The sweet spot in grocery retail is to take the middle path – neither position yourself as very high-end nor become very downmarket. That’s the belief held by Kunaal Kumar who runs the Modern Bazaar department store chain in Delhi-NCR.
Kumar is a passionate grocer with over 25 years of hands-on experience in running modern grocery retail outlets in some of the toniest locations in Delhi. “We are perhaps one of the few modern trade retailers in Delhi-NCR to be operating profitably,” he says with a hint of pride at the success of his stores, and letting in sideways that he runs a business that is now 45 years in the reckoning and going strong.
“I have been in this trade since I was a kid and I learned my lessons watching my big man run the operations and take it forward.”
What could be his secret sauce – the thought crosses my mind before I ask him about it point blank. “I have friends who are board members at very high-end retailers and they consult me informally about how I manage to make the business tick loud and clear,” he boasts but well within his bragging rights. “I believe that if you to take the middle path, you have a catchment that is very broad and diverse and includes both the well-heeled and the better-off.”
“Our stores are a reflection of this kind of positioning where a
customer walks into a store with a nice lay-out and can get to pick his choice from a wide assortment of products and brands – from the basics to the upmarket – which are all priced very competitively and come with various deal offers.”
“And interestingly,” he cuts in to make a brownie point, “most of the goods that the high-end retailers stock are available at our stores but none of the basic stuff that we offer can be found at their stores.”
“I have a store in Vasant Vihar, which is close to a very high-end grocery retailer. But our business volumes must be over four times what they do on a daily basis,” he says pointing to the steady stream of customers entering and walking out of his store next door. They are an eclectic lot: hipsters in trendy jeans and tops to middle-aged dowagers, prototypal soccer moms and stodgy pops to even the odd firangis sauntering in and out.
“I am always close to my stores and never far away from my customers,” he adds in a matter-of-fact manner. “I don’t believe in giving directions sitting in an ivory tower like an armchair pundit. I am usually the first to know of any important requirement or development at my stores and I deal with them upfront.”
Not that his stores don’t have trained managers and skilled staff to deal with situations. In fact, there are over 400 people working for Kumar directly or indirectly. But it’s his compulsive grocer’s itch to scratch consumer habits and behaviour that keeps him in the thick of things always.
“Though I have professional managers who are in-charge of all my stores, I take keen interest in the day-to-day operations and offer them guidance in all important matters,” he says, adding that it is important for owners to keep their ears to the ground by staying in direct touch with the stores and consumers.
“I also know each one of my suppliers directly and deal with them personally and not through my managers. In this line of business, the supply chain and the suppliers are very critical components and one must ensure that the system runs like a well-oiled machine,” he lets out.
Many decisions have to be taken on the spur of the moment and in the field, so Kumar makes it a point to visit all his six stores in Delhi every day to get a first hand brief on what is happening and what needs to be done on a priority basis. “The maximum ghapla (cheating) in this line of business happens in the purchase and procurement transactions so I keep a hawk eye on supply orders, which ensures that business transactions are well-vetted and above board.”
Smart money management and store operations over the years have brought in a bouquet of dividends. From three stores till some years ago, Modern Bazaar is now pushing six, with plans to add at least one store every year.
“By god’s grace, I have never had to shut down a store in all these years of business and I will continue to open stores if I am convinced of its profitability,” he says adding that his stores’ turnover touched Rs 150 crore last year and the business itself is worth Rs 500 crore now.