First, fast, furious...Bangladeshi business blog

We provide
--social media strategies for Bangladeshi businesses worldwide
--public speaking on Bangladeshi businesses and social media
--paid product/service/website reviews of Bangladeshi companies

Interested to place an advertisement for your business?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Brac Bank Chamcha (Sajjadur Rahman) at The Daily Star

Sometimes companies get too close for comfort with the media. Some are painfully obvious to normal readers while the ones participating in the act do so without any recollection or humility.

It has been a constant observation that one writer, X of The Daily Star usually has one goal to promote and talk about: Brac Bank. So close is the relationship between this "reporter" that whenever his Brac Bank publicity article is published, the newspaper also carries a Brac Bank ad. A quick search of The Daily Star archive will find that Brac Bank and X are indeed married.

Moreover X enjoys unhindered access to the top management of Brac Bank. Why is this odd? Because most executives stay away from the media to avoid the "cut and paste" of statements to suit a motive. But Brac Bank is strikingly different, giving X access to the entire staff, Chairman and MD. The financial link between these two entities is painfully obvious after articles after articles always center around Brac Bank.

Even the most unrelated bank news always has a Brac Bank tie in, even though it is not relevant. Bangladesh Bank letting banks open branches? Oh, Brac Bank is opening 15 branches this year (others don't matter). The entire article follows like a Brac Bank ad.

Nevertheless it does not mean that Brac Bank itself is not newsworthy. Believe me they are. The bank is still continuously refusing to reimburse victims of the 1970s style locker heist that took place last year. Where is X's puff piece on that? You won't see anything regarding this news or any updates either by X or The Daily Star.

Secondly I don't know if anyone has noticed their stock has tanked for no good reason for awhile now. This is long before GSP Finance came into the picture or went out. What no discussion why a stock trading at Tk 1200 is now at Tk 550 even without any dividend announcement? But I will disclose that I own Brac Bank stock (and if I was X I would also disclose the financial arrangements between us).

Other than the American banks, I don't believe any Bangladeshi Bank's stock has tanked so badly. This is even after paying for articles and stretching the truth in so many X articles.

Although the financial arrangement is obvious there are lessons to be learnt. Like the noted MasterCard ad, somethings in life are priceless. Maintaining proper security over bank lockers is one of them, because 40 puff pieces and paying off a reporter is not going to fix it. Neither is it going to cover up for a flawed business model. But even more important is a writer's reputation. Everything that X will ever write has been paid for.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Start branding a Gamcha first

Flashback. Early 90’s. Dhaka. When the city used to host SAARC summits and there were pictures of the nation heads and 7 South Asian country flags ornamenting the streets of Dhaka. Live session updates in the BTV used to bring along with it a few observations which I used to convert to questions and pester my father from time to time. Some of them which I still recall are as following.

1. Why does the King of Bhutan wears a frock/skirt and comes to visit a foreign country in such a high profile summit?
2. Why does the Sri Lankan president wear a white ‘lungi’ and attend such official meeting of high-ups?
3. I noticed the colourful special cap worn by the Nepali premier and the tight-fitting pyjamas, why so?
4. The Pakistani leaders used to wear their traditional shalwar-kurta with ‘koti’
5. Indian leaders used to wear their traditional wears, sometimes in dhuti, panjabi etc.
6. What is the national dress of Bangladeshi people? Female leaders wear saree ofcourse and male leaders wear safari suit, prince coats, suit etc. But what is actually our national dress?

I remember people saying that actually our national dress should be white payjama panjabi and black koti. Then some rejected this idea saying that it closely resembles to the party outfit of a leading political party. Then some said that our national dress is lungi and genji. For women, its saree. The bottom line is, I never got any one answer to this question. We have a national element for almost everything, national day, animal, bird, fruit etc. But what about dress? You might also argue that why do we need one? But I think we do, as an ambassador of the country, I would like to carry my identity with me and show it off from time to time. This is the generation R&G if you call it.

What you wear is something that communicates non-verbally to others around you about your identity. It can be a completely unique tip-to-toe outfit like a saree or a payjama panjabi or it could be a simple accessory which you could carry on you which would speak out loud your ethnicity. What is it for us?

I bought a pair of Shemaghs (which are very much a la mode these days) this evening and was wondering as I made my way to the underground that a Bangladeshi Bengali donning an Arab scarf taking a stroll in the heart of the cosmopolitan city of London, the capital of the United Kingdom….is this called globalization? Or I am just being a Londoner while in London? Don’t know much, but I always wondered why it never crossed my mind to promote a simple gamcha from amar shonar bangla? Even though Bibi Russell tried making a statement with her outfits that only she wears herself, although Grameen Check created bit of a stir, why did these never crossed the border? Did they fail to convince the style icons of Bangladesh? Do we think that gamcha is for 'khet gorib' people only? It made me sad after Googling ‘gamcha’ to realize that its actually an ‘Indian fabric’, mostly worn in Bengal, Assam etc. If saree is Indian, Gamcha is Indian, Shalwar Kurta is Pakistani, suits and ties are ‘Western’, what is Bangladeshi then?

