Tuesday, May 31, 2005

ITC marketing synergy

ITC, the emerging FMCG company in India has some smart marketing up its sleeve.

On a recent stay at one of its properties, I observed how ITC uses its hotels to increase awareness amongst customers. Thankfully, there are no billboards and they use far more subtle methods.

There is a big jar of Candyman toffees at the lobby. Inside the room was a big packet of Candyman toffees. Usually properties do not stock candy and that too, at cost price (unlike the 500% mark up thats is usually seen). Candyman is marketed by, you guessed it. The matchbox in the room evokes some curiosity with its elegant design and name. iKno, the matchbox, is also an ITC product.

Smart idea.

Big Bazaar

Big Bazaar is both big and a bazaar. It is unlike, say, a Walmart or even a Food world. Big Bazaar is almost an airconditioned version of any Indian bazaar. It is a slightly orderly and organised version of, say Chickpet for Bangalore guys or Dadar for Mumbaiites. There is a huge crowd which can move in almost any direction. You can buy anything (pretty much everything is available at Big Bazaar). It is not a place where you can browse through at leisure and pick up a few things here and there. This is a place if you are serious about your shopping. And the worst part is at the checkout counter, where the line can stretch as much as a line for a famous ganpati pandal or a cricket match. Parking is a pain too.

But, the place ticks. In both Hyderabad and Bangalore, the outlets dont have a place for customers to stand esp on weekends. Customers wait outside it some before it opens in the morning. Bombay is slightly better. Big Bazaar offers good prices. Really good prices. Prices that tempt. Apart from simple price chopping, there are deals (2 for the price of 1 or prices reduced on a combination etc). The perception of Big Bazaar is that it facilitates some serious savings on grocery shopping. And it works. And make no mistake, it attracts the well heeled as much as it attracts Raju from across the street.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Weekend thoughts

Either I should carry my camera around or I should upgrade my cellphone into one with a camera. Saw this billboard for e-serve International, with a caption that essentially 'lured' Chennaites back to their home town ("Why pay rent when you can move back to Chennai"), which is where e-serve is located. While many Bangalore based companies go to Chennai to pick up people for Bangalore, this one is trying a reverse approach. Smart; especially given that the probability that a person returning to his home city is more likely to stay there than a peron going out of his home city to a new place.

59 mm of rain in a day (check average precipitation in Indian cities and check Bombay for a comparison of how less it rains in Bangalore) in Bangalore day before yesterday and the city was pretty much drowned. For a few minutes it rained in torrents seen only in coastal areas, which was the good part. Then, power transmission poles fell (yes, IT city does not have its stuff underground yet, atleast there are pole), trees held by 3 inches of ashpalt also fell. Kaput went the power. Roads resembled waterways and travel by boat would have been smoother than the existing roads.

Put the above two in perspective, add a high cost of living and I think Bangalore will lose its star status for IT very soon. Then our local politicians have to only worry about keeping slum dwellers and land sharks happy. IT and its jobs would have long gone off to greener pastures.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Get sick soon, theres a promo going on!

Dr Batras super speciality homeopathy is into some serious advertising by way of promotional offers. Did you read doctor? Did you read promotional offer? Yes.

What if your neighbourhood doctor said, avail a discount offer of 20% (or whatever) if you visit here with your entire family and get treated? What if he said this is a parent child month and you get a discount on consulting fees if you get both checked up. That is exactly what Dr.Batras clinic says it would do as per its advertising on FM radio (Bangalore, 91.0 FM, Radiocity). Apart from these series of ads, there are smaller ads which begin with a question,"Doctor, I am suffering from xyz" and ends with an answer,"Have ABC and you will be alright" with a barely audible disclaimer at the end. I am sure, what is happening is legal, but, promotional offers at doctors? hospitals? What next? I dont want to speculate.

This is similar to the ads of some drugs shown in the US with arthritic "patients", asthamatic "patients" sharing their "experiences"after having taken some medicine or other.

That is, of course, blatant advertising rather than an infomercial. I am not sure which category this one is. Whatever it is, it stinks.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Whats with blue?

After a few posts on shirts, one more here. But this one is different (of course).

Take a cursory glance at the shirt rack and what is the colour that you see. Of course, there is white, there are stripes, checks and some other patterns. But what is the most common colour, whether on the rack or on the street? Blue! Striped blue, plain blue, dark blue, shiny blue - its all around. Season after season, generation after generation the blue is a favourite.

Why is blue such a favourite colour? Any answers? (I thought of some and trawled the net for a while, but couldnt get any answers)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Suzuki Swift

The Suzuki Swift has been launched in India. Like the just launched Innova, this car has different (contemporary) looks. The pricing (introductory, they say) at Rs. 3.87 lakhs and upwards slices through two categories and could make the vehicle a category killer between compact cars and sedans. The bells and whistles the fully loaded variant comes with is as good as any (and includes air bags etc. which are not found in this class of cars in India).

The combination of pricing and accessories, make the Swift smell "Value for money". This car looks set to make waves in the market.

I cant C ICICI

Its a pain getting through to ICICIs call center. I have been trying to reach them for the past few weeks through their phone banking system. Either they play a standard message "Your wait time is more than 4 minutes, so you can wait or call later". If I wait, you are subjected to torture by ICICI marketing bs and no operator comes online. If I dont wait, well, I go through the same step to reach an operator who has told me thrice in the past week that the system is under maintenance hence nothing can be done. Frustrated I contacted them through my online application and sent them a mail. No response yet.

