Showing posts with label shopping. Show all posts
Showing posts with label shopping. Show all posts

20 February, 2023

The hype around Air India’s big buy

Much is being spoken, written and debated about the recent purchase of 470 aircrafts by Air India from Airbus and Boeing. So much so, that the US President made an official statement that this could create a million jobs for his countrymen. Many politicians thanked the Indian Prime Minister while so many questioned his role in this private affair between a buyer and a seller – why and how would the Governments on both sides have any role. Leaving all the controversies (if one exists!) aside, let us see the opportunity that we are sitting on. 

In the past 8 years or so, the present Government has reactivated over 70 airports. These are not new ones really, for they already existed. Barely. These were airstrips with an ATC Tower at best built before WW 2 by the British. The Union Government through its ambitious project to make the common man fly – Ude Desh ka Aam Nagarik (UDAN) was activated and many unused airports were operationalised. It is another thing altogether that our railway networks are choked and a small section of travellers do not mind paying a premium for air travel.


A view of the Udaipur Airport developed under UDAN


Altogether, the number of air passengers have grown from 37 mn pa in 2010 to 167 mn in 2019 (sans 4 days of the first lockdown!). The number halved for FY 2021, grew to 123 mn in 2022 and would be around 130 mn in the current FY. By 2027, we expect over 200 mn passengers to hit the sky in a year. To give it a perspective, over 2.2 mn (2 Crores) people took train journeys daily in 2019 of which an estimated 8% of them travel in airconditioned classes.


What excites me, as a (Travel) Retail Professional are the possibilities for retail at airports. To accommodate these new 470 aircrafts plus another equal number from all other incumbent airlines at the moment in India, we are expecting a blast in the skies. Don’t worry, it wouldn’t be so choked like our railway networks where one express train has to stop at times to let the other one travel. But the congestion at airports (runways) would be inevitable. 


IGI Airport, New Delhi


The new Terminal 3 built at New Delhi Airport a decade back is already choking during peak hours. Mumbai is building another new airport and the same is the case at Noida. Bangalore has commenced a new parallel runway last year and a brand new terminal T2 which will be fully activated by Q3 FY 2024. Goa has a brand new airport in the north while there is no confirmation of shutting down the existing one in the south of Panjim. 


Keeping aside the top 20 airports – 2 super metros, 4 metros and the top 16 cities in India – there would be 175+ operational Airports across the country by 2025. The bare minimum would be a daily passenger count of 1,000 pax/day while the maximum would be 30,000. The top 6 airports, by then would be handline 30,000 – 60,000 passengers per day! 


At the moment, the spend per passenger in Indian airports is abysmally low. Singapore’s Changi Airport recently announced their CY 2022 revenues from Travel Retail – USD 870 mn. That would be 38% of 2019 revenues, which means in 2019, it would have been USD 2.2 Bn pa. Dubai’s retail and F&B revenues pre-pandemic were a little over USD 2 Bn pa; Hong Kong, Paris CDG, Frankfurt and Zurich Airport, each had Travel Retail Revenues between USD 600 mn to USD 1 Bn pa. All this crashed due to Covid-19 but is slowly bouncing back.


New Integrated Terminal Building coming up at Chennai Airport

In India, Travel Retail has been a non-starter except at the top airports, especially those which were privatised. AAI continues to operate quite differently, in a manner that is neither exciting nor enticing for retailers to embrace the opportunity. However, change is inevitable and we see a huge improvement coming our way. By 2025, over 5 lakh people would be travelling through our Airports every day. Imagine the  potential retail opportunity that we are eyeing. And these are reasonably affluent passengers with disposable incomes. From a humble cup of tea or coffee to a beer / gourmet meal, F&B seems to be a larger pie than product retail at airports. I had written the reason for this in my previous post


Nevertheless, Air India’s purchase of 470 aircrafts is a boon for Indian Travel Retail. Happy to be back here in my new avatar in Travel Retail supporting the Trinity - Airports, Retail / F&B companies and the Consumers.

15 February, 2022

Valentines’ - a lost Retail opportunity?

