It’s quite amazing that “store productivity” doesn’t grab the attention of most people in the retail trade in India, despite the fact that real estate costs are riding an all-time high. It’s become quite typical for rentals to range 20-25% of sales, and in many cases even higher than that. (In those instances, a retailer could only hope to make money out of illegitimate activity or illegal merchandise, which is not part of the business plan of anyone I know!)
Many brands will (and possibly can) justify paying absurdly high rentals with the rationale that in the store portfolio, some locations will never make money, but are needed as marquee locations for “must-have” visibility. This can work if you do have a balanced store portfolio. The question is whether the low-rent locations actually have the capability to generate enough margin to support the unprofitable locations.
While some of the rentals are comparable to expensive real estate in the developed markets, gross margins in India are typically thinner than in Europe, USA etc., reducing the spread a retailer has for its operational expenses. Add to the mix over-estimation of consumer demand, and the scenario looks even gloomier.
In this context, to my mind, each store needs to be made as productive as it can be. There needs to be fairly sharp focus on store performance and category performance data.
However, in the last 18-months or so, conversations with Indian and international brands and retailers operating in the Indian market, showed that topline (sales) growth and new store openings were the focus for most retailers (even till a few weeks ago). Most branded suppliers have also shown unprecedented sales growth on the back of new store openings – their own exclusive stores, as well as new sites being added by department store chains carrying their brand.
For instance, in March 2007, one (new) brand said that their business plan called for 50 stores by the end of 2007, and 100 by the end of 2008.
When sales growth can be achieved just by opening more new boxes (stores), productivity and efficiency don’t appear to be important.
I believe 2008 will see a change in management priorities. I don’t think the unnamed brand above will open its 100 stores. It is very likely that they will want their already opened stores to work harder.
Productivity is obviously linked to store operations (people, process, technology) – when the merchandise and the customer are both in the store, you need to make sure the two are matched quickly and effectively, and that there is a focus on conversion, average transaction values and efficient inventory management. But that is only one part of the story.
Support functions, such as marketing, supply chain, buying and merchandising have a huge role to play as well.
Category management, efficient and responsive supply chains, optimising store-footprint and catchment to ensure maximum walk-ins … these are some of the issues I believe top management needs to look at carefully in the coming 24 months.
If you are in a senior management position in a retail business, what are your priorities this year?