Shital Mehta, CEO, Pantaloons Fashion & Retail Ltd, says the group has worked overtime renovating the stores, changing merchandise mix and focusing on bringing the company back into the customers' mind. He believes that with these changes the coming year will be better for the company, which was acquired by Aditya Birla group in 2012. Excerpts from the interview with Ashish K Tiwari and Nupur Anand.
Could you tell us about changes at Pantaloons?
The Pantaloons retail format was conceptualised to occupy a wide space and offer things that no other player does. After taking over the business in 2012, stock clearance was the main focus area for the business in 2013 and there was very little that we could have done apart from streamlining the operations. One needs to understand here that fashion apparel business typically has a one-year lag effect. What this essentially means is what you do in April 2014 will start showing results in April 2015. We also worked on expanding network, renovating stores, etc, but bulk of our efforts will start fructifying now.
Has there been any change in store positioning and target customers?
Our target audience is the aspiring Indian middle class who wants move up the ladder and is entering the world of brands and fashion while still looking for a value for money (VFM) proposition. While continuing with VFM, Pantaloons offers exclusive brands, fashionable / contemporary merchandise and quality retail experience / ambience.
How many exclusive brands do you have under Pantaloons?
We have 25 exclusive brands and will add more during the course of the year. The plan is to end the year with over 30 brands. In fact, three new brands have been launched this season and will further spruce up the portfolio with a few more launches during Diwali season.
You have also been renovating the stores...
We have renovated 20 outlets last year and plan to do another 20 this year. By the end of this financial year there won't be a single store of Pantaloons that would be dilapidated. The idea is to put a few crores (Rs 1.5-2.5 crore per outlet) and spruce up the stores to ensure they get a facelift.
You have 80 plus stores right now, how many more are you looking at adding?
When we had acquired the business it was adding a store every eight week, last year we doubled the rate with a store every month. And now we are looking at accelerating the pace with one store every three weeks. So probably we will be adding another 18-20 stores this year. That means we should be crossing hundred stores this year.
What kind of investments are you looking at for store additions?
It depends on the store size but approximately every store will be Rs 3.5-5 crore. Typically, we have some big stores of 30,000-35,000 square feet. We also have smaller stores of 20,000-25,000 square feet. And the new stores that we are going to be adding will be in the 20-25000 square feet range only.
Online seems to be the big buzz now, when do we see you in that space?
We could potentially look at it and we have a platform in Madura and we are exploring if we can collaborate with them. And if we do which is likely, it will not be a very big thing for us. It will be more like an extended service.
You are also looking at extending into footwear and accessories too?
Going forward, if women are our key central clients then we have to increase our offerings for that consumer base. So ladies handbags, purses, etc is a natural extension for us. So what we have done in apparel with our private brand we would be extending that. But we are in no tearing hurry to do it. Most probably, by the end of this financial year we would have had entered the space.
How is the revenue per square feet in fashion and how is Pantaloons faring in that area?
Rs 1,000 per square meet every month is a very good number and we are very close to that. And not too many retailers are there, so it's a fairly good state.