Their slogan goes, "Hum Hain Na" (We are there for you, roughly translated). Well, you are there, safely hiding behind a maze of switches and wires from the irate customer.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Private vs Government- on bus service

The post on Volvos set me thinking on the bus services that existed (still do) and competed (still do). There were basically two sets of operators in most states in India, private and government owned RTCs with certain demarcation on routes. The new Volvo services are not so much different on either operator, except that the government buses follow a government depot to government depot service (meaning, they could drop you off at some far off point in certain cities).

But having travelled in both these types of buses, it has been my experience that the government service is usually better. For one, the drivers are better (on an average). Government buses dont bother if they cant fill a few seats ( the private guy would usually beg every passer by to get in). The reputed private transport guys are not so bad, but they use their buses as some sort of a mini trucking service and stop en route to pick up luggage and packages here and there. Both stop at relatively nondescript dhabas for food. Government buses are usually, better maintained and even today, if possible, I prefer to take an RTC service than a private service.

While there has been (and can be) considerable debate on whether the government really has any business running buses and trains, unfettered competition with ill regulated rules does not bode well for the consumer. Anybody has ridden on the private buses in Kerala ( or Delhi for that matter) will vouch for this. The presence of a benign competitor (who doesnt really focus only on making a profit and this can only be done by government services) can perhaps be a steadying force in certain markets.

Whats your sample size?

Radio channels, TV channels run polls to which viewers can and supposedly do respond via SMS. It can be something as trivial as "Will it rain today" to questions like "Is the Non aligned movement irrelevant". That the question itself is irrelevant is another thing altogether, but whats interesing is the answer (which is sought on SMS) and the way it is presented to the unsuspecting viewer.

Quite like exit polls, the answer is a triumphant, "67% (everything else is omitted) "feel that NAM is relevant or irrelevant."

Not a word on the fact that 67% is perhaps on a sample size of 3 or 40 or 500. To date I have not met a single person who SMSes answers to these sort of polls, so it is perhaps unlikely that respondents are going to be in thousands or lakhs or crores, but then again, who bothers!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Multiplying multiplexes

Writing about digital cinema screening techniques enriching customer experience got me thinking about the launch of multiplexes in India, specifically the PVR multiplex in Bangalore. Prior to PVR ( and its 11 screen multiplex), Bangalore was a city of sleepy cinemas (though there was the Innovative multiplex on the outskirts). There were a few dinosaur theaters in the centre of the city who charged a premium for narrow aisles, broken air conditioning, peeling paint, sad sound systems and touts who sold tickets in black.

The arrival of the 11 screen multiplex changed it all. Rather than pay 80 rupees for all the comforts described above, it was better to pay a 100 odd bucks and get a plush seat, good sounds, not having to buy tickets in black (why do they do it, we will explore it sometime), e-booking options and a mall attached (Forum). There are tickets priced at 500 rupees (which would be the black rate for a first day first show) per show with dinner thrown in.11 screens (with pricing differentials), effectively changed the cinema going experience in Bangalore.

All over India multiplexes have changed both audiences and cinema experiences in India. Unlike most foreign markets, India has reasonably profitable regional cinema (Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Bengali among others) centers. Because of the proliferation of multiplexes, regional movies are released at places other than their place of origin to cater to those niche audiences (Tamil movies in Delhi, Malayalam movies in Bangalore etc); crossover cinema gets an audience and there are filmakers who recognise this audience and give them the fare they are looking for. These movies would not have found enough audience in the older system of larger theatres. Low budget movies for niche audiences suddenly seem lucrative to run at multiplexes.

PVR (and other multiplexes) are an example of how an efficient service delivered even at slight premium finds a lot of takers. Multiplexes are mushrooming all over India and this is a good sign for cinema as a whole.

Digital cinema

Got this link from TP wired services, which talks essentially about theatres in the US would move to Digital cinema screening techniques soon. Also mentioned in the piece is the fact that these theatres would lure people with sharper images, better quality sound all of which a TV cannot provide. Heres some news of Digital screening in India.

That cinema has improved continuously into a great experience would sound ironic to those who would have heard that the video was supposed to sound the death knell of cinema. Video casettes could never recreate a cinemas magic. DVDs supplement rather than compete with cinema in more ways than one. Home theatres could have killed cinema, but only by so much. With the movie theatre becoming much more than just a theatre and more of a social outing, the two are now in different entertainment categories. With cutting edge technology, theatres are a force to reckon with than ever before.

Better technology ( and logicaly, better products, better services, better ideas) is the key to prevent the sinking of any product or service. For all those who think that quotas and restrictions are the way to save their profits, perhaps they ought to take a look at ways of enriching customer experience.

e-commerce = no queues

Of late, says my dad, the queue for railway bookings seems to gone down a bit. He was able to get a ticket in 20 minutes flat. Indian railways online service is a big hit and went on to become the largest "e-commerce transactor" in India. Deccan Airways online site, pipped it to the post just recently.
In a place like India with long queues all over the place, e-commerce - a late starter (including sms and net transactions), has quickly scaled up to let thousands of people access information quickly.
If only someone got the bureaucracy (RTO, Registrar office, Taxes) online with probably the PAN No (or something similar) as a login, it may well be a beginning to break the 'baburaj'.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Once there was a river...

Once there was a river, a mighty river that flowed. Its sparkling water hosted elephants and humans alike. Boats were needed to cross the river. The vast sand bed beside the river was a great place to play for the children from the nearby areas. I know it because I used to go the Periyar river near Thottuva in Kerala almost every vacation. It was one of the outings I looked forward to.

