Jul 31, 2008

Business - Hitting a home run

Where we live is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.
_ Oliver Wendell Holmes
If there is one thing that most people aspire for, it is a roof above one’s head. As the number of first-time home buyers swell in India, home improvement solutions are becoming de rigueur for consumers. According to National Housing Bank, a government-run regulator for housing finance companies, the home loans disbursed by banks has been seeing a three-fold jump as compared to five years ago, at Rs 1 lakh crore. Interestingly, the average age of home owners too has dropped to the thirties from the mid-40s about a decade ago.
Though home improvement was earlier restricted to an annual coat of whitewash, the segment is one of the fastest growing on the speciality retail platform. The unprecedented rush for new homes too is fuelling the growth in the industry. The major players in the home improvement and adornment space include retail giants such as Future group’s Home Town, Shoppers Stop with Home Stop, Hindware Home Retail with Evok, the Rajan Raheja-promoted Bella Casa and Neelkamal-owned @Home. Modelled on the US-based Home Depot, these huge format stores sell everything from curtains to modular kitchens. A typical home store will be housed in an area of 3,000 sq ft to 40, 000 sq ft.
“Young Indians who want to climb the social ladder are investing heavily into home improvement. They are not shy of seeking newer technology and want the best for their homes,” says D. K. Jairath, Vice-President and Business Head, Hindware Home Retail Solution. The company, which has carved out a subsidiary from its sanitaryware business, said the biggest growth is going to come from the organised retail space. “Customers want a one-stop solution to all their kitchen and bathroom needs. We in turn offer them not just an assortment of goods but all services”. The services include computerised 3-D image of the home with the fittings in place. The full-fledged design vertical offers a walk-through of the customer’s home through home visualisation software.
The pie of the home interior market is estimated at $9 billion and growing at a rate of 15-20 per cent annually. French furnishing major Gautier has entered into a tie-up with Ebony retail to set up Ebony Gautier. “Our stores will be destination stores and will not be housed in malls unlike other retail stores. Well-heeled Indian consumers are looking for international range and design that are straight out of an interior magazine. Our retail foray will bring on a range of internationally benchmarked products at a good value,” says Lalit Kumar, CEO, Ebony.
The renovation market is another key area that most retailers are focusing on as a large chunk of consumers is changing the look and feel of its homes. “We hope the renovation market will be a key vertical for us to grow. Consumers are aware of the trends in the global market and want to adopt the same. We hope all our stores will be a one-stop solution for a consumer’s needs,” explains Ananth Narayan, Chief Executive Officer, Bella Casa. The company is hoping to raise the number of stores from five to 200 in the next 10 years. Its value retail store, Tile Bazaar, will also be scaled up to 100 stores. Bella Casa stores cover an area of 4,000 to 6,000 sq. ft. while Tile Bazaar has a store area of 400 to 1,600 sq. ft.
Ecohing a similar view, Nicolas Matten, Managing Director of Hansgrohe India, retail arm of the German plumbing major Hansgrohe says, “Globally, bathrooms are remodelled thrice during an individual’s lifetime. The trend is very visible in India as innovative designs, latest technology, and changing consumer preferences are driving the growth in the country,” Nicolas Matten, Managing Director (India) said.
So what are the challenges? “Offering a quality product at highly competitive price and upgrading a consumer is our biggest challenge,” says Rakesh Biyani, Director, Future Group. The products will be sourced from various markets such as Taiwan, China and Thailand, kitchen and bath concepts find inspiration from Italy, Spain and Germany. While smaller stock keeping units can attract consumer eyeballs easily, the bed, bath and kitchen need vast space to woo consumers into buying a branded product.

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