Showing posts with label madras. Show all posts
Showing posts with label madras. Show all posts

02 August, 2022

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 stay and various stints in Bangalore city since 2004. On 2 Aug. 2012 I joined Royal Enfield Motorcycles as General Manager – Business Development. Over the next 2 years, I would set up 160 dealerships across India for the niche motorcycle brand. I was also responsible for working closely with the Management and the Design Agency on-board to implement the new Retail identity of the brand, which included the new look and feel of the store interiors – from transforming the dealership as an automobile showroom to a lifestyle-led format. In those 24 months, I travelled extensively across India, as always Wed – Fri. every week, 40+ weeks a year, first flight out, last flight-in. I would have travelled more to Tier 2/3/4 towns, especially across Northern India where the brand had a brilliant parentage and was well received. Forget discounts on bikes, my first and second degree connections would just have one request – if deliveries can be shortened, from a usual 6-9 months to a little less than 3 months. Thanks to a supportive Sales Team, I guess we did manage to deliver a few such instances.

It was a revelation to see how the vehicle meant different things to different people. For a metro male, it was upgrading his lifestyle from a humble scooter or a motorcycle to a macho Royal Enfield; for a student who has just passed out his UG (or one in the making), it was a reward from his lovely family; for a groom-to be, it was a gift from his parents or in-laws to be; and in one such instance, the wife of a good friend of mine gave him a surprise on his 40th birthday with a Thunderbird 350cc. Lovely memories that I carry from those times. 


We also set-up a first of its kind Royal Enfield showroom at the tony “Saket” locality in South Delhi at the Select Citywalk Mall. Technically, the store was located outside the mall precincts and there was a road dividing the two, so we got the best of both – passersby to the Mall as well as serious patrons of the brand.


For the record, Royal Enfield is the world’s oldest and continuous-in production automobile brand in the world, now over 120 years old. The brand, which was born in the UK found its home in India, at the erstwhile state of Madras in the late 1950s when a city based entrepreneur purchased the rights of the brand as well as to retail the machines – Made like a Gun – as its tagline goes, the bikes which were used in World War 1 & 2. Over time, the brand died a natural death with the advent of Japanese bikes as well as home-grown ones including Hero, Kinetic, Bajaj and TVS Motors. 


In the mid- to late 90s, the brand was on the verge of closure, which is when the new owner Eicher Motors acquired the cult brand to turn it around. They struggled for a few years, but eventually cracked the market and broke records. As per today’s report in the media, the company sold 55,555 bikes in July 2022 incl. exports while the domestic sales at the dealer level was 50,265 units. The company is expected to launch new models later this month. A decade back, the company would produce / bill to dealers around 11,000 units pm! The only thing that hasn’t changed then and now – the craze for the brand and it’s waiting period. 


My aunt, who bought me up since I was one-year old was diagnosed with a rare type of carcinoma in Nov. 2013 – Uterian, Ovarian cancer which is quite uncommon in India. Among women, it is the 7th most common type of cancer worldwide and 8th most common cause of death from cancer. Like millions, she too succumbed after fighting the disease for 4 years. Upon the discovery of her ailment, my fledgling retail career came to a standstill. There were days when I shuddered the thought of waking up the next day, wondering what to do without a proper job, a full time career, a sagging start-up I had adventured and piling debts and EMIs. Life moved on. And I survived all these years, to write this column today. 


Life moves on, will keep moving, just like the arms of a clock. But over these years, I have grown wiser, most probably, if anything. A proud Madrasi that I am, I am sure I will make my hometown proud.

22 August, 2021

Happy Birthday Madras - the Retail capital of India

I have always argued that one of the reasons why the British traded with our country for a long time was our ethical business practices coupled with abundant natural resources which have been bestowed on our land for centuries. Tracing India's roots to King Ashoka's reign or to the fledgling empires of the Chola Dynasty, trade was a very important aspect of the way India has been governed. While the fabric of the Indian ecosystem, spread across the length and breadth of the sub-continent cannot be taken away, there is a strong link to the very first organised retail establishment which was set-up by the British towards the end of the 19th Century in the erstwhile Madras. 


The Spencer’s Store and Higginbothams Bookstore, which are still edifices on the city’s famed Mount Road are over a century old. The current structure of the book store, once eponymous with everything books and which boasted customers such as Clement Atlee, former British PM, Shri C. Rajagopalachari, the former Maharaja of Mysore among others, was rebuilt to suit the needs of a sprawling bookstore in 1904. Mr. Abel Joshua Higginbotham arrived first in the city in the early 1840s. Over time, he purchased the Weslyan Book Shop run by Protestant Missionaries in Madras and renamed it with his own. He was the Sheriff of Madras in 1888 and 1889. After his death in 1891, his son, CH Higginbotham ran the company from the turn of the century until 1925 when John Oakeshott Robinson purchased the company and ran it until India’s independence. Subsequently, it was acquired by the Amalgamations Group and is managed by them, till date. 


Spencer’s as we all know, was set-up in the city in 1863 by Mr. John William Spencer. In 1895, the then largest Department store in the continent with 80 departments was constructed and inaugurated to the use of public, mostly the British. The store had a large number of imported items which came in Ships from Britain and all over the world for the comfort and use of the Brits living in the Madras region, one of the largest and most important bases of the Queen’s Establishment. Over time, the company changed hands many times until it was acquired by ace Indian businessman RP Goenka in the 1980s. 


India’s first FDI in Retail was by the RPG Group with Dairy Farm International, Hong Kong in the mid-90s which lasted for a decade and a half. The first “Foodworld” store was set-up at RA Puram in Chennai where I was a Store Manager early in my career from 2002-2004. After the JV ended, the RPG Group (now RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group) renamed it as Spencers. The place where the first Department Store in India was established in the 19th Century now houses the eponymous Spencers Plaza, which was rebuilt after a major fire in the 1980s. I have vivid memories of visiting the older plaza where a number of films have been shot at.


Pic Courtesy: Viveks.com
Pic Courtesy: Viveks.com


The city has many notable brands which are now popular not just in India but across the world, be it retail chains or FMCG Brands. Viveks & Co., one of the pioneers of Consumer Durables retailing, was set-up in the year 1965 at Mylapore, Madras. Giri Trading, a retail chain which specialises in selling Hindu spiritual & puja related products has an established presence in the US, the UK, Europe, Middle East, South East Asia and Australia. Ambika Appalams, a favourite snack food brand which has now grown to become a neighbourhood retail chain has fans and followers all over the world and exports their goods to over 50 countries worldwide. Butterfly Home appliances, a pioneer in kitchen related items and TTK Prestige, have a pan-India presence today with huge levels of customer interest online and offline. New age apparel brands like Basics Life and Indian Terrain have gained international acceptance of their designs and styles and have been well appreciated by western counterparts. On the food front, Hotel Saravana Bhavan was a must visit for those visiting the town, now replaced by Sangeethas and Adyar Anandha Bhavan. And on the entertainment front, Sathyam Cinemas was the first regional stand-alone multiplex chain to expand across the country. 


There are numerous examples of Retail glory that my Madras boasts of and I shall remain eternally grateful to the city which has given me an identity and beyond. 


HBD Madras. 


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