A decade and a half ago, Valentine’s day sales was something that retailers across India were looking forward to. Slowly, the sales opportunity spread over to Valentines weekend – including the one before or after 14 Feb. What started off with red roses as gifts to woo across genders (yeah, including the Queer community) slowly moved up the value chain. Stores of yore back then like Odyssey, Crossword, Landmark and the good old Archies were customer’s favourites to flock to. From little table clocks in heart shape to greeting cards, posters, charts, perfumes – the list was unending. I recall how even apparel retailers and fashion brands started planning well in advance for the V-Day (sic) and had special collections with red and white patterns spread across tops, skirts, t-shirts and so on. So much so, that the EOSS – End of Season Sale at Department Stores and branded outlets would begin only during late-Feb. The idea was to cash in on the eagerness of customers to wear something new for the occasion. 



Restaurants, Pubs and Bars across India took the opportunity to have specials. Star hotels had a special table set-up including candle-night dinners. Some even had set packages – for the first proposal, to celebrate an anniversary and for families included. The costs were prohibitive in many cases but discerning consumers saved up for their big day. This is when Credit Card issuing Banks wooed customers with special offers for shopping & dining. Many even got in to expensive buys which spiked their interest payouts subsequently. 



With the evolution of the digital media around the end of the first decade of the new millennium, sales of these coveted products & services started declining. The focus moved away from roses and gifts to more elite and expensive ones. Mobile phones were among the most preferred one for the day! After all, the key purpose of a mobile phone is communication and what better than a mobile phone. The haves gifted iPhones. The less privileged took great efforts to gift expensive iPhones and other models to their loved ones. Retailers & Banks collided together by offering EMIs with or without interest. Greeting Cards were now being replaced with digital messages. Movie dates in premium multiplexes were a big draw. 


However, the millennials (Zen Z) were somehow not buying in to this larger story of gifting for a purpose. No matter how many movies in Indian languages and in western contexts have come and gone, the current gen doesn’t feel the necessity for this show-off.Many kids (and grown-ups) from the millennial background prefer to “go dutch” on their first and even the following dates until they are damn sure if the two want to go any further. Many new-gen today prefer to split the cost of marriage and are fast enough to decide on a break-up, before or after marriage. Therefore, gifting and the purported retail uptick in sales is glaringly missing these days. Numbers speak louder than opinions, after all. 



From being condoned for displaying public affection to their partners by right wing extremists, to avoiding public glare of the extended family and their surrounding society in the 2000s, today’s millennials have a very different take on dating and beyond. They are not too shy to not take a gift when they meet someone, prefer to pay for their coffee (or beer) and certainly not taking the date on an expensive dinner. This  consumer attitude is certainly impacting shopping behaviour at stores and online as well. Numbers speak for themselves, after all!


Retailers who had expected a surge in sales of various products were staring at empty store fronts during the last weekend, which also happened to be Valentine’s eve. Restaurants were not even running full capacity, forget having the ability to sell tables at a premium. Is it because of food ordering apps like Swiggy & Zomato? Perhaps not. For one, the cost is more or less the same (or more) as going out. Second, the occasion is best spent with an experience than watching Netflix and dining a pizza! So what’s the message for retailers at large? That V-Day sales opportunity in India is not as big a shopping festival as in other parts of the world?

07 April, 2021

Buying Cars Online is Passe


After coming back home from the Voting Booth, I was sipping my 3rd cup of coffee watching breakfast news on Tv. I showed my kids and wife, meanwhile two AVs of Tata Safari, the one which was produced in the late 1990s and the one produced this year. They were pretty impressed than I thought, honesty. Then I showed a Youtube Review of the vehicle. Though the reviewer spoke in Hindi, which kids do not understand exactly, he showed the features of the vehicle one after the other and having spent all their life in a single 4-W model, that is our beloved XUV500, they were mighty impressed with the newness that the Safari bought to experience. And mind you, all this even as we were watching a review of the model on a SmartTv. 




One day in 2012, my wife and I went around looking for an upgrade to our Hyundai Verna. Having shifted to Chennai from Bangalore and with both our parents around here, we thought a slightly larger vehicle (read: 7 seater) would be useful for long drives. We saw a few models but took test drive of just one, which was for a distance of 4 kms. After we got back in to our Verna, my wife quipped – either we buy the XUV500 or just continue with the Verna. Nothing else. My second daughter was 9 months old then. A week later, we were on our maiden trip to our Family Temple in a brand new XUV. After 66 months, sold the manual model and bought an automatic – everything else inside the cabin remaining the same but for the gear shift. 





