TRAIL­BLAZER OF SOUTH IN­DIA’S F&B RE­TAIL

VENKATESHWAR KU­MAR CEO, NIL­GIRIS

Progressive Grocer (India) - - Front Page - VENKATESHWAR KU­MAR CEO, Nil­giris

Es­tab­lished in 1905, Nil­giris is one of the pi­o­neers of or­gan­ised re­tail in In­dia and a heritage brand with a sto­ried legacy of de­liv­er­ing qual­ity cus­tomer ser­vice. Oper­at­ing un­der the ban­ner of Fu­ture Group, Nil­giris spawns 215 F&G out­lets across Tamil Nadu, Kar­nataka and Ker­ala with a to­tal re­tail area span­ning 4.45 lakh sq.ft. The su­per­mar­ket chain is po­si­tioned as a neigh­bor­hood store that guar­an­tees as­sort­ment, range and fresh­ness. “Nil­giris op­er­ates on the foun­da­tion of per­sonal con­nect that trans­lates into qual­ity ser­vice and con­tin­ues to build on its prod­uct range in or­der to re­spond to its cus­tomer’s evolv­ing needs,” says CEO Venkateshwar Ku­mar in a chat with Pro­gres­sive Gro­cer dur­ing which he out­lines his plans to pro­pel fu­ture growth of Nil­giris by go­ing for a more con­tem­po­rary look, by build­ing on its ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture and with the help of more up­dated tech­nol­ogy.

De­scribe your per­sonal jour­ney as a re­tailer. How has it trans­lated into the mon­u­men­tal suc­cess of Nil­giris’ re­tail oper­a­tion?

I started my re­tail jour­ney with the Fu­ture Group in 2005 and I op­er­ate on the group’s core be­lief that re­tail is our re­li­gion, stores are our tem­ples and cus­tomers are no less than God. This phi­los­o­phy has helped me spear­head Fu­ture Group’s op­er­a­tions in South In­dia through an ag­gres­sive ex­pan­sion ini­tia­tive that en­com­passes all states and pop­u­la­tion strata in the south­ern re­gion. While I was head­ing the large-for­mat hy­per­mar­ket Big Bazaar in the ini­tial phase of my re­tail ca­reer, I have ex­panded into Fu­ture Group’s FBB (fash­ion for­mat) and su­per­mar­ket business through the Nil­giris brand over the past few years. While re­tail is my pas­sion and has been a sig­nif­i­cant part of my ca­reer, I be­gan my pro­fes­sional jour­ney in FMCG after com­plet­ing my MBA from T.A. Pai Man­age­ment In­sti­tute (Ma­ni­pal) in 1991. After a 12-year suc­cess­ful stint of work­ing with var­i­ous na­tional and multi­na­tional FMCG and tele-com com­pa­nies, I ven­tured into re­tail. As Head of the South Zone at Fu­ture Group, I am now over­see­ing 70 hy­per­mar­kets, 15 FBB stores and more than 200 Nil­giris su­per­mar­kets with over 5,000 em­ploy­ees, and am on a sin­gle-minded mis­sion to de­light mil­lions of cus­tomers walk­ing through the aisles of Fu­ture Group re­tail stores.

What are Nili­giris’ marked dif­fer­en­tia­tors that set it apart from other F&B re­tail play­ers?

Nil­giris, a heritage brand that is one of the pi­o­neers in or­ga­nized re­tail in In­dia, epit­o­mizes ex­cel­lence in eth­i­cal and pro­fes­sional prac­tices. Es­tab­lished in 1905, this na­tional brand firmly rests on a strong foun­da­tion of core In­dian val­ues that trans­late into qual­ity cus­tomer ser­vice through per­sonal con­nect and ex­pe­ri­ence. Nil­giris’ loyal cus­tomers over the gen­er­a­tions have re­turned to this store solely be­cause of the great qual­ity and fresh­ness that the brand prom­ises and de­liv­ers con­sis­tently. Its cus­tomer-friendly prac­tices that are re­flected in its over­all op­er­a­tions make Nil­giris a hall­mark for re­tail ex­cel­lence. The re­lent­less ef­fort to pro­vide our cus­tomers with “what­ever, when­ever” through a catch­ment-cu­rated as­sort­ment is an­other feather in our cap. We are also proud of our high pro­duc­tive stores and their un­stinted com­mit­ment to de­liver on our ser­vice promise.

