Showing posts with label food retail. Show all posts
Showing posts with label food retail. Show all posts

15 April, 2020

100 Days of Employment

It’s ironical that I am writing this article on my 100 days of Employment from home. So be it. Out of the 100 days, 25 have been Work from Home, a first of it’s kind in my 2 decades of being employed. The first day of my job and almost everyday thereafter have been on the shop floor, meeting, interacting and solving consumer challenges – from helping them to choose the right merchandise to closing a sale, somehow. But the last 25 days have been very different, thanks to Covid-19 Crisis and the ensuing lockdown. More on that later.


 

Mid-December 2019, I was lounging with my classmate who had come to India for a vacation. We were at Westminister, Crowne Plaza (though we still call it as Park Sheraton) which is our favourite hangout for the past 20 of the 24 years we have known each other since studying UG together. The Waiter who used to serve us way back then is now the F&B Manager of the Hotel, something that makes us feel happy that everyone around us has been growing. I received a call from an unknown number and the caller identified himself as an HR Consultant and spoke briefly about a Coffee brand. In the next 24 hours, my tickets were booked to Bangalore for a face-to face Interview with the Management and in the next 7 days, an Offer Letter was sent while I was on vacation at Jim Corbett National Park for Christmas holidays. Things moved very fast, to my own surprise but that’s how God’s grace has always been. He surprises us without even us realizing what He is up to. I joined the company on 3 Jan., on my Father's Birthday!

 

I completed 100 days recently at Levista Coffee as Vice President managing Sales, Marketing, Supply Chain, Logistics and everything in between. It has been a very short tenure yet, but a very fulfilling one. Be it setting up a Corporate Office from scratch (Furniture, Interiors, what not), to plan a detailed Business Plan for the next 24 months as I lead the company to greener pastures with a vision to accomplish 5% Market share of the Rs. 2,200 Crore Instant Coffee Market annually in India of which 80% is held between HUL and Nestle, who’s majority of business comes from Southern India. I have been fortunate to interact with executives and experts from the Indian Media Industry – small, big, large as well as meeting staff members along with prospective new recruits to join and grow the Sales & Marketing team meaningfully. Have also met and interacted with some very bright minds from the Indian Retail ecosystem who have been very supportive to a baby brand that we are, which is only 27 months young now.

 

After 100 days of this tenure, everything seems surreal. I was an Accidental Entrepreneur, thanks to a turn of events in the family way back in 2014. I was not prepared for running Retail Businesses or E-Commerce although Consulting was always on the cards. While all my entrepreneurial escapades went bust including a few Crores of personal savings between my wife and me, what has remained are memories and learnings. Something which I will cherish all my life and of course, am putting them to good use every day. Working for a retail company is very different than running one, for it’s easier to get paid than to pay employees. My hyperlocal ecommerce venture, which is incidentally the most utilized today during the N-Covid Crisis, where we delivered FMCG from nearby Retailers to Consumers was way ahead of time, perhaps. I received messages from a few friends over the last few days and even potential Investors who appreciated my forethought but was difficult to execute it then, due to lack of funds then.

 

Miles2Go Advisory Services, my Consulting firm worked with at least 50 Entrepreneurs on business ranging from Jewellery to Organic Bio-Manure, Agri-products to Idli-Sambar serving restaurant chains. Airports, Railways, Travel Retail Concepts were some of the areas where I worked in various consulting roles. This rich experience and exposure for over 60 months has helped me immensely as I wade my way through this complex maze of Retailing, yet again wearing a new hat (and new clothes!). I am learning every day; with a clean slate every morning – that I do not know anything about Retailing or the Retail Industry and that I get one more day to (unlearn) and learn from scratch.



I have Miles to Go. I have just begun.

02 May, 2019

Marketing or Sales – Take your pick?

I participated in a professional debate after a very long time last week. The Topic was “Marketing or Sales - Take your Pick” organised by TiE Chennai. Quite obviously I was given the topic of Sales and the co-speaker was a much senior person to me with vast experience in Marketing & Lead Generation. The Moderator conducted the session very well asking some uncomfortable questions on behalf of the august audience who were all members of TiE Chennai and many of them young Entrepreneurs. The topic was more in the scheme of Entrepreneurship and Start-Ups. For a young Start-up, be it 1 month old or 3 years old (Oh, btw, Flipkart and Ola are not start-ups anymore – the unofficial timeframe that is globally accepted for a new business to be called a Start-up is only 5 years!), should it put its focus, money and effort on Marketing (Offline or Online) or on getting the first Sale (and successive Sales) therefore effectively in building a Sales Team which will eventually build a Sales pipeline. The jury was out that evening, as decided by the Moderator and “Sales” won the topic of the day hands down. However, my co-speaker as well as a few in the audience (and some of my friends too) had a different view. Many felt that a product becomes a Brand only because of it’s Marketing, Promotions, Brand Recall and so on. 


