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Reliance retail countdown begins

Mumbai/Hyderabad, Oct. 26: Reliance has uncorked the Nita factor — once again.

The countdown to Mukesh Ambani’s long-awaited foray into the retailing segment formally started today with wife Nita Ambani and close confidant Manoj Modi heading out to Hyderabad with a core team of professionals to oversee the preparations at the 18 to 20 stores in the Andhra capital and twin city Secunderabad.

The formal launch will take place within a week to 10 days — as soon as the team determines that they can go through without any major snafu.

“The retail launch will begin with the agri-foods portfolio under the Feel Fresh and Feel Fresh Plus brands in and around Hyderabad,” industry sources said.

Nita Ambani has been closely involved with the retailing venture and will be overseeing the aesthetics of the stores and personally checking out the customer handling skills of the personnel who will man the stores.

“The team will start the drill later today,” sources said.

The team flew out of Mumbai at around 3pm in the Reliance executive jet and touched down at the Begumpet airport at a little after 5 pm.

Soon after touchdown, Nita’s entourage sped away in a cavalcade of Mercedes cars. Dressed in a red sari and eye shades, Nita Ambani and her team visited two Feel Fresh outlets — one in Jubilee Hills and the other in the tony district of Banjara Hills. The Reliance group officials in Hyderabad kept the high-voltage visit under the wraps.

“The construction of the retail outlets will be with pre-fabricated blocks. A facility has been put up at Uppal, 15 kms north east of Hyderabad,” said a Reliance group source. The team visited the Uppal facility later in the day.

Nita Ambani has been closely involved with all of Mukesh’s plans — overseeing the layout of facilities at the Jamnagar refinery and now conceptualising the layout and design of each retail store. She has also been looking into the way the retailing personnel have been groomed and the uniforms they will wear.

The Feel Fresh stores will stock fresh fruits, vegetables and wheat, atta, and rice. A typical store will be spread over 3,000-5,000 square feet.

The Feel Fresh Plus stores will be much larger and be spread over 10,000 sq ft. They will stock almost 3000 products, including groceries, vegetables and home appliances.

Sources said skyrocketing real estate costs had delayed the project. Reliance is looking for a large space to warehouse the goods. “We hope to employ at least 500 people in the initial run,” said a company source. In Andhra Pradesh, the Field Fresh brand will be taken to 15 Tier II towns besides the cities of Vijayawada and Vishakapatnam in the next stage.

After the Hyderabad launch — which is likely to be fairly low key – the Reliance retail juggernaut will hit four states: Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bengal and Punjab.

No one in the Reliance group is ready to talk about when the Reliance hypermarts will start functioning. Sometime ago, the buzz was that the first Reliance hypermart to start operations would be in Ahmedabad. But insiders said there was no certainty about this. “We will start the hypermart in the city where we are fully ready. It could be Chandigarh,” the source added.

Reliance Retail aims to achieve a turnover of Rs 100,000 crore (or $22.2 billion) by 2010. It intends to establish a pan-India footprint through five formats: hypermarket, supermarket, speciality stores for electronics, furniture and apparel, convenience stores and multi-channel institutional franchise.

The retail plan has been changed several times over the past year. The original date for the launch was sometime in July but had to be pushed back because the group felt it wasn’t ready to take on the mammoth task of creating a Wal-Mart in India.

An in-house presentation prepared by the Reliance Retail back in February had noted that the largest retail player in India was the Pantaloons group with “total group sales just about equal to two Wal-Mart super centres annual revenues”.

Reliance Retail is hoping to change all that — Nita willing.

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