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Our growth is driven by retail expansion, new product launch and better customer service, Gopa Kumar of Bhima Jewellers

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Gopa Kumar, chief operating officer of Bhima Jewellers delves into the brand’s journey, strategic priorities, key growth drivers, its vision for the future and much more

Bengaluru: With a legacy that spans decades, Bhima Jewellers has been at the forefront of delivering quality, exquisite designs, and a customer-centric approach. The Kerala-based jewellery retailer began its journey in 1925 and soon became the hub for gold wholesale trade in Kerala.

Today, it operates over 60 stores across five states including Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana as well as four stores in UAE.

In an exclusive interview with IndiaRetailing, Gopa Kumar, chief operating officer of Bhima Jewellers offers insights into the brand’s journey, strategic priorities, key growth drivers, vision for the future and much more.

What is the story of Bhima Jewellers?

The brand was started in 1925 by Bhima Bhattar (K. Lakshminarayana Bhattar). Born in Udupi in 1904, Bhattar relocated to Alleppey, where he assisted his brother-in-law in managing the restaurant, Girija Nivas.

He contemplated a suggestion from an acquaintance about the favorable demographic conditions in Alleppey for a business in silver jewelry. While considering this opportunity, a restaurant customer asked him whether Bhima could supply him with two silver tumblers. His only concern was how to procure the silver. His wife Vanaja offered her heavy silver anklets. Utilizing these, Bhima crafted the tumblers and showcased them at the restaurant, resulting in a rapid increase in demand for Bhima’s silver products.

The first store of the brand in Alleppey, which still stands today, holds the position of being the first outlet for ready-made gold jewellery in Kerala and also the first air-conditioned store in the region.

What are the brand’s top three strategic priorities?

Currently, we are in the midst of an expansion phase and focusing on going into Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Over the past 14-15 months, we have successfully established five stores, with four located in Hyderabad and one in Tirupati, with a substantial investment of over Rs 600 crores.

As a large-format jewellery retailer catering to mass consumers, our strategy revolves around precision in market selection. Recognizing the substantial opportunities in South India, we believe in a focused approach rather than spreading ourselves thinly across the country. Our goal is to concentrate on saturating each market, strategically establishing enough stores, ensuring an impactful presence in the region.

Our next priority centers on delivering enhanced customer experience within our stores. We aim to go beyond merely offering products and provide additional services such as personalised shopper assistance, appointment shopping, augmented reality-based purchases and customisation to meet the specific requirements of consumers.

We also place an emphasis on curating a product range that stands out distinctly. Given the current trend favoring lightweight jewellery and a shift towards the fashion sector, our assortment is carefully designed to resonate with the younger demographic, who represent our future consumer base.

Thus expansion, innovative services, coming through with good products and designs which appeals to all society. These are the three things that we will be looking at.

Hence, the three aspects we will be looking at are expansion, introducing innovative services, and consistently delivering products and designs that resonate with all segments of society.

How do you select store locations?

Before establishing a new location, Bhima conducts thorough market studies in collaboration with our business development and project teams. These studies encompass a comprehensive analysis of consumer demographics, local population dynamics, and an evaluation of existing jewellery businesses in the area, including their performance.

We are mostly on the high street and don’t prefer malls at the moment because our format is large format stores and don’t set up small stores at this point of time. Our average store size is 8000 sq. ft. If our scientific research indicates that a particular location is poised to bring positive results within a year, we proceed with it.

Can you elaborate on your customisation service?

We offer basic customisation services in our stores, allowing customers to work with our goldsmiths for additions or removals based on their preferences.

Consumers seeking high-profile, customized products can visit our flagship store in Somajiguda, Hyderabad, where we have a new customisation concept called Bhima Prive. This exclusive space is equipped with designers and stylists who can collaboratively create personalized sketches according to individual consumer preferences.

Recognizing that every woman desires something distinct and unique, our designer stylists at Bhima Prive undertake the task of sketching personalized designs, getting the product crafted and delivered to the consumers department.  While high-end customization is still in its early stages for us, it’s a facet we’re actively developing and refining as we progress forward.

How was this year’s festive season?

Although Diwali may not be so big in Kerala, it takes on a grander scale of celebration in markets such as Hyderabad, Tamil Nadu, and to some extent, Karnataka.

To enhance the festive experience for our consumers, we introduced fabulous offers. Beyond just discounts, customers had chances to win exciting prizes, including trips to Paris or Dubai, daily gold coin giveaways, and assured gifts based on specified purchase values. Additionally, we had enticing offers across gold, diamonds, silver, and platinum.

Despite the challenge posed by an increase in gold rates, which have surged by 20% compared to last year, we are experiencing growth both overall and in our new markets. Notably, consumers are still actively engaging in purchases, driven by various needs, particularly those related to weddings.

We have expected to a flourishing festive season this year, projecting an estimated increase in revenue ranging between 18% to 20%.

How do you enhance customer experience?

