Being visible is not necessary being in the market, back-end operations are as much essential as front-end visible brands. In a conversation with us Mr. Sundeep Holani, Founder and CEO, Channel Play, narrates his journey from a beginner to an expert solution provider to big brands.
Aadeetya Sriram (AS): Channelplay plays a huge part in marketing retailers; tell us about your company and your job profile?
Sundeep Holani (SH): Over the last 5 years, there has been a huge explosion of brands and products in the high-involvement space, which are products you think about before you buy them. These are technically complex products and expensive. When you think a lot about you choices, there is an opportunity which someone can take advantage inside a retail store. There is no use of investing heavily on advertising until you invest in retaining the customer, with various services and benefits that he may enjoy being part of a brand. As the brands are increasing, retail marketing is becoming more and more essential. We are one of the key marketing retailers in the country. Within retail marketing, there are 3 things you need to ensure; availability of products, visibility of the product and thirdly advocacy. Channelplay emphasizes on the latter two aspects. This is what we have been doing for the past 4 years, since our inception.
AS: What services are you providing to your clients?
SH: We have 5 verticals within which we operate. In the first one, we do Advocacy directly, for this we have large team of sales representatives who represent brands and position themselves inside the stores; these can vary from big brands like Croma, Reliance Digital etc. to small mom & pop stores in markets across the city. We have a large team assisting sales of top brands in the I.T and Telecom sector. More than 2500 people, spread across 300 cities in India form a part of our huge network. Another service that drives advocacy in a way is our training and development service; in this we provide extensive training to the employees recruited by the retailers themselves. We ensure they are capable enough of dealing and selling of our brand’s products. We do soft-skill training, selling-skill training, product training, all these play a pivotal role in overall functioning and performance of the brand. Thirdly we provide is Visual Merchandising (VM), already catering to around 15000 stores in the country, our team of VM experts visit the store and ensure that maximum brand visibility is attained. This can be done by ensuring proper arrangement of stock, deployment of collateral in the form of posters, danglers etc. The fourth thing we do is Mystery Shopping & Audit to ensure that the services we provide are meeting the required standard and to the satisfaction of our clients and their customers. We have our Retail Intelligence Vertical, in which we do retail audits, mystery shopping, wherein a person would go to these outlets, announced or unannounced, like a shadow-customer. This enables us to analyze our shortcomings and performance. Lastly it is, Experiential Marketing, where we do activations, events, promotions etc., to make the brand visible outside the store environment, enabling the foot-falls to raise which in turn becomes the fulcrum for the other 4 services.
AS: Which clients are you catering to at present?
SH: Our business is relevant to high-involvement products, within which we currently cater to the biggest brands in India, in the telecom handset and consumer I.T Industry, which is where we primarily concentrate. We are beginning to make some in-roads into the consumer-durable segment as well.
AS: Are you providing contracts on subscribed basis or as per project requirement of the brand?
SH: This is project-based that we do, as well as annual subscription based. We have clients, with whom we are associated for as long as 4 years, and there are some who we get contracted to for couple of months. There is a lot of flexibility in the way we deal with our clients.
AS: How has the transition from a beginner to country-renowned marketing company been?
SH: Our transition has been satisfactory. It has definitely not been without its share of challenges, that we had to sail-through, in the form of entrepreneurial struggle in the beginning. The first two years were challenging, we have not raised any venture-financing so far, and ours is a working-capital intensive business. So although it has been cash-flow positive since its inception, but we had to put in our own funding initially. We realized that technology will be a big differentiator in our business, which requires an up-front spend, for it to give returns, which we have been doing for the last couple of years.
AS: Are you providing the store employees with any training?
SH: There are two types of training that we provide, either we have to train our own people that we will be deploying on our clients behalf or we have to train the ones being provided to us by our clients themselves. We have a training vertical, which is a big training team, which provides the training service both internal & external, beginners in the retail segment have to go through a week’s induction course, where they equip themselves with various retail marketing skills, for the product knowledge training, that we provide once every month.
AS: What turnover & growth have you attained for the year 10-11? Your expectations for ’11-’12?
SH: Since our inception we have doubled every year, so where it was Rs. 7cr in the first year, 2nd it was Rs 14cr and so on. For the current year (’10-’11) we are expecting to attain around Rs 45cr.
AS: Your expansion plans for Channelplay?
SH: We would like to expand our base internationally, catering to the developing markets around the globe. Within the next 5 years, we see ourselves being the best if not the biggest in our segment.