The Moodie BLOG in India: Part 1 – Delhi

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

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The Moodie Report – and The Moodie BLOG – have arrived in India. Over the next few days we’re making a whistlestop tour of some of this big, vibrant country’s most exciting airport developments.

We’ll be taking in Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai and Hyderabad in our research for the forthcoming BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) issue of The Moodie Report Print Edition. We’re also visiting the Hyderabad clinic of The Smile Train, the children’s cleft surgery programme that is the subject of our charity dinner in Hong Kong on 5 October, co-organised with Hugo Boss.

Besides our usual news reports, we’ll be bringing you more informal and regular BLOGs from one of the world’s most fascinating countries and one of the industry’s most exciting aviation and travel retail markets. So let’s take a look, close-up and personal at travel retail’s passage to India.

Day 1…

A few hours much-needed sleep on the BA London-Delhi flight is rudely interrupted by maybe the most severe bump down through the clouds I have experienced in 20 years of flying around the world in the course of my job.

“Would you please put your seat into the upright position,” snaps the surly BA hostess at me, a little harshly given that seconds earlier I thought the only upright position I would be taking was one through the ceiling of the plane.

It’s monsoon season here and as we take our first sight of India’s vast expanses below the lush green fields are surrounded by large areas of water. “It’s been a good monsoon,” says the kindly Indian doctor next to me, “there will be plenty of water to go around. That’s good for the country.”

It’s my first visit here and I’m excited by both the human and journalistic experience that lies ahead. If only this plane would stop bumping…

“In this country we’re over-dependent on god,” chuckles the doctor, maybe reading my thoughts. “And influence – if you have the right 2 + 2 it can make 22.” But he’s upbeat about his country and its phenomenal economic progress of the past decade.

“We’ve got a very good and honest Prime Minister, he’s very erudite. He’s an economist and a fine, humble man.” The economy is booming, he says. So is the currency. “The Rupee has appreciated +10% against the Dollar in the past six months alone.”

We say our goodbyes and – having overcome the near disastrous start of leaving  my camera on the plane (fortunately recovered by a charming steward) – it’s down into the airport proper.

‘Welcome to Delhi’ reads the big sign just above the escalator that drops down into the immigration hall. Delhi International is an airport in transition and everywhere there are signs from GMR, the airport developers who are part of the Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL) joint venture company – along with Fraport, Malaysia Airports Holding and India Development Fund – which is charged with revamping the airport.

There’s a dank, musty smell in the air but already there are signs of progress at this old, faded lady of an airport. “Better lighting arrangement coming soon, because you deserve a brighter smile. Together we’ll make it happen,” reads the GMR-Delhi International Airport sign.

And newly appointed duty free concessionaire Alpha Future (a joint venture between Alpha Airports Group and local retailing powerhouse Pantaloon Retail), is quick to make its presence felt with arriving travellers.

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‘Duty free monsoon mania’ screams a bright trademark Alpha pink poster, alongside a range of attractive price promotions.  ‘Best brands, best ranges, best offers,” says another.

Immigration moves quickly enough and soon I am in the Arrivals hall. Here Flemingo has prime position, being right in the post-immigration sight line and flow at both ends of the hall. The store I visit is compact and well-stocked, mainly with liquor and tobacco. Prices are good – US$15 for 200 Marlboro and US$29 for Johnnie Walker Black Label.

The store manager is friendly and tells me business is good. I don’t linger though as I’m kindly being met in the early hours of the morning by Alpha Future’s Chief Operating Officer Dimantha Kinigama in the centre of the hall outside the Alpha store.

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The Alpha pink hues are a great way of lighting up a shop and this one, with its very low ceilings, needs the help. But it’s got more space than its rival, currently 2,000sq ft (Alpha Future will get 4,000sq ft from February 2008 and solus status in Arrivals), and a nice, suprisingly upscale offer.

This shop is mainly targeting the returning Indian (80% of clientele) and there’s lots of disposable income being spent. Liquor represents around 65% of the mix and there’s plenty of super-premium lines on offer. Malt has been a big surprise says Dimantha, citing a 25yo Bunnahabhain 70cl priced at US$225 – “we’ll shift 10 bottles a day”.

Similarly, magnums of Johnnie Walker Blue Label sold out in two days. That’s 30 bottles at US$225. Already my perceptions are changing. Forget any thoughts about low spends and a standard whisky dominated offering – there is a big, premium business emerging here.

Dimantha admits such patterns have surprised the retailer, which originally based its offer largely on what it features in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

“Our average transaction is US$65-70, very, very high,” he says enthusiastically. 

But while the spend is high – not enough people are entering the shop. The poor footfall means store penetration is as low as 4% (Alpha Future had projected 15%), partly because of the shop positioning and partly because of the traditionally tardy image of Indian airport shopping.

But with a new breed of international retailers entering the scene that’s all changing. “But the word has to be spread first,” admits Dimantha.

Nonetheless, he is highly optimistic. “We believe there is a huge opportunity for lifestyle products here,” he says. From a single stand-alone tower unit for Montblanc, for example, Alpha Future sells around four writing instruments a day – at US$300-400 each.

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Confectionery reflects a similar pattern – the highest-selling chocolate in arrivals is not the count lines that do so well in Colombo but a US$30 Lindt pack (pictured above). “Our customers want big expensive branded products,” says Dimantha.

Tobacco, though, does it on price. 200 Marlboros will set you back just US$16, the same price-point as 555 which, as a sign points out, costs US$45 in UK duty free. Tobacco business is being boosted too by an influx of Chinese consultants to India. They are driving extraordinary sales of Chunghwa and Panda cigarettes from the mainland (US$30 a carton).

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Fragrances have been another unexpected success, accounting for 20% of arrivals sales to date rather than the anticipated 11%. Estee Lauder Companies brands enjoy “huge prominence” and have effectively made their Indian market debut through Alpha Future.

It hasn’t been an easy debut for Alpha Future – the opening was delayed and the location and shop structure are not ideal. But it’s clear that there is real spending power among returning Indians who traditionally have conducted almost their duty free shopping at departures abroad.

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The store is bright, the staff are learning the art of service under expert teachers and promotional efforts can be seen everywhere. Alpha Future is a nicely evocative and appropriate name for the enterprise. But for Alpha and Pantaloon, as indeed with India at large, the future is now.

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