One vacation, en route to the river, all I could see was a long length of trucks that waited to load sand. That year the sand had reduced.
Each progressive year, sand reduced and so did the river. First from the surrounding areas, then from the river itself, they drew sand truck by relentless truck, until the mighty river was reduced to a sad stream.

Leave alone elephants, not even humans could have a bath in it. The humans who wanted to bathe in it, now cartwheeled in it so that they could bathe in the now, ankle deep water. The boatman now used his boat to ferry the sand dredgers to some further point so that they could kill the river a little more. Most of the river was dangerous to cross by foot since there was no sand beneath and it could be one of those places where sand had been dredged/mined from way down. It was one of my last visits to the river, since the river almost did not exist. On visits after that I never went near the river side since it was sad seeing the once mighty river reduced to a shrivelled image of itself.

The building boom, Gulf money and perhaps everything else to be constructed demanded sand. The river was an easy source. In Gods own country, rivers are fast becoming extinct. I was reminded of this incident of many years ago, when I came across Kannadi (malayalam for mirror)- one of those informative programs in Asianet -a Malayalam channel. They showed a piece about a river that ceased to exist and how wells are being dug along the old river channel (there is no river, only a bed) to search for pure water. Sand dredgers are having a good time even without the river, because digging up these wells, throws up, what else, but sand.

First they sought sand in the river, now they seek the river in the sand.

The Volvo in buses

Bus travel in India was a pain (and nobody realised it) until very recently. It would have remained so, if it was not for Volvo and its amazing buses. With the airconditioned Volvo and its premium positioning, bus service has undergone a sea change from its primitive moorings. The Volvo is as good as any similar international bus service, minus the roads. Prior to Volvo, there was a vague classification of buses as "Air buses" (with some sort of air suspension or air in the tyres) and "Deluxe", which could mean just fresh paint on the outside and sometimes, not even that. There was the maddening classification of buses as "Video coach". (Watching a movie in a bus or flight with all the surrounding noise, sheesh!).

Thanks to the entry of Volvo, bus services are now more palatable. Most "Volvo" services welcome the passengers with a blanket and a bottle of drinking water. Some even serve a smallish meal on board. No more overloading, no cramming of passengers in the alleys, no unscheduled stops, trained drivers, good comfort for drivers (well, see the cabins in non Volvos and Volvos) and overall, a better transportation experience. Now, if only someone could lay better roads. Of course, there are a few dubious operators who have tried to pass off some inferior services as Volvos, but barring such idiots, Volvos have redefined internal bus services. Once the GQ is ready, Volvos will mutiply on the roads and in trucks (another day, another post) as well.

If there is a "Volvo" service in other areas ( and I mean good competition that redefines an entire space), things could improve. On a slightly unrelated note, the railways could lease their tracks and let private operators run trains. Umm, why not!!

ICICI Mini Visa card

I received a mini credit card from ICICI a few days back. After flipping through an accompanying booklet, I found the mini card. It also had its own snazzy box with a silvery key chain on which I could have all my keys along with the card itself. It said, this card is free for a lifetime without any annual fees. Even as I thought of throwing the earlier card out of the window, the fine print enabled itself to a bold print which read "This is an add on card".

The mini does not (not yet atleast) lend itself to usage on ATMs and perhaps on the primitive block credit card machine. All my other cards (debit and credit) are in their old sizes yet. I am not convinced that I should put my card and keys in the same basket. I am not convinced that I should carry one more key chain than the one I already have.

Neither do I see any point in carrying the mini alongside the bigger card. The mini card is nice to see, but it still sits on the shelf in its silver key chain, awaiting a decision by its owner, even as he is perplexed as to what he can do with it. Mini cards are hits abroad and ICICI is among the first movers in the mini card segment here.

Weekend thoughts

Thoughts over the weekend:

Do we have a national infrastructure policy? I wish we did, so that infrastructure projects do not come under the nauseating habit of being overruled by change of governments (even from the same party). If fraud is suspected, then such dealings would be recovered from the concerned minister at that time and the company involved, but the project per se would not be affected. Dabhol and the NICE corridor are cases in point.

It has been a while since I stopped watching news on TV and switched to browsing the newspaper (like ye old days) and the net. Am I an aberration or a rule? I dont know, that will be for later. But, seeing trivial non events, like the ongoing reservation of 50% seats for a particular community (by now, we all know what the newspapers mean when they say this), dramatised and debated by "experts" is sickening. And in the absence of any hot news every hour (which is mostly because they are all reporting the same thing), newer experts flog the same topic until the next hot news arrives, sometimes in underpants.

Can we apply the tipping point in a different sense to traffic? Bangalore experimented with a zero tolerance zone on one of its prime roads recently and discontinued it. But I personally think it is a great idea if enforced correctly. There could be a cluster of such zones in a city(in areas of dense traffic) and our habits would be a lot more disciplined when drive in other areas as well.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Clean to keep clean

Why are certain places in India dirty and certain places clean? I believe it is the example cited in the book "Tipping point" principle at work.

Places which are kept clean will not be dirtied, which is why the swanky malls are usually sparkling clean. Looking at the way of these malls, the way to keep a clean place from becoming dirty is to make it look for starters and then relentlessly keep it clean. Where there is a visible janitor(s), people tend to not dirty the place. Of course, there need to be lots of trash cans around the place where ever there would be a throwing instinct. For malls, with their roving cameras, they can do many more innovative things (I need not give ideas).

