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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

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