The Indian retail industry has been riding a wave for the last couple of years. According to a latest report, retail sales are expected to rise from US$ 343 billion currently to US$ 543 billion.  Reliance Fresh, Subhiksha, Vishal Retail, Spencer’s, More, Big Bazaar and many more have entered India since the modern format retail concept began. The expanding middle and upper classes has played a big role in the expansion of existing modern format stores and entry of new ones.

The biggest question is “Have all of these stores been successful?”

The answer is a big NO. We shall discuss about two of the biggest failures in the history of Indian retail – Subhiksha and Vishal Retail.

Subhiksha was started by R. Subramaniam, an IIM A and IIT Chennai alumnus with its first store at Chennai. Ram Chandra Aggarwal set up his Vishal Garments Store in 1994 – three years before Biyani’s Pantaloon and seven years before setting up Vishal Retail. Both of them are discount stores at prices which are much lower than other retail outlets.

Though, Subhiksha has closed down and Vishal is still in the market, there are some points of similarity in their fall from glory which I would like to mention here –

Un-mindful expansion spree across different parts of the country

Subhiksha didn’t realize that with this only a few stores would be profitable and generate positive cash flows. It moved across different sectors such as medicine, grocery, IT, mobile etc very fast.

Vishal expanded without having the proper capital. They got the orders from the suppliers but when the stores didn’t work out, the entire supply chain got choked.

IPO problem

Subhiksha was thinking of going for an IPO in 2007 but shelved it in view of “uncertain market conditions”. But I believe that they got greedy as they expected a market correction.

Vishal on the other hand raised Rs. 110 crore from an IPO in June 2007 which wasn’t enough to meet it scorching growth pattern. It had 50 stores by then and was looking to expand to 130 stores in a year. But it went for short term debt which resulted in a big blow to their entire supply chain when the stores didn’t happen as intended.

Both of them didn’t consolidate

Subhiksha and Vishal instead of stabilizing and consolidating themselves first in different places and then moving to newer locations, tried to be the first in every town.

Poor inventory management

Subhiksha had a bad history of credit defaults and this led to supply breakages. This led to situations where sometimes the store had very high inventory and at others, the stocks were out. This led to great dissatisfaction.

Vishal’s distribution center led model failed as it couldn’t build an IT network. Buying at warehouses was mostly not aligned to what the customers needed and resulted in dead inventory.

Private Labels

Vishal tried to develop private labels in almost every category but had limited scale to support them.

Subhiksha closed down in 2009 amid allegations of defaults, non – wages payments and bankruptcy. The people behind it are still struggling to come up with valid explanations.

Vishal has brought down the rentals of the properties, decreased its expenses and closed down two dozen stores and warehouses and plans to close more. They still need an infusion of about Rs. 50 crore. Would the lenders give them?

Author: Aseem Rastogi

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