rkd retail/iQ

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interview in vm-rd magazine

vm-rd, july / august 2007, page 56-57
vm-rd india industry feature: design on india
Global giants circling around the Indian market are not a surprise anymore. Some have set-up a base here and some plan to do soon.
Their assessment of the Indian scenario, plans and strategy to grow is the topic of discussion here, ‘straight from the horse mouth’.

The forum here comprises of:

R. Kurt Durrant, President, a Bangkok-based full-service retail design consultancy specialises in delivering complete branded retail environments. Madison + Rkd Retail/iq, the joint venture in India with Madison, a market leader in the advertising and media field in India, will be based in Mumbai with branches in Dalhi and Bangalore.

David Blair, Managing Director, Fitch, an internationally renowned brand and design consultancy with 20 studios in 12 countries. Fitch has set-up base in Mumbai and plans to make it one of the three largest studios in the Fitch network by 2010.

Rajesh Chhablani, Regional Director from WD Partners India. WD Partners, a leading U.S. based retail architecture and engineering firm with more than 500 associates in nine domestic and two international officers, has set-up an office in Mumbai this year with plans for to generate more than 100 professionals.

David Wright, Associate Director, Marketing, Dalziel & Pow Design Consultants, a UK-based player in the market for design services with 3000 projects in over 60 countries over the last 23 years, have started work in India in the last six months.

Q. What is the estimated potential of the Indian retail design market? And where do you see Indian retail design five years from now?


RKD: Many lifetimes of retail consulting service potential exists within India. There are a lot of wild cards that could affect how forward or sideways India moves in the next five years. The health of the retail industry depends on many factors significantly further up the chain than retail design.

WD Partners: Consumers are becoming more demanding in India. Many international and Indian chains will be welcomed into markets that are served only by local “Mom and Pop” retailers. We also think that in five years the approach to retail design in India will be more integrated, and sensitive to operational issues such as procurement, maintenance, lift-cycle costs, etc.

Fitch: Enormous. As long as the importance and value of great design is upheld by all design agencies, whether local or international, India can be the world leader. There is enormous scope for creativity and innovation, and as such there is great potential for concepts

Q. What kind of opportunities you plan to tap and why? malls/ standalone/ hypermarkets.

WD Partners: We can help with the design and development of mall stores, standalone stores, hypermarkets and restaurants. Assisting retailers with these kinds of stores is just an extension of our existing business. We are experts in multi-unit retail.

RKD: We service retailers of all formats and channels. We can unify all aspects of the retail strategy and business objectives to bring the client team together to create sustainable market positions through differentiated retail experiences.

Fitch: We have experience in all forms of retail design from malls to point-of-sale material. We expect to have opportunities across all formats and sectors in India, and look forward to working with clients who place an importance on the consumer experience and the value that it creates.

Q. What is your opinion on partnerships pr alliance with India counterparts?

Fitch: Partnerships are essential and the combination of international expertise with local knowledge is invaluable as the market develops.

WD Partners: Managing our own resources, and ultimately the deliverables, offers retails an assurance of quality and consistency. It also protects the WD Partners’ brand as a US-based leader in multi-unit retail.

RKD: We are very excited to establish an quality business relationship with Sam Balsara and Madison. Both of these have tremendous brand equity that we intend to build upon.

Q. How would your strategy and pricing differ from your international projects?

WD Partners: Pricing will depend on the services provided and the extent of collaboration required with the global offices. Our potential clients seem to be concerned with our expertise and quality of work, not price.

RKD: Experience has a value and therefore a cost. The right consultant can save a retailer millions through the process of developing a new price strategy for the market format. Fee  should not be the issue.

Fitch: It is true to say that a great idea in India is worth as much as a great idea in the US or elsewhere.

Q. What may be the areas where you may need to seek local help?

Dalziel & Pow: We may look for help from local suppliers in terms of shop fitting, general contracting, project management and local architectural help.

Fitch: In all our operations globally, we seek and enlist local help. It is essential from contract negotiation to understanding the Indian consumer and trends.

WD Partners: We currently do not have any civil engineering/site expertise in our Mumbai office and plan to collaborate with local professionals. We will see what sort of needs develop, and may decide to add that expertise in the future.

