Reliance Retail’s Office Depot JV

Reliance Retail will soon pilot the retail venture of Office Depot and open the first Hamleys toy store as the Mukesh Ambani-led retailer beefs up its portfolio and expansion plans. Its offerings under the lifestyle umbrella range from books & music, apparel, toys and opticals to jewels and office supplies. ET caught up with Reliance Retail’s president & chief executive-Lifestyle Bijou Kurien for an exclusive interview. Edited Excerpts:

Are the multiple verticals under the Lifestyle division operating profitably?
Both Reliance Time Out, which will grow to 20 stores by 2011, and the relatively smaller-store-sized Reliance Jewels, which will have 50 stores by 2011, broke even last year. Almost half of our 46-odd optical retail stores Vision Express have also broken even. The Marks & Spencer brand has now been repositioned to compete in the mid-market segment in India. We intend to open bigger stores of around 15, 000 to 20, 000 sq ft where merchandise will be extended from apparel to personal care, home ware and accessories. India will also account for a larger sourcing component for Marks & Spencer.

Over a year after joining hands with US-based Office Depot how has the JV progressed?
The Office Depot JV currently operates through a business-to-business relationship where we’ve focused on the small, medium and large office supplies space so far through our joint acquisition of eOfficePlanet, a supplier of office products and services to corporates. We are testing our first retail foray through an Office Depot store in Bangalore.

Has the lifestyle division also set its sights on smaller cities yet?
Reliance Jewels is positioned as a mid-market retailer which doesn’t cater to the everyday low-priced diamond jewellery segment but targets the occasion (wedding, births etc) and adornment-led jewellery segments. Given the fact that the Reliance brand is strong, we’ve positioned some formats such that it can tap into the potential of rural retail without creating a separate brand for smaller markets like Dhanbad and Jamnagar. Vision Express also holds relevance because like jewellery there are few national optical retailers and sight correction is a need that cuts across population strata.
The lifestyle division will also make inroads into smaller cities by co-locating with Reliance Hypermart’s roll out. Classically, hypermarkets are designed in a manner where the area in front of the cash till is allocated for several independent stores. So, in areas such as Rajahmundry and Kolhapur we’ve opted for co-location opportunities for Reliance Jewels and Vision Express with the hypermart. From a cost point of view too, drumming traffic towards independent formats and affordability of standalone rent often becomes a challenge within smaller cities.

How did the discretionary-purchase driven Reliance Time Out perform in a year when consumer sentiment took a beating?
Time Out was the only format within Reliance Retail that grew substantially in the slowdown period. Although, the sheer market size of our offerings is only around Rs 10, 000 crore, as the categories are highly underpenetrated, sales can be strengthened by creating occasions that lend themselves for purchases. This is why we had 200 events across three of our stores within 11 months.
We’ve performed better than competitors because our stores are built on architecting merchandise in line with people’s lives as opposed to being in a purely product-selling mode. Products are just the ambassadors, if you go beyond that by building an exciting store experience then sales don’t get dictated by macro trends. In fact, despite being a discretionary category it clocked 47% like-for-like growth this January.

Time Out corners now also feature within Pantaloon Retail’s Central formats across Bangalore and Ahmedabad. What is the rationale of being present in a rival’s format?

It’s a win-win partnership for both retailers. Central is a premium format where the consumer traffic is relevant to Time Out and the offerings appeal to the audience. Being wants and aspiration-driven, the format’s presence itself drives consumption. From a competitor’s point of view, it offers the option of partnering with a competent player to add to other categories.

Will there be a product overlap given your franchisee agreement with British toy retailer Hamleys?
Given the size of the population, the toy category is fairly underdeveloped in India. If you don’t show toys through large stores, you won’t sell enough of this impulse-driven segment. Most Indian retailers have included toys only as an aspect of multi-category stores so far. Our experience with Reliance Time Out showed that there existed a larger opportunity in having a full-fledged toy store. We will open the first store in Mumbai this month, followed by Chennai.

Source:http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opinion/interviews/Reliances-new-thrust-on-retail-business/articleshow/5720460.cms

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