnover in this business is huge, margins are wafer thin. And real estate costs don’t help either. The DIY kits would hopefully do well among the majority of users who are youngsters. They like adventure and setting up a Dining Table or a Wardrobe would be pretty exciting. Also, to manufacture in the form of flat panels is mammoth effort, which is where IKEA would initially focus their efforts on, which is also their inherent strength.

Apart from bringing down prices substantially, IKEA is expected to bring in great designs with it while entering India. Fancy book shelves, cupboards and many other art forms would be a sure hit among consumers. With their maverick pricing strategy, they would also be taking on the local businesses head-on. However, there seems to be room for atleast half a dozen large players, so the market would respond well to them.

Looking forward to assembling my first IKEA furniture soon!

12 April, 2012

Forecourt Retail–More returns per Sq.ft

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The Apurva Chandra Committee appointed by the Union Government of India to review the proposals made by the Associations and Unions of the owners of over 40,000 fuel stations in India to increase their margins has proposed a few charges to be incorporated which are as below;

  • Rs. 2 to fill air for two-wheelers
  • Rs. 5 to fill air for four-wheelers
  • Rs. 20 to fill air in a truck or a bus
  • Rs. 2 for Drinking water / Toilet usage etc.

“These are the maximum suggested charges. The RO (retail outlet) dealers would be at liberty to charge lower rates” the committee said in its report reviewed by the Economic Times, India’s leading Financial daily. Currently these services are provided free, and pumps are penalised if they do not offer these facilities. The committee, which submitted its report last year, justified user charges as dealers required to employ additional staff to man these services. The Federation of All India Petroleum Traders (FAIPT) has threatened to go on an indefinite strike from April 23, 2012 onwards in case their demands are not fulfilled, among which are to increase their dealer margins on selling petrol and diesel which is Rs. 1.49/- and Rs. 0.91/- respectively at the moment. The committee had summarily rejected fixing the commission as percentage of the invoice value (proposed by the dealers as 5%) and recommended a 33% increase in dealers’ commission on petrol and 23% in diesel.

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To me, it seems ridiculous to say the least to charge for value-added services such as water and toilets, let alone filling air in the tyres! Not that patrons would mind paying these small change – but for a Government appointed panel to propose such recommendations is going back ten steps – with all the modernisation and world-class looks and amenities of fuel stations in India, which started off more than a decade ago.

Petrol & Diesel are essential commodities. While Diesel (prices) are regulated by the Government, Petrol was deregulated a few years ago. Public Sector Undertakings like Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), Bharat Petroleum, Hindustan Petroleum, etc. and private players such as Shell, Essar and Reliance are free to price petrol as per their wishes. The price adjustment is executed once every 15 days and it usually goes up or down by a few paise – small change at a rupee level, though it could run upto Rs. 10-15 for a full tank of fuel of 40 litres. Petrol price itself is usually hiked once every 3-4 months by the Oil PSUs which also allows the private players to proportionately increase their prices. Private players price their commodities a bit higher than the PSUs citing lack of subsidies by the government which are liberally showered by the Union Government. Diesel, which is the main fuel used to ferry people and products in this country is almost a sacred commodity – tweaking prices by a few rupees has seen severe backlash over the years and is left untouched – swelling the losses incurred by the oil companies.

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Forecourt Retailing, or having Retail outlets within a Fuel Retail Station is not very popular in India, although it has been a practice to have some convenience shops within its premises selling chips and candies. In the West, it is common to see supermarkets, grocery stores, gift shops, coffee shops, fruits and vegetables and so many categories of items being sold in such outlets – they bring additional footfalls to the RO as well as provide alternate, incremental incomes to the RO owners. In India, it hasn’t taken off very well, except for the one of success claimed by Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum with their respective convenience stores. Café Coffee Day, India’s largest café chain with over 1,250 outlets at the moment is the only national player apart from McDonalds to have a significant presence at Fuel stations. And this seems to be only growing. "Between verticals and formats we keep looking at opportunities for expansion," said K. Ramakrishnan, President – Marketing in an interview to The Hindustan Times recently.  The other verticals where CCD is expanding include transport hubs, malls, multiplexes, highstreet, residential, premium institutions (such as hospitals and educational institutions), and highways. Highways are an important component for retailers like CCD, where finding reasonably lower-rental locations is easy, especially within fuel stations. Customers are familiar with the brand and therefore stop by at their outlet while refuelling their cars and refilling and relaxing themselves. McDonalds too operates many outlets on the highways, mostly within petrol stations. The RO dealer, in return for renting space gets either a fixed rent or even a revenue share on Sales.

Rather than charging additionally on value-added services like filling air and drinking water or for usage of toilets, it would make sense to create a strong value-proposition by exploring various retail formats within the ROs. Reliance Petroleum, which operates and manages over 600 ROs in the country includes a restaurant in most of its outlets. These were earlier operated internally by Reliance in the name and style of “A1 Plaza” but were later outsourced, given the better understanding of F&B players like Kamat Yatri Nivas who manage some of their prestigious locations. While the luxury of space allows to operate F&B outlets and other large format stores in the Highways (where overall rentals are cheap), it may not be possible within the city limits where space is at a constraint and while people are in a hurry. In these cases, it may make sense to sell small ticket items such as magazines and popular books, candies, chocolates, wafers etc. This wouldn’t require heavily trained staff while at the same time can get incremental revenues too.