During the lockdown period in 2020, I felt it made no sense to own the “White Elephant” anymore – a Ship is not built to be docked, after all. Thanks to a few good friends and fellow auto- enthusiasts, I refrained. Boy, I ain’t complaining. Have driven almost 18,000 kms in my XUV since Aug. 2020 when I kicked off my road trips, especially on the work front to meet my Colleagues, Distributors (of Levista Coffee) and to see first-hand the Retail Experience. Now that I am driving so much, I have a deep urge to move to another model, what with the same cabin, interiors and features in both models of XUV500 since 2012. 





I never imagined that a YouTube video would impress the secondary decision makers, rather – the Influencers – in the household while making a beloved purchase such as owning an automobile. Test Drives are an important touch-point in selling 4-W. In fact, one of the biggest reasons for success of Royal Enfield, where I worked from 2012 onwards and set-up 160 Dealerships pan-India was that the company allowed patrons and prospective customers to take the vehicle for a test ride. And alongside, offered experiential rides over weekends, special commemorative days, etc. This, worked well for the brand. When a user uses a product first hand – something that Apple first debuted in the Electronics space 2 decades back – the experience cannot be replaced by older means such as reading reviews or word of mouth from other users. 

Over the past few years, online shopping of Automobiles made some noise. In fact, I bought, rather booked my XUV500 in 2018 online for a token sum of Rs. 5,000 for which the Parent company gave me accessories worth the same value as a token of shopping online. Today, things have changed. It’s all about the experience. While family members may not give much heed to what’s beneath the hood, what matters most are the features, comfort and safety. My elder kid exclaimed when she noticed there were 6 USB ports in the new Tata Safari – something that’s perennially important for the Millennial Kids, perhaps. Wife was all excited about the Captain seats in the second row too, which gives great comfort, The very fact that a review (which is not at a showroom but in the living room) can entice potential customers, is in my humble opinion, a tip of the iceberg. The new “influencers” of buying behaviour want everything in their palmtops. Are companies listening? What’s the next big thing that could happen in this space? Virtual Reality, perhaps? Like driving inside the cockpit… Well, the day is not too far, I reckon. And of course, the charm of trials – can never be taken off ever.

05 September, 2020

Let’s rebuild the Economy – Ourselves

After a self imposed exile at home in the garb of WFH for over 150 days, I finally stepped out of home and moved to Bangalore last month to join my “real office”. I also travelled to Kushal Nagar in Coorg where our company’s Headquarters and Plant are located for a review with my Management. All through my two weeks at Bangalore, I was pleasantly surprised and motivated how we are ourselves building back lost time, money and economy. For instance, we had full attendance at office and also ensured all of us wear face masks while seated. Every alternate chair in the Meeting room is left empty (so fewer persons and therefore the meetings end early too!). Usage of hand sanitisers, and most importantly washing hands frequently is encouraged to ensure this is rather a “habit formation” in the long run. Cleanliness is Godliness, someone said long ago and remains relevant all along. 



I travelled across two major parts of Tamil Nadu last week, to Coimbatore and Madurai to meet my team members, Distributors as well as for market visits. Same protocol, another precinct. Nothing changed. The hotels have accepted the new norm, so have Guests. Food is served outside the room as per WHO protocol and the guest must take it inside their rooms themselves. Buffet is off the menu and breakfast is served in the room. Works for all of us plus the added advantage of “NIL wastage” at the buffet counter. Limited and minimal contacts with other people around works to everyone’s favour after all. 



This week, my wife and I decided to travel by road to visit a few of our favourite temples to seek the blessings of our beloved gods. We departed on Tuesday morning even as the TN Govt. opened up the doors of all religious places in the state. We were not just surprised but also impressed with the steps taken by the Government and the penultimate cooperation by devotees. We witnessed this first hand not just at one but across some of the oldest and perhaps, otherwise most populous temples. For Ex., the Srirangam temple, the world’s largest temple complex witnesses at least 30,000 visitors on a regular day. However, now is a different story with less than 1% of that number of visitors being allowed everyday. Still, the devotees maintained strict social distancing and followed norms, while at the entry inside, temperature check has been made mandatory. Well, that’s not accurate, quip many. But then, do we have a choice of shutting down everything for some more time to come? 



We travelled around 1,100 kms over 5 days and stopped by at least a dozen restaurants. Almost everywhere, customers and patrons seem to be following self-discipline which is the key to combat this virus which apparently is here to stay for some more time to come. 



