Thursday, March 26, 2009


After reading an interview of Naina Lal Kidwai - country head of HSBC India I was struck by the absence of reference to customers , the way in which Hsbc seeks to touch the lives of customers. 

Earth Hour

In the past one week I've received emails daily from folks I know re Earth Hour - 28 March.

It's a great idea to switch off electricity for an hour . In many, urban areas participating in an event like this may enable many to experience the time and space to just be (as opposed to always 'doing' something ). It will hopefully sensitize many of the participants view resources with appreciation and gratitude instead of taking them for granted .

The risk with an event like this is that many may view participation as having done their annual bit towards the environment . Allowing for a guilt-free , life as usual existence for the balance 364 days and 23 hours.

Let's also be mindful that there are still millions across the planet whose daily life is like Earth Hour i.e sans electricity .

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The inexplicable design chasm

Visited a store today that retailed home linen . Thought I'd buy a bed cover . Had the familiar experience of going through the designs and finding none suitable .

The mill printed bed sheets and bed covers leave me standing in stores wondering in amazement how with all the modern day technology available today can companies create such strange and mediocre designs. The pack invariably has an image of the bedcover displayed on a bed . And today I have come to the conclusion that the thumb rule is - the more attractive the photograph the worse the actual design is. Colors are strange . Designs are large / blurry / strange / surreal / nightmare inducing . Some printed bed covers I have seen have had sharp motifs . However the colors were way too strong . It seems that the brands / mills design in the absence of a customer context . Urban homes are compact . A bedroom has several objects besides the bed . The design on the bed cover must enhance the room not stand out in a jarring way.

I have yet to come across a mill printed bed cover in Mumbai retail stores that has a soothing , pleasant , elegant look . Why this is so mystifies me. The average printing technology has improved significantly , designs can be made precisely , design resources are available from across the world . It costs nearly the same to make a mediocre design as much as it costs to make a beautiful design (assuming quality is the same ).

India has a rich textile heritage which is a treasure trove for design inspiration . Rendered well they would be beautiful complements to Indian homes bringing heritage and beauty to contemporary Indian homes. Yet , hardly any of the mills have explored this in a meaningful way. With the precision that printing technology now allows exquisite designs of yore can be brought to life . Something that was not possible in a cost effective way perhaps until a decade ago. If the mill prints available were beautiful graphic motifs one could still understand. But they are neither.

In today's stressed out world there is a definite need to design products that inspire , enable calm. A product has to be more than the sum of it's parts .

Brands may argue that they are selling bed covers . So what is the problem ? Customers seldom show up at a store and articulate exactly what they want . And even those who do - at best the store salesperson listens to the feedback . Most companies have no mechanism to get feedback or use it meaningfully . So the status quo continues with variations of small amplitude. People need bedcovers so they show up at stores and pick from what's available . 

Until Apple unveiled gorgeous , joy inducing computers - aesthetics of devices retailing until then were limited to minor changes of metallic shades.

My next bed cover ? Spotted a lovely block printed set at a store . If that's not available when I go there next there's always the option of solid colors :)

p.s - This one may be true only of Mumbai . Therefore non-Mumbai residents may or may not be able to relate with this.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Nothing less will do...

The traffic problem in Mumbai is getting more and more alarming each day . A suburb which was formerly 20 mins away is now 45 (unless the commute is done late night or early morning ). Time is becoming an increasingly precious resource or rather a precious resource that is wasted due to the inept /non-existent planning of successive governments + poor quality of roads + poor quality of traffic management + inadequate quantity and quality of public transport. This affects every single aspect of one's life :

- health 
- duration of commute to workplace / college , school 
- quality of that commute
- social life
- access to medical aid in case of emergency
- productivity of individuals , businesses
- cost of living ( in financial and non-financial terms)

If these are problems faced by citizens in the upper middle class and middle class category one can only imagine how much more compounded it gets in the economically weaker sections of society. The unrest brewing beneath the surface of everyday life is of volcanic proportions.

Businesses especially retail business feels the direct impact of the current condition of Mumbai city e.g road near the store is dug up , its not possible to park the vehicle or it's inconvenient to walk - consumers forgo the store and try to make the purchase elsewhere. The challenge for retail businesses gets compounded if you are retailing products which are discretionary purchases . Unless you have determined evangelists as customers - in the current economic environment the current state of the roads and the traffic tilts the scales in favor of the consumer forgoing the purchase. Yet one does not see any evidence of collective efforts by retailers in shopping streets to improve the infrastructure of the street. Everyone laments the problem and feels it's consequence . But surprisingly that does not translate into any constructive, collective action.

Successive governments , municipal corporations have failed miserably in providing basic infrastructure to the citizens of this country . They lack the intention , capability and leadership. There are well intentioned , capable folks in the government bodies . But they are outnumbered by the corrupt and passive majority within the institution.

Collaborating or coming together as a community + constructive activism is not something that comes easily to Indians. It's however a skill we'll need to learn quickly as individuals and businesses if we hope to reclaim quality of life in any measure.

