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Damodar Mall
Born to Be a Grocer

May More and More Supermarkets Flourish in 2014

Ten years ago, Eden General Stores was a small, 150 sq ft store situated 200 metres away from a modern supermarket in Thane near Mumbai. (The supermarket is currently one of the top stores of the DMart chain.)

The little Eden General Store, which was a simple, counter service kirana shop that sold everything at MRP, and that had opened six years before DMart, is now a 3000 sq ft self-service store that has expanded its range to mimic DMart by keeping fresh produce, and specialising in home delivery. All its products are bar-coded and the billing is computerised.

Right under the nose of a successful 100-crore store of discounter chain DMart, Eden General has found customers, and is flourishing today. (I don’t know the owner of Eden and it doesn’t matter. I’m happy that he’s finally recognised the fact that the path to growth doesn’t lie in exploiting the customer but in enabling him / her.)

Women shop for instant noodles at a retail supermarket in Mumbai  (Photo: Reuters)

Modern supermarkets, by their presence, tilt the balance of power in favour of their customers (Photo: Reuters)

When I ran that Thane supermarket, one of my smart customers walked up to me one day and said, “I find your store too crowded and shop here only once a month. However, I thank you twice a week!” He went on to explain, “Because of your large, well-stocked and well-priced store, every small shop within a 2 km radius has learnt to improve its service and respect the customers.”

Modern supermarkets, by their presence, tilt the balance of power in favour of their customers. (One of my earlier posts details how this is even more true in the case of women customers.) There are simply not enough of supermarkets. They are positive change agents for consumers and we want more of them to appear in our cities. They trigger better availability of choice, more deals, a relief from buying vegetables from street carts etc.

In the last decade, supermarkets have gone from being elitist to being accessible to the middle-and-lower-middle class. Where modern retail has been introduced, it is the rich who shop from the local kirana store, with its culture of patronage and add-on services. The average consumer would much rather avail of the benefit of choice and bargains that modern retail has brought their way.

Do customers, women customers especially, really care whether these self-service stores (that are welcome in their lives) owned by a Thakkar or a Reliance or a multinational? Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) or Local Direct Investment (LDI) or Micro Direct Investment (MDI) — it doesn’t matter as long as stores become more modern, competitive and are able to serve customers better.

I do not understand the complexities of single, multi or specialty brand retailing and their maze of policy. All I know is, by any elementary calculation, the number of customers is far greater than the number of shopkeepers — old or new. So, in the wake of the larger consumer interest, may more Eden General Stores and Reliance Marts and Tescos come our way, and faster. And that’s my wish for the New Year.

Shop with more joy, everywhere!