What was pleasant to see was that even in the smallest of Tier 3 villages, locals understand the reason to wear a mask and the reasoning not to touch others, walk in groups or sneeze in public. The awareness created all along by the Media and the Governments is impressive although there is a surge in unruly motoring skills in city roads as well as on Highways – especially 3-4 persons on a 2-Wheeler and most of them not wearing Helmets which goes unchecked by the authorities. Well, we gain a few brownies and lose some ourselves. Sad part of humankind.


Ultimately, to bring India back to it’s foot is the duty for each of her citizens and beyond a point, I believe the Government can do very little beyond disbursing loans and doling out subsidies. While the Central and State Governments are doing their best despite so much negativity around, I personally believe it is up to each one of us to pick up the broken, leftover pieces and push the economy upwards. If not anything, this is just another form of patriotism and duty to the nation. Needless to say, we need to ensure safety precautions for ourselves as well as to our surroundings. And for me, I filled up Diesel full tank today even as I entered my home garage, ready for the next drive. I pledge to do my bit. I have Miles to go, after all.

01 May, 2020

Lockdown Blues!

It’s day 39 of an Official Nationwide lockdown ever since we shut ourselves at home on Tuesday 24 March on Ugadi Day!

The best thing that has happened to most of us is that we spent the last month and a half entirely at our own homes, with our immediate loved ones although many were away from their families.

There’s no bigger joy and happiness that I have had in my entire life that I could spend so many days continuously with my kids and wife. These golden days will be cherished all my life.

I haven’t seen my Sister and Mother for all these days which makes me very sad. Not the longest, since I’ve lived away from them for over 25 years. But this one is rare coz she lives two streets away and I haven’t walked that far.

Though many of us perform household work regularly at home, the lockdown meant No Maids, so we did additional work. Whenever I washed vessels, I felt bad for my elderly maid who washes vessels without a grin. Always. And the mopstick is oh-so bad to handle.


Friends - missed their company the most for I haven’t seen a few for long. Makes me realise how much more important they’re to me. Thanks for being there for me over phone calls!

I ran out of 2 months’ stock of After Shave Lotions so ended up using Savlon. They both do the same job, similar chemicals. But our minds are conditioned to use branded ones than generic ones. Sigh.

We lost choice of many other day today utilities. We used / use what we get. We’ll get used to this.


No outside food. No shopping, visitation to Malls and Cinemas. No hospital / Doc visits. Our body consumed only home cooked food. Bizarre that we could actually survive this.

My Credit Card Bill (mostly official, a bit of household) was the lowest in about 14 years - only FOUR figure bill. Unbelievable. ICICI must be in a state of shock. Also, lost out majorly on my Payback Points.

No new movie releases for 6 weeks, no FDFS. Life moves on. Awaiting OTT releases and FDFS in May 2020.

I never imagined all my life that sales professionals like me can ever work from home. This has been a reckoning of sorts on how we are conditioned to think, act and behave repeatedly on the professional front.


Missed human interactions all along, ironically. Shows why humans are social animals and need socialising. Am quite sure that this too shall also pass and we will come to terms to the new world order, soon.

Indian PM and Tamil Nadu CM have led the Country and the State impeccably all along. Not fair to compare how other countries fared, especially the usual suspects of USA, China, Japan, France & Germany. But our men in Kurta and Veshti have rocked.

We clapped hands on a balcony, lit lamps in the night in solidarity without expecting any miracle. They said, We did. Some didn’t. Many mocked the idea. So be it.


Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor passed away. Many felt bad for them personally. So much of noise on social media for the departed souls. Rishi’s daughter saw the cremation on a Video call. Like how Indian migrant labourers working in Middle East, Africa and South East Asia see the last rites of their departed ones. Just that mostly they don’t have a choice to fly back.

But the same ones who mourned Irrfan and Rishi didn’t condemn on their FB Walls when Dr. Simon’s last rites were disallowed in his preferred Cemetery at Kilpauk, Chennai. The vehicle was vandalised and destroyed with the corpse in it by members of the same community whom he loving served all along. Two men dug the grave for a Doc who saved so many lives all his life.

Priorities. Ignorance. Impatience. Human race, I say.

As always, Bollywood (and Hollywood) comes first. Our own local heroes - Nope.


Of the two drivers who took a corpse to Mizoram in an ambulance from Chennai driving for three straight days, one has tested positive yesterday. Mizo Minister rewarded him ₹2,000 for the trip. No, we will not celebrate this Driver as he was not the original Romantic Hero or a Really emotive actor. Just another labour fellow and driving an Ambulance is his job, after all. Not sure, if he was singing “Hum tum, ek kamre mein bandh ho” along with his co-driver. Very very sad.

