The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Retail tale: crawl to canter
- The Calcutta consumer turns the city into a mega mart

Zip, zap, zoom— zero to 60 in nine seconds. Typically, a motorcycle burning rubber on asphalt…

Now, Calcutta is zipping — burning paper and plastic on the high streets of modern retail — and leaving industry-watchers zapped.

A trifle late in reacting to the starter’s gun, the tale of its rapid acceleration on road retail can be told in figures. Till 1999, there was only 22 Camac Street. In the next 36 months, around 11 new malls are set to roll out, offering nearly three million sq ft of retail space, besides 30-plus multiplex screens and allied entertainment.

“A year ago, there was hardly any modern trade outlet spread across more than 1,000 sq ft with two or more cash tills here. Over the past 8-10 months, at least 75 such stores have come up across the city,” points out Manish Tiwary, national key accounts manager, Hindustan Lever. Tiwary, in town to attend the CII’s Retail 2004, is confident modern trade, which accounts for only one per cent of the city’s turnover now, should spiral to 20 per cent in the next three years.

Defying tradition

“The mindset of the Calcuttan had always favoured denial over consumption. But there has been a quiet revolution in attitude over the past few years and the visible end of the consumption spectrum is retail,” observes Sanjiv Goenka, vice-chairman of RPG Enterprises Ltd.

Kurush Grant, chairman, services sector sub-committee, CII, eastern region, ascribes the recent spending spree to the new-found “confidence” factor, with “a clutch of enablers like availability of credit, better options in goods and services, higher salaries and increased media impact”.

So, from the value-seeker to the promo-grabber, the monthly grocery — and annual clothes — shopper to the impulse buyer, shopping behaviour pattern in the city is changing radically. And there are strong fundamentals to sustain the displacement from the conventional trader-run standalone shops to more organised and large retail formats, says CII.

The disposable income in Calcutta has been on the rise according to a report by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER). About 62 per cent of city households had annual incomes of up to Rs 18,000 in 1985-86, while a decade later, the Rs 25,000-77,000 bracket accounted for some 61 per cent of the households.

With a median age of 24-25, today’s Calcutta shopper has high aspiration levels and carries a mixed bag of intrinsic values and western aspirations.

“With the IT boom, call centres and BPOs, there’s moolah in young hands, and unlike in the past, the motto of the young nest today is ‘have money, will spend’,” says Vidya Sen of ACNielsen ORG-MARG.

In sync with times

Stressing that the future of retailing in the city lies in new-age shopping malls providing variety, value and convenience in a more comfortable environment, Sen feels the most significant trigger in Calcutta’s case was Pantaloons, with its “value for money” line.

Kishore Biyani, chief knowledge officer, Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd, feels it was the city’s “inherent pessimism” which prevented it from celebrating its successes, but “now there is so much more optimism in the air”.

The propensity to buy was always there in Calcutta, but it was more linked to the Pujas till 22 Camac Street happened, feels Anuj Puri, managing director of Chesterton Meghraj, international property consultants.

Sumit Dabriwal, convenor, core group for retail, CII eastern region, agrees the city always had the aspiration, and is now reacting strongly to the organised-format product in steady supply.

Footfall space for all

“A little bit of herding takes place in any successful area and there will be some mortality for sure, but overall, modern retail should keep growing in the city. What we have seen till now is simply the tip of the iceberg,” says Goenka, keen to bring in his FoodWorld chain on the heels of four Giant hypermarts.

Puri agrees: “While there could be an oversupply situation on a narrow band along the Bypass, the city as a whole can still absorb a string of malls, because the basic hygiene of the Calcutta mall developer has been exemplary.”

The emerging formats in town are all a statement in innovation. Be it Forum, the plush, integrated, vertical lifestyle mall of Rahul Saraf or the brand-bazaar blend and horizontal sprawl of Harsh Neotia’s City Centre, the experiments with retail truth will intensify. Nothing, on the shop floor, succeeds like success.

Model: Kaustavi, Make-up: Prabir De, Spot: Pantaloons, Picture: Pabitra Das

Success stories

MusicWorld (Park Street) notched up sales of Rs 1 crore consecutively in December 2003 and January 2004, the highest by any music retail outlet in the country

Pantaloons (Gariahat) records highest per square ft sales among all multi-brand outlets in India

Inox (Forum) has broken the national box office sales record thrice. Per patron sales at its Refuel counter is 40 per cent more than the national average

Raymond (Poddar Court showroom) is the popular clothes stop’s highest-selling outlet in the country

Satya paul (Forum) is the biggest-selling outlet in the national chain (picture below) and the only one with an exclusive necktie counter

Sony World does its best business in the country out of its Ultadanga and Elgin Road outlets

La Lingerie (Forum) has the highest per square feet sales in the chain nationally

Sreeleathers (Lindsay Street) beats the highest-selling Bata outlet (Connaught Place, New Delhi) in sales

United colours of Benetton (Forum) did highest per square feet sales in the chain in December last year and May this year

Bizarre, be:, swarovski and Cotton world corp (Forum) are among the top three outlets in sales in their respective chains nationally



Watch out for...

Giant, the RPG Enterprises hypermart chain, waiting to unveil two anchors in the next two years, followed by two more

South City Mall on Prince Anwar Shah Road to house four anchors under one roof

Forum II opposite Science City with a seven-screen multiplex and the Lifestyle store

Mani Square, a combination of IT, food, retail and entertainment, on the Bypass

The Metropolis, the retail-food-entertainment stop inside Hiland Park, will be the city’s “first classic suburban mall”

DLF to develop mixed-use project in Rajarhat

Fort Knox, a nine-level jewellery mall on Camac Street

Silver Arcade, the G+3 mall inside Silver Springs on the Bypass

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