ColorPlus, Park Avenue could be on the block due to pandemic

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April 24, 2022

Written By Christina Moniz

Brand and marketing experts, while expressing surprise at the development, as the two labels enjoy significant brand equity, also noted that if true, it highlights the challenges faced by legacy brands, with international brands growing their footprint in the country.

Apparel and textile major Raymond may be in the midst of talks to sell its prized apparel brands Park Avenue and ColorPlus, amid rising speculation about the future of the company’s apparel business. As per media reports, the company is in talks with Danish retail group Bestseller — which houses labels such as Jack & Jones, Vero Moda and Only — for the sale, seeking a valuation of around Rs 500 crore for ColorPlus, and even more for Park Avenue.

Brand and marketing experts, while expressing surprise at the development, as the two labels enjoy significant brand equity, also noted that if true, it highlights the challenges faced by legacy brands, with international brands growing their footprint in the country. Also, legacy brands, especially in the formal wear category, have been facing headwinds ever since the pandemic led to a work-from-home culture.

However, Sunil Kataria, the newly-appointed CEO of lifestyle business for Raymond, told FE these reports are “speculative”, stating that both Park Avenue and ColorPlus currently account for close to 50% of the company’s apparel business. In September last year, the board had approved the demerger of Raymond’s apparel business, which, at that time, was being managed by a 100% subsidiary of Raymond Ltd, Raymond Apparels, explains Kataria. The demerger covers all of the company’s ‘power brands’ — Park Avenue, Raymond Ready to Wear, ColorPlus and Parx.

“We want to double our apparel business revenues in the next three years. We ended up doing business of over Rs 300 crore in Q3 FY22, even at a time when the Covid-19 impact was still there, and that is the clearest proof that the sale of our brands is not on the cards,” asserts Kataria. The company also claims to have plans to further expand its retail footprint for Park Avenue, ColorPlus and even the newly-launched Ethnix brand. Kataria is betting big on the upcoming wedding season and the resurgence of travel in the next few months to drive growth.

Raymond currently has a retail footprint of close to 1,500 stores across 600 cities, of which 300 or so are exclusive outlets for brands like Park Avenue, Parx and ColorPlus.

For Samit Sinha, founder & MD, Alchemist Brand Consulting, said the reports of the sale of these two labels are surprising since both enjoy significant brand equity. “For a long time, Raymond and Park Avenue have been inextricably linked. Independent of its marketing performance, Raymond as a brand continues to hold great aspirational value and still holds its own despite the presence of big international labels,” he remarked, noting that the reported `500-crore valuation would be much below what the brand could command.

On the flip side, the speculation about the sale of these brands also highlights the new reality facing legacy brands in the retail segment — particularly in the formal wear category, with ‘work from home’ eclipsing professional lives. Offline-heavy Raymond has been no exception, with its business being impacted by the pandemic and the consumer shift to online shopping, observes business strategist Lloyd Mathias. “Apparel retailing is a competitive space, and many international brands have been increasing their retail footprint in India. These global companies with deep pockets will continue to grow in size and scale, and penetrate into smaller towns and cities,” points out Mathias. This means that brands like Park Avenue and ColorPlus will face serious challenges in sustaining their growth.

Interestingly, over the last three years, Raymond has increased its footprint in Tier III and IV markets as a part of its growth strategy. Devangshu Dutta, CEO of retail consultancy Third Eyesight, states that when a brand seeks to widen its presence in smaller markets, it is usually because it is facing headwinds in terms of growth, or because there is saturation in demand from the big markets, on account of the large number of international labels entering the country. “The challenge in smaller cities, though, is that the sales density you can achieve is also much lower as compared to the larger ones. You have to have an operation that is growing in terms of topline while also running efficiently to make this kind of expansion strategy successful,” Dutta explains.

Raymond’s Kataria adds that the company will continue to invest in these smaller markets and leverage its current brand equity.

Source: financialexpress

Explained: How is direct selling different from pyramid scheme and why has ED attached Amway India’s assets

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April 24, 2022

Written By Devika Singh

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on April 19 accused Amway India of running a “multi-level marketing (MLM) scam” and attached its assets worth Rs 757.77 crore. This is not the first time that Amway India has been accused of running a ‘pyramid scheme’. Read on to understand how direct selling is different from pyramid schemes and why has the ED attached Amway India’s assets?

The direct selling industry is again under the regulatory scanner in India with the Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) move to attach the assets of the Indian unit of US-based direct selling company, Amway. The ED has accused the company of running a “multi-level marketing (MLM) scam” and attached its assets worth Rs 757.77 crore.

According to an ED statement, the attached property includes Amway India’s land and factory building at Dindigul district in Tamil Nadu, plant and machinery vehicles, bank accounts and fixed deposits.

