Retail Redemption

Kishore Biyani is leveraging technology to fuel his comeback  

Soumik Kar

For all the talk of a booming middle class, rising income and growing aspiration, retail has been a tough business in India. No one should know that better than the pioneer of modern retail in the country, Kishore Biyani. Beginning with selling menswear brand, Pantaloons, in 1987, to setting up the first departmental store in 1997, in Kolkata, Biyani emerged as the posterboy of retail who had found the pulse of the nation. 

As consumerism came alive in a prospering economy, Biyani’s ambition only got bigger and he expanded aggressively not just in retail but also into financial services. But the dream run did not last for long; Biyani’s empire struggled post-2008 as the expansion left the Future group with a leveraged balance sheet and a retail model that wasn’t paying off. As a result, Biyani was forced into selling his fashion brand Pantaloons to the Aditya Birla group in 2012. The sale was followed by shutting down of unprofitable stores and massive layoffs. The financial services business, too, was rid off in a slump sale.

In his second innings, Biyani has altered his retail strategy by choosing to focus only on fashion and grocery and last year, he relisted flagship Future Retail. What hasn’t changed between then and now is his unbridled ambition. Now, Biyani wants to be not just the country’s but Asia’s biggest consumer brand. This time around he wants to leverage technology and big data to fuel his comeback. Even as Big Bazaar and Central stores now have digital screens, Biyani is also focusing on online. Biyani’s new strategy and whether he will get it right this time around is the focus of this issue’s cover story.

Among the other features in the issue, we take a look at how the country’s biggest agrochemical player, UPL, has been outgrowing competition. Then, there is a story on how Kent successfully found its sweet spot in the water purifier business.