Realty race in Maximum City as Tata Group, Reliance Industries keep on shopping

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February 23, 2024

Kailash Babar & Sagar Malviya, Economic Times

Mumbai, 23 February 2024

Tata Group and Reliance Industries, two of India’s largest conglomerates, are vying for premium retail real estate in Mumbai as they extend their footprints, creating rivalry in a city starved of marquee properties. From Zara and Starbucks to Westside and Titan, the Tata Group occupies nearly 25 million square feet of retail space in India. That is still no match for Reliance Industries that control three times more at 73 million sq ft for more than 100 local and global brands.

But in Mumbai, they are evenly matched, having nearly 3 million sq ft of retail space each. That is a quarter of what is considered the most prime retail real estate in the country, and both the retail giants are looking for more.

“In a modern retail environment, most visible locations contain more successful or larger brands. It just so happens that many of those brands are owned by either Reliance or the Tatas,” said Devangshu Dutta, founder of Third Eyesight, a strategy consulting firm.

“Tatas have been in retail for longer but also slower to scale up compared to Reliance which had this stated ambition of being the most dominant and put the money behind it,” he said.

In a market where demand is much higher than supply, developers and landlords seek to separate the wheat from the chaff, experts said. Ultimately, success in Mumbai’s retail real estate scene hinges on a delicate equilibrium between accommodating industry leaders and fostering a vibrant, varied shopping environment, they said. “In the competitive landscape of retail real estate in Mumbai, commercial developers and mall owners often face the strategic challenge of accommodating prominent retail brands,” said Abhishek Sharma, director, retail, at commercial real estate consultants Knight Frank India.

“These big brands, with a significant market share of 40-45% in the Indian retail sector, can easily be termed as industry giants and possess the potential to command 45-50% of space in any mall,” he said. According to Sharma, there may be perceptions of preferential treatments, but the dynamics are complex, and developers must balance the demand from these major brands with the need for a diverse tenant mix.

Tata Group entered retail in the late 1980s, initially by opening Titan watch stores and a decade later by launching department store Westside. So far, it has about 4,600 stores, including brands such as Tanishq, Starbucks, Westside, Zudio, Zara and Croma.

While Reliance Retail started in 2006, it overcompensated for its late entry by aggressively opening stores across formats. Reliance has over 18,774 stores across supermarkets, electronics, jewellery, and apparel space. It has also either partnered or acquired over 80 global brands, from Gap and Superdry to Balenciaga and Jimmy Choo. A diverse portfolio of brands across various segments through strategic partnerships and collaborations helps an entity like Reliance to leverage synergies and enhance retail presence, especially in malls, experts said.

“The array of brands with Reliance bouquet allows it to enter early into the project and set the tone and positioning of the mall,” said a retail leasing expert who requested not to be identified.

“This positively helps the mall to set its own positioning and future tenant mix. It also helps Reliance place their brands in most relevant zones within the mall. This will emerge as a clear differentiator in a city like Mumbai where brands are already jostling for space, which is the costliest in the country,” the person added.

(Published in Economic Times)

Starbucks brews up cheaper India drinks as domestic rivals expand

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June 7, 2023

M. Sriram and Aditya Kalra, Reuters (MUMBAI/NEW DELHI)
June 7, 2023

Starbucks is revamping its strategy to lure Indians, including children, with smaller, cheaper beverages as it looks to expand in small towns amid a fierce challenge from domestic startups in one of its fastest-growing markets.

Among the first foreign coffee brands to enter tea-loving India, the U.S. giant has taken almost 11 years to open 343 stores, in contrast with private equity-backed chains Third Wave and Blue Tokai that opened about 150 in the last three years.

“As you grow in size, you need to get new consumers,” said Sushant Dash, the chief executive of Starbucks in India, adding that the chain’s “pricing play” would help shatter a perception that it is expensive.

The company has launched a six-ounce drink, “Picco”, which starts at $2.24, and milkshakes for $3.33 as part of its revamp to target affluent Indians who prefer smaller servings.

Starbucks plans to open more stores in smaller towns, said an industry source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Both its new offerings are unique to India and unavailable in China, Singapore and the United States.

India’s small but fast-growing specialty tea and coffee cafe market is worth $300 million and set to grow 12% each year, Euromonitor estimates. Canada’s Tim Hortons and Britain’s Pret A Manger are also expanding, but have only a handful of outlets.

“Excessively large portion sizes are an American phenomenon,” said Devangshu Dutta, head of retail consultancy Third Eyesight.

“Indian consumers are value-conscious. If adjusting portion sizes down to what is more normal helps make prices accessible, that’s a double win.”

He was among the analysts who felt the move by Starbucks, operating in India in a joint venture with Tata Group, could further boost its sales, which hit a record $132 million in fiscal 2022/23.

Although Starbucks still dominates in India, rivalry is fizzing in the capital, New Delhi, and the technology hub of Bengaluru, where many Third Wave cafes are often as crowded as Starbucks outlets.

“We’ve lost 30 cups a day to them,” said a barista at a Starbucks shop in Delhi that sells 7,500 drinks a month, referring to a Third Wave that opened nearby months ago, but already sells 3,700.