Nil­giris’ loyal cus­tomers over the gen­er­a­tions have re­turned to this store solely be­cause of the great qual­ity and fresh­ness that the brand prom­ises and de­liv­ers con­sis­tently. Its cus­tomer­friendly prac­tices that are re­flected in its over­all op­er­a­tions make Nil­giris a hall­mark for re­tail ex­cel­lence.

How is Nil­giris po­si­tioned in the do­main of F&G re­tail and what is the cus­tomer propo­si­tion of­fered?

The cus­tomer propo­si­tion of the Nil­giris store is re­flected in the voice of its cus­tomer that says: “I get ev­ery­thing I want ev­ery time and I know it will be fresh.” There­fore, the su­per­mar­ket chain is po­si­tioned as a neigh­bor­hood store which guar­an­tees as­sort­ment, range and fresh­ness.

What are the ma­jor cat­e­gories and range of mer­chan­dise you spe­cial­ize in as a re­tailer?

Nil­giris stores of­fer a wide range of prod­ucts to cus­tomers rang­ing from a re­gional, lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional va­ri­ety in gro­cery and food seg­ments. Our cus­tomers find a dis­tinct va­ri­ety of prod­ucts like pow­dered flax seeds, aji­nomoto, fresh yeast, palm jag­gery, hill gar­lic, aa­pam mix, ragi dosa mix, frozen foods and many in­ter­na­tional food prod­ucts, all un­der one roof. With new and emerg­ing cat­e­gories in the food, home and per­sonal care seg­ment, the store con­tin­ues to build on its prod­uct range in or­der to re­spond to its cus­tomers’ evolv­ing needs.

Tell us about the new and emerg­ing cat­e­gories in your stores. How do you see their mar­ket po­ten­tial grow­ing?

The emerg­ing cat­e­gories in our stores are pre­dom­i­nantly in the ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook seg­ments. Our cus­tomers are grad­u­ally tran­sit­ing from slow to in­stant cook­ing and we are reach­ing out with some in­no­va­tive prod­ucts, which will be val­ued im­mensely for sim­pli­fy­ing meal prepa­ra­tions while still be­ing de­li­cious. Mil­lets, dairy bev­er­ages, value-added dry fruits and health foods are also show­ing dis­pro­por­tion­ate off-take trends off late. Over the past years, we have seen a rise in the aware­ness and as­pi­ra­tions of cus­tomers who are now will­ing to spend on health­ier op­tions and try newer food prod­ucts and prepa­ra­tions. For in­stance, dry fruits is no longer re­garded as a lux­ury snack and has oc­cu­pied a more mean­ing­ful place in a con­sumer’s daily eat­ing habits. A lot of peo­ple are now switch­ing to health­ier grains and new spices. Nil­giris stores cater to th­ese evolv­ing trends by sell­ing items that now de­fine ‘Cen­tre of Plate’ for modern In­dia.

Nil­giris is ac­tive on new-age me­dia and is con­stantly en­gag­ing with the youth through spear­head­ing cam­paigns dur­ing World Milk Day, Valen­tine’s Day and other youth cen­tric events. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, we are in­tro­duc­ing sev­eral mod­ern­day prod­ucts like cold coffee, greek yo­gurt, flavoured milk, al­mond shots, etc.

What is the typ­i­cal cus­tomer pro­file of shop­pers that fre­quent your stores?

A quin­tes­sen­tial Nil­giris cus­tomer is some­one who strongly opts for qual­ity, range and fresh­ness over value and dis­counts. Cus­tomers who yearn for a con­ve­nient shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence with a sense of per­sonal touch re­turn to this store. Shop­pers from SEC B, B+ and above shop at Nil­giris stores and be­long to all age groups.

While tar­get­ing newer mar­kets, which store lo­ca­tions do you pre­fer and why?

Tra­di­tion­ally, we have looked at catch­ments and lo­ca­tions with a high af­flu­ence in­dex, be­sides look­ing into lo­ca­tions like apart­ments, clubs, of­fices and high streets. How­ever, our cur­rent strat­egy is to be present in ev­ery pin code of south In­dia and also in metro stations. In ad­di­tion to this, we are train­ing our staff to be more in­tu­itive in their com­mu­ni­ca­tion with their cus­tomers so that they are able to en­gage with them at an emo­tional level

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