|Birla's Retail Head Targets $2b Topline in 2 yrs
20 July 2012
The Economic times
growth & a turnaround at his fashion and food & grocery retailing ops
Pranab Barua lives by the advice of his first boss, the late CS Samuel, then chairman & MD of tea company Brooke Bond, now a part of Hindustan Unilever. “He always maintained that every strategy or goal can be broken down into numbers. I have been guided by that philosophy in everything I do,” says the head of the Aditya Birla group’s retail sprawl, which spans apparel, food & grocery, and the recently-acquired fashion portfolio of the Kishore Biyani-founded Pantaloon Retail.
|Strategy for Aditya Birla Retail
||Shut-down loss-making stores and add new ones in less-expensive areas
||Integrate the Madura brands of fashion wear into pantaloon's
||Sort out the back end at Pantaloon with a sharp focus on inventory management
The numbers keeping Barua busy today are varied. The man who till March was CEO of group company Aditya Birla Nuvo’s textiles & apparel portfolio – which includes Madura Fashion & Lifestyle and its menswear brands like Van Heusen and Allen Solly – could well be heading one of India’s largest organised retailing ventures in a couple of years. A senior executive working closely with Barua says the internal target is $2 billion by March 2014. As of last year, the group’s retail operations – Madura and the food & grocery retail chain More – had a topline of under a billion dollars, at . 4,700 crore. Add another . 1,500 crore of Pantaloons, in which Aditya Birla Nuvo acquired a majority stake in a . 1,600-crore deal in May 2012, and the retail portfolio would have revenues of . 6,200 core, or roughly $1.1 billion. In fiscal 2012, Reliance Retail had a topline of . 7,600 crore, and the Future Group’s retail pie without Pantaloon’s fashion portfolio would stand at. 11,000 crore.
Hitting $2 billion in two years sounds a tall order, but not for Barua who is going about the task the Samuel way. “I just try and make opportunities bigger than challenges. You need to have a big picture in mind and then back it up with execution and attention to detail,” says the man who entered the Aditya Birla fold when the group acquired the Trinethra & Fabmall retail brands in 2007.
Even as he talks growth, most of which will come by expanding the More chain, Barua has to think in terms of turning around the losing food & grocery retailing operation, making the back end of Pantaloons more efficient, and integrating the retailer with Birla’s fashion portfolio.
Barua is no stranger to chasing growth and turning around businesses—both at the same time. In fiscal year 2010, he turned around MF&L at the operating level in a year, after two years of losses because of soft demand conditions. He shut down lossmaking stores, re-negotiated rentals and opted for a rapid expansion in a depressed market, setting the business up for huge growth in the future years. “We took costs out of the system and generated cash by exiting business that had no real future in our strategy,” says Barua. As a result, the business grew well above 30% in the next few years.
The Madura portfolio has four segments: premium fashion; mid-priced menswear, value retail and exports. Barua says he did the evaluation to see if Pantaloons had a “strategic fit with our longer-term plans.” The Biyanibuilt brand will help Birla move beyond menswear into casual wear, ethnic wear, formal wear, party wear and sports wear for all – men, women and kids. Plus the Pantaloons chain has presence over 35 cities with 65 stores and 21 factory outlets, covering retail space of over 2 m square feet.
“It is at the back-end that some things many have to be sorted out,” he ventures, reluctant to divulge any more. “Inventory is responsible for eating up a lot of cash. Also, freshness of stock whether food or apparel is critical in retail,” he says.
Cracking food retailing, though, will be Barua’s biggest challenge. Says Harminder Sahni MD, Wazir Advisors, a consulting firm for consumer-oriented businesses. “It is a difficult business to make profitable but I would not call it impossible. More will have to clearly move away from fresh fruit and vegetables and get more into the FMCG space. Even in that space they will have to go premium.”
The More chain reported a net loss of Rs. 423 crore in the year ended March 2011 on net sales of Rs.1,637 crore. Cost control is Barua’s priority; he plans to shut down 27 loss-making stores in Mumbai and instead expand the business in markets where real estate is less expensive – like Delhi NCR and in the south.
“This year we will add 70-80 supermarkets and another 5-6 hypermarkets with a focused approach to geographies. We will launch fewer but more profitable stores. Our store contribution across the network will be positive this year," says Barua.
At the back end, the food & grocery operation is fixing various supply-chain and replenishment issues by setting up a separate functional team for the purpose.
A. Mahendran, who knows Barua since 2003 when they worked together at Godrej Tea, feels he is the right man for the job. “His EQ quotient on a scale of
1-5 would be 4.5, the right CEO material. That combined with his balanced analytical skills helps him transform lossmaking businesses...," says the MD of Godrej Consumer Products Ltd.