In the time of recession, when most of the retailers were finding it hard to recover the running cost, there is one shop in Delhi at Connaught Place named Snowhite Apparels that remains unaffected. Gurkirat Singh Khera and his dedicated team of 60 employees in the store claim to have created a magical experience in the outlet with their selling skills, merchandise mix and committed relations with their customers to churn an annual turnover of around Rs 30 crore from this single store. Avinder Batra talks to the team to unveil the long journey of the store and overwhelming response from the customers even in hard times.
Spread across 6,000 sq.ft., Snowhite Apparels is a family store on the busy street of Connaught Place, New Delhi. What is worth noticing is the ease and effectiveness with which each customer is serviced by the sale attendants. Claiming to be one of the oldest retailers in the city, the company started their business in 1928 as dry cleaners. In 1958, they began to manufacture their own shirts and trousers. Today, apart from selling various other brands such as Louis Philippe, Van Heusen, Allen Solly, Arrow, Givo, Wills Lifestyle, Park Avenue, Adidas, Lee, Octave, and Puma, they also stock their private label brand “Snowhite” and supply shirts and trousers to commercial institutions such as corporates, banks and hotels. The company sells 1.5 lakh shirts from its stores every year.
Pioneering the Concept Of ‘MBO’
Snowhite Apparels claims to have introduced the concept of MBO (multi-brand outlet) in fashion, followed by many others in Delhi and then all over the country at a large scale. “We always had in mind that such a format will change the concept of shopping in the coming years. Today sitting in CP, the main hub of fashion, we observe fashion everyday and come out with new ideas to implement them in our store,” says Vijay Malhotra who is associated with Snowhite for last 36 years.
The company has been selling men’s formal wear since 1958 and were the pioneers in stocking every new formal fashion brands in their store; in 1988, United Colors of Benetton was introduced, Van Heusen in 1991, Reebok in 1994-95, Allen Solly in 1995, and so on. It was around the year 2000 when fashion brands entered the Indian market at a comprehensive level. Today, nearly after 12 years, fashion brands have swept the Indian markets by storm. The fashion industry has seen drastic change and today all outlets store merchandise in vogue to meet the expectations of the customers.
Snowhite Apparels currently has eight stores, four in New Delhi (one each in CP and Rajouri Garden and two in Karol Bagh), three in UP and one at Shimla. According to the company offi cials, the retailer prefers to do business on its owned property as it saves major portion of the running cost in the form of rentals.
Commenting about not expanding on national level, Malhotra says: “In today’s fi ercely competitive scenario, most of the brands are loss making on retail front even though they have national presence. It is a challenge to earn profi ts on store-to-store basis.”
CP Store: Role Model for Many
Snowhite Apparels at CP has introduced the latest fashion brands from the times they have been launched in India. According to the Indian customers, the store is changing the way of shopping. “The company’s sales figures are so impressive that the competitors conduct surveys to understand our business format. We can make out that they are not buyers but have come to examine our business model for reference,” reveals Malhotra.
The CP outlet offers regular items for men, women and kids such as formal shirts, casual wear, belts, ties, innerwear, ethnic wear, turbans, stoles, moujaries, and suits. While the ground floor is all dedicated to menswear category, displaying 40-45 popular brands, women wear and kidswear section is on the first floor.
Sales Attendants: The Driving Force
Usually retailers invest in location, product mix, design of the store, visual merchandising, etc., but they do very little on grooming the front staff and their requirements. At Snowhite, rewards and commissions of up to Rs 15,000 and above are given to each employee on the basis of their monthly performance. Revenue sharing is a must with the bottom staff who drive the sales. This important force is never ignored by the retailer. When bigger/national retailers are dealing with the challenges of high attrition rate at front level, Snowhite has set an example for its competitors in the retail industry by retaining its sales staff for around 40 years.
High Street Vs Mall
According to Malhotra, every high street has its own USP, whereas a mall has one or very few shops of that kind. Mall culture still lags behind high streets in terms of sale during weekdays. “It will take another 20- 25 years for Indians to do serious shopping from malls,” feels Malhotra.
Further, shopping centres have 80 percent shops of apparels offering 70- 80 percent sales discounts competing with each other, leaving no room to earn margins. Usually a retailer in MBO would get a margin of 25-30 percent on the MRP cost. “We give minimum sales discounts and still sell all our brands due to reasonable prices offered.”
Checking Fashion on Daily Basis
Being in the fashion industry, it is imperative to do consistent scrutiny of the selling pattern of the brands in the store and the new launches in the Indian market. The team is always on a lookout for any new brand missing in their store. “We check every new brand on the basis of popularity. It is the need of the time that we stock all popular brands in our stores . Thus, choosing from among the brands falling almost on the same price scale makes buying easier for one or the other piece. Further, through consistent sales analysis, we make sure that the stock is sold within the time period and does not accumulate in dead stock,“ informs Malhotra.
There is almost negligible dead stock of around Rs 1 lakh every six months, which is also returned under the agreement with the companies.
Merchandise Selection: Unparalleled Experience
Malhotra has been buying merchandise for Snowhite for almost 20 years. He spends atleast two hours everday sitting on the sales counter and tracking the sales of every brand and design patterns that are making a move from the shelves. “This helps in noticing the buying pattern of today’s customers. On those basis, we make the choice of the best merchandise of any brand which is kept in their EBOs. We try to accommodate the merchandise which is 70 percent saleable in their stores,” reveals Malhotra. He is invited by the companies to give feedbacks on merchandise designs.
There is a huge gap between the designer’s knowledge about the region and its culture, says Malhotra. For instance, the actual market for winter wear is North India. Most of the national brand factories are located in Bangalore. The designers in these brands are ignorant about the buying pattern and designs that sell in North. Most of them sit and watch the websites of the international brands and try to replicate it. This causes failure for most of the brands.
Malhotra claims that many national fashion brands have only 25 percent knowledge of the designs and product quality. “Actually it is not possible to make merchandise for the Northern region by just sitting in the South. They need to do recce of the region and conduct surveys about the merchandise that sells. They should take a reference of the manufacturers in the North because they are the king in the category. For example, we sell 30,000 pieces of Monte Carlo within three and three-and-half months of the season in our store. The space allotted to any is for 10,000 SKUs in the store on regular basis.”
Relations with Customers: Top Priority
According to Malhotra, the company maintains good relations with its customers. He along with two other managers sits in the store everyday. “We stand with our customers, exchange greetings. They never feel as if they are standing at any unknown place. By God’s grace, we have tried building good relations with our customers visiting our store for so many years, now their next generation has also started visiting. We are rather expanding our business through their extended families,” grins Malhotra. There are ministers and high-profi le dignitaries who are also a part of our customer’s list. “Customer is the king and we have to listen to every complain with a smile and ‘yes man!’ attitude,” he opines.
Services and Membership Cards
The Snowhite store has special focus on its after sale services for its loyal customers. The complaints are solved with ease to satisfy the customer ultimately.
Home deliveries are arranged within the city. Membership cards are offered to the new customers to avail instant 5 percent discount on the purchase done. “We do not believe in collecting the points. It is not benefi cial as compared to instant money back which gives smile on their faces. Our discount policy is practical without having any extra labour to maintain the points of all the customers,” reveals Malhotra. The CP store makes around 50 new membership cards on daily basis.
With the aim of addind one more store, the company has recently purchased a property in Vaishali. Also it has plans to expand its manufacturing business for wholesale. “We are making a move in this direction apart from handling our operating stores and managing them profi tably,” informs Malhotra emphasising on the retail business as their top priority.