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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The making of the Rajah of Retail

It Happened in IndiaBook: It Happened in India - The story of Pantaloons, Big Bazaar, Central and the great Indian consumer
Author: Kishore Biyani with Dipayan Baishya
Publisher: Rupa Publications India
Pages: 268
Price: Rs 195

Indians like to shop. You want everything under one roof. You wish to be entertained. You love to drive a hard bargain and are satisfied only when you walk off with some freebies. It doesn't matter if you are a housewife buying vegetables from a local vendor or a rich socialite from south Mumbai who holidays in France. A Marwari businessman from south Mumbai has managed to tap into this psyche and created brands that every urban Indian can identify with — Pantaloons, Big Bazaar and Central.  

Kishore Biyani may be now known as the "Rajah of Retail" but he started his career selling stonewash jeans to small shops in Mumbai. At a time when business in India was still dominated by century-old enterprises, he sniffed around for latent opportunities in the booming Indian consumer market, post the liberalisation of the economy in 1991, and transformed the retailing business in India with a 'bania company' that even hardcore punters at Dalal Street had been afraid to touch. Biyani dabbled into trading, filmmaking (he was the producer of the Hrithik Roshan-Esha Deol starrer Na Tum Jaano Na Hum), organised the Navratri dance festivals before turning into an innovative retailer. 

His autobiography It Happened in India takes you through Biyani's journey from the time he first opened a Pantaloons' store at Gariahat, Kolkata in 1997 to a decade later when 50 lakh people spent Rs 125 crore in 43 Big Bazaars across the country during a three-day shopping fest in January. You read about his growth, his ability to tackle failures and move on and his vision for the future of retail in India.

"Every organisation needs a Brahma, a Vishnu and a Shiva — a creator, a preserver and a destroyer. For an organisation to grow and keep pace with the changing reality, it needs these tensions simultaneously. What happens with many organisations is that after they attain a certain  size, the preservers take over and stagnation sets in. I consider myself to be a creator and destroyer first. I never really had much of a 'preserver' instinct in me," Biyani writes, summing up his need to create a successful brand and then move onto to something else. It's this instinct that has helped him look beyond textiles into retail, real estate,  insurance, knowledge services and design houses. 

The book is packed with testimonials from people who are involved with the Future Group's brands such as Pantaloons, Big Bazaar and Central as individual investors in the company, consultants, board members, designers, advertisers and Biyani's family members. You learn how Biyani invests in relationships to help his company grow. He writes, "I think the emphasis on building and nurturing relationships is a very Indian way of doing business. Unlike in the west, our society is based on values like humility and sharing. We are good at building relationships; it is something that comes naturally to us. But building and nurturing relationships is a hard-edged business driver that helps us operate our business with speed."

Mixing anecdotes, experiences, business ideals and corporate talk, It Happened in India gives you an insight into the way Indians think, react, purchase and do business and how Biyani keeps thinking of new ways of extracting another rupee from his/her customer's wallet. Foreign players, who are looking to enter India's retail space, may have to take a leaf out of this book if they want to be successful here.  

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