Size Matters

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As soon as one walks into the lower ground floor of the spanking new Mantri Square mall in Bangalore, one is hit by the sheer presence of a massive 90,000 square feet SPAR store, the retailer’s largest outlet yet in India.

Operating under a licence agreement between Max Hypermarket India Pvt. Ltd. and SPAR International, SPAR unveiled its third store in the silicon capital after Koramangala and Bannerghatta Road, at Sampige Road Malleswaram, one of oldest residential localities of Bangalore. 
With its international layout, design and services, the newest store from the chain promises to bring to shoppers in and around Malleswaram, Rajajinagar, Dollars Colony, RMV Extension, Sadashivnagar, parts of North Bangalore, Cantonment and Cunningham Road, a truly global shopping experience at extremely competitive Indian prices.
Store Layout
The presence of close to 1,000- plus trolleys and a graphic floor plan displayed immediately to the left of the enormous store entrance puts the shopper at ease and helps him/her to navigate SPAR’s largest store in India spread across a single floor. 
“Through the introduction of such large format stores, we hope to take the shopping experience in India to a whole new level. At SPAR, customer satisfaction takes precedence over every other aspect. We would like to provide our customers with the best of services, coupled with value for their money, and make their weekly shopping an experience to look forward to,” said Viney Singh, managing director of Max Hypermarket India Pvt Ltd, at the launch of the outlet..
The systematically arranged nonfoods sections, which are divided into five different colour-coded ‘worlds’ (Children’s World, Kitchen World, Electronics World, Living World and Max Apparel) as per the international custom at SPAR, apart from making the shopping hassle free, also lets the customer fill up the shopping basket of all his/her requirements quickly. For instance, Kitchen World, which is colour coded black, stocks all merchandise that is related to kitchen needs. In this section, the shopper will find pots, pans, mops, crockery, cutlery, plastic/steel containers and even kitchen-related electrical appliances like toasters, mixers, grinders and juicers. 
Elucidating the benefits of these colour-coded worlds, Singh states, “Thanks to the zoning of different areas, the shopper is able to save valuable time as he/she does not have to go back and forth to complete his/ her shopping list.”
Children’s World, which stocks everything related to kids including toys and stationery, has been colour coded bright yellow, while vermillion red is the colour for Living World (includes office stationery, garden accessories, DIYs) and Apparel (Max Section).
Electronics World is a store in itself with about 8,000 square feet dedicated to this category. The speciality of this section is an e-brochure, which customers can view in order to select their product of choice from an exhaustive range of items including LCDs, Plasma televisions, music systems and DVD players. With about 50,000 SKUs of both food and non-food products on offer, including fruits and vegetables, meat, grocery, electronics, travel items, clothes, accessories, liquor and magazines, the customer is truly spoilt for choice in the newest SPAR.
Each category has on offer a very wide range and quality of merchandise at competitive prices and Every Day Low Price (EDLP) items. SPAR identifies the brand/products that form an integral part of the customers’ shopping baskets and maintains them at the lowest retail price through the year. According to Singh, more than 150 essential grocery items are maintained at EDLP levels. This offer is a result of SPAR’s customer need analysis expertise over the last 36 years, he says.
The range of products in each section can be gauged from the fact that even the seemingly not-so-important magazines section (considering this is a hypermarket and not a bookstore) has approximately 300 national and international magazines on offer. The several customer service representatives per square feet help to ease the shopping concerns of patrons. Introduction of oxo-biodegradable bags at the newest store is an important CSR initiative of the company to reduce its carbon footprint.
Over a period of time, all the SPAR stores across India will have these environmentally friendly bags available to shoppers. Shoppers cannot miss the best deals (these offers number about 250-300 fortnightly and give customers some of the best bargains going up to almost 75 percent off ) at the different ‘worlds’, which are arranged in open gondolas on either side of the central pathway, which winds its way through the worlds and finally leads customers to the food section, which is truly the USP of the store.
In keeping with the promise of providing its customers with worldclass service, the hypermarket has been designed in collaboration with the design team from SPAR International. Wide aisles for easy trolley movement, high ceilings (five-metre height), 53 checkout tills for fast billing and packing, and with the mall parking capacity for over 2,000 cars, all aspects of convenience and comfort of the shopper have been taken into consideration.
Jewel in the Crown
The food section features some truly unique elements, which are typically not found at other grocery stores in India, including an ambience at the centre of the fresh food area that provides customers an aura of a busy marketplace (this section has pillars covered with large and colourful photographs of farm produce and farmers who supply to SPAR).
If one were to look for the signature section of the new SPAR outlet, it would have to be the 16,000 square feet fresh foods section. Singh says, “It is the largest offering of fresh foods within the country. Though this area entails the largest investment and throws up the lowest margins, we wanted to set a benchmark and be a leader in this category. Fresh produce is the area of biggest opportunity and garners maximum loyalty from shoppers.”
