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The Jewish Chronicle - - BUSINESS - BY CANDICE KRIEGER

NER­VOUS ABOUT the state of Bri­tish busi­ness? Head to In­dia, ad­vises re­tail boss Oliver Kaye. Hav­ing com­pleted stints at Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Ar­ca­dia, Mr Kaye, 32, re­cently moved from North Lon­don to In­dia to head up Calvin Klein be­cause — as far as he is con­cerned — the Bri­tish re­tail mar­ket is at a stand­still.

“Re­tail in the UK is bor­ing and bland. It’s at com­plete sat­u­ra­tion,” says Mr Kaye. “If you look at what’s go­ing on in the high street, it looks like it’s go­ing to hit a re­ces­sion.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Con­fed­er­a­tion of Bri­tish In­dus­try, last month, Bri­tish re­tail­ers suf­fered their worst pe­riod in two years, and fig­ures re­leased by the Of­fice for Na­tional Sta­tis­tics (ONS) showed that the vol­ume of re­tail sales fell by their fastest rate in more than a year, slump­ing by 0.4 per cent from Fe­bru­ary to March.

“Ev­ery­body is hav­ing a very tough time. Vir­tu­ally ev­ery high street store, apart from Tesco, Pri­mark and Zara to a cer­tain de­gree, is down­scal­ing. There are loads of re­dun­dan­cies about to hap­pen.” In In­dia, he says, it is the re­verse. “In­dia is about 15 years away from be­ing sat­u­rated,” says Mr Kaye, who moved last De­cem­ber and en­cour­ages any­one strug­gling in the cur­rent eco­nomic mar­ket to do the same.

He tells JC Busi­ness: “If you look at the big UK com­pa­nies, such as Sir Philip Green’s Ar­ca­dia, they are ex­pand­ing [in­ter­na­tion­ally] big time. In terms of profit, open­ing more stores and in­creas­ing turnover, you have to look at where else can you get the money — and it ba­si­cally has to come from ei­ther China or In­dia.

“It’s ex­plod­ing over here at the mo­ment. It’s just go go go.” He notes: “Ev­ery­thing in UK re­tail is about cost cut­ting. It’s a very kind of “we’ve done that be­fore” at­ti­tude. In In­dia, it’s a can-do at­ti­tude. Ev­ery­thing is so new. It’s pos­i­tive. It’s about try­ing things for the fist time. You are deal­ing with a real chalk and cheese dif­fer­ence.”

Ac­cord­ing to Mr Kaye, no one in In­dia had heard of a de­signer brand un­til three years ago, when Louis Vuit­ton opened. Gucci and Jimmy Choo have since set up op­er­a­tions there, with Dolce & Gab­bana and Ar­mani due to open in the next six months. Marks & Spencer has also re­port­edly agreed to open 50 stores there in the next few years.

But Mr Kaye has his own tar­get. He plans to open 50 Calvin Klein stores in the next two years. How much does it cost to do so, com­pared to the UK? “It would cost around £100,000 to re­fit a store in In­dia — half of what it would cost in the UK. In terms of man­ag­ing it, it would cost around 30 per cent less than in the UK, pri­mar­ily be­cause of the wage-cost dif­fer­ence.”

Mr Kaye moved to Mumbai af­ter more than a decade work­ing for some of the UK’s top fash­ion re­tail brands. Opt­ing not go to Univer­sity, he started his ca­reer in 1995, aged 19, on Marks & Spencer’s man­age­ment train­ing pro­gramme. “Go­ing to univer­sity was the ob­vi­ous thing to do but I knew I wanted to go into re­tail. My fam­ily are in re­tail.”

On com­plet­ing the train­ing pro­gramme, Mr Kaye got his first big break, fol­low­ing what he de­scribes as an over-the-top pre­sen­ta­tion he gave to Lord Andrew Stone [man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of M&S at the time]. He was sub­se­quently ap­pointed head mer­chan­diser for men’s suits at the age of 21. In 2001, when M&S was mak­ing cut­backs, he moved to Tesco as re­gional man­ager, run­ning 20 hyper­mar­kets. But miss­ing fash­ion, he joined Sel­fridge’s to run their $400 mil­lion women’s wear busi­ness. Next up: Miss Sel­fridge — part of Sir Philip’s Ar­ca­dia group — where Mr Kaye man­aged close to 100 stores across the UK, be­fore be­ing head­hunted for his cur­rent job.

“I could see what was go­ing on,” he re­calls. “The sub-prime is­sue had just started and it was pretty ob­vi­ous what was go­ing to hap­pen.

“I thought there is no point stay­ing in the UK and the op­por­tu­nity to head up Calvin Klein was too good to pass up.” He notes: “I’ve got friends in Gold­man Sachs, JP Morgan, all that kind of stuff, who are strug­gling at the mo­ment. I’ve got a friend who’s a very se­nior head-hunter, who is find­ing things very, very tough and I have a lot of friends in re­tail who are all ner­vous. Most of them, in fair­ness, are just keep­ing their heads down.”

But surely Lon­don is still the fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal of the world, with more op­por­tu­ni­ties than in In­dia? “There are 1.1 bil­lion peo­ple in In­dia, com­pared to 65 mil­lion in the UK,” he says, point­ing out that in In­dia there are more mil­lion­aires and more 30year-olds with dis­pos­able in­come than any­where else in the world.

“There are pock­ets of wealth, such as in Mumbai, Delhi and Ban­ga­lore, where you could eas­ily be in Lon­don. All the big boys are over here; PWC, Ac­cen­ture, and ev­ery five min­utes, there’s an­other one com­ing. There’s a Porsche garage here that is tak­ing more or­ders than any­where else in the world at the mo­ment. It just shows you how much money is here and how much In­dia is mov­ing for­ward.”

Mr Kaye, now on a good six-fig­ure salary as he puts it, in­sists now is the op­ti­mum time to do busi­ness in In­dia. “The In­dian con­sumer is just about be­gin­ning to un­der­stand what an in­ter­na­tional brand is. They [the con­sumer in In­dia] so want the lux­ury goods mar­ket now. Wealthy In­di­ans have so much dis­pos­able in­come. They want to be­come West­ern to a cer­tain de­gree. Ten years ago, there was no McDon­ald’s or Coca Cola. Now they are ev­ery­where. It’s nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion of a coun­try.

“The im­pres­sions we have of In­di­ans in the UK is so dif­fer­ent to what they are like,” adds Mr Kaye, who reg­u­larly at­tends a Lubav­itch ser­vice at his lo­cal syn­a­gogue. “I have never worked with such nice peo­ple. They are the most hos­pitable. They will never al­low you to be on your own for more than two min­utes.”

The cost of liv­ing, com­pared to the UK, also has its ad­van­tages. “Ev­ery­thing costs like 20 or 30 pence. A re­ally good meal with wine will cost no more than £10 or £12. A two-hour taxi jour­ney costs £2.50 and a half-hour train jour­ney costs 7 pence.

But does the for­mer Finch­ley-lo­cal not miss Lon­don? “I keep in con­tact with peo­ple via Skype and Face­book. My fam­ily and friends think it’s such a bril­liant op­por­tu­nity. They are pleased I’m here.”

Oliver Kaye in Mumbai, from where he heads Calvin Klein’s op­er­a­tions in In­dia. He says that In­di­ans “want the lux­ury goods mar­ket now”

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