Here’s my take. If a Brand is only remembered for it’s Marketing and probably not for its Sales, then it is, perhaps not selling enough! There’s a good old saying that a good product doesn’t need Marketing. Then there is evoking, invoking and hard selling the theories of Ace Marketing Professor Peter F Drucker (with which accompanies loads of 2 decade old emotions from University PG days) by one and all. I am of the humble opinion that Marketing, in it’s true definition and application has truly changed in the last 3 decades, more so in the last decade with the emergence of the Millenials and Gen Z as consumers of products and services.

For Ex., the newest Indian Interest which are the Food hailing Apps, affectionately (sic) known in the Start-Up ecosystem as “FoodTech” – apparently using technology to sell food (hic). Companies that are funded by Wall St., the Chinese and the Japanese, tease customers who order through the App with deep discounts, at times 50% or more effectively making a mockery of the efforts of the Restaurateurs who prefer to align with these Apps for the fear of losing out to competition. Interestingly, none of these discounts are offered in most cases by the Restaurants themselves, rather by the FoodTech companies – in order to acquire new customers and retain existing ones. The so called coupon codes aka cost of acquiring new customers is shown as Marketing – for convenience purposes as well as for the Balance Sheet. So, what was traditionally known as a one off “Sampling exercise” has now morphed in to this. Most e-commerce companies that sprang up in the past 10 years or so have effectively used this tactic to raise more funding. This, I do not call as Marketing. Cut to bigger and established consumer brands who offer 10% extra Shampoo or 15 gms extra of Biscuits and 20% more of Air in packs of Chips for the same price – No, this I do not call Marketing either. 


The core principles of Marketing haven’t died, they have just been tweaked conveniently to suit new age Marketing Campaigns, created by new age Marketers, approved by new-age Marketing Standards to please new-age Millenials and Gen-Z Consumers. Be it is a Start-Up or a Larger company, if you are not selling enough to fund your cash flows, you will cease to exist in the short term, no matter how strong a brand equity you build. Everyone is not as lucky as a Flipkart or Idea Mobile. 

I have been a firm believer of the adage, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. In the recent Tamil film “Petta”, there’s a conversation between two friends how a Facebook video garnered thousands of likes and shares to which another quips, if these could fetch him a beer. This is the reality of the so called new-age Marketing. Even as we felt that the physical sampling of audience viewership by Research Firms was a dubious exercise, today’s digital marketing metrics are not just dubious but futile. In fact, most of today’s new-age techniques do not have a conversion to sale, thereby making the money and most importantly the time invested in the exercise, a gross wastage.


Yet, there’s so much hype for Marketing a new product or service without giving it the much needed Sales push. There’s only so much Marketing can do, finally the product has to sell. And sell again and again for the company to remain in business. Be it a Start-Up or an established one. Take your pick.

27 November, 2018

Coming soon - 60,000 Retail Centres in India…

The Central Government announced on Sunday that it is planning to issue application forms for 60,000 Fuel stations across the Country to be operated through Dealers using the trade name of the Three Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum. There are already 62,000 (and counting) fuel stations across India which retail Petrol, Diesel and allied products while a bunch of them also retail CNG for commercial vehicles. About 10% of these stations are operated by private players such as Shell, Essar, etc. It is a remarkable feat that the world’s highest fuel retail station is in India at the Ladakh region of Jammu & Kashmir in the Himalayas which is a favourite among auto-enthusiasts. 



As in the past, prospective applicants need to apply online and pay an Ernest deposit to the OMCs which would be followed by a lucky draw. And those who win would be awarded the contracts and assistance provided by the respective agencies in setting up the outlets while those who didn’t qualify would be refunded their deposits. While this generous move by the BJP Government is seen as a positive measure since no such new contracts have been issued in the past four years, critics have dubbed this as a meaningless move with spiralling fuel costs and dwindling vehicle sales over the past two quarters this financial year and a mere public-pleasing stunt ahead of the upcoming National Elections in May 2019. So, the verdict is split. 

It costs a whopping Rs. 1.5 – Rs. 2 Crore to set up a Fuel Station spread over 5,000 sq. ft in the name and style of the OMCs while the cost is more than double for private players like Shell who have stricter norms towards the setting up of the outlets. The biggest challenge for setting up a Fuel Station has been land acquisition, especially on National & State Highways which have seen a 10-fold increase in vehicle traffic over the past decade, thanks to better roads, lower cost of acquiring personal vehicles and a generally heightened mood for vacations and road trips. 