Economic Stimulus - Instead of catchups at Cafes and benches at Tea Shops, social media is abuzz on this. From Raghuram Rajan to Raghu Thatha, everyone is advising, Xi, Trump, Modi and Merkel. Nice to see the world has 5 billion Economists. Wow. I should have taken my Class XI and XII Economics Lectures more seriously.

Some people want to urgently open shops, malls, cinemas and salons. But I wonder if Customers are willing to walk outside.

E-Commerce is here to stay. Dot. As I always say, E-Commerce is not a new business, rather it’s just a new channel of distribution.

Lastly, Hyperlocal ECommerce is the way forward. My startup Oyethere did this 5 years back. Potential Investors scoffed and mocked at me then. Today, they are cribbing that Dunzo doesn’t deliver at their Pin code at Bangalore, Bombay or Delhi. The Chennai Investor Mamas still believe it’s best to walk up to the neighbor hood shops than invest on Hyperlocal StartUps. Sigh.


Lastly, I haven’t been to a Temple Precint - longest ever in my life. Missing this aspect the most.

Do share this article if you feel this perspective interests you.

09 June, 2019

Self-Checkout or Assisted

Earlier, I wrote in my article for The Economic Times about how Self-Checkout or even an assisted one would make a cut in the Indian scenario even as Indians are embracing E-Commerce like no other and the Indian E-Commerce business is expected to cross over USD 50 Billion by 2025 by various estimates. Meanwhile, the Retail Industry in India is pegged at USD 500 Billion with just about 10% being Organised or even semi-Organised (meaning those shopkeepers who use some form of PoS for Billing & Accounting). Almost half of the semi-organised Retailers do not have an end to-end PoS solution and this is the latest trending opportunity in the realm of Retail Entrepreneurship with a number of existing players upping their ante while a whole lot of new technology is being tested and introduced by new Start-Ups. Interesting days ahead indeed.


Meanwhile, I visited the Apple Store on Orchard Road at Singapore during my recent vacation to the Country. It’s been 11 years since I travelled abroad and was yearning to see the Temple of Technology to seek the blessings of the Almighty Apple (sic). I have owned every Apple product ever made by the Company in it’s recent history, starting from the iconic iPod in 2007, iPhone (several of them!), iPad (two of them), MacBook, Apple Tv, Apple Watch and Airpods. I felt like a little kid inside Disneyland when I entered the Apple Store, that I was walking all along the counters and seeing the whole retail theatre with glee.  I wanted to interact with the staff and hence gave a request for a query on iCloud Management. I was given an appointment and was asked to wait for about 40 mins which I agreed with utter happiness so I can spend time there seeing how Apple consumers interact with the Apple Store. On the first floor was the Genius Groove – apparently the Genius Bar has now become a fledgling hub where atleast 100+ customers & staff can be seen seated together and interact on various service issues. I picked up my iPad and started browsing with the free internet provided by the Apple Store – a whopping 110 mbps even as so many of them were sharing the same internet. Finally, my turn came and I was assisted ably by Justin who clarified some basic as well as a few complicated queries on iCloud. He was extremely polite and knowledgeable and sent me back happy. 


I returned a day later to buy the new iPod which was launched on Thursday 30thMay 2019. I saw about it on their website and ended up at the store to pick it up. The staff themselves were surprised that it was ready for Sales! I placed an order on the mobile PoS which the staff had where I was allowed to browse the options, colours, etc. I placed the order and waited for 10 minutes by when another Apple Staff brought the product and handed over to his colleague. She placed my order on the same handheld PoS and my transaction was completed in less than 2 minutes. I was pretty excited doing this transaction and saw first hand how Omni-Channel Retail actually works. While I have seen similar technology being made available at a few Indian Retail Stores (Croma, For Example), the seamlessness and the convenience was fantastic from a user experience. 