“Immovable and movable properties worth Rs 411.83 crore and bank balances of Rs 345.94 crore from 36 different accounts belonging to Amway attached,” the ED said. The seizures, the ED said, have been made under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

This is not the first time that Amway India has been accused of running a ‘pyramid scheme’. The company faced accusations on similar lines in the US in the 1970s and has been under government scrutiny in Karnataka and Kerala in the past. In fact, in 2013, Kerala police arrested then Amway India chief William Scott Pinckney and its directors, accusing them of running a pyramid scheme.

Direct selling has come under scrutiny time and again, as over the years, consumers have been duped by fake sellers hawking defective products and services in the garb of direct selling. To discourage such schemes, the government had proposed a draft policy last year, which aims at regulating the direct selling market segment.

Read on to understand what is direct selling, why the ED attached Amway India’s assets, what is Amway’s stand on the issue, how is direct selling different from pyramid schemes, and what are government regulations around direct selling in India?

What is direct selling?

Direct selling firms deploy agents who buy products from the company and then directly reach out and sell to consumers at their homes or other places instead of through a retail format like a store. The direct selling entity and the agent share the profits made through the sale of products. According to industry estimates, there are about 60 lakh agents in the country, who pursue direct selling as a means of earning additional income.

The direct selling industry, as per estimates, is pegged at Rs 10,000 crore in India, and has been growing at 12-13 percent per annum over the last five years. Experts say multi-vitamins, and home care and personal care products are the top-selling categories through this channel.

Beside Amway, companies such as Avon, Oriflame, Modicare and Tupperware operate in the direct selling segment. Some of these companies have been in India for decades now.

What is pyramid scheme and how is it different from direct selling?

Pyramid schemes are defined as a form of investment in which a paying participant recruits further participants and gets rewarded for it. Over the years, consumers have been duped by fake sellers hawking defective products and services in the garb of direct selling, often bringing the direct selling industry too, under scrutiny.

“Pyramid scheme is a scam to make money for a few people and it is based on selling an empty promise, multiplying it through recruiting people,” said Devangshu Dutta, CEO of retail consultancy Third Eyesight.

However, he added, it has to collapse somewhere because you are selling a product or service that does not exist.

“As opposed to that, in direct selling, the companies are selling products and at the end of it there is a tangible exchange of goods or services. So, even if you have downline distributors, as long as at the end of it the customer is getting something of value, then it’s not really a pyramid scheme,” he added.

Why has ED attached Amway India’s assets?

According to the ED’s press statement, Amway India runs a multi-level-marketing scheme or pyramid scheme, which “induces the common gullible public to join as members of the company and purchase products at exorbitant prices.”

The ED said the prices of most Amway products are “exorbitant as compared to the alternative popular products of reputed manufacturers available in the open market”. The new members, who are asked by the company to join it, are not buying the products to be used by themselves, but to become rich by becoming members as showcased by the upline members, said ED.

“The reality is that the commissions received by the upline members contribute enormously to the hike in prices of the products,” the ED said.

And this, indicated the ED, makes Amway’s operations similar to a pyramid scheme, where new members are recruited by existing members with claims of amassing wealth and becoming rich.

The agency claimed that between FY2003 and FY2022, Amway collected Rs 27,562 crore, of which it paid commissions worth Rs 7,588 crore to affiliate members and distributors in the United States and India.

What is Amway’s stand on the issue?

Amway, however, claims that it does not offer any incentives to new members to join the company and the members are only paid once they make a transaction or sell the product, and hence they are not operating a pyramid scheme.

The company has released a statement saying that the action of the authorities is with regard to the investigation dating back to 2011 and since then Amway has been co-operating with the department and has shared all information as sought from Amway from time to time. Amway said it will continue to cooperate with the government authorities for a fair, legal, and logical conclusion of the outstanding issues.

“As the matter is sub judice, we do not wish to comment further. We request you to exercise caution, considering a misleading impression about our business also affects the livelihood of over 5.5 lakh direct sellers in the country,” it said in a statement to media.

In an conversation last year with Moneycontrol, Amway India CEO Anshu Budhraja had said that Amway India does not charge any registration fee to its agents.

“There are no charges for joining Amway business. Further, to ensure that the customers have a satisfying experience with Amway, our products are backed by a money-back guarantee for 100 percent satisfaction of use,” Budhraja had said.

What are the regulations around direct selling?

The government last year included Direct Selling under the Consumer Protection Act (Direct Selling) Rules, 2021. These new rules prohibit direct selling companies from charging registration fees from their agents, and bars them from charging their agents for the cost of demonstration to prospective buyers.

