Showing posts with label future of retailing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label future of retailing. Show all posts

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Future of Retail

The writing was on the wall for a long time. Many old timers like me and thousands of retail enthusiasts in India and worldwide were eagerly waiting for the announcement. That the Reliance Group was a strong contender to buy out The Future Group lock, stock and barrel was a known fact. And that Amazon and Walmart were discussing the final nuances was also a known thing. And then, it happened finally. It Happened In India – on 29th August 2020, Reliance Retail and The Future Group formally announced in the media that the former had bought out the wholesale, retail and warehousing business of the latter in full. A red letter day for self made Entrepreneurs, groaned many on social media and in passive interactions. The man recovered his 30 year’s investment of time, quipped many others. A few former employees were seen sulking in public and private, some even wept at this outcome. At the end of the day, it’s a business that has changed hands, owners and course. Life moves on, so why fret, said many others. 


Kishore Biyani and his cousins started the traditional business of selling dress materials for men in Calcutta in the 80s. As a family driven business from the “Maheshwari” community of Marwaris, the family spread their work load. Each one of them had an important role to play – from sourcing to selling, accounting to managing working capital. They named the company “Pantaloon” as they were selling Pant lengths for making patloon, the Indian namesake for western clothing. When the family gathered pace with their wholesale business, was born an idea of retail models such that customers could grace the shop and buy. They opened their fancy big outlet at Gariahat, Calcutta in the late 90s. The shop was a runaway hit and also boasted “Green Card” – a loyalty platform. Yes, 1990s. With the stupendous success of the fashion format, the company decided to cater to the other essentials for the family – Roti, Kapda aur Makaan. Thus was born Big Bazaar on VIP Road, Kolkata in 2001. All along the Biyanis were shuttling between the city of joy and the city of dreams. With dreams unlimited. 


I joined the group in 2004 when the company ventured with Mall Retailing – Bangalore Central which opened it’s doors in May 2004 And has over 45 Malls to its credit till date all India. The company opened some format of retailing in every residential locality of India’s top 100 cities – from Gauhati to Madurai, Baroda to Bilaspur. At some point, the company was selling everything from a humble Rs. 10 samosa to the entire wardrobe for the house with accessories, furnishings, paraphernalia and everything in between. After the big slowdown of 2008, Kishore Ji in his inimitable style conceded at the 2009 India Retail Forum at Mumbai that the company wanted to be “everything to everyone” and failed miserably at it. As a person who only gathers learning and lessons from failures, he simply moved on to build a coveted “Pantaloon Fashion” business which he sold at a handsome profit to the Birlas. Once again, he painstakingly built other fashion retail brands including Cover Story and fBB alongside the equivalent of India’s very own Walmart – Big Bazaar. 


For every 10 customers who frowned at the business model of BB, 100 others became loyal patrons everyday of the multi-category retailer infamous for crazy deals and price-offs. During these last 20 years, there were several internal and external forces that wanted a slice of the Golden Sparrow – a pneumonic which the group added to it’s logo when the company’s name was changed to The Future Group – Sone Ki Chidiya tagged along with. When Reliance Retail was contemplating to enter the retail business in 2008, they had obviously explored a buy out. However, the company built it’s own fort with all it’s might. Amazon and Walmart made several attempts all these years to get a pie in the business but couldn’t lay siege in a big way. In turn, Bharti-Walmart ended up selling their retail business “Easy Day Stores” to the group several years back even as Carrefour bowed out of India with a single store in East Delhi which never took off. The group and it’s Founder were building a mighty retail company with several formats, several business models including a foray in to packaged FMCG with the “Tasty Treat” Brand which was an outcome of the private label business of the company through its grocery retail business. 

It’s all about timing, as they say in business and bourses. 


The Corona Crisis was a great opportunity for the Promoters to exit the business especially when the richest man of Asia was willing to write a cheque. This was not a hostile bid. Yes, there has been mounting pressure from Investors, bankers and share holders due the company’s debt levels. But a bailout, if needed was only favorable for the Biyanis. As they didn’t just sell grocery, household, electronics and fashion alone. Kishore Biyani was a Dream Merchant. He made millions of Indians to dream. To dream Big. To dream big about building scale and grow their businesses. For thousands of naysayers of the group’s way of running the business, lakhs of small time business persons grew their small ventures inspired by the self-styled and non-conformist serial Entrepreneur who tried to sell everything a consumer can consume, literally and figuratively including insurance and EMI-led credit to shop more at his 1,000s of stores. Some even went public or raised private investments. He strongly believed in a consumption led economy and Kept repeating that the Great Indian Consumption Story is yet to take off in a big way.