New Bombays (Navi Mumbai) railway stations (Vashi, Sanpada, Nerul, Belapur of the older lot and Airoli,)are a lot cleaner than the other suburban railway stations, despite the same people who travel on the line. Apart from swanky architecture, they fulfil most of the above criteria (except cameras). The only difference between our airports and bus stations is the cleanliness (it is not upto the standards of other international airports though). Once cleanliness is continuously maintained, at a particular point, people will no longer dirty it.

So, when will India be a clean country? We need to start street by street, campaign, educate and clean up our localities ourselves since an army of sweepers cannot be hired. Perhaps using machines to clean localities, owned by a societies network would be far more effective than our muni corps (many of them are actually quite decent, except that they subscribe to a more luddite mentality).

Friday, May 20, 2005

Wireless google?

This time, a random thought by me, but I am sure this thought must have come often to most internet users. Having spent a good part of 2 days "unconnected" got me thinking.

If it were not for google, where would we be sitting in front of a computer logged onto the net?

Sure, there were a whole host of search engines. Na Jaane, kitne aaye aur kitne chale gaye, there continue to be new search engines, but the ubiquity of google is amazing. For me, its usually the home page. Want to find out anything and everything, do a google.

I miss google when I walking about. I am in an area and I want to know which is the "nearest", say, eatery or bus stop or shop, but without google I am lost. There is space for a mobile service of this sort.

Would I like to pay 6 rupees per minute for such a service, perhaps not. Would I, as a shop, like to pay for a service where I would be listed. I would think yes. More power to google and its likenesses which I think will emerge in the mobile space soon!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

I am lovin it...McDonalds ad

Mcdonalds India has started using a series of ads, which I have wanted to comment upon for a while. The ads are fantastic and simple with black and white images of old Bollywood stars (done by doubles) while they approach a McD counter. The punch line is "hamare zamane ke daam" (Prices of those days), done in the typical dialogue delivery styles of those stars.The one with Rajesh Khanna's double mouthing "Pushpa, I am loving it re" (in his typical delivery style) remains my favourite.

Heres the storyline of the one with "Dilip Kumar".

Of course, 20 rupees was really a lot in those days, but the ads put across the point quite neatly. As a self confessed ad maniac, this is one of ads in recent times that is really nice. Will it make me go to a McD, umm, lets leave that for later.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Of Surveys...

Ahaa, a great post by Rashmi here. It bought the memories racing back.

Many suns ago, it so happened that one such door to door 'surveyors' had come to our house and on enquiry by mom, it turned out that he was a college student doing this in his vacation. I was promptly kicked out of an afternoon siesta to talk to him with an order to get the address and get out on the streets. It was my first 'job'. It was for one of those research agencies that operate out of a small office. We had to ask for women under the age of 35 for this survey. Imagine the dangers of a young man, knocking on doors and asking for the respondents of this category. Needless to say, there were many closed doors. At 15 rupees a form, it was quite a low paying job.

But, it did teach me a lot. Selecting the right respondents for one, was critical. Here my multiple language skills came in handy. Since I could communicate with reasonable proficiency in
Hindi, English, Marathi and Malayalam I was able to get a decent hit rate. Walking in the Mumbai sun, trying to get some survey done was really some experience. And yes, since it was a huge 7 page survey, I did fill out some information myself. At the end of it, there was a carrot. We handed out a deodarant sample which was worth it for many participants. Although we were not supposed to reveal to the respondents that we would give a sample, some of the surveyors often used it as bait to get respondents.

I remember it fondly, because it was my first 'job' in that sense. A summer well spent on learning "Emotional Intelligence", trying to talk to total strangers, putting on a smile even when one is frustrated and learning a little bit of empathy towards the door to door salesmen on whom we slam the doors ever so easily.

Those days, few apartments had security guards, so it was easy to enter into an apartment (not more than one respondent per building, they said). These days, it is a lot more difficult to get a survey done. Wonder how they do it.

One year MBA

ISB now has competition. IIM A has announced a one year, executive MBA. SP Jain is getting there too.

The fees at these insti's would be surely less than ISB. The faculty at these places may not be the star faculty that ISB attracts, but these insti's have very good faculty of their own. But are they really a competition to ISBs program? For various reasons, I think they are not in direct competition to ISB, but for those seeking a one year MBA, there are now more options. But if an INSEAD offered a 1 year executive MBA here, that would be something.

Are more such one year MBA's a sign of acceptance of the one year MBA by the Indian student? Or are they looking at getting in more experience people to do MBAs (considering that freshers form a significant chunk of most of the 2 year courses). Will this cannibalise into their 1 year programs (especially autonomous ones) or will this cannibalise into the 2 year programs of some of the smaller institutes? Will some students seek a 1 year MBA rather than go through the rigours of a 2 year program?

Either way, I think a 1 year MBA is a smart option. For students, for companies to send on a sabbatical, for institutes... Education in India will see more such specialist and superspecialist (super generalist, is perhaps, more apt) courses.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Which candidate to select?

Which candidate would you select?
Candidate 1 "I will stay with you (forever) taking all the challenges you throw at me"
Candidate 2 "I cant guarantee that I will stay with you long, but as long as I stay, I guarantee that as long as I stay with you, I will give you more than my 100%."

Let us assume that any rational candidate would stay on in a company only if policies are conducive, work is good, pay is good and his or her concerns are addressed. The first also means the same, but probably shies away from saying it. Now, who would you select?

Of Akshaya Tritiya and Thanksgiving

A few days back, it was Akshaya Tritiya time in India. This is the time when everybody throngs gold shops to buy some gold (even if it is only a bit) in the belief that what is bought on that day will lead to "Akshaya" (forever) prosperity. Akshaya Tritiya was not such a popular gold buying event until a few years back and even now, much of the activity is down South India. A little bit of marketing has done the trick leading to this effect in Kerala, which in any case does not need any special reason to buy gold (or sarees).