While we haven’t ventured into traditional loyalty programs involving points, our focus on loyalty revolves around a single metric – the Net Promoter Score (NPS). Currently, we boast an industry-leading NPS score of 96. This score is obtained by reaching out to consumers after their purchase. Once they go home, they receive a message prompting them to rate their experience on a scale from zero to ten, and our 96% score attests to the high level of satisfaction among our customers.

We actively collect feedback from consumers, addressing concerns related to pricing, service, and other aspects. It goes beyond loyalty programs, delving into one-on-one consumer response.

With a robust backend and CRM system in place, we efficiently tabulate these queries. Moreover, the system flags potential red flags, allowing us to address any concerns that arise and ensure the satisfaction of our consumers.

Then we have personal shopper services that cater to consumers seeking assistance in purchasing high-profile products or those in need of guidance in selecting specific types of jewellery or with curated ensembles.

Our highly trained personal shoppers with advanced training, operate at a level above our already well-trained staff. They work by appointment, providing individualized attention to each consumer. The utilization of a personal shopper gives us a threefold increase in returns compared to the purchases made by regular shoppers in our store.

How do you leverage technology in the business?

Technology is an integral aspect of every facet of our business, strategically implemented for operational precision, excellence, and adherence to standard operating procedures (SOPs). Our store staff relies on advanced technology to ensure that all stores are well-prepared for consumers, with visual displays in place and accurate adherence to store opening timings.

We implement the NPS system, a digital feedback mechanism akin to those utilized in the airline and hotel industries. This technology allows us to closely monitor and gauge our consumers’ satisfaction levels.

Within our stores, we’ve introduced an augmented reality experience zone known as mirrAR technology, where AR stands for augmented reality. This innovative feature is present in all new stores in Hyderabad and those undergoing renovation. Customers can explore and try out thousands of designs, facilitating a shortlisting process. Additionally, they can share their selections with friends and family via WhatsApp.

We maintain a strong digital media presence with year-round marketing efforts, leveraging WhatsApp catalogs extensively to share our latest designs with consumers.

Moreover, we have implemented a state-of-the-art enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Five months ago, we integrated Microsoft Dynamics 365 into our operations, streamlining various aspects such as learning, assortment planning, business intelligence, and billings. It possesses the capability to establish a loyalty program, in case we choose one in the future.

What is the ratio between volume of sales coming from online and offline?

While we recently ventured into online sales, the current figures indicate a modest presence, accounting for approximately 2-3% of our overall sales.

Our foray into online sales has been primarily through marketplaces like Amazon, Ajio, and Myntra which provided insights into the intricacies of online business operations, including catalog management, order fulfillment, and other key services. In the last couple of years our focus has been on these marketplaces. Now we are ready to scale up and take our own online business powering a much bigger way.

What is the business outlook for fiscal year 2024?

We are growing at double digits over the market growth rate. As the market normalises post-pandemic, our growth trajectory remains strong, particularly in our flourishing diamond business.

How do you maintain a healthy growth momentum?

Our enduring goodwill and legacy are built on generations of customers who have shopped with us since the inception of Bhima, spanning now into the fourth generation. However, we recognize the need to continually innovate, ensuring that we stay highly competitive in the ever-evolving marketplace.

The driving force behind our business is the constant influx of new products and designs. We prioritize providing consumers with an effortless shopping experience, supported by innovative services. Our expansion into new geographies, particularly in key markets, is also a strategic move that continues to fuel our growth.

How do you keep your staff motivated since it is a sector that involves great deal of educating consumers and the products you sell involves greater touch-and-feel?

As of now, our team comprises approximately 2,200 people. Bhima takes pride in fostering a stable and growth-oriented environment, as evidenced by employees who have dedicated 30-40 years to our company.

We have implemented Bhima retail leadership program, providing opportunities for individuals to explore various roles and apply for positions. Furthermore, we have an app-based learning and development program as well as have good talent management and organizational development teams.

As we have scaled up, we have gotten people who have expertise in this area to transform and scale up our HR department to ensure that some best practices are brought to Bhima as we modernize ourselves in a very calibrated way.

Our employee engagement programs play a crucial role in aligning and focusing our team on the goals we aim to achieve. It’s noteworthy that 70% of our workforce is transitioning into new roles from within the organization.

Which market is witnessing high demand right now?

In terms of gold Kerala continues to be high on consumption and so is Karnataka. However, we recognize a significant market potential in Hyderabad. We have already opened four stores in the city with plans for additional four stores slated to open in the coming year, each of these representing an investment, ranging between 80 to 100 crores.

How many stores is the brand planning to launch in 2024?

We expect to launch approximately 10 to 12 stores every year at a broad level.

What are the brand’s long term visions?

Our strategic objectives include achieving a leadership position in all the markets we’ve entered and to have substantial growth in our online sales to secure a significant market share. Simultaneously, we aim to consolidate our longstanding presence in existing markets, leveraging decades of experience. Our commitment extends to serving consumers profitably, delivering value, and maintaining the goodwill of our loyal customer base.

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