Manipal to flag off medical retail juggernaut

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With a fish-eyed focus on the Indian retail market, Somnath Das, COO, Manipal Group, and his team have started the countdown for the launch of their first-of-its kind retail brand called Cure & Care. Das speaks to Vishnu Rageev R about the significance of this new concept and brand in retail.

• There was a big buzz in retail circles that Manipal Group is coming up with an innovative retail concept for the medical segment?

Predominantly, major retailers have been talking about bringing in healthcare as a retail component in terms of clinics that treat illnesses, but nobody has thought of bringing the preventive, wellness and beauty segments together under one roof. We are filling in this major gap with the launch of our Cure & Care brand.

• How do you define the Cure & Care brand?

Cure & Care is the retail arm of Manipal Group, but has an entirely different business set-up and entity. It is a brand name, which we would like to develop in a niche market. You can describe it as a destination shop wherein a health-conscious person can walk in to stay healthy. It will be like a shopping experience; we will offer our customers a hygienic, non-hospital environment wherein they can have a fast-track check-up as well as shop for branded products to remain healthy. It is not simply making a test, meeting a doctor, and then going home. We offer a combination of services. Cure & Care is aimed at offering a comprehensive, end-to-end solution in 45 minutes.

• How do you differentiate Cure & Care from a hospital or a clinic?

Hospitals are predominantly meant to trap illnesses, and preventive action happens when you become a patient. Our study has proved that patients are not the prime drivers of business in healthcare. Hence, our project focuses on healthy people –visiting our boutiques, going through counselling, advices and checkups to maintain health and not to fall sick.

Please remember, we are not in the hospital business at all. There won’t be any patients coming to us. It’s a one-stop destination shop wherein we will sell branded products as well as services. My shop is a destination shop for healthy people.

• Is it a western format that you are going to introduce?

Not absolutely. Here, we have tweaked the western concept to suit our population. It is indigenised. The focus in the United States is on sickness, and we are not touching it here. Our clinics are called Express Care; these have innovative packages that are different from hospitals.

In the United States, there are parameters intrinsic to their delivery system – for example, insurance is prevalent there and in the ‘one minute clinics’ patients are attended to by a nurse and a physician assistant. However, in India, insurance is at a very nascent stage; plus, the Indian healthcare market is not ready and willing to get consultation from somebody who’s not in a doctor’s gown.

• Do you think that you can drive people from a hospital atmosphere to a place that is a complete contrast?

Why not? I don’t think a healthy mother would love to visit a hospital if there is a hygienic and non-hospital environment available with more facilities and experts.

We don’t believe in a battery of tests. There has to be adequate combinations between various specialities and we are delivering it through our shops. I am optimistic about this, and you will realise it from your first visit.

• Do you foresee business viability in this venture?

As far as retail is concerned, the success story depends upon your talent in rightly observing consumer behaviour.

As you are aware, Manipal Group is purely an ethical organisation. We believe we can make good business by being ethical to our customers. Retention of customers is our great motive when it comes to customer service. It is not like getting the best ticket size for the first time, and not getting it the second time.

Our aim is to build and develop a healthcare business into a retail venture with strong financial viability. We want to put up protocols that have never been heard of in the retail industry.

• What are the services that you are going to offer to customers?

Our shops will have innovative packages that are different from those available at hospitals. The services include dissemination of information on wellness and preventive care through booklets and brochures. Trained counsellors will be deployed and they will be available free of cost. We will also provide services in the areas adjacent to our Cure & Care shops.

Our Express Care will enable a customer to pick up what he or she wants in 45 minutes time. It also offers health checks and walk-in flexi checks like diabetic check, cardiac check, liver check, HIV screening, and lungs check, as well as vaccinations.

The beauty and cosmetology sections will offer services like cosmetic dermatology, dentistry and skin piercing. The outlets will have consultants from the fields of general medicine, dermatology, dentistry, paediatrics, gynaecology, ophthalmology, endocrinology and lab medicine.

Customers will also be offered silver, gold and platinum cards with various benefits and schemes.

• Who is your target audience?

This is more of a family store. A small baby, a child, an adolescent, an adult, and an elder, all can benefit in this setup.

Our main drivers will be the elite in the society, who we hope will eventually push in the family to come into this kind of a set-up. The clientele we are looking to comprise people who know about wellness, and for whom talking about fitness and wellness in societies is a status symbol.

• What is the kind of retail expansion planned for Cure & Care?

Primarily, we want to be in malls, mega cities and high streets. Our strategy for tier I is different from that for tier II. In the next 4-5 years, we plan to have 50 Cure and Care points in tier I and II cities across the country. We are planning to set up 10 stores in Bangalore, NCR, Hyderabad, Pune, Mumbai and Ahmedabad in this fiscal.

The first store will be opened in Ahmedabad on August 3 and the second will come up in Bangalore in the next 2-3 months. The square feet area will range anywhere between 3,500 and 7,500.

• What is the projected revenue from the business?

After the opening of 50 stores, we expect to clock in revenue of Rs 500 crore. This year we expect to cross Rs 50 crore.