About 80 percent of the fruits and vegetables at the store are directly procured from farms in and around the city and are maintained at the desired temperature to retain nutritive value, preserve quality and freshness. With its in-store state-ofthe- art technology, SPAR is able to maintain the day long freshness of all its fresh produce. International quality standards are adhered to in sourcing all non-vegetarian fresh food – chicken, lamb and a host of fish varieties.
An eclectic range of saltwater as well as sweet water fish, including pomfrets, squids, prawns, crabs and lobsters, are available at the fish counter. Fish are cleaned and cut as per customer specifications and then packed in ice, thus ensuring freshness until they reach a household Refrigerator.
While the fresh food area has been drawing massive crowds, a streamlined token system at the fish counter has prevented a descent to chaos in traffic management. Two dedicated billing systems have been set up at the non-vegetarian counters so as to not offend shoppers with vegetarian sensibilities.
A wide variety of in-store refreshment has been provided for shoppers to re-charge themselves while shopping. The concept counters and ‘Enjoy Now’ counters offer an array of quick eats including fresh juices, Indian savouries, fruit salads, Indian sweets and an assortment of buttermilk. Yet another differentiator is a section focussing on providing the customer with fresh offerings. The concepts include a live batter counter for grinding idly and dosa batter, a live hot jalebi counter, fresh local delicacies like bisi bele bhath (a popular Karnataka hot lentil rice preparation), Vangi bhath (brinjal masala rice), vadas, fresh bondas (deep-fried potato/ vegetable filling dipped in gram flour batter) and bhaajis (deepfried Indian snack) as well as the local authentic filter coffee, Hatti Kappi.
The in-house SPAR Bakery is another first for this store. Apart from buying freshly baked breads, savouries, cakes, pastries, gateaus, tarts from the bakery, shoppers can also place orders for desserts and cakes for special occasions. Orders for cakes can be placed at the beginning of the shopping trip, which are made ready by the time shoppers finish their chores. Speciality cakes, such the photo printed variety carrying actual images of loved ones or cartoons or story characters, are also available at the bakery. 
Apart from merchandise from the leading national and regional food and FMCG brands, there is a large variety of loose foodgrains, pulses, cereals and private labels available at the store. All PL products are HACCP (Hazard and Critical Control Point) certified, according to Singh.
“Even though the store has a very international feel, to provide familiarity and comfort to shoppers, the offerings at the store are a good mix of international (including varieties of pastas, sauces, cheese, dairy products and wine) and regional offerings (local flavours of rice, lentils, cereals, papads, and pickles) to match the tastes and habits of the local population,” he notes. “Customers can choose from over 20 varieties of rice, 35 varieties of cheese from various countries, 45 varieties of fish and three varieties in all major dals ( ur, Moong, Urad and Channa).”
Private Labels
According to Singh, SPAR has decided to sharpen its focus on private label development. In keeping with this objective, there has been a substantial boost in the private label product offering in the latest store. Singh says, “Private labels help to widen the customer base by attracting both value-seekers branded merchandise users.” 
There are about 350 SKUs under the SPAR brand, though mostbelong to the staples category. By 2011, SPAR private label is expected to grow to about 600 SKUs. The new ranges planned are primarily in FMCG food and non-food segments, textiles and kitchen aids. 
Tomato ketchup, instant noodles, cookies, breakfast cereals, masalas, beverages, fruit juices, spreads, pickles in food; cleaning aids, air fresheners, paper products in FMCG nonfood; towels, bed sheets, curtains in textiles and non-stick cookware in kitchen aids are some of the proposed Categories.
“Private label products were always an integral part of our plan. We are looking at private labels contributing to 20 percent of our food and grocery revenues,” Singh states.
Sharing further information about the extension of private labels, Singh says that product launches are planned in a phased manner, basis attainment of certain critical mass by each product or category. He says, “The launch of products was also timed, based on research conducted to identify the trust reposed by customers in the SPAR brand. In cities that we are present in currently, SPAR has definitely built credibility within its target audience; our increasing presence in existing and new locations (22 to 25 stores in the next three years) will help to quickly attain critical volumes required for launch of private labels within categories in focus. We have a dedicated team that works on consumer research followed by product, vendor and packaging development to execute private label launches.”
Road Ahead
The success and acceptance of the SPAR business model has given the retailer the fillip to scale up the business in India. By the end of 2010, new SPAR stores will be set up in Delhi, Mangalore, Pune and Mysore. Future plans include setting up 25 more stores at an approximate cost of about Rs 400 crore by 2012. Referring to geographical spread, Singh notes, “The focus will not just be in metros, but also in the Tier I and II cities. The new stores will be located in a wider geography in the northern and western parts of the country.”    
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