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God’s own retail lab

C. J. Punnathara, The Hindu – BusinessLine

December 14, 2011

FDI in retail will usher in changes in the shopping experience, believe experts. But, even without it, Kerala’s textile retailers have been dressing up in style. A look at the action.

The small like it big. So Kerala — going by its shopping complexes — is going for the maximum. Textile showrooms in God’s Own Country have been outdoing one another in setting up extravagant outlets at a time when retailers everywhere else are downsizing.

Take the recently opened five-storied five lakh sq ft Emmanuval Silks showroom in Kochi. Its car park can accommodate 1,000 cars at a time; there’s a 5,000 sq ft children’s play area; a food court that stretches 4,500 sq ft, doctor-and nurse on-call, and areas to host fashion shows.

What’s more, there are fashion consultants to help shoppers choose their brocades. And for those who find shopping hell, but have to accompany their wives, there are VIP lounges to watch TV and read the newspapers or simply snooze.

This towering new complex in Edapally, a busy suburb, has just beaten in size many times over the 1.25 lakh sq ft Kalyan Silks showroom in Ernakulam, which claims to be the world’s largest silk saree showroom. Other textile retailers in the State such as the century-old Seematti Silks and Jayalakshmi Silks too have been dressing up grandly to woo customers into their fancy stores. Seematti offers its customers a choice of three lakh sarees at any given time.

YOU WANT IT, WE GOT IT

These new avatar mega textile showrooms that stock hundreds of brands across all age groups, gender and income brackets are creating a big buzz in retail circles. They are positioning themselves as complete family outing destinations rather than just functional shopping places.

“We are big, but bigger can also be beautiful and that is the general direction where we are headed,” says Govind Kamat, Managing Partner of Jayalakshmi Silks, whose outlets in Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram boast food courts and huge parking areas. As space becomes scarce in its Kochi showroom, it plans to open a food court besides its car park. “We are re-writing the old adage ‘shop till you drop.’ There are several gentlemen at our stores who drop off to sleep at our luxurious lounge, while the women and children indulge in their shopping sprees,” Kamat says.

So are they setting a new trend? After all, Kerala has always been a trendsetter in retail innovation.

As Devangshu Dutta, Chief Executive, Third Eyesight, a retail consultancy says, “Kerala has been ahead of format of the rest of the country right from the ’80s.” According to him, urbanisation, education and a consumption economy are all key factors for the success of modern retail and that’s why Kerala has been a successful retail experiment lab.

Consider some of the innovations. The Emmanuval Silks showroom has Chinese, Arabic and French speaking staff to cater to the demands of international clientele.

The question is will big format pay off? Talk to T. O. Byju, Managing Director of Emmanuval Silks, and he sounds optimistic. “We plan to do a turnover of Rs 300 crore from the new outlet in the first year,” he says. That is more than the combined turnover of their two existing showrooms — which together have a turnover of approximately Rs 200 crore. By 2015, he expects the turnover to touch Rs 1,000 crore.

WOOING THE WEDDING CROWD

Byju’s confidence stems from the lucrative wedding market the saree retailers are addressing. As he says, a wedding is not just the coming together of two families but extends to relatives, friends and neighbours. And the family indulges in a shopping spree when clothes are bought for family, friends and relatives, over and above those for the bride and the groom. The shopping experience tends to go on for days. And the whole family needs to wine, dine, rest, relax and enjoy themselves while they indulge in the shopping jamboree. Every member of the family has to be not only taken care of, but has to be pampered and cared for. Thankfully for the large showrooms, weddings in India are virtually a round-the-year phenomenon, says Byju.

LIFESTYLE CHANGES

The transformation in the textile showrooms is also the result of changing shopping trends. Earlier, almost 30-40 per cent of the family shopping was undertaken during the festival season — Onam in Kerala and Diwali in North India. Now, with changing lifestyles and fatter wallets, it is becoming a round-the-year shopping experience.

In Kerala, the shopping season commences with the New Year festivities, then moves into the summer vacations when the wardrobe of the whole family is refurbished, followed by the NRI season when expatriates descend on the State to shop for themselves, children, family and friends. The festival seasons of Onam, Ramzan and Deepavali follow, which is rounded off with the year-end Christmas season. And there is no demarcation between Christmas and New Year and the festivities and shopping continue.

Clearly, it’s God’s own retail lab.

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