Saturday, February 28, 2009

Expansion spree sans strong back-end did Subhiksha in

The collapse of Subhiksha presents a case study for existing and prospective retail companies in India. The Chennai retail major, which grew exponentially since its inception in 1999, is battling for survival, despite two investors in tow — ICICI Venture and Azim Premji’s private investment firm Zash Investment Company. The 1,300 store-strong chain has scripted the first rise-and-fall in the history of India’s fledgling retail industry. Viewed as a sunrise industry, the retail sector has suddenly caved in, with most players either putting expansion plans on hold or re-negotiating rentals. Though rentals are coming down in most parts of the country because of the economic slowdown, rapid expansion without a proper supply chain in place has added to the woes of retail companies. So, was the Subhiksha model flawed or was it just a management failure? The chain was envisaged as a low-cost, no-frills neighbourhood convenient store, which actually did work for some time. But soon enough, the promoters, who held around 60 per cent stake, went on an expansion spree without strengthening the back-end. As a result, customers often had to come back from the store without getting the products that they wanted. To top it, Subhiksha failed to establish an emotional connect with its customers, even though it had built a large consumer base. Hence, its fall can largely be attributed to mismanagement leading to irrational expansion without spreading out the equity base. Also, the retail chain tried to procure supplies against cash, which, many analysts say, was irrational. As if this wasn’t enough, the market meltdown forced the company to defer its proposed initial public offer (IPO) in 2008. The situation worsened in the second half of the year, when a liquidity crisis throttled Indian companies. Subhiksha, which was facing a severe cash crunch, had to face the ire of its suppliers and stockists as well as real estate owners, for delayed payments. By then, the neighbourhood retail chain had lost its credibility and image. Today, the company’s founder R Subramanian is under fire from stakeholders, who have alleged that they were kept in the dark. Following complaints from Subhiksha’s former directors, who stepped down from the board in January, the Registrar of Companies has appointed KPMG as auditor. Meanwhile, the blame game continues. ICICI Venture, which holds 23 per cent stake in Subhiksha, has held the management squarely responsible for the chain’s operational failure. Renuka Ramnath, managing director and CEO of ICICI Venture, claimed that Subhiksha’s board did not receive audited figures even after repeated attempts. The last available figures, according to Ramnath, were for the year-ended March 2007. Subhiksha, however, has refuted these charges. As the company lies in a shambles, what the investors and promoters need to do quickly is get on to the business of rebuilding it. A positive sign is that both ICICI Venture and Zash have said that they are working on a revival plan. Stakeholders, too, are awaiting the next move by lenders, who have an exposure of around Rs 750 crore, and are trying to sew up a revival package. However, the most daunting task for Subhiksha will be to re-establish the consumer connect, without which no retail company can survive.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

SHOPPERS WARY - Inventories pile up at retail stores despite heavy discounts

Unsold merchandise is piling up at retail outlets and warehouses as consumers faced with an economic downturn hesitate to spend, squeezing the already wafer-thin margins of retailers further and limiting their capacity to repay debt.

Heavy discounts that ranged up to 70% in an extended sale season failed to convince shoppers to open their wallets, leaving retailers holding inventory that was supposed to supply stores they have either shut down or decided not to open.

"I don't think sales have picked up despite the discounts," said Hemant Patel, an analyst at Enam Securities Pvt.

Ltd. "Consumer footfalls were not coming despite the sales." The economy is forecast by the government to grow 7.1% in the fiscal year ending 31 March—the slowest pace in six years. The slowdown, after four years of growth that averaged 8.9%, has caused firms to stall expansion plans, put hiring on hold and reduce staff, denting consumer confidence.

The country's largest listed retailer, Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd, said so-called samestore sales were down in December for the first time in years. Same-store sales typically denote sales by outlets that have been open for at least a year.

Pantaloon managing director Kishore Biyani attributed the December contraction to slack sales of furniture, electronics, mobile phones and some other merchandise.

Pantaloon's The Great Indian Shopping Festival was spread over almost a month in December and January. Pantaloon followed up with its annual discount season at the Big Bazaar hypermarket chain, but analysts say January sales were lacklustre because of subdued consumer response and competition from other retailers that marked down prices similarly.