Being an avid traveller and a terrific lover of road trips myself, starting with my beloved Hyundai Santro in 2005 till the new age Mahindra XUV500 (I upgraded to an Automatic from the previous Manual this March), I have personally seen how the entire ecosystem has evolved over the past 15 years or so. In fact, I plan my trips now, whether short or long depending on the wayside amenities that I could use, from rest rooms to coffee shops, meals to speciality snacks and of course the need for service centres, local vehicle mechanics and Authorised Service Centres, etc. The need for such pitstops vary when I travel solo or with family and of course based on the number of hours we travel at a stretch. 

My pet peeve on highway travel has been the lack of good quality toilets (well, good is a relative term, so!) and clean and hygienic food outlets which have somewhat been fulfilled at least across Tamil Nadu Highways which I frequent the most by road. While only a handful International and National Retailers such as CafĂ© Coffee Day, KFC, Mc Donalds and A2B have scratched the surface of the opportunity of Highway Travel Retail, there seems to be an enormous opportunity that lays ahead of us. I see these upcoming 60,000 new Fuel stations (many say only 1/3rd of all locations proposed actually turn up in reality) as nothing other than Retail Centres, where apart from filling Fuel, one can have various other retail offering from food outlets like cafes to speciality restaurants, shops selling snacks, fruits and condiments for the journey ahead and of course, wayside motels for a quick overnight stay for tired drivers and their families. 


Reliance Retail with their Fuel stations did come up with some of these models way back in 2006-07 but the whole effort slowly dwindled due to decentralisation of Fuel prices and today, they remain large parcels of land ready for an explosive growth. These fuel stations (and Retail Centres) could be beneficial not only for travellers but also for the nearby towns and villages, generating sustainable employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. 
I am writing this sitting in the back seat of a Bolero travelling on work and just stopped at a highway shack where I had a glass of Coffee. I see a new Retail Centre coming up closely (when I close my eyes).

14 July, 2017

The Power of (No) Branding

Off late I have been travelling extensively across the state of Tamil Nadu on work – been conducting several Training Programs, to meet & work with Clients, etc. One such visit recently took me to a small town 500kms to the South of Chennai by the name Tirunelveli (Nellai in Tamil). The town is notorious for clashes among people at the drop of a hat although a lot has improved over the years in the areas of Law & Order, Crime, etc. The people in the surrounding areas have a certain slang of Tamil, which in itself is a famous way of speaking the native language. The Nellaiappar Temple in the town is world famous and is said to be 1.5 times bigger than the Madurai Meenakshi Temple. Bang opposite the temple is a shop that is as famous as the temple itself.


The temple goes by the name “Iruttu Kadai” meaning “dark shop” in Tamil. The shop has been around since 7 decades or more and is run by a North Indian family from Rajasthan. The shop, which doesn’t have a name – as in a Brand Name – is known by it’s colloquial name all over the world and makes just one product – a traditional sweet meat called Halwa. The sweet, although made across India in different forms is very unique to this particular shop. No one gets the same taste as they make and the family that runs the business have a unique recipe for the product which has been tried to be remade by so many people but no one gets “this” particular taste. And they don’t have branches either!


The shop doesn’t have a brand name and is open from 5.30pm to 8.30pm or till they run out of stocks whichever is earlier. Apparently, the shop owners produce 1 tonne – yes, you read that right, ONE Tonne of Halwa every day! And the sweet meat gets sold within a span of hours. Even till this day, the shop doesn’t have proper lighting or visual merchandising and has just one small bulb, a 10 watts bulb reminiscent of the olden days when they would run the business in almost pitch darkness with oil lamps. And it is no surprise that people queue up outside the shop from early evening to get their prized pick.


In today’s world of loud and glossy branding, insane amount of money being showered on advertising, needless to say the innumerable new age food businesses which are hyper funded and get so much of PR, shops such as these have carved a niche for themselves. To survive in 21st century in Retail without even a registered brand name, operate just for a few hours in the day (or evening) and managing with just One SKU – I personally think that there is more to this Retailer than just the Halwa itself.


I managed to get some Halwa for myself the previous evening through a friend before I visited the place next day (since it is closed all day) but couldn’t meet the owners and the family that runs the place although I plan to meet them soon. It was a sense of pride and satisfaction that Retail is a very simple business to be in. Keep the fuss away, focus on your product and be consistent with what you do – customers will reach you no matter what – these are some of the learning that I take away from this specialty food retailer. As I always say, Organized Retail has so much to learn from traditional Retailers and this is just one such example.

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