It is only in the interest of customers, fuel dealers and Retailers that we move progressively – in a direction that is to the mutual benefit of all rather than recommendations like above where basic amenities are charged for! Pity!

12 January, 2012

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

DSC00049

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

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

The Indian Industry seems to be equally upbeat;

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

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

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

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

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

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

SBUX

(Suggested Reading: Luxury Retailing in India)

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

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

(Suggested Reading: “UnHate” by Benetton)

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

Video Courtesy: The Moodie Report

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

(Suggested Reading: Borders – a book in itself)

24 December, 2011

When Retailers and Brands collaborate!

 

Croma iPad

Its not so usual that you see Electronic Retailers promoting one particular brand at their stores. It means there is a larger strategic relationship between the two beyond just selling a few pieces of a particular model. Most retailers though, refrain from such tactics to avoid the wrath of other players in the respective segments. It is not just the advertising cost that gets shared between the two, but they both look at building an everlasting relationship to build a category, as the one undertaken between Apple and Croma, the electronic megastore from the house of Tatas. One could own an iPad 2 at just over Rs. 2,400 a month (USD 45), on an EMI basis for 12 months, thanks to credit offered by ICICI and HDFC Banks. Croma has built up their electronic retail format over the past years, thanks to its aggressive expansion mainly among metro cities where consumers shop around not just for exciting deals but where the staff are well trained, an inviting store ambience that allows you to browse at ease without too much intrusion by the staff and ofcourse, the TATA Guarantee. The Salt to Steel Major has built its retail portfolio through TRENT – the company that operates formats such as the Westside Department stores, Zara exclusive stores and Star Bazaar Hypermarkets. Incidentally, Apple which has a strategic tie-up with Reliance and allows it to operate the exclusive Apple stores has not undertaken such an aggressive promotion with Reliance Digital, the electronics format of Reliance Retail. Instead, they seem to be promoting rival Samsung with its Galaxy Tab, seen as a major contender for the No. 1 space in the tablet market.

Reliance Digital

Retailers who focus on mobile phones and accessories such as The Mobile Store, UniverCell, Sangeetha, etc. seem to play a similar strategy, just that they promote those brands which they distribute themselves. For example, Sangeetha has been promoting the latest from Nokia, the Lumia 800 pretty aggressively. At a similar EMI of Rs. 2,400 pm one can easily own the latest windows-based smartphone which was meant to revive the fortunes for Nokia, though the initial launch results have proved it to be unlikely. Nokia somewhere lost the steam – that’s the chorus that most observers and industry watchers seem to say. A once trusted phone for the smarter class lost its popularity to the Blackberry and Android based smartphones and ofcourse to the iPhone (although negligibly) due to the price disparity. Nokia continues to be a leader in the entry segment, phones below Rs. 5,000 but sees enormous competition from local brands like Micromax, Karbonn and Lava while Samsung and LG have also been stepping up the gas in these segments. 

Lumia Sangeetha

There a few advantages when Retailers promote a particular brand;

  • Brand Leadership

When a Retailer courts itself with a particular brand and also aggressively promotes its products, it looks like they have leadership specific to the said brand. This brings in positive recall in the minds of potential customers who would like to buy that particular brand in future and the retailer becomes the obvious choice.

  • Continuity of customer cycle

When customers of a brand want to upgrade / replace their existing products, they flock to the preferred retailers due to a previous positive experience. This is category agnostic and hence would prevail for most products, so to say.

  • Better Prices

Being the preferred partner (to a Brand), the Retailer also commands a special price to the new launches. Not only do they get the products first (than the other retailers), they would also be able to command a special price – directly from the brand as well as through special associations with Banks who provide 0% interest on EMIs

There are also a few drawbacks;

  • Popularity among other brands

When Retailers strike a special note with a specific brand and keep promoting them aggressively, potential customers could perceive that the Retailer doesn’t maintain other leading brands. This, in a way distracts customers and diverts them to other Retailers.

  • Relationship with other brands

When other brands know that a Retailer promotes a particular brand, they may turn away to other multi-brand retailers who provide equal importance to other brands. Although this is uncommon, it could be seen as a potential threat, especially for future launches.

Nevertheless, it is nice to see Retailers and Brands collaborate to promote each other. The Retailer attracts walk-ins into the store and the Brand sees higher conversion. In the US, UK and European markets, there has been a strong swing towards e-commerce over the last few years where customers are shopping online for mobiles and electronics. This is bound to happen in India soon. Until then atleast, let such collaborations prosper!

10 years in Madras - A recap

It was on this day 10 years back I returned to Madras (by then it was renamed Chennai) - where I have grown up all my life, after a long sta...