There are atleast 20,000 companies, small medium or bigger who make PoS solutions including market leaders like GoFrugal, Wondersoft, Pathfinder, etc. to name a few. The solutions are priced from a one-time payment for as low as Rs. 10,000, SaaS models with recurring payments, enterprise solutions and so on. At my own Start-Up “Smiling Baby” – a chain of baby care stores, we signed up GoFrugal Technology’s eponomous “RayMedi” software which is now christened “RPoS” and have invested heavily 2 years backwith a module to manage Inventory across our multiple franchise stores including product management, adding inventory, live stock status and much more. With two running stores and two more in the pipeline, we have put the software to great use although we are yet to unlock so many hidden features including the omni-channel option where in we can rotate stocks across stores based on user requirements. Also, there is an option to connect the software with a mobile App, so Consumers can actually check which product is available at which store and accordingly, they can place orders online for a home delivery or a store pick-up. And this, for a small Start-Up like ours which is certainly not heavy on piled up cash investments. 

Omni-Channel offers a great opportunity for SME Retailers as much as the established ones. Time to make the most of it now.

19 October, 2017

Deepavali Retail Sales – Less Fire, more Smoke


The week leading up to Deepavali was perhaps the most exciting times for Retailers. From Apparel to Consumer Durables, Motor cycles to Cars, people would flock to Retail Stores with their savings of the year. The period around Deepavali, which normally comes in the latter half of October or early November and the entire 3rd Quarter of a financial Year would contribute over 50% of Retail Sales for certain categories like Television sets, Refrigerators, Washing Machines etc. This was the trend through the 90s and the new Millennium.

Cut to mid-2000s, the evolution of Mall culture in India has been rapid, with over 1,000 functional shopping centers across the country. For every 3 new malls that open, 1 perishes and the trend is worse in certain cities, which were over-hyped by the Real Estate fraternity. The good part of Malls is that they provide customers 365-day access to regional, domestic and international brands. The footfalls used to be far higher in Malls a decade back than today – in act, today it has halved on an average to say the least. Since the prevalence of E-Commerce over the past 5 years, there has been all round the year discount on Electronics and Apparel which means customers are shopping more online than before, while the overall market growth has been tepid with Organized Retail registering a CAGR of 6-7% over the past few years. After MRP adjustment due to Inflation, there is hardly any positivity on the bottom-line numbers and Retailers have been struggling over the past few years. The Balance sheet has been strained a lot and to keep the monthly and quarterly Sales numbers looking up, Retailers have been offering various incentives to Customers all through the year.


The fight-back from Offline Retailers against Online Retailers has been merely on the price front which E-tailers have been managing all the while thanks to Wall Street funding in billions in the sector in India. That no E-Commerce company has been profitable in a decade (almost) nor have they been sold / acquired at a premium says a story that’s still unfolding.

So I set out this Deepavali to various retail stores to see what’s brewing and how the market is operating. The Offline Retailers are a worried lot. Fewer people are coming to their stores and even fewer are actually shopping. The bill values have halved in 5 years with customers picking lesser number of garments per bill. Consumer Durables retail is even worse with round the year launch of new models, availability across modern retail chains and low prices through the year. The best was saved for electronics, perhaps. I walked in to a retailer of mobile phones and enquired for an iPad. To my shock and surprise, he suggested I buy it online since the prices are far lower than his procurement prices.


Deepavali Retail Sales 2017 has been more smoke than fire, I guess. Local Retailers have taken full page Ads making Vinit Jain & Co. richer by a few hundred crores but the desired result is obvious that it has not translated in to incremental Sales. Smaller Retailers, with less than 3 shops are even more worried due to liquidity, cash crunch and rising debts. I never imagined that Retail would see such a gloomy period, but this is only getting more real. 

25 June, 2017

Smiling Baby 2.0

The biggest challenge for most of us in our lives, especially for Startup Entrepreneurs is to learn from our past. We have all heard that it is perfectly fine for us to make mistakes. In fact, in my formative years as a Retail Professional when I worked at Pantaloon Retail (now The Future Group), there used to be posters in our office that it was “Ok” to make mistakes as long as you don’t repeat them and of course, one learns from them. Indeed I have made a number of mistakes in my Retail Career spanning 20 years but my specialty has been that I have gotten up back every single time after faltering with some amazing learning. And that’s what this article is all about.


It’s been in my mind to set-up my own Retail venture as an option for Entrepreneurship for some time now. From Education to Food to Tech to Product Retail, we (my wife & I) dabbled for a long time on which segment to choose. My only criteria, having signed up 140 cafes for CafĂ© Coffee Day and 160 Dealership Outlets for Royal Enfield (both of them all India) – I was General Manager – Business Development at both companies - was that the business I was about to build should be Scalable, Saleable and Profitable.

