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    Famous, not last, words

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    In retail there is no substitute for starting at the bottom; retailing is some science but mainly an art that cannot be learnt in a boardroom, says ’s outgoing CEO Andrew .

    If today HyperCity has managed to top the list of Mumbaikars when it comes to shop for their household items, the credit of their choice – to some extent – goes to Andrew Levermore. In 2004, when Levermore began his retail journey in India as CEO of HyperCity, little did anyone know that this man from South Africa would understand this country’s customers so well and give his best to truly provide a world-class shopping experience. Come December 2009, and Levermore will be heading back to South Africa. He would, however, remain on the board of HyperCity in a non-executive capacity. So one would still see him returning to the country at regular intervals for official commitments.

    Reflecting on his tenure at HyperCity, Levermore says, “Conceiving and creating HyperCity has been an incredibly rewarding experience. I was very fortunate to have picked a team of outstanding individuals who together have built a world-class business and will sustain it well into the future. The early days of planning were tough as we fought hard with conventional wisdom in order to build what was at that time an unprecedented size of store format with the widest assortment of quality products all under one roof.”

    “The success of our first store has made life a little easier for us as customers have responded positively. This, in turn, has led us to becoming the channel of choice for our suppliers and an employer of choice for aspirant young retailers.”

    Talking about HyperCity’s much-awaited expansion plans, Levermore says, “Delivery of property by developers has been frustratingly late. We are finally in a position to begin trading in our next three stores by year-end. I will be stepping down from my executive role comfortable with the fact that the business expansion is firmly on track.”

    Sharing views on the way retail in India is moving and the dangers it possibly can face in future, he says, “Indian retail has been on the top of a huge wave of optimism. Many business houses with no previous experience in retail have launched headlong, into what I think, they believed was an easy territory. It is unfortunate that our industry was perceived as an easy profit stream. Many are incurring unprecedented losses, which are perhaps a little sobering now. There will undoubtedly be some casualties. The most tragic part of this will be the hundreds, if not thousands, young people who began a career in retail with the same stars in their eyes as the frontrunners of their company. An encouraging thought for them is that opportunity continues to exist for talented, hard-working people prepared to learn from the bottom up.”

    Levermore further lends a wise advice, “In retail there is absolutely no substitute for starting at the bottom. Retailing is some science but mainly an art that cannot be learnt in a boardroom.”

    Commenting on the roadblocks, he states, “Indian retail will continue to face some challenges not least in the supply chain. Our supply infrastructure has been set up to deliver to 12 million kiranas. Our legislative and tax environment has ensured that manufacturers and suppliers have to have plants and distribution centres split into different state locations. Whilst this might save some tax, it adds to manufacturing cost and multiplies the amount of stock in the pipeline. The science of planning just-in-time supply and demand is very difficult when the last mile delivery is sometimes on a bicycle ridden by a gentleman without a computer. Consequently retail inventories inevitably swell.”

    He further adds, “As a nascent industry there are some lessons that we have still to learn. The most significant of these will be the malls with more than three trading floors, which are highly unlikely to sustain. Pressure on available real estate has tempted many into building multiple floors on a small footprint. This is okay when there is only one mall option for consumers. Once multiple options are available in the vicinity, consumers will do – what they do all over the world – shop on the ground floor and very reluctantly travel up or down.”

    Barring these hang-ups, Levermore is optimistic about the Indian retail scenario. He shares, “Despite this, retail continues to represent an outstanding business opportunity. I have no doubt that a handful of thoroughly professional and experienced Indian retail chains, who have taken time to learn the game, will emerge as icons of retail across the world. The most important factor is that our one billion consumers are getting better and better deals everyday. Intense competition will lower prices and improve the quality of retail experience. More players fighting for the same pair of feet is good for the game.”

    With Levermore’s four years-plus stay in India, it is natural for him to develop an emotional attachment with the land. Sharing his feelings about leaving the country, he says, “I landed in India with blonde hair and will be leaving with grey.”

    “More seriously, for me and my family, our four-and-a-half years in India have been a great adventure. The opportunity to create a world-class business from scratch is not one that many people are lucky to have. For me, working with Raheja family and has been a fantastic experience. They created exactly the right environment of support from a distance that allowed the creative genes at HyperCity to work unhindered.”

    “My children have made lifelong friends and learnt tolerance, which should be made compulsory learning for all humans – tolerance for others’ religions, creeds, customs and beliefs.”

    By Zainab Morbiwala