It Happened In India: The Story of Pantaloons, Big Bazaar, Central and the Great Indian Consumer by Kishore Biyani

It Happened in India is the story of one of India’s most versatile entrepreneurs, Kishore Biyani who scripted his own success story with an uncanny insight into the mind of the Indian consumer and his own simple philosophy. He is the Founder and the CEO of Future Group and the founder of Pantaloons Fashion & Retail. He has founded several other retail brands like Big Bazaar, Central, Brand Factory and HomeTown.

The book is a business travelogue very intimately woven in a sequence of ten chapters. The book is not just Kishore Biyani’s (KB) personality or success story. It is neither another family business growth revealed nor unfolded. KB’s story is of success brought about by a business family supported by internal customers and society. KB as an adolescent was a rebellion. His ability to question anything which is not amenable to logic and searching for solutions built up the entrepreneur who was ready to take on challenges! Business, time and opportunity wait for none! KB waited to strike at! The story begins with created and excited customers in a queue for picking up products to optimize their baskets in two major cities – Kolkata and Mumbai.1

Starting his business career from scratch with a deal in selling stone-wash jeans, he has created and scaled various extremely successful and pioneering consumer-centric businesses. He has been called the “dukaandaar” (shopkeeper) or “Sethji” (merchant) because of his no-frills old-school approach to doing business in an otherwise MBA driven Corporate Culture. However, you find him to be a person driven with the single-minded purpose of satisfying the infinitely diverse Indian consumer base. The book follows the story of the creation of the brands’ Pantaloon, Big Bazaar and Central. The book also features Biyani’s stint as a film producer. In general, it is about Biyani’s quest to understand and serve the Great Indian Consumer.

The story briefly touches bases Kishore’s childhood and his restless nature which has become synonymous with his style of doing business, today. His business career began when he borrowed a pair of stone-wash jeans (famous those days) and decided to advertise it to shop keepers. He built an order book and delivered it to them. From the beginning, Kishore understood the importance of Customer Engagement. He believes that it was mandatory to make sure that the customer completely understood what service or product was. When Pantaloon got listed on the stock exchange, the investors pressurized Kishore to focus on the bottom-line (revenue and profits). However, Kishore went out of his way to ensure that no stone was left unturned in marketing even though the advertisement budget was so over the top that Pantaloon made a loss. His justification was that people have a preconceived idea about retail stores like Pantaloon; they might believe that Pantaloon was a posh store with expensive clothing. The ostentatious ad campaign ensured that people felt at home with the store.

He also firmly believes that understanding every individual customer is equally important. When Kishore visited the US he was impressed by the concept of Walmart. He also believed that the model of Walmart Stores would need to be altered to make it Indian Consumer-friendly. He immediately followed up the research by visiting the hyper-mart Saravana Stores in Chennai, India. He made sure that each of his retail stores was designed to emulate the traditional local stores in the location. Everything from products, store design, and even the staff uniform was optimized according to the region, where the store was located. Using this understanding Kishore sold cooking oil in loose in the Big Bazaar in Gujarat or had wall-less stores in The Central etc.

Leasing real estate for a new store or Researching a new Business model, Kishore seems to be personally involved in the whole process. This tendency to micro-manage might seem detrimental to a big company’s progress but he justifies it, calling it the traditional “dukaan” model. In the traditional cloth store The show owner (Seth), the accountant (Munim) and the deputies would sit in front of each other on mattresses (gaddis). Whenever the customer arrived, a deputy would take up the sale by displaying various products to the customer. All the while the shop owner would be keeping an eye on all the customers, popping in, in case the deputy is not able to close a sale. Kishore Biyani thoroughly believes in this model. This model also suits his fast-paced spot-decision making work style. However, as he says, he is only personally involved in the ‘create’ and ‘destroy’ parts of his projects; He lets others take care of the ‘preserve’ part.

The book is a no-nonsense account of Kishore Biyani’s creations. It is fast-paced and filled with advice. The book has the main story written by Kishore and has interviews of various people associated directly with him. This makes it an interesting reading as we get multiple viewpoints on a story. Business Biographies are not guides. They are more of like eyeopeners. The core value that comes through this book is the depth of analysis one needs to do in order to achieve a level of perfection. Everyone has heard the phrase ‘Customer is always right’, and this book tells us how far one must go in order to obey that law in business. For a long time we have focused on Making in India, but the book is a must read for anyone who wants to Make For India.

It’s an amazing book for anyone who’s looking at how Indian business works & How India consumers shop. It talks about not changing consumer behavior but adapting your business model (physical stores) to it. Traditional Indian shopping behaviors are core to Indian consumers and Big bazzar caught the same trend be it by creating pani puri stall inside a store or by buying old clothes in exchange of utensils, it mind-boggling. A must-read who wants to understand Indian buying behavior

Here are a few powerful quotes from book for aspiring and upcoming entrepreneurs:

“We live in an imperfect world, and it is meaningless to strive for perfection. It is far better to strive for excellence.”

“In order to achieve any dream, one needs to have the willingness to change, confidence and total lack of inhibitions. This features youth, the ones who are going to drive the trends.”

“Always believe in doing new things – learning, unlearning, relearning.”

 “There are two types of leadership. The first is all about thought leadership, which is an original thought, believing in it and making things happen based on those thoughts. The second type is skills leadership, which refers to doing things consistently and in your own style.”

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