As a Retail professional, my second stint was with the group where I saw firsthand decision making of a slew of deals; how to take risks with determination and a cushion to fall; gather self motivation and courage to keep moving, no matter what. If one thing doesn’t work one way, try it another away. And a 100 other ways. It would eventually work, after all. It had to. Had I not moved to Bangalore on that Sankranthi day of 2004, much to the chagrin of my parents with 4 bags and a bagful of dreams, my professional career, a Retail dominated one at that wouldn’t have occurred, probably. I am ever grateful to the Leadership Team at the erstwhile Pantaloon group who guided me as a young man with a mere 2.5 years’ experience and of course my many interactions with Mr. Rakesh Biyani with whom I worked closely while setting up the Concessionaire Business at Bangalore Central. 


I personally see this as yet another lesson for budding as well as well settled Entrepreneurs  - to believe in oneself and keep moving with earnest efforts. If you do well, you will succeed. If you don’t do as well as you could have, yet have built something incredible, then there will always be someone to support you, invest in your dreams or perhaps buy them out. 

The Great Indian Retail story is yet to be fully told. I am glad I am a part of it.
A Retailer by Profession and Choice. Since 1997. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

H for Hyperlocal Retailing

One of the most used and abused words for the past 3-4 years in E-Commerce in India and all over the world is “Hyperlocal”. What exactly is Hyperlocal retailing? How does it help customers? What value addition does it provide to Retailers? Is it a viable business option? Let’s explore.

The Indian Retail Industry is estimated at $500 billion with over 1.30 billion people in the country. Out of this less than 12-15% is Organized while the rest remains with traditional businesses such as Kirana Stores, Mom & Pop stores, road side vendors, etc. While Retail has seen a CAGR of over 15% over the past decade, it is E-commerce that has grown leaps and bounds in the recent decade, thanks to Wall Street Funded companies who morphed themselves from being mere technology companies to retail behemoths that they are today. Within the E-Commerce Retail Startups as well as a few established ones, Hyperlocal Players are the buzz of the day, what with a new one commencing operations every day for another that shuts down almost every day.

So what is Hyperlocal?

The term has been coined to connect offline retailers in a locality to customers in the same locality, but through digital means. This is nothing new, honestly. Through the late 90s (in India) when we witnessed the highest landline telephone penetration, it was common for customers to call a nearby Retail store and request them to deliver products for immediate use. During the early & mid-2000s, it was the mobile phone boom where household maids, servicemen like Plumbers, Electricians, Carpenters and many more were available over a call. The world seem to be lot more connected and we all loved it.


It was early 2014 and we saw a slew of technology companies building websites and mobile apps that connected customers to shops and service providers over a click of the button. Honestly, this was nothing new compared to what “Just Dial” and “Yellow Pages” were already doing. Even neighborhood newspapers were in a way Hyperlocal, connecting local services and people to customers in a particular locality especially for finding rental accomodations.

It is quite amazing to see that Hyperlocal has suddenly become a billion dollar opportunity with a lot of Investors throwing money at such start-ups. Most of the large Hyperlocal companies that took heavy funding have left the space, notable among them being “Ask Me” which had not only shut down a few months back but also headed in to legal troubles with outstanding payments.

Hyperlocal is a very simple business idea that has been complicated a lot with too much of technology being pushed on to the customers. A mere signage at the
Retail stores (the ones Zomato put up initially) bring a lot of visibility and access to customers. The startups pick from the nearest store and deliver to customers in the shortest possible time thereby increasing merchandise offtake for Retailers. Sometime, it is the simplest task that is complicated the most. Hyperlocal Retail is one such example.

How does Hyperlocal Apps work?

Hyperlocal Apps connect nearby stores and service providers on their app and act as an aggregator. When a customer looks for a product or service, the offering in the neighborhood shows up usually with a cost / time attached to it. For example, if a user is looking for a carpenter, the app shows how much time it would take for the Carpenter to arrive and also the cost per hour / relevant charges. Similarly, when a customer is looking to order tomatoes or rice bags, vegetables or household articles, the app would show up the product, their prices and estimated time of delivery and convenience charges, etc. It is a presumption while building a Business Plan for a Hyperlocal App that such customers will continue to order from the app regularly while also adding new customers everyday. And over time, the App keeps adding more and more retail partners and service providers while also expanding the geographies served.


Is Hyperlocal viable?