• Can you please share some details about your investments on the retail front?

The group will initially invest Rs 50-60 crore for the business and augment this to Rs 250-260 crore in the next 4-5 years. In the 4th year, we may even look for our first set of private equity investments just to boost and bring some kind of spice to the business.

• Any plans for opening franchisee outlets?

In the third year, we have a target of opening 100-200 franchisee stores. It will be in the hands of healthcare providers, our alumni (Manipal University scholars), and the best consultants in the country.

We want to give franchisee to people who respect healthcare. It should not be somebody who is looking at a short-term gain. So, as the number increases, it is going to be a big employment opportunity for people.

• Will Cure & Care mainly have a team of professionals working onboard?

Each centre will employ about 70 people. And I am proud to say that this is the first retail venture in India to provide employment opportunity to skilled labourers. For the rest, it is the graduates and executives who are driving the business. While we also have a few specialists for backend operations, my front-end will be under the control of skilled labourers.

• Which are the major brands that you are going to retail through Cure & Care?

We have tied up with only the credible (products) brands in India. The major difference between us and the rest is that we have a medical advisory committee, which has 14 specialists from various streams. Without the consent of our medical advisory committee, neither a service can be offered nor can a product be put on the rack.

We have leading brands like Bausch and Lomb, Essilor and Zeiss for vision care; Colgate and Oral B for dental care; Vichy and Truste for skin care; brands from US FDA-approved plants in nutraceuticals (food supplements and additives); and personal healthcare products from J&J and Abbot. We will also provide health and life insurance products from ICICI Prudential and ICICI Lombard.

• Do you have any accreditation for Cure & Care?

We strongly believe that any organisation or new business should have an accreditation or regulatory body to scrutinise it. You might have heard about Australian Healthcare Standard. It’s an organisation that will never certify if you do not live up to their standards. We have received a formal letter from Australian Healthcare Standard that it will be certifying our centres.

• Do you offer any treatments other than allopathy?

The company has signed up an MoU with Ayur Gram. They are going to house an ayurveda treatment centre in the store.

There will be yoga, ayurveda and allopathy under one roof, and it is for the customer to choose the best.

• What are the other major offerings for customers?

We are doing error proofing. We will ask our doctor to partner with customers and share what he is going to do to avoid errors.

We will be the first one to have Electronic Medical Records (EMR). If we have 20 centres, your data will be available across all 20 centres.

We are training all our staff – doctors, nurses and councillors – to treat every visitor as a guest. It’s a big challenge. Definitely, fine-tunings will be required. Each response from customers – be it positive or negative – will be taken seriously. If it’s a positive remark towards a staff, we will pay him incentives.

• Do you have any competitors?

Being the thought leaders and the first entrant into this system, I think we will have an advantage over anyone else who might copy us. And that’s the reason why we have brought in the service component with retail. Other retailers would struggle to bring in the service component because they don’t have the backup of Manipal University.

And none of the clinics have come to a mall or a high street atmosphere, where we will predominantly have our presence.

• Knowing that Ahmedabad is not a tier I city, why have you selected your first location there?

You need to understand the background – Ahmedabad provides a market that is the best testing ground in the country. Our study shows that people in the city believe in, and stand for, value for money. Every city has a pocket and within the city, we need to position in a place where demand is large for value-for-money. In Ahmedabad we are positioned in the best mall, called Himalaya. We expect it to be a great advantage for a brand like Cure & Care to be in a city like Ahmedabad.

• Any plans to launch private labels?

Manipal plans to launch a host of private labels in nutraceuticals. We are also launching a skincare brand called Mask on August 3. Since we have different thoughts, each of my business will spin off in the long run. There are lots more on the anvil.

• Do you plan to introduce new technologies into the business?

Every six months we will be introducing one new technology. In the next six months’ time, we will introduce Footcare Solution in the country. It is a technology that will tell you the requirement of your shoes and insoles. That will be customised to individual leg and foot.

• Any plans to foray internationally?

Yes, we plan to set up company-owned stores in Southeast Asia in the next 3-4 years. We may even move on to other locations in the long run.

• What happened to the Manipal-Pantaloon tie-up?

It was not a tie-up; we had a teaming document.

When the promoters Kishore Biyani (CEO and chairman of Future Group) and Dr Ramdas Pai (chairman, Manipal Group) met, Kishoreji suggested a joint task force for the next six months to develop some new business models in medical retailing. We formed an MoU, which did not culminate into an agreement, and so we went our own ways.

• Why did the agreement lapse?

We could not come out with a model wherein both the companies could benefit. We felt that we could run the wellness, preventive and beauty concept that we had in our mind, predominantly because we understand the business when it comes to this segment – in the way we want, and in the environment and format we want, so we decided to go alone.

Down the line, if there is an opportunity and they feel that there is a great opportunity to team up with us, why not? We have the best relationship with Kishoreji.

• Can we expect a celebrity to endorse Cure & Care?

Sure! We are in talks with some cricket legends and we will soon finalise a deal. This year we will spend some Rs 8-10 crore for marketing the brand.

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