Akshaya Tritiya or Akha TeeJ is traditionally the birthday of Parshurama, the sixth incarnation of Vishnu. The Puranas tell how he reclaimed land from the sea along the west coast of India by his valour. Akshaya Tritiya is celebrated on the 3rd day of the bright half of Vaishakh, (Tritiya Tithi of Shukla Paksha), when the Sun and Moon are in exaltation, which happens once every year.The word Akshaya means that which never diminishes and new beginnings on this auspicious day are everlasting.

Thus there is a gold buying mania each Akshaya Tritiya day, increasing year after year, and perhaps in due course, become the Indian equivalent of Thanksgiving shopping.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Campus(es) R us - Indian IT

A while back, I had this discussion with a "non software" professional about software jobs and campuses. She was of the opinion that software pros are spoilt because of the facilities
they get at work. We were talking about the architecture and campuses of software campuses and she, an architect, said that campuses, food courts, recreation facilities do not even figure in our (or some other) jobs. A very true statement.

Software jobs and campuses (Infosys, for instance) are the envy of one and all outside the IT industry. Most software companies have high profile campuses which have a set of food courts, recreation activities (gym, tennis, swimming pool), great space to work, the best machines and so on. Over time, software guys have got used to these facilities and now, any companies that do not offer these would find itself at a serious disadvantage when it comes to attracting people.

It wasnt always like this. Software, when it started off in India, was a little more than sweatshops. Small spaces, worse working hours and money to be made in bodyshopping. Along came a few companies (TI, Infosys come to mind) and started offering a campus, probably modelled on the ones by Oracle and Microsoft ( or modelled on a US University campus). At some "tipping point" if I may, every company had to have a good campus ( if not only for employees, even for visiting clients).

What started off small, is now universal, atleast in India. It must happen for other jobs too. Work places have to be more than just cubby holes and cubicles. Ideally, this is how competition should be. Firms/Individuals compete and it is a win win situation for everyone.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Action in Retail?

Its all happening out there, in retail. There are rumours of Walmart entering into India with Mahindra. There was talk of one of the Ambanis entering on their own. Tesco is waiting in the wings. Meanwhile Businessworld has reported that Tatas, after Westside would pick up stake in RPGs Foodworld. ITC is planning rural malls under the Chaupal Sagar name ( one is already operational). Metro is already trying out its model in wholesale.

Whoever comes in will have to take on Big Bazaar (a big hit in Bangalore and Hyderabad), Food Bazaar, Giants, Margin Free market (Kerala et al) in the markets they are active in. Thats cavalry including the cooperative guys like Apna Bazaar, Sahakari Bhandar in their respective markets again. The Infantry will be made up by the hundreds and thousands of small traders, wholesalers, grocers and friendly neighbhourhood stores. Of course when we talk of Walmarts and Tescos and Ambanis, the scale is something entirely different, but the battle will be an interesting one. Book your seats for a ringside view of the action.

Tata 'Ace's the three wheeler space

For all those who have driven on Indian roads, 3 wheelers are a familiar sight on inner roads and highways. The proliferation of 3 wheelers on the roads of India are probably one of the causes of traffic jams (there are other, more fundamental, causes). (3 wheelers goods carriers are preferred over 4 wheelers because of cost, narrow roads, lack of good public transport and low total cost of ownership. 3 wheel autos run as mini taxis in cities).
The roads and air of many cities in India (Pune, Nagpur, Hyderabad) are none the worse for the proliferation of various 3 wheelers. Earlier it was the ubiquitious auto rickshaw which then became available in a goods variant. Then, there were bigger 3 wheelers that could carry 6 ( but carry 10) passengers and some goods as well, adding to the general clutter on the roads. Three wheelers also fall under some quadricycle segment which have lower safety norms.

The Tata Ace is a four wheeler in a three wheeler segment. With the Maruti Omni, which is the cheapest 4 wheeler cargo vehicle going. The Ace is an interesting vehicle. 4 wheelers are inherently more stable than 3, apart from the safety aspect. If these become more popular, then standardisation (vehicles of similar configuration) on Indian roads can increase. Lack of standardisation both in terms of vehicles (2 wheelers, 3 wheelers, tractors) and speeds is one of the reasons behind lack of road discipline in India.

While many companies have entered into this market, Tatas is trying to redefine the space with its four wheel offering. The 3 wheeler is way behind its times on roads and in some years, it has to be banned from the city areas (like it has been banned in Mumbai) and highways/freeways (Mumbai Pune expressway already doesnt let them in at all) and allowed only restricted areas of operation.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Juice v/s soft drinks- Exclusive or all?

In a regular "Sagar" restaurant in suburban Bangalore, as we sat over lunch, I asked the waiter for a Coke. He said, "No soft drinks, only juice".
I thought this was interesting. Not from the perspective of "one restaurant that is fighting the soft drink brigade". Far from it, because there are a few restaurants which dont serve soft drinks. I have been to restaurants which stock soft drinks but where waiters often tell the customer "Juices are healthier, why dont you have a juice Sir".
No prizes for guessing that they dont care about your health, but their margins. Most probably their juices give them better margins than selling softdrinks.

