The Fall India’s Retail King — Kishore Biyani
Kishore Biyani is an Indian businessman who is the Founder & CEO of Future Group, one of India’s biggest brick-and-mortar retailers. He is also the founder of retail businesses such as Pantaloon Retail and Big Bazaar. According to Forbes, he had a net worth of $1.78 billion in 2019.
Biyani changed his gear from the inherited fabric trading and started focusing on the value-added segment to earn more profits. He started commissioning the manufacture of some fashionable fabric for sale to garment manufacturers through his saved money in his own account. Without support from his family and forefathers, he started collecting orders from garment merchants and delivering them clothes to fetch more money, then a new concept and thus, was in good demand. Soon, Biyani’s business flourished.
In 1987, Kishore Biyani launched his first brand — ‘Manz Wear Garment’ focusing on men’s clothing and trousers using fabric from his own shop which was then handled by his relatives. Later, the branded garments were supplied to a few retail outlets which helped him garner working capital which led to adoption of Pantaloon which began his out of the box thinking in retail through the franchise model and started with his first chapter of his successful life.
While the fund requirement for his expansion was met through the public float, he realized the need to spend immensely on logistics to service his supply requirements to distant customers throughout the country. Managerial oversight was a major problem Biyani faced in the logistics business. Hence, his Pantaloon franchise business cloaked a total turnover of Rs 0.9 crore by 1994 with negligible profit margins.
Biyani envisaged great potential in Pantaloon business and hence, decided to restructure this branded garment retail business into a wholly-owned operation from a franchise model earlier for which he used department store type of business model being used overseas till then. For this, he acquired 10,000 sq feet property in Kolkata and converted it into a department store, the first of its kind in India. This outlet was opened in August 1997 which was larger in size than another large retail format available in the city. Initially, Biyani controlled expenses and focused on the smooth functioning of the business. Without compromising on the need to run a business, Biyani moved ahead with vigour, envisaging the growing disposable income of the Indian middle class and the enthusiasm of the young population.
Biyani became a successful decision-maker by envisaging India’s emerging youth power and their changing shopping habits. With traditional Indian stuff remained at the forefront of consumer preferences, a bit of modern fashion touch was became the need of the hour. So, Biyani designed the store format to suit perfect Indian needs. Kishore Biyani ‘s most successful journey started in the Indian retail journey in 2001 with the opening of a series of multi-brand retail stores under the banner of Big Bazaar.
These stores were designed to attract all kinds of consumers with different kinds of shopping experiences. Housing all kinds of shopping to fulfill immediate and long-term needs, Big Bazaar soon became a big name in the retail industry to reckon with. All kinds of products including fashion, baggage, grocery, furniture, fruits, and vegetables were made available in the Big Bazaar store which soon became chaotic like a traditional bazaar. The Big Bazaar stores were designed in such a way that consumers should come and shop everything they need in daily life under one roof. Consequently, the Big Bazaar stores continued expansion with new stores being added in different locations.
Even during the global collapse in 2008 and thereby global economic crisis, the Big Bazaar stores continued expansion with around 100 stores serving around 20 lakh customers per week throughout the country. While Pantaloon Retail employed around 30,000 people and had over 12 million square feet of retail space across 1000 stores in 71 cities with Rs 4,700 crore of annual turnover in 2008.
With such a high altitude of strength, Biyani had some weaknesses as well. He was poor in communication with lenders. Also, he ignored complete modernization in the retail format with the Western market look with Indian products. Apart from that selection of officials in the Big Bazaar and Pantaloon was also considered to be very poor. Hence, both these retail stores continued with classic Indian style which many consumers did not like after a certain period of continuous shopping. Communication with media was also equally poor which resulted in Biyani’s weakness in bringing out his innovative thoughts before the world. Soon media experts perceived Biyani as an extravagant risk-taker who lacks worthy business connections. Thus, competitors started criticizing some of his top recruitment decisions. Gradually, Biyani’s success with Big Bazaar became a point of criticism among peers and competitors. Once, he was conferred with the largest retailer in India by the National Retail Federation which once in the past failed to recognize him. But, with his astounding success, Biyani faced threats from the industry peers including Aditya Birla Group and Reliance Industries, both were then planning to enter into the retail business.
Following the global economic crisis with the Lehman Brothers debacle in 2008, Biyani changed his overall approach due to a massive impact on the entire retail business to which Future Group was a part. Aimed to sustain growth and business acumen, Biyani postponed his planned expansion in both Big Bazaar and Pantaloon retail format. The existing store size was also reduced for maximum use of available space. In comparison with other multi-brand retail formats including Shoppers Stop which focused on short-term borrowings to meet immediate needs of funds, Biyani emphasized curtailment of store size. Apart from that, Biyani announced diversification in his core business through entry into salon and bookselling among others.
As against other retail formats infused capital through cash generated internally, Biyani focused on short-term borrowing without scaling down the non-core business which landed him into a deep debt trap which he realized after a few quarters when the profitability started squeezing gradually. At one point in time, the debt-equity ratio of Pantaloons Retail shot up to 3:1. The market capitalization of his group companies slumped. Bankers who queued up for extending a business loan to Biyani had soon turned to call on him for repayment. Biyani roped in his cousin brother Rakesh Biyani to handle the Group affairs. As a patient listener, Rakesh was more methodological who took responsibility to address poor supply chain and internal distribution logistics. Meanwhile, lenders rolled over debt with the converted loans were negotiated to mature in three to five years.
After pulling out from many joint venture projects, Rakesh focused primarily on four heads of business — general merchandise, home, fashion, and food from Future Group’s over 22 business verticals earlier including films, insurance, media, and financial services. Also, Biyani hired McKinsey and Company for its advisory role on a restructuring of the Group’s business. Some senior management team members were also retrenched. All these initiatives started yielding a positive result after an initial shock wave.
Biyani announced a three-way plan to become debt-free by 2013. In furtherance to the plan, Future Group sold a controlling stake in Pantaloon Retail to Aditya Birla Nuovo Ltd in May 2012. Following which Pantaloon Retail was renamed ‘Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd’ in 2016. With all these developments, Future Group collapsed in just one decade after emerging as leading retail chain of India.
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