I believe a time has come when we need to ‘accessorize patriotism’ somehow. If we love red and green, we should be doing more to wear it, flaunt it and make even others a fan of it. Hats off to Arabs who made their Shemaghs such a big hit around the world, ofcourse even among non-Arabs. Hope someday soon something uniquely from Bangladesh will be a hit fashion item to be worn by foreigners walking down the streets of New York or London. So along with branding a big concept like the country, lets start small by start something as small as a Gamcha.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Who will fix up Retail Selling Price?

The attached poster is taken from a photocopy cum flexiload shop at Motijheel. As of today, most of the people in the city know about this trend. Now, lets have a simple math with an assumption that total 40% of the 2.4 million GP subscribers will charge Taka 40 at a time. That means 2.4 x 0.40 = 9.6 lac subscriber will pay additional 9.6 lac taka at a time to charge their account. I do not want to further proceed with the question, what will be the extra money paid in a month or in a year.... I just stop at this point and let the reader ponder on it.

Lately, smokers of B&H and B&H Light already know that, if you buy a single stick of any of the two brands, you do not get back Tk 0.50. On a single transaction, it may seem pretty low. However, when you estimate the figure on whole market and monthly or yearly basis, then the figure matters!!

Whose benefit is this, when the trade is getting more profit than fixed by the company? First of all the retail traders are making the profit. However, if the scenario is explained in a different angle? Suppose, the companies take such strategy wittingly (like B&H) so that, it favors retailers not to give back fifty paisa and allows the retailer to pile up this. Thus the company strategy favors the ratailers without even increasing the retail price!! Therefore, brand image does not get upset but the retailers remain happy even at a lower profit rate offered.

In both of the above cases, two multinational companies are quoting one retail price but the product is selling at another price. My humble question to you all is: whose responsibility is this to affirm the Retail Selling Price at par with the company's quoted retail price? and how?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

New markets for Bangladeshi people power!

No matter how much you laugh at me, but somehow I could not get over this term which became very fond of since last year. Its called ‘strategic migration’. The term was mentioned in one of the posts here in this blog and one of the visitors jokingly commented on that as well, saying that ‘what else to expect from an MBA with a strategic management major (which is me)’. Nevertheless, my hopes are rekindled again seeing that government is rethinking their strategy to export Bangladeshi manpower to new markets.

I always dreamt of sending packs of Bangladeshi manpower to vast empty lands of Russia. I always wondered how unfair it is that a country like Russia has such a vast amount of land with such a low population comparing to Bangladesh. And, why should we remain squeezed back to back against each other in the largest delta of the world, but which is still one of the smallest countries of the world. So we should be the first to recognize that our natural biggest comparative advantage as a nation is our manpower. The more we train them, the more we export them, the better it is. It will not only help the country to get more remittances, but it will also make sure that we just have enough people in the country that it can accommodate, environmentally, socially speaking.

Also, we should explore how this term 'manpower' can be effectively changed to 'people power', so that equal number of Bangladeshi women can be trained and sent to countries with proper jobs which might fit their skills, cultural and social orientations etc.

I hope to live to that day when Bangladeshi manpower and Bangladeshis will have imprinted their footmark in almost every country of the world, pretty much like the Chinese or even more like the Indians I suppose. Lets come out of our homes, conquer new territories with our merit and culture. Lets leave a mark.

image :

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Something I Assumed was Free

Our beloved corporate shill, The Daily Star, has announced something spectacular. So spectacular you will grasp why this has made the front page on multiple occasions. You would assume with the money they get to promote Grameenphone's objectives (more about that later) and promote some companies in a unnatural way -that giving free copies to school children would be standard.

But no. Not even a single copy of this newspaper was ever given to anyone free-of-charge. Its not like there was ever a shortage of paper, the copies or distribution. They just simply chose not to for the Tk 10 hawker price. What made them change? A sponsorship deal from AKtel.

This newspaper is shrewd that it required the money from AKtel to get them to give free copies to poor school children who cannot afford newspapers let alone an education. Kudos to AKtel for picking up on this deal, showing Bangladesh your brighter side and in the process revealing the shocking practices of The Daily Star.