Why customers opt for softdrinks over juices is simply because they are not sure about the quality of the fruits, the hygiene, the taste and the water. With a soft drink, they can be just that little bit surer on these fronts. But what if, ceteris paribus, you were well known for your juices. Would you sell softdrinks too or would you not? Taking that to a larger perspective, what is better? Exclusive showrooms or showrooms which stock all brands?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Traditions become businesses

The social transformation from a rural economy to a more developed economy is happening and happening fast. Each progressing year, the share of agriculture drops and the share of the service sector increases. A traditional family in India was usually dependent on agriculture with all the siblings involved in working on the same farm. Some generations later, as the siblings grew, holdings were fragmented and the plot of land no longer helped sustain the entire family. The family size came down from the earlier 5-10 children per household to about 5 per household. Parents, grandparents, assorted aunts and uncles who had nowhere else to go formed the core of a family.

As life expectancy increased, education and transportation became easily available, the number of children began to reduce, children began to migrate to the cities. Thus Bombay, Madras, Delhi, Calcutta were the hotbeds of migration. Similar patterns were observed in other places.

Most of the migrants brought along their own culture into the city. Thus, housewives continued to prepare food much the same way they did back in their villages, swept the front of their houses the same way they did in their villages and so on. With an abundance of fruits and vegetables, most households were self sufficient in areas other than foodgrain. They prepared their own pickles, papads and other snacks. Even oil was often derived from their own lands. In the cities for over a generation, summer times were a replica of the way they lived in the villages. Families got together to prepare papads, pickles and so on. Sometimes they did it in the cities, sometimes they went back to their villages as one big family, worked out of the village and got it back to the cities.

Traditional festivals like Diwali, meant that lots of preparations (sweets, salted items) had to be prepared at home. To buy these from a store was infra dig once upon a time.

One generation later with sons and daughters equally educated, smaller families and no ties back in the villages most of these traditions became business opportunities for individuals with the talent and risk taking ability. Sweet shops were an industry long ago. The mixture of spices used for cooking was traditionally made at home, that is a big booming industry these days. Papads, pickles were the next target. To find someone who makes their own pickles is a rarity in the cities. Diwali preparations which require a considerable investment of time were "outsourced" so to say. The next assault was on traditional food stuff like dosa, idli which requires rice to be soaked and ground. Ready made batter is now available in most places in India. The summers which were available for enjoyment back in the villages are now "summer camps".

As the social transformation takes place in India where the society slowly moves from rural to semi rural to urban, a lot more such industries will be seen blooming. Can you spot the next one?

Monday, May 09, 2005

Of shirts...2

Continuing on shirts, when Arrow first came into the market, they brought in some good designs, colours. Over time they seems to have lost their edge with some of the newer players making their presence felt. Some of the major brands (Arrow, again) serve the premium end of the market very well. This is how I view the mens shirts market. (Marketeers take note)

If I want great formal shirts that fit the corporate environment very well, I go in for an Arrow. Great business formals means Arrow. Louis Phillipe, Van Heusen are brands I think, can do better new designs; Ditto Allen Solly. The new kid on the block to me has been Indigo nation and Scullers. These Indus league brands have great designs and seem to be trying out something new every few months. Business casuals for me, usually means Scullers or Indigo Nation of Indus League. Provogue seems to have occassional good designs for casual and party shirts, but Scullers and Indigo Nation are my brands to watch.

For all these brands, I wish the showrooms have a better range of designs and not respond with a "This is all we have Sir". Beyond the brand euphoria, it is a point worth noting that many fabric manufacturers supply to more than one brand and some supply to competing brands as well.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Marketing: Small freebies

Small things that make a difference.

Seen at a Cafe day express outlet. "You chose the sandwich, we grill it for you". Nice. Instead of saying, Ordinary sandwich Rs.15, Grilled Rs.35, and charging an obscene rate for "grilling" it says, we grill it for free.

Seen at an Indigo Nation outlet. I forgot to get it verbatim, but this is the gist. If you buy an item and want to use it immediately ( as they say, for a hot date or an interview), they will iron it for free.

At a suburban Bangalore Prestige smart kitchen outlet. The energetic salesman told us, while we stood with a pressure cooker lid and a malfunctional valve, "Just call us, we will come to your place and service it." Great brand ambassador, not for the message but for the energy. They also run a freebie scheme on their cookers, where one can get a small non stick pan free with certain items. Considering that the pressure cooker is a necessity in India and Prestige is an established brand, they need not give a non stick (teflon coated etc. etc.) pan. But as an idea to probably increase usage (and later) markets, a good thing. Customers like freebies in any case.

Small freebies like this, which are a welcome surprise (rather than the hackneyed purse, plastic bucket, some frequent usage card with obscure and often unremitted benefits and the like) do a lot more for "Standing apart from the crowd" than high powered ad campaigns.

Of shirts...1

Shirt shopping is an interesting time. We have long moved away from the cut piece times when shirt shopping was about selecting a cut piece from the neighbhourhood cut piece center. If one wanted variety, we could go to the wholesale markets (Dadar or Manish Market in Bombay). If one wanted quality, we could buy mill cloth (Bombay Dyeing, for instance) and go to our tailor who would duly stitch our shirt for us.

The market for shirts has moved on from these outfits to a more premium area. With the advent of mechanical cutting (tailoring) machines, people now prefer the readymade shirts rather than the tailored versions. However, handcrafted (tailored) shirts and suits occupy the super premium end of the market as well, but thats for a later time.