Starbucks has faced homegrown challengers elsewhere, most notably in China, where its 6,200 stores service the biggest market outside the United States.

There, in just the last five years, Luckin Coffee has used discounts to lure customers to its 10,000 mostly pickup or delivery stores.

Bet On Chai

In India, where Starbucks has added domestic touches to its offerings over the years to boost their appeal, it is now stepping up that game, just as global giants McDonald’s and Domino’s have done.

It estimates that just 11% of Indian homes drink coffee, as opposed to 91% drinking tea. Hot milky tea, or “chai” as it is known in Hindi, is sold at roadside stalls by the hundreds of cups each day for as little as 10 rupees (12 U.S. cents).

Starbucks, which offered for years just one milk chai “latte” made with tea syrup, has launched “Indian-inspired” tea offerings laced with spices and cardamom, both favourites in many Indian homes, which start at 185 rupees ($2.24).

The drinks were introduced to attract those who do not drink coffee and shun Starbucks, said Dash, adding the company would retain its focus on coffee and not make chai a primary offering.

The launch of smaller, cheaper beverages in India indicates Starbucks may have seen “a decline in traffic related to a pushback” on higher prices, said Chas Hermann, a U.S.-based restaurant consultant and former Starbucks executive.

Competition, Small Cities Push

In May, people lured by a one-for-one offer queued in a street outside the first Starbucks store in the western city of Aurangabad, a YouTube video showed in scenes reminiscent of when it first opened in India.

But its rivals are catching up and a price war has begun.

Soon after Starbucks’ May launch of $3.33 milkshakes, designed to attract children, Third Wave launched its own range, a fifth cheaper at $2.71.

In Bengaluru, startup investors and founders hold meetings in Third Wave outlets. It has more than 40 stores there, exceeding the 35 of Starbucks, data from real estate analytics firm CRE Matrix shows.

Third Wave’s chief executive, Sushant Goel, said he planned to add 60 to 70 stores every year, with a focus on big cities. He saw Starbucks’ cheaper, small-sized drinks as a response to competition in “an incredibly price-sensitive market”.

Matt Chitharanjan, chief executive of Blue Tokai, said it had “seen success in converting customers from Starbucks”, partly because of lower prices.

While Dash said he was undeterred by competition, Starbucks recognises the threat, although privately.

In one lease deal for a Bengaluru mall reviewed by Reuters, Starbucks inserted a “cafe exclusivity” clause barring the mall owner from allotting space on the same floor to rival “premium” brands, including Third Wave and Blue Tokai.

“Going deeper into smaller cities, beyond the metros, is the only way to grow,” said Ankur Bisen, head of retail at India’s Technopak Advisors.

(Reporting by M. Sriram and Aditya Kalra; Additional reporting by Anushree Fadnavis in New Delhi, Varun Vyas and Euan Rocha in Bengaluru, Miyoung Kim in Singapore, Sophie Yu in Beijing and Hilary Russ in New York; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Liberalised FDI – Not A Threat to Franchising

Tarang Gautam Saxena

February 1, 2012

As the debate over FDI (even for single brand retail) continues, over 250 international brands in the food service and fashion and lifestyle sectors alone continue to service the Indian consumers. Interestingly more than half of them are present in the Indian market through the franchising route.

Franchising has been a preferred entry strategy especially in case of the food service sector. Many of the international food brands have opted to give the master franchise to an Indian partner who can use the international brand’s name but is responsible for sourcing the ingredients and maintaining the international quality standards for food and service. One such example is Dominos, which incidentally is also the country’s largest international food service brand. Of course, as FDI liberalisation seems nearer the finish line, brands such as Starbucks are choosing to join hands with an Indian partner while others such as Denny’s Corp are planning to tie up with regional licensees.

In case of the fashion sector, in the early years of liberalisation few international companies chose franchising. Instead some chose licensing to gain a quick access to the Indian market at a minimal investment. Others set up wholly owned subsidiaries or entered into majority-owned joint ventures to have a greater control over their Indian business operations, product sourcing and supply chain and brand marketing.

However, at the turn of the last decade, many international fashion brands chose franchising owing to favourable business environment. An environment conducive for growth of franchising was created by reduction in import duties under WTO agreements, the absence of a wide network of multi-brand retail platforms, the need for using exclusive branded outlets as a marketing tool to create a full brand experience and the simultaneous growth of real estate investors who were potential master franchises ready to invest capital and real estate.

The question is how the liberalisation of FDI norms will impact the choice of market entry strategy for the international brands. Would franchising continue to remain the preferred entry mode as we set into the liberalised FDI regime? The change in foreign investment norms has already led to some brands (in particular those in the fashion and lifestyle sector) transitioning their existing licensing or franchise partnership into a joint venture or wholly owned subsidiary while the new entrants are actively considering ownership routes rather than franchising.

Certainly, the ideal scenario for an international brand would be to have complete ownership and control over the operations in a strategic market like India, but direct investment does also increase their risk and the investment is not financial alone. Amongst other choices licensing offers the least control, and while joint venture may be preferable for some brands, for many franchising still proves to be the practical choice for some time to come.