Trust me, it is viable. I have done the maths and it is actually possible to make money with a Hyperlocal App. They key here is not the idea or the strategy but the execution. With my own Hyperlocal app Oyethere, I have experimented various means through which we reach out to existing and prospective customers. While both are tough (meaning retaining & adding customers), it is quite possible to get the business going through innovative ways of sales outreach. For this, we need the unstinted support of the Retail Store, which is the key in making a Hyperlocal App successful. Most times, we have seen Hyperlocal App companies splurge on mainstream media and attract a lot of PR while the business remains in the lurch due to execution issues. At a unit level, the app makes a margin from the Retailer, so while the volumes increase, there is a business break-even. The only challenge here is how much to “invest” in acquiring and retaining the customer and controlling overall marketing spends.

Are Offline Retailers ready for Hyperlocal?

At the face of it, Retailers do not support Hyperlocal Apps because they believe the proposed digital marketplace is lethal and could do a lot of harm to their businesses. But it is not. When a customer looks up a product on the app, they would merely choose the one that suits their need – Brand / Retailer-connect, Time of Delivery, cost of the products and convenience. If the Retailer doesn’t stand up to all these measures and based on a permutation by the customer, the choice of Retailer varies and there are chances that a few non-performing ones may get pushed back. Indeed, it is quite interesting that a few Retailers are experimenting Hyperlocal. Food Bazaar and Hypercity work closely with Amazon Now; Heritage Fresh and Spencers have their own Apps which is being tested in a few markets. However, aggregating Kirans remains the biggest opportunity here while the greater challenge is that they do not make enough margins to be shared with the App aggregator. The same applies for Service Providers on apps like Urban Clap.

The market is ready, just waiting for Retailers to catch-up on them. Let’s hope.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

G for Grocery Retail – Then Vs. Now

From shopping grocery at Kirana stores to Government Ration Shops to one of the first organized retail shops in India to the supermarkets and hypermarkets and finally now with my own mobile Apps for Grocery, I would say I have been lucky to see them all. My tryst with Grocery shopping is cut to the early 90s when I would accompany my father to the state-run TUCS shops and PDS shops and bring, rice, dal & kerosene kept on the back of our bicycles. During the late 90s, a retail shop named Subiksha opened in the heart of South Chennai – a store similar to a PDS but a bit modern with staff in uniform who assisted customers with their shopping needs and a computerized bill to support the transaction. I remember cycling 5 kms to buy 3 kgs of sugar, which would save us 10-12% than buying from the neighborhood Kirana shop. I used to be amazed at how shopping was revolutionized in the late 90s with the advent of “Shop n Stop” a modern retail store close to my house in Royapettah that encouraged self-service, which was not just a fancy thing but also a very convenient one.



I was fortunate in the early 2000s to join and work with RPG Retail’s Foodworld Supermarkets, which was one of the earliest organized retail stores in India. From consumer offers to world class shopping experiences, the company paved the way for future entrants with this format of retailing. When I joined the Future Group, I witnessed how a humble 1,500 sft of a supermarket had morphed itself into a hypermarket with Food Bazaar spread over 10,000 sft at its largest outlet then in 2004 and that too on the fourth floor of India’s first seamless Mall, Bangalore Central. Till date, our family has shopped only at Food Bazaar in over 95% of cases. That’s some loyalty, rather just the convenience of shopping the entire household I would say. Late 2000s was the challenging periods for Retail, although not as worse as what we’ve been witnessing for the past 24 months. Hypermarkets reduced their sizes and have found the 4,000 sft model as their sweetspots and are still tweaking their models.


Since the turn of the decade in 2010, we have seen online retailers come and go and behemoths like Big Basket stay on with a supposedly proven model. I would like to cite the example of IBuyFresh.com which was the online effort of Kovai Pazhamudir Nilayam, a Coimbatore based Retail store that started with fresh Fruits & vegetables and later moved on to the Grocery & Household segments. The e-commerce start-up, which was serving over 800 orders a day in just 6 months of commencing shut down abruptly one day due to viability issues. Others like Peppertap and Local Banya raised millions of dollars to eventually shut down their ventures leaving smaller players like my own Hyperlocal start-up Oyethere.com in jeopardy, what with Investors sitting on the fence not wanting to experiment on new models any further.


Much has been spoken about Amazon’s self-service, self-check-out store in America which is a dubbed as a smart-store where customers pick products off the shelves which get billed while picking-up and the check-out is super quick with just a tap of their credit cards or mobile phones (NFC payments). Grocery shopping worldwide and in India has been seeing a lot of new opportunities, of course with challenges but perhaps, remains the most interesting retail format.