The rules also forbid direct sellers from engaging in pyramid and money circulation schemes. The rules mandate that the companies operating in the segment would have to appoint a Chief Compliance Officer, a Grievance Redressal Officer, and a Nodal Contact Person. The companies would also need to be registered with the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade and must have an office in India.

They would also be mandated to maintain a website with all relevant information.

“Every direct selling entity shall establish a mechanism for filing of complaints by consumers through its offices, branches and direct sellers through a person, post, telephone, e-mail, and website,” as per the regulation.

“Every direct selling entity shall establish a mechanism for filing of complaints by consumers through its offices, branches and direct sellers through a person, post, telephone, e-mail, and website,” as per the regulation.

It adds: “Every direct selling entity shall ensure that such registration number is displayed prominently to its users in a clear and accessible manner on its website and each invoice issued for each transaction.”

In addition, such companies would have to maintain a record of direct sellers working with them, including their ID proof, address proof, email ID, and other contact information.

Source: moneycontrol

A Creditor Revolt Scuttled Ambani’s $3.2 Billion Retail Deal

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April 24, 2022

Written By Suvashree Ghosh, Bijou George, and Sankalp Phartiyal

It was a contentious plan to repay overseas bondholders in full that brought what would have been India’s biggest retail deal to a grinding halt.

Debt-laden Future Retail Ltd.’s offshore bondholders — a relatively smaller part of the creditor pool — were promised 100% payment in the rescue offer from billionaire Mukesh Ambani, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Indian lenders were asked to take a haircut of as much as 66%, the people added, asking not to be identified discussing confidential information.

The unequal treatment led to the move last week, when the local banks rebuffed the $3.2 billion offer from Ambani’s conglomerate. Reliance Industries Ltd. announced the purchase plan in August 2020 but struggled to complete the transaction in the face of legal challenges mounted by Amazon.com Inc., which argued it had the first right of refusal contractually.

Bank of India and State Bank of India, the main bankers to Future Retail, didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment on reasons for voting down the deal. Representatives for Future Group and Reliance also didn’t immediately comment.

State-run lenders risked probes from federal agencies if they accepted these discriminatory terms, they said, explaining their preference now for a court-mediated insolvency process where bids are called in and there’s no risk of them being accused of cutting a bad deal. Bank of India has already requested an Indian court to initiate the process.

Hard-Nosed Decision

The hard-nosed decision by Indian banks has pushed the teetering Future Retail, which ran one of the nation’s largest retail grocery chains before the pandemic struck, one step closer to bankruptcy. Future Retail is almost certain to default on its $500 million bond coupon payment due July 22, S&P Global Ratings said Tuesday, while downgrading the company’s ratings deeper into junk territory.

The lenders’ action has also taken the wind out of a tortuous two-year-old litigation between Reliance and Jeff Bezos-owned Amazon — the e-tailer had started arbitration proceedings in Singapore to block the deal — but left the door open for Ambani to snag these retail assets, possibly at an even cheaper price, under the bankruptcy process.

“Reliance and other parties could be eligible to bid for its assets by submitting their resolution plans” even if Future Retail ends up in bankruptcy, according to Satwinder Singh, New Delhi-based partner at law firm Vaish Associates Advocates. “This would also lead to moratorium on any or all ongoing arbitration proceedings against Future.”

While the local lenders were agreeable to the deal when it was first announced, a lot changed in the past year or so, the people said. While the Amazon lawsuit dragged on, the asset value eroded and the pandemic worsened the cash crunch at Future Retail that began defaulting on its debt repayments.

Secured Indian lenders were promised recoveries ranging between 34% to 88% of the total $4 billion in dues and even those payouts were staggered over seven years, the people said.

Bloodless Coup

Reliance dealt a body blow to the Kishore Biyani-led Future Group in February when it quietly began poaching employees and taking over rental leases of hundreds of stores earlier run by Future Retail and Future Lifestyle Fashions Ltd. Ambani’s bloodless coup prompted Amazon to suggest settlement talks on the bitter dispute and alarmed Future’s investors and lenders who worried about asset-stripping.

Reliance’s unexpected takeover of Future’s stores eroded bankers’ confidence in the deal as it stripped off value from the chain and potentially could erode Reliance’s offer terms.

The out-of-court truce talks between Amazon, Future and Reliance collapsed soon after the store-purchases were initiated, the companies informed India’s top court on March 15. Amazon will continue with its arbitration proceedings against Future Group in Singapore, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified as the deliberations are private.

“A major turning point was when Reliance physically took over Future’s stores, which turned it into a no-holds barred situation,” said Devangshu Dutta, head of New Delhi-based retail consultancy Third Eyesight. “Before this the battle was being fought in courts and across the negotiating table. But at this point it moved over to the real business.”

Source: bloomberg