Franchising may potentially be quicker way to launch with higher chances of the retail business being successful. As it is an “entrepreneurship” model of business, the franchisee’s motivation to make the venture a success is high. The international brand has an assured income by way of royalty on the license agreement and could expand more rapidly in the market. Having a local partner with a closer understanding of the market and the ability to adapt to the changing needs of the consumers also helps to ensure that the international brand’s offering is tuned in to consumers’ demand.

Further, unlike more developed markets where brands have sizable networks of large-format store as a launch and growth platform, in India there are still limited choices to simply “plug-and-play” using department stores or any other large-format retail network. Partnering with a franchisee who has access to retail real estate can be a quick way to reach the target consumers. On his part the franchisor needs to ensure that the business model is well thought through in terms of the team and infrastructure required and is scalable.

For a successful relationship it is vital that the franchisee has an entrepreneurial mind-set. The essence of the brand needs be well understood, and the franchisee must have operational involvement rather than a “passive investment” approach.

If both partners understand their respective responsibilities, franchising can truly be a win-win business model.

Smelling the Coffee

Devangshu Dutta

March 30, 2010

Last week, Starbucks unveiled its strategy for profitable global growth, having taken approximately US$ 600 million out of costs in since January 2008.

About 3 years ago in a leaked memo, chairman Howard Schultz had raised concern about how, in the race to scale and to become consistent, Starbucks was losing sight of all critical things that had made it successful in the first place. (“The Commoditization of the Starbucks Experience – Soul Searching by Howard Schultz“).

In January 2008, Schultz took on an active role as CEO in a bid to stem the rot (“Leadership Change at Starbucks – The Barista Returns“).

These two years have been eventful. Shortly after Schultz stepped in, Starbucks announced that it would close 600 under-performing stores in the US. That was well before the “financial tsunami”. In 2009, another 200 in the US and 100 globally were identified for closure, and the company also scaled back on its 2009 expansion plan for 200 new stores.

At its shareholders’ meeting last week, Starbucks presented a more confident face, and outlined a return to growth with plans to expand its presence and “accelerate profitable growth in both the U.S. retail business and in key international markets”. (This profitable growth mantra was also recited in last year’s shareholder meeting.)

However, while the business is looking better, it is far from fixed.

The environment is different. Globally, consumer wallets are leaner, competitors are meaner, and Starbucks may yet need to shrink further; the fat ain’t all in the latte.

Yet, there must be much good in the business if, for all its faults, it still gets imitated around the world.

According to Starbucks, it currently has less than 4 percent of the U.S. coffee market with its 6,800 own and 4,400 licensed stores, and less than 1 percent of the global coffee market even with 2,000+ company stores and 3,500 licensed stores. The company sees that as enough headroom to grow.

Schultz has promised to put the tough lessons learned in the last two years to good use. The company currently has approximately 200 fewer stores than it did at the beginning of 2009 even after new store openings during the year. (To put the current number of 16,700+ stores in perspective, the company had a total of “only” 2,600 stores in Q1-2000.)

But there’s something to think about. If the entrepreneur needs to step back in to fix things gone horribly corporate (bland) and wrong, maybe it’s time to acknowledge that there’s a logical limit to the size and scaling-up capability of personalized experience businesses.

Or, as a friend says, scale can be a logical outcome of excellence but excellence is never the logical outcome of scale.

It remains to be seen whether this round of growth will come from the company’s natural strengths or whether Starbucks will return to growth-by-steroids as Schultz eases on the controls.

Leadership Change at Starbucks – The Barista Returns?

Devangshu Dutta

January 28, 2008

Last year in an impassioned memo, Starbucks’ Howard Schultz identified several strategic and operational decisions that, according to him, were responsible for a deteriorating customer experience at Starbucks.

Starbucks faced the classic problem of any company scaling up (especially a retail brand) – how to be large without being bureaucratic, how to be efficient without losing the soul of the brand, how to be consistent without losing the differentiation edge.

The problem created by Starbucks taking the certain decisions was compounded by the fact that competitors have not stood still either. Competition has improved its core products (coffee), as well as the augmented product (store ambience, service, wait time etc.), and in comparison Starbucks has possibly stood still or slipped back.

Now, almost a year after that memo, Starbucks begins 2008 with Schultz stepping back into the CEO role. It’ll be interesting to see how his passion for the brand is infused back into the stores and the operations in the coming months.

On a separate note, the classic “founder vs. professional” conundrum also comes to mind, along with the notable examples of Apple (Steve Jobs), The Body Shop (Anita Roddick) and others. (Though Howard Schultz was not strictly the founder of Starbucks – the company was founded in 1971, and Schultz bought the company in 1987 when there were less than 20 stores in the chain – he is pretty close to being one.)

The question is: for iconic brands that are more than just the physical product or service being sold, can a ‘professional CEO’ ever take the place of the founder(s), replicate their passion & vision and maintain the integrity of the brand? I believe there are examples to support both answers: ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.

What do YOU think?