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Case Analysis: ‘Kitney Footfall The?’

What distinguishes a good mall from others is the mall management’s positive approach to its shoppers

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Every Indian who even remotely knows of Indian movies, will vividly remember the tense sequence from the Bollywood blockbuster, Sholay. “Kitney aadmi the?” – an iconic question made by a terrifying dacoit, against a rocky landscape and an unforgettable background score, could effortlessly send a chill down the spine. His three henchmen, full of fear, fail to muster courage to answer this simple question. If one takes some creative liberty with this case study, one can visualise The Quartz Mall tenant (Let’s say, Gigil salon manager) armed with her annual profit and loss statement, asking the mall manager the familiar question, “Kitney footfall the?”, only to find the mall manager humbled and unable to utter the real answer. Fortunately, the music in the malls will not be as tense as what Panchamda created for Sholay; instead we will have the racy tracks of Pritam or Justin Bieber playing on the mall music system.

Back to the case study. One of the moot points in the case is the role of the mall in driving footfalls and how a potential tenant or the tenant’s consultant perceives this. To delve a bit deeper, it is relevant to reflect on the role of modern retail in India. We are at that juncture where the modern retail establishment has almost become the present day public space. On any given Sunday, the walk-ins in all the modern retail locations of Mumbai are likely to supersede and cross the crowds that throng Juhu beach or the many parks and temples of the city. As a nation that is becoming younger every day, one should celebrate these modern public spaces. Within the StratNext team, Mallika is possibly one of those who underrates this more than the others in her team. Theresa, on the other extreme, relishes modern retail as energising consumption catchments of India.

Many standalone stores try and effectively recreate the modern ambience within their four walls; there is reference about Lakme doing this with high-street locations. But most other brands happily sail on the growth-wave as tenants of malls. Malls are here to stay. The difference between a “good” mall and “not so good” mall is a discussion for another sunny shopping day; for now I can only share what distinguishes a good mall from others is the mall management’s positive approach to its shoppers; and how well the mall management celebrates every visit of each shopper they get in their malls. Easy to state, but needs strong perseverance and rigour to execute.

On locations, there is a reference to how salons can do good business within gated communities and complexes. I know of retail teams trying to set up mini supermarkets inside such gated communities. The challenges they face are inconsistent business across weekdays and very low traction during noon, weekends and vacations; when the offices are shut. However, the store operating costs remain consistent. Also, the family members of the community look forward to spending family time “outside the community” when they have a day off.

In a similar case, Big Bazaar chose a mall-location; five kms outside a steel plant’s gated community and chose this location over the option of setting up a store inside at the centre of the staff colony. This store is growing consistently on its profitable journey and is also driving many footfalls to the mall for other tenants. Hence the proposition of stores or salons within gated communities is yet to arrive. This is a general learning and may do disservice to some successful exceptions that exist today within gated colonies.

Let us touch upon another point, what I call the “Gosh! Ghatkopar” factor. “Gosh!” is the exact exclamation made by CEO Mahadev upon learning about a salon doing well within a mall in Ghatkopar. Anyone familiar with the suburb of Ghatkopar would find the astonishment misplaced. One of the reasons causing this has been the evolution of many second generation retailers within large metros, who are pre-occupied by the glitter and challenges of a metro city. However there is magic unfolding in the suburbs of Vasai, Kalyan, Faridabad and Uppal surrounding our metros and there is a consumption explosion within other cities and smaller towns of India. I have often challenged my teams to take the “blindfold challenge”; a hypothetical challenge of blindfolding, let us say Angad or Mallika, in this case, and transporting them to a modern retail store at Belagavi, Karnataka or a mall in Jharsuguda, Orissa; opening the blindfold there and then asking them to guess which metro location they are in.

The answer could very well be Whitefield, Lower Parel or Noida. Modern retail is encouraging everyone in the nation to discover this magic and not restrict it to a few cities. So, for every Quartz in Pune that troubles Gigil, there will be a Patna and Perumbur to discover energetic growth and profits too.

Let us now evaluate the see-saw of expectations between the mall and the tenant. Any mall’s key expectations from their tenants are – to bring some unique and special proposition to the mall, to always strengthen their brand’s salience and imagery, participate in the mall’s marketing programmes, and most importantly, meet all the commercial obligations in a timely fashion so that the maintenance of the mall is never hindered. On the other side, a tenant expects the mall to excel in the mall’s maintenance, ensure tenants’ smooth operations especially for the movement of goods, and create a warm enjoyable shopping ecosystem. Is that it? No! That’s when the “Gabbar” question slinks in – Kitne footfall the? Both – the mall and the tenant – expect the other to get footfalls. Notwithstanding the skirmish, it is a good situation to be in, where driving footfalls and retaining them becomes a common goal and a shared responsibility for the mall and the tenant.

For Gigil, specifically, there are three learnings to take away from the retail-optimist: Theresa. First, to leverage the catchment that one is in; second, to drive behaviour shifts within the salon category; and third, that tenant brands need to give a reason for customers to come to the mall. Her views echo the sentiment, from the earlier part of this case study, that salons are operating in a largely untapped and highly unorganised market and a brand like Gigil should thrive in unlocking value by having more doors and many more adopters. Faster checkouts, home delivery, gift wrapping, product regime-solutions, extensive sampling are some retail reasons given by brands to customers to come to the mall and shop.

There is a side-dialogue that refers to the impact of “online” on “offline” business. Offline??? What’s that? For all the efforts by the mall stores-illumination, escalators and elevators, mannequins, live theatre and even the EOSS (end of season sale), terming them “offline” could be a rude stab to them. Yes, customer proposition in undifferentiated categories like branded electronics may need reworking. However, it is difficult to imagine a world where shoppers would stop going out to shop physically; and do everything with only a click within their homes. Such a dystopian world is best left to the imaginations of the likes of Stanley Kubrick and their movies.

The case also wanders around “ethics” towards the end, and a point is raised on why a mall may keep changing tenants for better commercials. In reality, there are few exceptions like these and malls with such a mindset have never sustained the long term. Most changes, done with a larger purpose of shopper satisfaction have been a win-win for both malls and tenants.

“Business makes a brand” – a simple truth mentioned by Mahadev is the larger satya (or truth) in this case. Any brand or store will have to groom the culture of driving more by itself, by creating events, personalising offers, engaging with shoppers and providing a strong in-store experience. Within a mall, when many tenant stores put their best of efforts, the mall can then play the multiplier role on the efforts by the tenants.

As I conclude here, a question remains on the team composition of StratNext for Gigil. Mahadev had a person like Mallika whose strength is her dispassionate questioning and strong analytical bent of mind, one who can sift the black from the white. But there was a resource like Theresa who would have brought in an appreciation for the grey, largely out of her hands-on experience in retail. But all she provided was her 15-minute, between-two-meetings break. Mallika, Theresa, and Angad – the names are not relevant, but while working on young categories like retail and salons, having both type of mindsets would be highly recommended. Or else we all know what the eventual outcome was of the “Kitney aadmi the?” scene: Tension…muttering… laughter… three bullets… and finally, silence!

Signing off now. Have to “khao my daily goli” of shop keeping at Big Bazaar.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Sadashiv Nayak

The writer is CEO, Big Bazaar

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