Ro­hit Pa­tra, Head - Projects from Re­liance Brands Lim­ited

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A gamut of in­ter­na­tional brands are find­ing con­fi­dence in In­dian ven­dors for their store fit-outs. Could it be be­cause lo­gis­tics are sim­pler? Or are In­dian ven­dors ac­tu­ally up­ping the ante? VM&RD at­tempts to find the an­swers with Ro­hit Pa­tra, Head - Projects from Re­liance Brands Lim­ited, who is re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing the store de­sign IDs of sub­stan­tial num­ber of noted in­ter­na­tional brands to In­dia.

Would you say that a ma­jor­ity of In­dian fix­ture man­u­fac­tur­ers are now com­pe­tent in terms of their ma­te­rial and fin­ishes?

I wouldn’t say a ma­jor­ity, but yes, quite a hand­ful of them are as com­pe­tent as their in­ter­na­tional coun­ter­parts. There­fore, it makes more sense for us to choose the In­dian ven­dors. What’s bet­ter is that our in­ter­na­tional busi­ness part­ners have also ac­knowl­edged the In­dian fit-out ven­dors for their qual­ity.

Ac­cord­ing to you, what fac­tors can raise the qual­ity lev­els among In­dian ven­dors?

Had it been 10 years back, I would have said that de­vel­op­ment of in­fra­struc­ture was the cru­cial fac­tor. How­ever, that’s not strictly true to­day as ser­vice providers/ven­dors who have been in the busi­ness for than 10 years are in­vest­ing more in in­fra­struc­ture. But the is­sue is that they re­frain from in­vest­ing in de­vel­op­ments when it comes to pre­mium and lux­ury store fit-outs, sim­ply be­cause of the lim­ited vol­umes. But my view is that even if the vol­umes are low, the op­por­tu­nity to learn and grow is much big­ger in the pre­mium seg­ment. There­fore, as a ven­dor, you must take up the chal­lenge, even if the in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment doesn’t ini­tially mean a lot of busi­ness.

Now, mere in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment may not make you an ace re­tail fit-out spe­cial­ist. Lot of ex­cel­lence lies in skillsets too, which comes from ex­pe­ri­ence in the busi­ness. So I feel that there is still an abysmal im­bal­ance between de­vel­oped in­fra­struc­ture and the honed skillsets. This needs to be set right for qual­ity to im­prove.

What do you look for when you zero down on a par­tic­u­lar fix­ture man­u­fac­turer? What is your check­list for the man­u­fac­tur­ers?

Apart from the ba­sic fix­ture fin­ishes/ ma­te­ri­als etc, I al­ways look for the ad­ven­tur­ous ones. This means that the ven­dor should be open to un­con­ven­tional /non-stan­dard fin­ishes. And I tell you, all it takes is the right skillset to say a “yes”, even if it means out­sourc­ing it. My only pa­ram­e­ter while se­lect­ing a par­tic­u­lar man­u­fac­ture is the right skillset with un­der­stand­ing and the abil­ity to pre­pare the cor­rect shop draw­ings & odd fin­ishes.

Re­liance re­lied on In­ter­na­tional ven­dors for the Zegna and Bally stores? Why did you chose not to work with In­dian ven­dors?

It’s be­cause of the store num­bers. Bally and Zegna are su­per lux­ury stores with lim­ited store ex­pan­sions in In­dia. Im­port­ing fix­ture was more vi­able for us as we got only 4-5 months to build their stores and the num­ber of stores was only a few. As rentals are very high in In­dia, open­ing store on time is cru­cial to avoid busi­ness loss. How­ever, we did test pro­to­typ­ing with some In­dian ven­dors for these brands, but the best of them could only achieve 90% of the de­sired fin­ish. There­fore, to save time and for the sake of ef­fi­ciency, we fi­nally opted to im­port.

What is the price dif­fer­ence when you com­pare In­dian ven­dors with in­ter­na­tional ven­dors?

Though the in­ter­na­tional ven­dors have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of en­gi­neer­ing draw­ings of­fer­ing bet­ter scope for in­no­va­tion in pro­cesses, the price dif­fer­ence is some­times as good as a drop­down of 50%. But one of the ma­jor fac­tors that work against in­ter­na­tional ven­dor is the high im­port duty, which is 22-25 per cent (plus other land­ing fac­tors). If we look at high­end su­per lux­ury brands like Bally, I think it would be 65% more eco­nom­i­cal to go with the In­dian ven­dors.

So do you still see any ben­e­fit in im­port­ing the fix­tures?

Though the cost is high, lo­gis­tic­s­wise it is eas­ier to im­port. We haven’t faced any chal­lenge with the in­ter­na­tional ven­dors be­cause 95% of the de­liv­ery hap­pens on time and the pack­ag­ing is dam­age-proof.

How has the over­all per­cep­tion of in­ter­na­tional brands evolved re­gard­ing the In­dian ven­dors es­pe­cially for store fitouts?

If you are talk­ing about fix­ture ven­dors, all our part­ners to­day, ex­cept for the su­per lux­ury ones like Zegna and Bally, are con­fi­dent that we can make fix­tures in In­dia. For in­stance, for Su­perdry we are the only busi­ness part­ners al­lowed to build our own fix­tures lo­cally. How­ever, I would like to add that it was not an easy walk to gain that con­fi­dence. We had to do two rounds of pro­to­typ­ing and sam­pling un­til we got it per­fect. There were twenty dif­fer­ent types of fix­tures and we did all of them with three dif­fer­ent ven­dors and fi­nally short­listed one. Scotch & Soda is an­other ex­am­ple where we ini­tially im­ported fix­tures for In­dia stores; but now the Scotch&Soda prin­ci­ple part­ners have gained so much con­fi­dence in our In­dia ven­dors that they are be­ing asked to sup­ply in global mar­kets too.

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