The earliest to experiment with readymades was probably Zodiac, Charagh Din and Double Bull (this is from my memory, so, dont hold me for the details). Vivaldi and Park Avenue had limited success. Cambridge shirts were a rage in Bombay once upon a time until the Arrows, Louis Phillipes and Van Heusens arrived on the scene. When they arrived, many got to know what they were missing in the shirts. For instance (again, from personal experience) in a checked shirt, the pattern of the checks should match over the stitching of the pockets, on the shoulder, both sleeves and so on. Then again, from working in a shirting company for a short while, I noticed (was educated) that the fabric in (many) branded shirts did not lift (into hairs) after a few washes, buttons stayed on, collars and cuffs did not get frayed. Margins in the shirting business are high, about 100% on the retailer end and manufacturing end. No wonder everybody wants a brand for the premium they command. But then again, brands are not crafted in a single day.

For those who are interested, one of the things that makes a shirt premium is the yarn that goes into it. The higher the count of the yarn, the better it is. Therefore, 100s is better than 60s. 120s is better than hundreds. Then again, 2 ply is finer than single ply and hence preferred for dress shirts. Some brands (Arrow for one) carry the yarn count as information on their shirts. The next time you go to a shirt store, check it out and check the quality of the shirts alongwith this information. Its a difference that wont go unnoticed, the next time you shop.

Friday, May 06, 2005

A comparison of Business headlines

Heres what we have at Financial express today
"Walmart to visit India on cusp of retail shake up"
Business standard (my favourite site for its look and feel) has, among other things:
"RBI eases banks dividend norms"
Businessline ( a paper which impresses on Sunday atleast) says:
"Pvt bank stocks buoyant as cap on voting rights goes"
And heres what the once venerable Economic times (amidst a flurry of pop ups) has to say:
"GenY pros are cool and hip in their corporate wear"

There have been rants elsewhere on TOI and Indiatimes elsewhere on the blogosphere (recently) and here.

If so many dont like the TOI group of newspapers, how come they sell so much. Probably force of habit. Second and this is my experience, the other newspapers dont arrive early ( or thats what the vendors say). But I am sure business readers are really not interested in the kind of reporting done on the ET website. Even the hard copy of the newspaper uses graphics and irrelevant pics and puns which are, as out of place as "Xtraaa innnings" in cricket commentary. But looks like it sells.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Information at our fingertips

When was the last time we looked up a telephone directory? The last time we visited our bank? For a lot of people, it has been a while since they did these things. Today we are used to information on our fingertips.

The internet, cellphone, dialup telephone directories are making more and more information available at our disposal. It is now taken so much for granted that if we want to visit a new place we search for it on the net. This is true for only a section of the population though.

In India, there are large chunks of information that is still not easily available on the net for a potential user. If it is, it is still not easily accessible. Local details for instance, Small businesses etc. have a lot of space to cater to the net savvy customer in India.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Travel, travel and travel

Open skies policy. Cheap airfares. New Destinations. Summer Heat. Kids have vacation. So what do you do? Travel. Travel and Travel.

And guess who is wooing the Indian traveller this time around. It is the biggies. Five star hotels, starting from the Taj are offering discounted vacations in Goa among other places provided certain conditions are met (Advance booking etc). Of course the hot summer is not exactly the right time to hit the beaches, but if discounts lure you, why not. Indians are being wooed bigtime to tour India. With the old system of going to native places for vacations on a waning trend, it is also the righ time to lure travellers to hit the road, rather, the air. It is not that we dont travel, internal tourism is doing very well over the past few years, and the biggies roll out the goodies to woo the well heeled.

Indians are travelling to neighbouring places like Sri Lanka, Singapore/Thailand, Middle east like never before which are actually cheaper to fly than say Bangalore-Delhi. This space is set to go to another trajectory in the near future.

Health food boom next?

Diabetes, obesity, blood pressure, cholesterol. The diseases of the developed world are upon us.

The diet we continue to have is a relic of a more active past. Fried food served with oodles of butter, clarified butter, edible oil, lard are adding inches to our waist. The flour in breads is wrecking havoc on our digestive system. Sugar in the sweets for the festivals reflects on us as diabetes. Children, fed in the western diet are already showing signs of obesity.

The next logical step? A trend which has not really caught on to a big extent, is health food. Theres space for the sugarless juices (already launched), baked snacks (launched with limited success), more and more wheat based bakery stuff instead of flour ( this is kinda happening). There is space for sugar free sweets, sugar free bakes, low salt baked snacks, even some low fat fried items and some more experimentation on that front. Unpolished heart friendly red rice, jowar, bajra; our traditional food could make a comeback. Watch out for the health food boom.

Dhaba Economics...

On the old Bombay Pune highway, there are dhabas, roadside restaurants, almost one per half a kilometer. Restaurants appear every half a kilometer on almost the entire stretch of the road (this is until the new expressway came up). I wondered about the economics of such an operation and how so many eateries could sustain themselves. I have atleast a partial answer to it.

Highway dhabas have segmented their market into roughly 3 categories. One is the bus travel segment, the other is the truckers and the third is the traveller driving down on his own (or with family)

The ones that travellers using their own vehicles prefer are the ones which have, over time, built a reputation for themselves. Like Kamats Lokaruchi en route to Mysore or MTR on the same route or the vadapav at Khopoli on the old Bombay Pune route.

How about the truckers? I think they go by the number of trucks already stopped at a place to decide if they want to eat at a dhaba on a new route. Word of mouth is a big seller for regulars. A large number of truck drivers however cook their own food.