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Superbly written sir, as always...its time that kirana neighbourhood understands that the fight is not with foreign chains or even indian large chains but with a better, smarter way to serve customers. What hit home to me was the point "rich shop at kirana for it's patronage and add on...."
Thanks Damodar for sharing your wisdom and deep insight into the customer behaviour. Shopping has certainly become a pleasure from an inescapable mundane chore of yore in the big towns. Having stepped into the civil street gingerly from the protective confines of the military barracks, I am surprised at my own behavioural changes. Become more receptive to my wife's ideas and criticism, looking for any interesting solutions to the corporate managers daily dilemmas.
Yes, let more supermarkets flourish...esp. D-Mart - since there is one bang opposite where I stay! This chain is doing good. The store where I go to (Sanpada) is packed to the rafters on evenings and weekends. And, surprisingly lots of people come with their cars to cart away their weekly/monthly groceries (there are at least 30-40 cars parked near this corner property). The veggies/fruit section could do with a cool curtain or cool shelves. And I don't know why they have to stack the empty cartons on top of the shelves - it gives an ugly look. But then neatness and visual attractiveness does not come easily to us Indians - witness our ugly towns and cities! D-Mart could also spruce up their frontage - since they have the entire building they could at least paint it in their store colours - white and green I believe. Also, a snack section - pastries and patties etc would do well. The MORE mega store in Palm Beach galleria had an excellent and popular snack area (Hypercity Vashi opened one after a long time - but it just didn't take off - maybe people felt suffocated while eating in the basement store!!). More power to supermarkets. Pls stock more fresh and attractively priced veggies and fruits - also I don't know why more vegetables are not frozen like in the West. These veggies are relatively cheap compared to the fresh ones (and in India so much of the harvest goes to waste!). And please supply big strong grocery bags made of jute - so that they are washable and re-usable. No plastic bags please. Even when you charge for it. (Why don't they use the roof for solar power...since they have got the entire building..for that matter why don't malls have roof-top solar units???)
@supermarketwals
Selling (and buying) vegetables and fruits in supermarkets in India - like most things in India - is work in progress! Only guys who nationally do fresh produce better than others are Reliance Fresh. Chilied and frozen foods are a marginal habit with customers, here. Thanks for your detailed comment..
@Sandy - that ugly empty brown carton boxes above the shelves in Dmart are actually filled ones - for them to service them empty shelves....it also serves as space utiliser to refill when weekend rush prevents going to godown and getting stocks to refill. Looong time back in Thane store they experimented with covering the top shelf ( brown carton area) with branding of client companies and with slider boards but that didnt work well!! happy shopping
Ashoke Bhaskaran
So well said! I totally agree and as I began as a buyer of FMCG in retail, I learnt from you HLL and P&G guys that I should use brands to make the Category grow and not cannabalise into the category sales, which does not help the retailer. Similarly, the modern outlet run or owned by whoever contributed to the "category growth " of that type of facility which the lady of the house prefers / appreciates, and also allows some husbands to chase other lady customers for "whatever" reasons(ha ha). May your tribe increase!!!
Agree Sir, competition is the father of improvement.
@supermarketwala
Thanks Ayan. May this phenomenon move faster in 2014!
If after telecom, anything that is really changing fast - it is the grocery retailing. Several 'transformed' Eden's are coming up and each of them offer a combination of traditional and modern services and think thats what is going to be their USP. Just a point though - Yes Women Customer would welcome any Retail stores as long as it is Modern, Competitive and Serve customer better - the only difference being what comes first - to me 'Serve Customer better'; 'Modern' and then Competitive would be the right sequencing...
@supermarketwala
Pani, agree on both counts. The impact mobility - phones or wheels makes on lives is profound. Customer service however is often narrowly argued as only people delivered service. I would argue, the best service offered by supermarkets is 'getting out the way' from between the woman and her brands/products. Do read my earlier post 'Shopkeeper in Law' for more discussion on this. Thanks.
After reading 'Shopkeeper in law' and every statement in it is so true - i can relate to my own family or almost 90% of all those I know - my mom, sister etal. Priveleged that i am, getting lots of practical insights and wisdom through personal interactions and now through these blogs. Thank you. Specifically on the point of shopwallah getting out from between women and her brands - just wondering whether that could be major trigger for online shopping for all Personal Care - the home manager would surely that - why stand in front of cash till where the cashier knows what products am buying and customer behind me also can notice. I better order online.. And perhaps that will make a clear category segments for online shopping.. Fresh, Apparel, Foot wear could continue to be dominated by Malls, Stores etc. while PC will be primarily through online...
 
 
Damodar Mall
‘Born to be a grocer’ has a different meaning for me. After the traditional career track of IIT, IIM and Hindustan Unilever, I was going to be a grocer, much to my family’s disbelief. Selling ‘daal-chawal’ as a chosen vocation for the educated son was not their idea of smart choices. I wasn’t alone. I walked down the path with R K Damani of D Mart and Kishore Biyani of Big Bazaar, both avid customer observers and business creators by betting on the Indian consumer. Customer observation and insight hunting is now an instinct with me, after over a decade of consistent aisle running in all parts of the world.

To my wife’s delight I love visiting stores, but much to her chagrin, I equally love chasing women customers to see what they are buying!

Food, brands and retail, my vocation, catches everyone’s fancy. I’ve stirred up some recent excitement for myself shaping food stores for different ends of the market spectrum including upmarket Foodhall and now Fresh produce led neighbourhood store RelianceFresh, etc.

I’m excited by various cuisines, languages and recently, learning to play music. But through all my adventures, one thing has stood by me always, a good cup of masala chai! Meet me @SupermarketWala
 
 
 
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February 12, 2014 15:52 pm by Parijat Punj
@Sandy - that ugly empty brown carton boxes above the shelves in Dmart are actually filled ones - for them to service them empty shelves....it also serves as space utiliser to refill when weekend rush prevents going to godown and getting stocks to refill. Looong time back in Thane store they experi...
February 12, 2014 15:48 pm by Parijat Punj
Superbly written sir, as always...its time that kirana neighbourhood understands that the fight is not with foreign chains or even indian large chains but with a better, smarter way to serve customers. What hit home to me was the point "rich shop at kirana for it's patronage and add on...."
January 10, 2014 10:21 am by Pani
After reading 'Shopkeeper in law' and every statement in it is so true - i can relate to my own family or almost 90% of all those I know - my mom, sister etal. Priveleged that i am, getting lots of practical insights and wisdom through personal interactions and now through these blogs. Thank you....
January 08, 2014 00:20 am by @supermarketwals
Selling (and buying) vegetables and fruits in supermarkets in India - like most things in India - is work in progress! Only guys who nationally do fresh produce better than others are Reliance Fresh. Chilied and frozen foods are a marginal habit with customers, here. Thanks for your detailed comm...
January 04, 2014 13:48 pm by Ram Somtia
Thanks Damodar for sharing your wisdom and deep insight into the customer behaviour. Shopping has certainly become a pleasure from an inescapable mundane chore of yore in the big towns. Having stepped into the civil street gingerly from the protective confines of the military barracks, I am surprise...