Q. Are allied local industries like fixturing and props equipped to deliver to international standards?

Fitch: This will improve as the importance attached to retail design increases. For now a good knowledge of both local and international suppliers is essential to ensure that design intent is reflected in the finished product.

Dalziel & Pow: Working with local and non-local suppliers (and clients) we will look to improve standards and introduce best practices.

WD Partners: Any decision needs to be weighed against the logistics of importing and transportation to different cities within the country. It may be possible that high-cost, high-quality local product could be more efficient than low-cost, high-quality imported product.

RKD: Important support industries of store fixtures, lighting, material, in-store technology, signage & graphics all have tremendous potential and there will certainly be entrepreneurs to seize those opportunities and develop viable business that will contribute to the overall quality of Indian retail. We have participated in the process to help identify and assist in the development of important support industries in dozens of countries and emerging markets.

Q. Generating business may require understanding local preferences, how do you plan to do that?

Fitch: The purpose of setting up a studio in India is so that we can develop a much better understanding of local preferences across the board, This coupled with good local relationships and our increasing Indian experience, enables us to continue to generate business in India.

Dalziel & Pow: We are already working in the region and through our continued exposure to local issues and preferences, our understanding of each market and region will grow.

WD Partners: Our associates in the Mumbai office come from many different regions in India and hence have an excellent understanding of the Indian market, culture and consumer preferences. We plan to continue to recruit a diverse and highly skilled workforce that is able to deliver services consistent with WD Partner’ brand

Q. What other challenges do you foresee while working for Indian retailers? How you plan to tackle them?

Fitch: Ensuring that Indian retailers take the time to create their own experiences, instead of simply copying existing international examples. Through collaboration with the clients, and maintaining the belief that while ‘India is modern, it is not western’, a fact that must be reflected throughout retail design.

Dalziel & Pow: Speed of change and increased international competition. Learning ‘Western’ best practices in retailing and design build and management. Working closely with our clients to help them understand the challenges and overcome them.

WD Partners: We see challenges within the Indian Marketplace as opportunities…the biggest one being translating the value of WD Partners’ integrated approach to providing retail design and execution solutions.

RKD: There is very little about retail that is easy, yet the best experience in retail always make it look easy. We generally avoid clients who do not accept the reality of the tremendous effort and commitment retail requires, by trivializing the process or the important components.

Q. What will be the proportion of foreign vs. Indian employees?

Fitch: Initially we will have a strong expat presence, but as we grow this will naturally reduce proportionally. We are always on the look out for the very best Indian talent, and are exploring potential collaborations with the top Indian design schools to identify and develop the best talent coming through

WD Partners: Currently there are about 25 associates and all are Indian. We fully expect the office to grow to more than 100 within the next couple of years, and, we expect the office to be staffed with primarity Indian professionals.

RKD: Currently we have a fully functioning organization based in Mumbai staffed with creative heads from our HQ in Bangkok. We have a long-term commitment to intention of maintaining our design office in a suitcase that simply flies in and out of India.

How will you differentiate from the other international counterparts who are entering India simultaneously?

Dalziel & Pow: Strength of out Retail Design expertise. We have nearly 25 years Retail Design experience and always focus on the most effective design solutions for our clients.

Fitch: We already have a good list of Indian retail clients and have been proactive in setting up an Indian studio. Based on this, will differentiate itself as redefining retail to create world class consumer experience that drive the business of car clients.

WD Partners: Unlike most of our competitors, we work in multi-disciplinary teams. This reduces delays from handoffs as well as delays and error from miscommunications. Our approach is ultimately more efficient and effective than our competitors. We get stores open more quickly, while also producing high quality work.


Not too long ago, most of these international companies were apprehensive about the largely unorganised state of the market, and the unfamiliar local cultural nuances but now are stationing themselves independently, for example, WD Partners and Fitch. This has enabled them to work with a definite work culture, philosophy and access to higher profit margins. Whereas others like RKD sought Indian partners helping them counter factors like distribution and understanding of local requirement. Which, vice versa helps the Indian counterpart through sharing of technology, funds etc.

Marylin Aloysius

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