C&B Notes

An Upstart Retailer in India

DMart, a small, local retail chain in India, has found success that has eluded multinational players.  It is too early to know if the company’s growth will continue, but the population and per capita income growth that will happen in India over the next 50 years will certainly drive retail sales.  DMart’s progress will be informative.

Supermarkets in India are rare, accounting for just 2% of food sales; most people shop at open-air markets or in tiny local shops.  DMart is giving many Indians their first-ever feeling of shopping at one big store.  “The prices are low and the quality is good,” says Shekhar Raman, who works at a bank, as he joins a long queue of bag-laden people waiting for rickshaws.

Even with only 163 stores, in less than half of India’s states, DMart is making its mark.  In the six months to the end of September its revenue reached 94bn rupees ($1.3bn), up by 33% compared with the same period last year.  Profits, of 7.4bn rupees, were healthy.  DMart’s revenue per shop is four times higher than its nearest competitor, partly because of its packed floor space.  The firm seems to have cracked selling to the new Indian middle class, which is intensely price-conscious, rather than only to the rich in big cities.  Its shops are mostly in fast-growing “second-tier” cities and in the suburbs.

It has two types of customers, says Neville Noronha, chief executive of Avenue Supermarts, DMart’s parent company.  The first are lower-middle-class people, who are proud to shop at a more upmarket establishment.  The second are upper-middle-class folk, who “may not necessarily identify with their fellow shoppers”, he says, but cannot resist the bargains.

No other chain has enjoyed such success.  Across the street from the Thane DMart is a new branch of Star Bazaar, a brand run by a partnership of Tesco, a big British retailer, and Tata, a huge Indian conglomerate.  Instead of chaotically piled bags of grains, fresh fruit and vegetables are arranged neatly.  But whereas DMart has kids in the halls, Star Bazaar is silent and lonely.  Moreover, Star Bazaar had to close 20 smaller shops in shopping malls in April, because rents were too high.  DMart, by contrast, owns most of its buildings.  Other giants have also retreated.  In 2014 Carrefour, the world’s second-biggest retailer, closed down its operations in India after four years.  Walmart continues to operate a number of wholesale stores, but since its purchase of Flipkart, an Amazon-style delivery firm, in August, its focus seems to be on delivering pricier products to relatively wealthier customers, rather than running supermarkets.

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