Figures released by Pantaloon showed same-store sales in January were up for the socalled value and lifestyle segments, by 4% and 12%, respectively. Home segment sales were down 4%.

A New Delhi-based analyst, who asked not to be named, said Pantaloon has about Rs1,700 crore of inventory. "As per the past track record, it's marginally on the upper side," this analyst said.

"Our inventory is best in terms of industry standards and we have standard stocks," Biyani said.

Shoppers' Stop Ltd, Tata group's Trent Ltd and other retailers also offered hefty discounts on select merchandise.

Even Reliance Retail Ltd, for the first time since its inception about two years ago, organized the first concerted sale across different store formats.

"This year even discounts could not boost sales," said Ritesh Doshi, an analyst at First Global Securities Ltd.

"They are not able to clear their inventory," he said.

"Once they (merchandise) become obsolete, they have to write (it) off and (that) is affecting their margins." A person close to the situation said Reliance Retail fell well short of its target of opening 1,500 outlets by September and was able to open only about 850 stores until early this year. As a result, the chain was left holding unsold goods that had been ordered for hundreds of additional stores whose opening may have only caused more losses, this person said.

"We deny any such situation," a Reliance Retail spokesperson said in an email reply to Mint.

Girish Solanki, a research analyst at Mumbai-based Angel Broking, says Bombay Stock Exchange-listed Vishal Retail Ltd has a "pretty high level" of inventory that could last as long as seven months.

"There is a big problem there," said Solanki, who attributed the inventory pile-up to stalled expansion plans in the face of a funding squeeze.

Manmohan Agarwal, chief executive for corporate affairs at Vishal Retail, said the economic slowdown had caused the retailer to curtail its expansion. Agarwal said the company had Rs800 crore worth of inventory at the end of December. "Our sales for the Repub lic Day campaign were good," he said, but declined to give the current value of inventory.

According to analyst Ankur Periwal of Religare Securities Ltd, Vishal has about Rs480 crore in "stuck up" inventory.

Vishal may have to get rid of the inventory at below cost price, he said.

The mountain of unsold goods and extended discounts would further squeeze the already low margins of retail chains and restrict their ability to repay debt, analysts say.

Doshi of First Global expects margins at Pantaloon to narrow to 2.3 percentage points for the year ending June, from about 2.6 percentage points a year ago.

Meanwhile, Indian exporters hit by the global meltdown, which has led many international buyers to cancel orders, are dumping their products in the local market, according to Solanki at Angel Broking.

"That is also putting pressure on the existing inventory," he said.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

CavinKare forays into distribution business

Chennai-based FMCG major CavinKare has forayed into distribution business. It has tied-up with Paris-based international fragrancemarketer Coty to market and distribute Adidas and Jovan range of personal care products in India. 

The Adidas men's range, which includes deodorants, shower gels, perfumes and after shave lotions, will be available across India by mid-February. The Jovan range of products would be available after three to four months. 

"The alliance will help in increasing the accessibility of adidas products in India, which is a fundamental pat of our Asian strategy. There is a huge potential in the personal care segment here," said Coty Beauty Far East Export regional managing director Venkatesh Babu at a press meet in Chennai on Thursday. 

The range would be sold through about 50,000 outlets in the first year, mainly at modern and large-format stores. CavinKare hopes to achieve a turnover of Rs 50 crore in the first year, thus cornering a 10% share of the deo-spray and fragrance market in India. The size of the Indian deo-spray category is estimated to be Rs 300 crore and s growing at a rate of 18% annually. 

"CavinKare mainly addressed the mass market. This strategic alliance will help us get into the premium segment where we do not have a presence," CavinKare chairman and managing director CK Ranganathan said. 

CavinKare will use a mix of above and below the line approach to market the products, mainly the out of home media, TV commercials and the internet. The ad spend on this range will stand at Rs 10 crore for first year to be shared by CavinKare and Coty. 

CavinKare hopes to close this fiscal with a turnover of Rs 700 crore, a 25% increase over the previous year.