Kishore Biyani: Disco Dandiya to Big Bazaar; From the King of Retail to the brink of bankruptcy

Pantaloons, Big Bazaar, Food Bazaar and Central Mall are the names that customers who shop at malls will come to mind. These brands were once instrumental in providing affordable fashion to India’s middle-class consumers.

Kishore Biyani, founder and CEO of Future Group, which created a chain of showrooms for this brand, came to be known as the ‘King of Retail’ among Indian entrepreneurs.

He has seen the transition of the country’s culture from infancy to adulthood. At the beginning of the 21st century, he started Big Bazaar in small and big cities of the country.

Biyani started revolutionizing the retail space with brands like Pantaloon, Big Bazaar, Food Bazaar and Central.

Later, Biyani’s company ventured into financial services, film production and transport and distribution.

Biyani wanted to do something different from the family business. He took early lessons from Disco-Dandiya. He got advice on mall management from Indian and foreign experts, but the real business lessons he learned from the temple itself.

Biyani tried to enlist the help of India’s biggest businessman Mukesh Ambani and the world’s richest man Jeff Bezos during the crisis, but they failed, and a legal battle ensued.

Today his company is on the verge of bankruptcy. Recently the Jindal Group has announced its decision to invest in Biyani’s company, but still the company does not see a future. In this, the investor has to follow the process from the acceptance of the borrowers to the legal approval.

According to reports published in the media, Future Group has a debt of 19 thousand 400 crores. Biyani has moved the High Court after major lender Bank started a forensic probe into Future Retail’s financial dealings.

Management lessons learned from Disco Dandiya and Mandir

Kishore Biyani was born on August 9, 1961, in a wealthy Marwari family in the then city of Mumbai. His grandfather Bansilal migrated from Rajasthan to the financial capital of the country i.e. Mumbai. He started with a cloth shop and started his own textile mills.

The head of the Biyani family, Lakshminarayan, his brothers and subsequent sons joined the family business. But Kishore did not want to join the family business from his childhood. They always wanted to do something different.

Biyani is the co-author of Future Group’s book ‘It Happened in India’. It would not be wrong to call it his autobiography.

In the second chapter of the book, he writes, “During Navratri, Gujarati youths play Dandiya, dancing to the rhythm of the music. But in our society, it seems boring. When I was in my first year of college, a friend took me to a Dandiya festival in Juhu.

Where the live music of famous Bollywood composer Rajesh Roshan starts. Young people were dancing wildly. This is the first time I have seen such a large number of young people gathered in one place. It was a wonderful atmosphere and I was impressed by its magnificence.”

Kishore decided to organize a disco dandiya in his society the very next year.

Kishore writes in the book that, ‘This scheme was successful and became famous in the surrounding area within a few years. It gave lessons in crowd control and management.’

Biyani produced the film ‘Na Tum Jaano Na Hum’.

The film was composed by Rajesh Roshan, while his nephew Hrithik Roshan played the lead role. Apart from this, he also produced the film ‘Chura Liya Hai Tumne’.

Later, Biyani started the retail chain ‘Big Bazaar’. Its main attraction is ‘Sab Se Sasta Din’.

There used to be a huge crowd during these days. Big Bazaar staff and security guards had a tough time controlling the crowd.

Biyani writes in his book that the major challenge was how to control and regulate the crowd. To solve this he took lessons from temples.

Company executives studied how to queue up devotees when temples were crowded, send them to temples for darshan, and then implemented it at Big Bazaar outlets.

Big Bazaar, a giant leap

In 1987 Biyani founded ‘Pantloons’. This company used to make pants for men. Biyani writes that he asked a multi-store retailer in Mumbai to stock his pants.

But he refused to keep the pants saying that he had brought foreign brands. The company did not get a place even in the mall in Mumbai.

So, Biyani decided to retail and sell his own products starting from Calcutta. They decided to bring the daily necessities under one roof. Some entrepreneurs were already working in this field.

When Big Bazaar did not get customers as expected in the initial stages, they hired consultants. These consultants suggested changes to companies such as Walmart and Tesco. Both companies were successful in the US and UK retail trade respectively.

But Biyani soon realized that consumers should have a sense of shopping in the market. So apart from packaged goods, they also started selling retail groceries, fruits and vegetables.

Geoff Hiscock in his book ‘India’s Store Wars’ (page no. 9-10) writes that Biyani spent several weeks studying the famous South Indian brand ‘Sarvana’. It was a brand that claimed to offer the ‘cheapest in the country’ product. He then adopted a strategy of ‘less profit and more trade’.

Big Bazaar tried to attract customers by having sales 72 days a year. Vegetables and essential items were sold at cheap prices on Wednesdays. On this day, housewives used to buy essential but expensive items at low prices.

In 2007, Biyani became a billionaire and reached the 54th position on the Forbes list of the richest people in the country. However, after the economic recession of 2008, their difficulties started to increase.

Difficulties, mistakes, future

Future Group was also hit by the economic recession of 2008. Launching one retail brand after another, opening a large number of stores in various cities and racking up debt, the company’s balance sheet began to come under pressure.

This was a time when foreign direct investment was not allowed in multi-brand retail. This made it difficult for Biyani to raise money through other means than banks.

In 2012, Biyani sold his stake in his successful brand Pants to the Aditya Birla Group to reduce debt, and the company itself later sold to him.

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