At times like these, you wish the inevitable would come faster. You wish that tomorrow all of Bangladesh, like the Western world stopped paying for Newspapers, their expensive ads and classifieds. And instead rely on their online versions, view them with Firefox Adblock, and post our classifieds on Craigslist. This would be a better project for AKtel -getting rid of adulterated and the ruthless media altogether and at once.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Organized Retail aka. MBA Mudi Dokandars

Sitting idle on a rather sunny Saturday with bloated eyes (due to bacteria) and a nail-biting cricket match on TV, I had the weirdest of all ideas blinking in my upper chamber; what about writing down my recent brainstorming regarding retail scenario of Bangladesh.

I know for sure, a moderate graduate with no significant trade or retail experience should be the last person to think in the lines of organized retail, but that same graduate does read up on what's keeping the businesses busy in both local and global scenario. Organized retail being vehemently marketed in our neighboring India Inc. goes on to prove where we will be heading into in just about a decade. In fact I remember one job interview where we discussed where Dhaka was in terms of innovations/advances in comparison to India. Although we (me and the interviewer) probably undermined Dhaka a little too much in contrast to Kolkata and Mumbai, its probably fair to say that they were once in the same sphere as we are today. May be ‘dhaliwood’ would never prosper as much as cousin sister ‘bolly’, but elsewhere we can definitely catch up one day.

And continuing with the catching up game, I need to bring back by wander-lusty mind to the topic of interest, organized retail. Agora and Nandan have long fought over getting the TOM share of the modern-urban consumers, successful or not they have hardly been able to make a dent into the fresh durables markets or even the local groceries. There are other worthy competitors, e.g. PQS or Meena Bazar (honestly they both have faired better than Nandan at least); but they all have had created a new space for them in the consumers ‘bajar fordo’ (shopping list) instead of taking someone else's place.

This brings me back to what was bothering me about all this, are we actually going the wrong direction by making leaps in the concept of general superstores instead of specialized ones. Of course in the western world there is ‘toys r us’, Radio Shack, Circuit City or even Home Depot; but that’s not the case here. Even in India, they started out with specialized retail i.e. Pantaloons for apparels, Crossword for books or even Subhiksha for mobile. Once they had tasted success with the specialized retail, they ventured into the more general format hypermarket scene with Big Bazaar or Hyper City. Although they not always got it right, Reliance Fresh being the example of choice here; they actually managed to nurture a weakling to a strong young boy (if not a complete man).

Question is? Why is Bangladesh going the other way???

Well just as always we are apparently the "smarter" kind; at least that’s what we take ourselves to be. The smart ones sitting in the boards of Rahimafrooz decided to copy the Wal Mart example, divide it by 10 (for size), 100 (for diversification of products) and launched it as Agora (a no brainer name for Bangladesh at least). The results were, well we all know it has roughly 6/7 (correct me if I am wrong) stores all across Bangladesh with nothing spectacular about the balance sheet either. Now for surely, the question arises, did they go all wrong since its been ages since the launch of their first flagship outlet in Rifles Square, Dhanmondi. Well no!

They definitely learn their lesson the hard way, cause with the launch of Quikfill...they definitely showed the industry what the "people with money" weren't being able to see...organized retail but in a specialized manner. Now everyday as I stand in the queue of Quikfill tejgaon (well not because its Quikfill but because its 5min away from my office) I wonder how could they have improved on their services. Although a CNG refueling station chain is a radically new concept in Bangladesh, Quikfill has hardly any USP to make a stand for itself. 24-hr power backup being the only suitable USP is actually applicable for many other large CNG stations on Dhk-Ctg highway and elsewhere. May be a loyalty card with redeemable discounts, baby Agora for spot purchases and of course a lubricants/vehicle necessities corner for the driving errands would have made it a better deal and more suited to the parent company, Rahimafrooz superstores :)

Aside for all the criticisms, in my modest view the next big thing in Bangladesh should be a pharmacy chain. Although ACI (a major pharma) is planning to go retail with a bang! I doubt if it’s anything to do with pharmacy retailing. With such a throbbing generic pharmaceuticals industry like ours and major players even exporting globally (i.e. Square, Beximco, Incepta); its just a matter of time someone blinks with the idea of retailing the nagging pharmacy industry of Bangladesh. The once mighty Lazz Pharma has long been dethroned by the likes of Prescription Aid and its time conglomerates make a move to occupy this growing industry.

My father, the ‘never interested in business’ guy, once told me...any business associated to the growing population will click in Bangladesh, be it transportation, food or even medicine. Well it’s been 3 years or so since he said that, and there is yet to organized player in the medicine-marketing segment.

So I call upon you all sleeping giants.... isn’t there anyone to step forward and make a merry of this untapped market? I am sure there are people, you just need the courage and vision to step in to the game :)...till that day comes, I will keep on wasting my neurons worrying over others money :)

---Sabih Ahmed