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Time to Take Off the Blinkers

May 18th, 2006 by Devangshu Dutta

When I am at the receiving end of expectations, business plans and such like, of companies that are looking to ride the current retail boom in India, one thing stands out, and scares me the most: the opening slides, paragraphs or pages that are devoted to the “opportunity presented by India’s booming middle class and its rising income”.

In the previous part to this column (“The Case of the Missing Millions“, 27 April 2006), we concluded that for most international companies looking at India, the potential target market was in the region of 18-19 million people, or over 3 million households. When international companies look at the “middle class” they may be looking at annual household incomes adjusted for PPP in the region of US$ 40,000 (Rs. 5 Lakhs, in absolute terms, not adjusted for PPP), and this population number is what appears on the radar.

Clearly, this less than a tenth of the figures around which many new businesses are being launched in the hottest retail market globally (as global comparative studies are stating). 200 million, 300 million – take your pick – they’re all in the mythical range!

So is it time to put out a missing persons alert for the hundreds of millions of so-called “middle class consumers”, on whose back the current retail boom is to be built?

Hang on – the trick is in changing the frame of reference. Let’s first define what the characteristics of the middle class should be.

In my opinion a good starting point is a simple one – look for a segment that is on the middle of the income scale.

Most marketers and their reference guides live in a high-income urban India paradigm (read, Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore). Passing out of even a second-tier business school today, starting salaries can easily be over Rs. 20,000 a month. When you get into the middle-management segment, metropolitan salaries in the private sector can easily be Rs. 35,000 – 50,000 a month. This may not sound like much money when you live life from the Delhi-Mumbai-Bangalore paradigm, but trust me, it is still a very large sum of money as you go further down the list of cities and towns in India. In those towns and in semi-urban and rural India, the rupee goes a much longer way.

However, the income scale can be defined subjectively by different people.

So, to this evaluation I would add one other important attribute – this middle segment should be a substantial proportion of the total population. Clearly, a population that is only 2 to 3 per cent of the total is still very much at the narrow tip of the pyramid. We definitely need to move further down the income scale to find the real middle class.

The next annual household income range defined by NCAER is Rs. 2 Lakhs to Rs. 5 Lakhs. Now it starts to get interesting. In this income segment we are talking about approximately 9 million households or a little under 50 million people. An income of Rs. 2 Lakhs (US$ 4,500 in absolute terms) is equivalent to a little over US$ 16,000 by PPP, which is well below middle-class standards in developed economies. However, in India an income of Rs. 16,700 per month brings a number of aspirational and discretionary purchases within reach. This size of population is about the same, or larger, than many countries in Europe and will grow to 70-80 million by the end of the decade.

However, as far as my criterion of significant proportion is concerned, this still doesn’t cut it – we’re still only in the range of 6 per cent of the total population. We need to move further down the income scale, to the Rs. 90,000-200,000 annual household income range.


NCAER identifies this segment as having over 41 million households – that is over 225 million people – about 22 per cent of the total population. Large towns (population of over 500,000) have about 30 per cent of this population, while rural India has about half of this income group.

Earning between Rs. 7,500 a month to over Rs. 16,000 a month, this is the population that, in my opinion, is the real growth engine for the great Indian retail dream. This population has discretionary income, and yet it spends with discretion, if you will pardon the pun. It is a population that is only just beginning to be touched by cashless spending, a population that is beginning to appreciate the comforts and conveniences of modern retail, and its power as a driver of markets. It is possibly more firmly rooted in Indian traditions than aspiring to move to western standards. It is a population that is probably discovering the benefits of investing as much as it is the joys of spending thus reducing the free cash available.

Many brands are ending up planning for the 150-200 million real middle class population, while offering products and prices that are more appropriate for the ersatz “middle-class” of 15-20 million.

Consumer markets are structured around obsolescence, replacement and repeat purchases. If your product fits well within the price-value equation for repeat purchases, you have a winner. If you don’t, then what you get is a bunch of occasional purchases from most of your consumers, with long replacement cycles (or even, no repurchase).

The end result is the sales plateau that is the characteristic of so many brands in India.

If you want to volumes, prepare a product and price offer that makes sense to the real Indian middle class. The small shampoo packs make sense, the “chhota recharge” on the mobile phones makes sense. Does your product?

The missing millions aren’t really missing – they’re just invisible through our Delhi-Mumbai-Bangalore upper income blinkers. It’s time to take off the blinkers.