To begin with we need to lose the 'what can one person do' line of thought and the apathy. 

There's a lot of activism and efforts by groups to ensure that people vote . This is great . But it's not sufficient . Why ? Because what are the options for the voter ? Is there a single political party in this country one can look up to and associate it with competent governance , proven performance , integrity ? At the ballot the choice for the voter is between the devil and the deep sea (in terms of the political parties ).

To change our everyday reality we need activism and collaboration at the community level - as individuals and businesses .

For starters...

- Get together to ensure cleaner , safer streets
- Push for better quality of public transport
- Actively interface with elected representatives, municipal corporations to ask them to ensure improvements in the area / infrastructure 
- Enlist media support where needed 
- Provide opportunities to the less privileged 
- Save electricity , fuel 
- Car pool 
- Reduce unnecessary commuting
- Reduce usage of plastic 
- Plant , nurture trees

This is nothing less than a cultural change - at an individual and collective level. Nothing less will do.

Friday, March 13, 2009

End of the day , week..

I'll revert on this by the end of today / tomorrow . 
I'll revert on this next week = I'm buying time until Friday evening. 

I suppose one should be glad that the phrases "end of the month" , "end of the year" have not gained currency yet .

What is it about the 'end of the day' that makes it such a popular response ? What does "end of a day" mean ? Working hours or some moment just before the clock strikes midnight ?

Rare is the individual / company that has the courtesy , capability and attitude to say "I'll revert on this by 3 pm " and does so by 2.30 pm (or even 3 ) .

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Floating rates ?

While signing cheques for various service providers I noticed the fuel surcharge in courier invoices . These were raised when the oil prices shot up in 2008 . No sign of decline after the prices have plummeted thereafter to sub 50 $ a barrel . 

A bit like the interest rates on loans from the world's local bank .

If the idea is to share the risk and costs of underlying costs - then it must work both ways . Increase prices when costs rise . And reduce them proportionally when the costs decline. 

Interestingly none of these companies - the courier companies , the world's local bank attempt to increase value or the quality of customer experience in lieu of premiums over market prices and the underlying costs to which the rates are ostensibly linked .

Increasing prices and then holding on to them desperately is a quick way to boost short term profitability. A lousy way to build long term term relationships.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Happy Holi

Today is a holiday for the spring festival Holi . The urban tradition of blaring (Hindi) film music is on in full swing . With an unfortunate twist . Every building is blaring different songs . If you happen to be within a 10 feet radius of the speaker then you might be able to listen to the song in all it's audio glory . However if you are at your residence you'll hear a random remix of songs from the 70s to current chart busters . Every now and then Amitabh's voice droning what is now the Holi rashtriya geet 'Rang barse' will be heard . It's like an audio kaleidoscope . Move a few inches here or there and the predominant song you hear changes .

Is it any wonder that film song based reality shows are such a draw in India ? If you have a passable voice then you needn't put in any effort to memorize songs. Just relocate to Mumbai ( or do many places in India offer equal opportunity in this regard ?). Just living here will prepare you more than adequately to participate in programs that require you to muster up a song in nanoseconds.

I was quite tempted to record the sounds and share an audio clip. But consideration for readers of the blog stops me from doing so .

Happy Holi.

p.s - As I sign off...a live band has joined the celebrations . No prizes for guessing what tunes they are playing - film songs . 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fabric selling...

There was a time (not so long ago ) in India where the primary way to purchase women's clothing was to buy fabric and get it tailored . Then came along brands , retailers , designers who started offering ready to wear Indian dresses for women . The styling , design and most importantly ease of purchase that this offered to the consumer was enormous . Fabric business started to feel the heat. Yet , when walks into a fabric store there's very little that seems to have changed . It's pretty much reams of fabric displayed or rather stocked . None of the stores I have visited go beyond the visual merchandising (Even the stores that stock hand woven speciality fabrics don't have any information on the merchandise other than the region from which the fabric is sourced). It's largely left to the imagination and resourcefulness of the customer to figure out how best to use the fabric. 

Ready made garments offer the advantage of design , cost , time . Depending on the store policy one can return the garment in case of quality problems . On the other hand - fit remains a problem for many consumers . Design preference is also a factor ( e.g often a garment is otherwise great but will have sequins or beads which make it a problem to maintain ). Both needs will be brilliantly served by fabric sales + tailoring .So there is more than ample room for ready made garments and fabric sales to co-exist , thrive and complement each other.

The fabric is not an end in itself . Without a skilled designer or tailor the fabric remains as potential . Consumers are likely to buy fabrics if they are able to get well fitting , unique garments. Which means the services of a designer / tailor ( the words are not used as synonyms) . None of the stores I have visited show a listing of designers or tailors one can contact . Most don't even have the information available if a customer enquires . In fact some of their customers are designers . Referring them to other customers would earn them good will and increased business.

Most fabric stores seem to prefer the arduous , risky alternative of waiting for consumers to walk in to the store and make the purchase . When a little bit of smart initiative can alter their fortunes.