Among many other options that we finalized was the one retailing baby products – which is perhaps the only category other than food that has a potential sale 365 days a year and is almost price inelastic so to say. And that’s how my first startup venture Smiling Baby was conceptualized way back in 2013. While the business model was completely fool proof and continues to remain so even after 4 years, there have a few shortcomings as well. I took each of those lessons with grace and have become a much better Entrepreneur over the past 36 months.

Now as we enter in to our second phase, Smiling Baby 2.0 as I call, there a few learning that I have already implemented. I spoke about these initiatives at the recently held ReTechCon2017 at Mumbai, organized by Retailers Association of India, the industry body that represents Retailers of all sizes.


Among other things, the first thing that we have implemented is a truly “omni-channel” retail model. We already have one store in Chennai and are setting up two more in Coimbatore shortly. All the existing and future stores are connected together on the backend with the Retail store and a website (+ Apps) in the front-end. When a customer visits a store and looks for a product which may not be physically at the store but is still available on the website/app, she will still be able to order the item and it gets picked up and delivered to her from some other store where they may have it in stock. And all this within less than 24 hours from the time of ordering! E-Commerce, as a habit for shopping is getting better by the day in India and that’s been my biggest learning in my journey.

That Amazon has purchased Whole Foods strengthens my model of Omni-channel because that’s precisely what Retail in the 21st century is going to be.  Customers need a product right there when they need it. While the e-commerce warehouses will continue to remain, it is all about effectively utilizing the retail store fronts which we have all built. The power of leverage is immense and we at Smiling Baby would stand testimony for the same. Watch this space.

02 June, 2017

L for Learning - from The Chennai Silks Fire Incident

Chennai’s T. Nagar, which is world-famous for its shopping hub has been in the news for a wrong reason since the past few days. One of the largest Retailers from Tamil Nadu, The Chennai Silks’ retail showroom had a minor fire on the wee hours of Thursday, 31st May 2017. And gradually the fire spread all through the building eventually burning the entire building down. The building constructed over seven floors had a floor-plan violation and a case is pending in the Indian Courts for a long time now to decide whether their violation was acceptable or otherwise. The Ministers, Corporation Officials and others in the Government who were hand in glove all this while have distanced themselves suddenly and alleging that the Retailer did not take adequate measures which led to this tragic incident. Fortunately, and as per media reports, no one was injured nor any casualty was reported in this tragedy since the fire was first observed at 4.30am and apparently the Fire Tenders reached by 6am. It had taken about a day and half and over 100,000 litres of water to douse the fire completely. As I write this column, the Government has decided to demolish the building as a safety measure for the entire area – including residences on the rear side as well as the hundreds of shops around this structure.


This was a nightmare that I have envisaged over the past 20 years of my active life in Indian Retail and this sad event actually occurred which I am unable to come to terms with. The callousness of business houses as well as the attitude and apathy of the officials in allowing such illegal structures without adequate safety norms, especially fire safety, is to be abhorred.  How on earth can a seven storeyed structure come on up a narrow 50 feet road and which has a flyover right opposite it’s fascade? No wonder the Fire tenders were unable to do much due to lack of space for this purpose which is one of the prerequisites of seeking approvals while constructing such a large structure. And a minor fire couldn’t be doused by the 14 staff who were in the shop at the time it occurred goes to show how much importance some of us Retailers give to fire-safety norms.


It is being widely discussed on social media through messages on Whatsapp that the Retailer paid Salaries exactly on 1st June to its employees and also creditors were paid their dues. As a retail chain of 50 years with 17 stores across 14 cities, I would expect them to have these simple systems and processes in place. While I respect the fact that the Retailer went about disposing it’s duties, how would the Retailer compensate the loss and livelihood of thousands of people involved in their businesses who have their outlets in and around the building where tragedy stuck? The Secretary of the Association of Shops in T. Nagar pegs the loss at Rs. 50 Crores per day. While the Retailer itself would have insured for the stocks, property and losses, who will compensate the losses of others who have been disturbed by this incident?


To give you a perspective, the Sales turnover in and around Usman Road, T. Nagar is pegged at about Rs. 18,000 crores pa. Yes, you read that right.  It’s not just the sheer volume of sales that occur here but the livelihood of the people who are part of the ecosystem here. Will the Courts take a cognizable view in this front and punish those guilty and set an example? Time will tell.

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