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Perspective

Renaissance retailer
Grocery business is fast moving online and DMart is getting Ready for this new phase in retail

N Mahalakshmi

Warren Buffett famously said, "I am a better investor because I am a businessman and a better businessman because I am an investor.” That famous quote just brings to light his key principle that investing in stocks should be looked at as owning a piece of the business. And you can’t build a business thinking that you will sell it to a greater fool. 

The intent to stick around, coupled with prudence, was what helped investor-turned-businessman Radhakishan Damani. He built a robust retailer, where most other players failed. While modern retail is more than two decades old in India, the first phase of expansion was driven by inexperienced entrepreneurs with very little talent available in the sector. Everyone groped in the dark about what kind of format would work. There was the stronghold of the kiranas on one side and infrastructure constraints and high real estate cost on the other to contend with. Damani’s DMart dug its heels in, putting together a franchise for the long haul with a focus on unit economics, and emerged victorious. There is no other retail chain in India that has proved that its business model really works. 

Now, the competition dynamics is changing rapidly. The older players have learnt their lessons – perhaps – and there are newer players who come with distinct advantages. There are venture-backed firms such as Bigbasket and Grofers, who are willing to burn cash to quickly capture customers who care for convenience. And then, there are the big boys such as Walmart, Amazon and home-grown Reliance Retail. These players can offer a mix of online and offline channels, backed by their deep understanding of retailing and sheer money power, and make an already tough business tougher in this growing phase. 

Going by the US experience, there isn’t scope for too many players in retail. How DMart is getting ready for this new phase is the subject of this issue’s cover story. 

Adapting to a dynamic world requires imagination, which is what we found in APL Apollo. It blipped on the radar when we were working on the fastest-growing companies edition. The seller of industrial pipes has innovated considerably and found new use cases for its products in a rather mundane segment.

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