- Established in 1906
- Number of stores 16
- Revenue Rs 32 cr
- Bet you didn’t know The store’s chappal maro initiative trended on Twitter for 6 hours
***How would you like a snazzy Shammi Kapoor tie to spice up your suit? Or a North-East inspired design on your flip-flops? If you’re not a fan of the far-out, how about just some soothing Darjeeling tea? Home to the quirky and the classic, The Bombay Store, the 106 year-old home décor-and-gifting retailer, has an eclectic range — from furnishings, artefacts, wellness products to fashion accessories and stationery.
The shop’s windows are a head-turner, and they bring in intrigued passers-by and regulars alike. Shekhar Mani and James Lingwood, Los Angeles-based filmmakers, stop by at The Bombay Store each time they visit Mumbai. “I’m always asked ‘where did you buy that?’ by my friends back home,” says Lingwood as he searches for some silk cushion covers.
The Bombay Store’s history goes back to 1906 when, during the peak of the Swadeshi Movement, its chief architect Bal Gangadhar Tilak and businessman Munmohandas Ramji, opened a co-operative store to sell khadi, called the Bombay Swadeshi Store. Till the mid-’90s, the store remained an old-worldly place to buy khadi, handloom and handicrafts.
The pace picked up after the Bhupen Dalal family, which owed much of its wealth to stockbroking, invested Rs 75 lakh in 1991. In 1995, Asim Dalal, the second son of Bhupen Dalal, rechristened the retailer to make it relevant to the times. From just one store in Mumbai, they had two more in Pune and Bengaluru respectively by 1997.
Things warmed up in 2001 when competition, in the form of multi-brand retailers like Lifestyle and Shopper’s Stop, began expanding owing to their deep pockets. “Not being a part of a large group was a big limitation as we could not afford to make large investments or take losses,” says Asim Dalal, managing director. He says the store has been conservative about growth from the start as it had to factor in real estate and manpower costs before expanding. He adds, “Being in a niche segment, we had to test waters before plunging in with more stores.”
Scale came only in the past three years, as the brand added 13 stores. The development of malls somewhat fixed the problem of finding the right location for a store. Currently, of the 16 stores in three states, seven are in malls. “I don’t think they have been late to the party,” says Devangshu Dutta, CEO of retail consultancy Third Eyesight. “Unlike other big retail players, they did not have to please investors who were in the business for short-term gains.” The Bombay Store has mostly used internal accruals for expansion but, in 2008, it raised Rs 20 crore from Fidelity Multitrade, a private investor, in exchange for a near 15% stake in the company. The promoter’s stake could be further diluted if the management resorts to private equity (PE) funding for expansion.
The Bombay Store which is likely to achieve sales of Rs 32 crore in FY12 has also been increasing its brand appeal through marketing initiatives (spends about 3-4% of sales) like loyalty programs, social media initiatives and print advertising.
Over time, what used to be an expat haunt, has now managed to reach out to urban middle-class Indians. “Earlier, 70% of our customers were non-resident Indians but now, it is local buyers who constitute 70%,” points out Desai.
Gearing to grow
Revamping the brand and evolving with customer demand has been the company’s agenda over the past few years. For instance, brand Elephant Company was introduced last year, for the ‘young at heart.’ It has products such as t-shirts, laptop covers, and mugs mostly at price points between Rs 200 and Rs 2,000. “People remember The Bombay Store for its classics but with The Elephant Company, the young are also showing interest in the store,” says Desai.
The Elephant Company is currently present in 10 Bombay Stores and two Crossword outlets. The plan is to have more of these small outlets of 350 sq ft each, leading to a wide presence. More shop-in-shop outlets are planned at Crossword, WL Smith and superstores like Hypercity. “The Elephant Company contributes 5-6% to sales so far, but we want to hive it off as a separate entity in the next six months,” says Dalal. This will give The Elephant Company a separate identity, making it an independent brand that can grow on its own.
To drive more buyers to the store, the company has launched a new property called India Haat recently, to showcase arts and crafts from all over India. In its first season, it presented traditional handicrafts from Rajasthan such as footwear, paper jewellery and puppets for 12 days, bringing in sales of Rs 29 lakh (average daily sales at its stores total Rs 8.5 lakh to Rs 11 lakh).
In FY13 the company has identified six locations to open stores — two in Mumbai, one each in Indore, Goa, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. “While we can fund half of this through internal accruals, we would require at least Rs 15 crore in PE funding to scale up further.” feels Desai.
Finding the right location for stores plays a big role in ensuring profitability. The management is well aware of that — its Aurangabad and Pune stores are currently not profitable as the malls they are located in, are not attracting enough walk-ins.
The Bombay Store aims to be a 50-store chain clocking a turnover of Rs 300 crore in five years. Achieving this elephantine ambition of 10-fold growth can be a tall task, given that it made a profit of less than a crore last year. But for now, the company has its faith in the unfolding Indian retail story.