Posted in Apparel, Consumer, Food & Grocery, Footwear, India, Lifestyle & Fashion, Market Research, Marketing, Retail, Soft Goods, Strategy, Textiles, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Franchising – A Consistent Growth Platform

May 5th, 2006 by Devangshu Dutta

With the possibility of 51% foreign direct investment (FDI) in India opened up to foreign retailers, one of the questions arising frequently is whether this means the death (or at least a slow-down) of franchising in India.

After all franchising, in most people’s mind, has these alternate images of unscrupulous franchisers ripping-off the life-savings of the small retailer on the one hand, and shady landlords in the guise of retail franchisees gouging at the pockets honest businessmen who are trying to build national brands. There also haven’t been too many sustained success models in India where both franchiser and franchisees have consistently won.

Surely, with FDI opening up gradually, foreign retailers would want to set up joint ventures in which they have control, rather than go through the franchise route, where their brand is “at the mercy of another company”? So it is a legitimate question, whether FDI sounds the death knell for franchising.

However, jumping to that conclusion would be to ignore the fundamentals of franchising as a business. If the barrier to FDI was the only factor in the growth of franchising, there would be no franchise businesses in countries such as the USA (the largest retail market) or Australia (again one of the most dynamic albeit small markets for franchising in the world), which have negligible barriers against foreign retailers or service providers setting up their own outlets.

At its most basic, a franchise is an authorisation, granted to an individual or company by another company, to sell its goods or services in a specific territory. The motivations for entering such a relationship are as varied as the individuals involved in the business, but typically cover some common points.

For the franchiser, franchising offers increase in the business footprint and scale that can help to reduce costs per unit of sales, improve business visibility and the brand, and make the business a more likely candidate for investment or listing. Franchisees become a source of finance and additional management to grow the business, which otherwise would need to be provided by the franchiser himself. Franchisers also gain from the franchisee’s local market knowledge, existing infrastructure and real estate, which they would otherwise take time, money and effort to build. What’s more, each franchisee is an entrepreneur and “business partner” who directly gains from helping the franchiser grow, unlike employee managers – thus, potentially there is more energy and enthusiasm available to drive the business.

The big trade-offs for the franchisee are that the local (or regional) business ownership, topline (sales) and a chunk of the margin, are passed on to the franchisee.

The biggest motivator from the franchisee’s point of view is that, despite operating under another company’s brand and selling another company’s products, he is not an employee but an independent business owner. This is as important to an individual store franchisee as to a regional or national master franchisee. The franchise relationship also offers the umbrella of a brand under which to operate his own outlet(s) – the time, efforts and investment put into the brand across the various territories all converge to the benefit of the individual franchisee when the customer walks in with a prior knowledge and confidence in the brand. The franchisee also benefits from previously defined processes and systems, as well as structured training and business coaching.

However, if I were to identify two major hurdles in the path of growth of franchising, they would be the immaturity of the business model on the franchiser’s part, and lack of compliance on the franchisee’s.

The franchiser must approach the market with a well-structured model that makes money and can be replicated across locations, and with a system of training and transferring knowledge to the franchisees.

The franchiser must also have a clear control on the product stream, intellectual property or other key success factors without which the franchise reduces to a generic outlet. Given the overloaded courts in the country, litigation to stop a franchisee from misusing the Brand’s rights is only a very very remote last resort!

There are no hard and fast rules that can be generalised about whether franchising, joint-venture or direct investment is the correct model to follow – each situation is unique to the specific companies involved, and it comes down to previous experience with franchising, the feasibility of franchising in that specific product or service mix, and the business attractiveness (risk and investment versus the return). Franchising offers an attractive model of business growth, certainly a more collaborative one which is in keeping with the changing and entrepreneurial environment. Now that both models, direct investment and franchise, are available, companies can actually make decisions based on a balanced analysis.

India has literally millions of individuals who would prefer to be their own boss and run a business, rather than being an employee. There are joint-families, where resources may be available in the form of some real-estate and family members who can be part of the business. Personal loans are available from family and friends, in the close social fabric of our communities. Ideal ground for franchising to grow.

To close, I must quote a conversation with an international Brand about 30 months ago. I put across the premise that given India’s potential size and strategic importance as a market, surely the brand would consider setting up its own company rather than a franchise relationship. The Brand’s head of internationalisation looked ambivalent because at that time FDI in retail was nowhere on the horizon, but thought that they might consider it if government regulations changed. Well, the government allowed FDI earlier this year. And yet, this brand recently launched in India through a franchise relationship, for many of the reasons listed above.

Franchising lives!

(Guest Column in The Financial Express on 5 May 2006)

Posted in Entrepreneurship, Retail, Strategy, Uncategorized | No Comments »

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