Thus, these fly by night highway Dhabas do not depend on the passing one time traveller, they depend on their business on the regular travellers. They have hooked the bus drivers of certain companies ( be it government owned RTCs or private transporters) to halt their bus at these dhabas. The bus drivers get a free meal (sometimes they carry stuff for the use of the dhabas), while the passengers have no choice but to eat at the place where the bus is stopped since the nearest dhaba is half a kilometer away which is not a distance one can walk and come back by the time the bus leaves. Typically these places offer lousy quality of food, but with each bus they get some business and are able to sustain themselves.

It is one of the only marketing example I can think of where bad service can still get customers because of the unique position they are in. Many travellers now opt only for branded or packaged items only and that too if they dont pick it from their boarding point. Yes, they can never become a great place to eat this way, but they will probably continue to make some money.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

When political parties compete to develop...

For those staying in Bangalore, it may be difficult to believe that governments can ever get anything done, especially coalition governments since they are busy fighting each other.

Mumbai, Maharashtra was one such place some years back. Each successive government extended cut off dates for slums, regularised illegal water and electricity connections and generally did nothing. Somewhere along the way came a Shiv Sena government and sanctioned some 30 flyovers (grown since to 50) in 5 years. Almost all of them were built to schedule with the contracts providing for penalty on late completion and bonuses for early completion.

Having tasted success, the then government set about some more ambitious targets. The incoming government (after the Sena got knocked out) noted the project for its benefits (and vote catching) and took it further.

The last election promises for Mumbai were unlike previous election promises. Previously, it was 1 rupee jhunka bhakar, slum dwellers, free houses, free electricity. This time party manifesto spoke of development of the city, building more flyovers, metro rail, easing transport. Now, despite who rules Bombay, the city gets better facilities, unlike poor Bangalore.

If these things happen, Mumbai could well be Shanghai. What about Bangalore? Try Bihar.

Once political parties realise that the only way to woo voters is through better development projects and improving the quality of life, thats when things will move forward. This seems to have happened in Maharashtra, specifically in Mumbai. It has almost happened at our national level, though execution is poor. At other places (read Bangalore) there is still debate on the necessity of roads and power.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Mango man - aam aadmi

Aam (also) means Mango in English. Aam aadmi (Common man) is the slogan on which the present government which rules India came to power on. Since they came to power ( and before), there have been power cuts in Mumbai , Bangalore. If this is the state of the mango man in the commercial capital and IT capital respectively, think of the mango men who live in villages. So that the mango man can be benefitted (how?), road projects have been shelved ( the GQ is off schedule), scamster ministers are being protected, trains have crashed, scams have been unearthed, there is no change in the discomfort faced by the mango man at any government office and of course Bangalore has come about achieve a rural look and feel (no electricity, roads which only tractors can negotiate) so that the mango man feels at home.

From Garibi Hatao (get rid of poverty) to mango man, we have come a long time. For the mango man, this summer is a bad time. Desipte all the sloganeering that the UPA government is for the mango man, the mango man has found himself pulped, juiced and pickled.

Summer camps - boom time

Its summer time in India and posters have sprung up everywhere for summer camps for kids. Summer camps are a relatively new phenomena in India. Summer camps can be just a group activity or can be a place to learn new skills, make new friends and have fun; for a price of course, which could range from a few hundred rupees to more than a few thousands of rupees.

For our generation, summer meant a visit to the native village where all summer we chased dragonflies, climbed mango and cashew trees and learnt to dehusk coconut. Other than that we learnt how to make pappads, pickles and even garlands. We learnt how to peel a jackfruit, some lucky ones learnt how to milk a cow (no, I still cannot) and many of us learnt to swim. It was a grand family get together with the grandparents and the entire clan.

But with native villages not native and/or villages anymore and peer pressure among kids (yes!), summer camps are a rage. Whether (all) summer camps are good or bad is another debate altogether but for overworked parents it is an opportunity for their kids to fruitfully engage their summer and have fun in the bargain as well.

This is another example "Where traditions have given way to industries". Traditional household work like papads, pickles, chutneys (even cooking for that matter) are now businesses because of smaller families and working parents. I will explore this trend in detail in another post.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Comesum, Indian railways

Comesum is the new face of Indias railway restaurant. They are air conditioned food courts and can be seen among other places at prime rail estate in Bangalore and Pune. Unlike the waiting rooms or canteens of the Raj, these are, atleast on paper, airconditioned and have an inviting decor. Their prices match restaurant prices outside, unlike the older railway canteens which still serve food a lot cheaper.

Before we go further on this topic, a word on the railway canteens. Railway canteens follow a strict pricing schedule and most dont charge for anything above the MRP (Maximum Retail price). They charge a buck or two more for cold water, but otherwise, they are cheaper than whatever is available outside. Quality can vary from good to diluted, but since the prices are lesser, nobody complains. Thus a curry may be diluted, as would the milk and so on.

But with prices charged the way Comesum does, one does not expect the same. The Pav Bhaji (a curry of many vegetables) I had was mostly ground cabbage held together by some red gravy that looked more thickener than anything else and a few stray pieces of peas and potato. About the bhatura, the less said the better. The orange juice was mostly water with an orange flavour (since when did nature produce tasteless watery oranges?). What did I gain in Comesum Bangalore by paying 100% more than a regular canteen except sit in fancy chairs ( and the AC wasnt working either)? I am not sure if the story at other Comesums is the same, it may well be different. How to bring catering at these places upto a certain standard and maintain them? The answer is perhaps in competition, as usual.

The trick for railways is perhaps to give out catering on some trains and stations to groups who are brand conscious (like McD and PizzaHut or Haldirams) and auction out the rest to the usual criteria. Competition should do the rest. Of course, the railways in India have more serious problems to worry about than the quality of food served.