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BW Businessworld

'Data Mining Along with Loyalty To Help Build Biz'

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Kishore Biyani, the Chairman of Future Group, is the largest retailer in the country with 17 million square of feet of space. From 2006, his bets have ranged from retail to financial services to restaurants to supply chain management. Although a debt of Rs 7,800 crore has hounded the Group, he was able to convince investors about India's consumption potential and kept them more than interested. Of late he is looking at making the business leaner and stronger and has put an end, at least for now, to a period of experimentation. By selling a stake in Pantaloon stores and Future Capital Holdings, he has managed to wipe out close to Rs 6,050 crore of debt in the last one month.  This is how it happened. It received Rs 1,600 crore from the AB Nuvo deal and another Rs 200 cr for the BCCL placement. The FCH deal with Warburg Pincus helped slash the group's debt by Rs 4,250 crore (Rs 450 cr plus Rs 3,800 crore automatically wiped out). But Biyani is a confident man and is now turning the corner. He spoke to Businessworld's Vishal Krishna about his plan for the coming year.

You have collected so much data on Indian customers, what is it telling you about your business?
Few years ago I would have told you that retailing was an art, it required someone with an understanding of operations. It needed someone who could risk it all and build an efficient chain. But now it is a science, we have close to two million loyal customers across different brands in the group. Central alone has five hundred thousand loyal customers. We are at that stage where we have to use this knowledge not just to generate sales, but how to engage them and stock merchandise according to their tastes and preferences. But data mining is becoming important and it goes beyond what loyalty cards tell you. It is this that will build our business going forward.

You have created a strong merchandising team to help you expand the lifestyle formats?
The lifestyle formats, Central and Brand Factory can now generate Rs 4,000 crore in the coming year. The merchandising team in Central now knows what brands work since it is a market place. It is a place where brands compete for space. Thanks to my cousin Rakesh Biyani — who created processes a decade ago — it has become such a success.

Consumption is also slowing in the country, but Brand Factory as a format grew 15 per cent, what worked?
It works because the people in the aspirational segment are more than the ones in the upper middle class. It is where people buy previous seasons collection at discounts all year round. It is a business the group banks on during a slow down because it is designed to provide shoppers a great experience at all year discounts.

Are you expanding home formats like electronics and furniture?
Electronics we have seen that the format is growing slowly, we might at another look at the strategy this year on this. Similarly with the home format we might go slow.

You have sold stake in a couple of businesses, is there a more realistic view to expanding the business now?
The group will continue to focus on the food and lifestyle formats. It is the core business. The whole business is about mapping what formats work in tier 2 and 3 cities. We'll plan expansion and the capex according to that. The Central and Brand Factory are amazing success stories for us.