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Long before malls and exclusive brand outlets became commonplace, there was Akbarallys, India's first departmental store, founded by Fakhruddin T. Khorakiwala in 1897. The iconic store which started as a pharmacy introduced modern Indians to the idea of all-under-one-roof convenient shopping and organised retail. But what once resonated with Mumbaikars fell silent over the years. With dwindling footfalls and declining sales the first family of retail in Mumbai had to switch gears. And that's exactly what Aiman Khorakiwala did when she unveiled the new 10,000 square foot store in Fountain, now christened Akbarallys Men.
The brand new store is now a premium multibrand store for men - a concept entirely different from its original. A shop-in-shop format, Akbarallys houses clothing and accessories from brands such as Calvin Klein, Ed Hardy, Gas, Tommy Hilfiger, Jack & Jones and Indian brands like Being Human, Indian Terrain, Spykar, Colorplus, Louis Phillipe, etc.
Spread across two levels, the store also boasts of an in-house barber shop catering to quick rooming and styling needs of men. Located in the heart of South Mumbai's financial district - Fountain - the Akbarallys building stands in this heritage area designed during the British era. Restored back to its original structure, the store's interiors in shades of black and white are minimalistic and classic. The pillars continue to bear beautiful mouldings designed during its primordial days; vintage coloured mirrors and lights, rendering an industrial look, adorn the walls.
Nivedita Jayaram Pawar spoke to director Aiman Khorakiwala on entering a new phase in retail with Akbarallys.
What prompted you to revamp an 118-year-old family store?
We were thinking of a revamp for the past 2-3 years. We knew something had to be done to arrest the falling sales. There was a year-on-year drop of 10-15 per cent from 2009 onwards. But we were still profitable. We did try to make amends by introducing new products, new brands, heavier range of sarees for women and a full fledged toy section. We also incorporated more events at the store in an attempt to engage with our customers. But the overall feel was that it was an outdated format of a retail store. Since we were selling everything from apparel to furniture and kitchen appliance in a 10,000 sq. ft. space we were not able to do justice to any one category. People missed the variety that malls offered in a more enhanced shopping environment. We still had the advantage of location - we are in the heart of south Bombay in the city's prime commercial district. So we decided to turn the store around to an exclusive men's store.
But why only a men's store?
We initially toyed with the idea of a complete family store with apparel for men, women and children. But we realised that we may not be able to do full justice to it due to space constraints. The men's section at Akbarallys performed well all year round. Even when we increased the floor space for the section the sales continued to boom. So that provided us the confidence to change the entire store to a men's store. We also did an extensive survey which revealed that the organised men's segment was growing at a steady pace. So turning our store into a men's only store made perfect sense.
What kind of investments were involved in the revamp?
The revamp was done in a premium way and we spent close to `6000 a sq. ft. We hope to break even in the first year itself.
What's the response to the new format?
The men are quite happy and comfortable browsing around. They are very impressed with the change. But the women are disappointed. They have been writing to us lamenting the demise of the old format where they could shop for everything under one roof. Among the various sections, the men's formals range is booming which was expected since we are in a location surrounded by corporate houses. The casual section too is picking up.
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