Category Archives: Retail

Reliance Retail to Rejig Top Deck Ahead of FDI

Ex-Walmart China execs Cissell & Gray set to join as CEO & COO in second reshuffle in two years

The retail subsidiary of India’s largest private company is set for a top-level churn for the second time in two years as the country gears up to open its food and grocery retail market to foreign companies. Reliance Retail has named Rob Cissell, former chief operating officer of Walmart China, as CEO. Shawn Gray, vice-president in-charge of store operations of the same company, will join the Mukesh Ambani firm as COO, the company said in an email to its top executives on Saturday.

The two Walmart China executives will join in September, according to the email whose contents were described to ET by people familiar with it. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the changes had not been publicly announced.

The Reliance Retail spokesperson declined comment.

Gwyn Sundhagul, incumbent CEO of the retail arm who was hired from the Thailand arm of British retailer Tesco early last year, will move to Reliance Industries’ consumer businesses comprising insurance and telecom. “RIL is sharpening its focus on consumer businesses—retail, telecom and insurance—because it wants to balance its portfolio and derisk its core business. You will see many senior-level hires across these three businesses as they are top priority for the company now,” a company insider said, requesting not to be named. He said RIL has no plans to sell out or form a joint venture with a foreign partner if food and grocery retail is opened to foreign companies.

“Both digital and physical retail are priorities for us,” the company executive said. Large-scale expansion will begin next fiscal onwards.

Cissell and Gray have resigned from Walmart China over the last three months. The two were part of the top team of Walmart’s China arm that has around 333 outlets, generating $7.5 billion revenues, or 1.8% of the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company’s total sales of $420 billion last year. Cissell was responsible for store operations, merchandising, merchandise development, marketing and supply chain for all retail and Sam’s Club formats at Walmart China. Before going to China, Cissell held senior positions in Europe with 10 years of senior executive experience in both Kingfisher Plc and Argos. He was also the chief executive of B&Q Plc and managing director of Comet Group Plc. Rocky Ride for Retail Sector

Gray was with Walmart for over 19 years, having spent nearly 13 years in China where he led the team that opened and integrated hypermarkets.

Launched in 2006, Reliance Retail has had its share of ups and downs. It runs about 1,000 stores across formats in 86 cities. It has a line of specialty stores such as Trends, Timeout, Digital, Footprints and Jewels. Its other retail chains include joint ventures with Marks & Spencer, Vision Express and Hamleys.

Like most other organised retailers, Reliance Retail has faced political opposition to its expansion.

The Uttar Pradesh government ordered closure of Reliance Retail operations in 2007 while it was also forced to shut several of its grocery stores (Reliance Fresh) in Kolkata and Jharkhand due to political agitation against large organised retailers perceived as threats to small kirana shops.

Besides, Reliance Retail was hit hard during the economic slowdown in the autumn of 2008 following the global recession. Retailers, including Reliance Retail and Aditya Birla Retail, had expanded rapidly, opening many stores without putting the vital supplies in place. But when the economy slowed, these companies shut hundreds of stores and sent home thousands of employees to stay afloat. Subhiksha, once the largest retail chain in the country, went bankrupt.

Reliance Retail went through a series of restructuring, which ended in a complete clampdown on expansion and the appointment of a new management team from Thailand entrusted with the task of consolidating operations.

CEO Sundhagul led a team of 25 executives, mostly from Tesco’s Thailand arm who joined Reliance Retail two years ago, to streamline operations in value retail formats—Reliance Super, Reliance Fresh and Reliance Hyper—that sell goods such as soaps, biscuits and vegetables and account for nearly 70% of the total sales of Reliance Retail.

Earlier, Sundhagul had helped Tesco Lotus secure market share in Thailand, which once resembled India’s retail market with its freshly-minted organised players competing with a well-entrenched network of kirana shops. “We have cleaned up the company and put processes in place. It is time for speed and execution now,” a company insider said, confirming the two new appointments.


In the recent past, Reliance Industries has unveiled major initiatives in telecom and retail.

Last year, Reliance Industries picked up a majority stake in Infotel Broadband Services, originally owned by Mahendra Nahata of Himachal Futuristics, for close to . 4,800 crore, to offer high-speed data on mobiles and computers.

It is also acquiring Bharti Enterprises’ stakes in two insurance joint ventures with France’s AXA Group to move beyond its core energy business. In an interview to ET in May, Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani had described energy and consumer sectors as the two pillars of his growth strategy. The consumer initiative has major parts, telecom and financial services, he had said.

At the 37th annual general meeting of Reliance Industries in June, Ambani had outlined ambitious plans for retail. “We are positioning Reliance Retail to be the undisputed leader in retailing in India,” he said.

Asserting that the company has already become the largest food retailer in the country, Ambani said all the specialty formats of the company would attain top positions in their respective segments in next two years.

Reliance Retail reported revenues of close to $1 billion (around . 4,500 crore) for the year ended March ’11.

The conglomerate plans to invest aggressively in its retail business and will launch cash & carry, or wholesale outlets, Ambani said. The company had exited cash & carry business in early 2009 to conserve cash in a deteriorating market.

India’s cash & carry market has attracted global retail behemoths such as Walmart, Tesco and Metro. The global giants see it as an opportunity to enter India where foreign direct investment is barred in direct-to-consumer retail.

Ambani also said Reliance Retail already has the largest portfolio in terms of number of formats and 25 lakh customers were shopping at the company’s various stores every week.

The company is also focusing on large formats, with 13 hypermarkets already operational and another 20 under different stages of construction. “As India grows rapidly, transformation is at the top of the Reliance agenda; a talent transformation that will endow Reliance with new competencies in new business domains and attract best talent in India and abroad,” Ambani had said.

Reliance Retail is known to have attracted talent through huge compensation packets in the past, thus creating exit barriers for executives.

In 2006, the company reportedly roped in top performers such as Gunender Kapoor and the late Raghu Pillai at pay packages as high as . 3-4.5 crore, the highest in the industry then. Shanghai-based Marie Jiang, retail analyst with Pacific Epoch, had reportedly said the departures of Cissell and Gray could cause some concern to Walmart China.

“The psychological impact [of the departure of the executives] is seen to be larger than the material as employees of its China operation may see an unstable top management team,” she said. Walmart International grew 11.5% in the first quarter of this year, key growth drivers being markets such as China, Chile and Mexico, the company said in a statement in May.

Walmart entered China in 1996 and now has 333 stores, including 104 stores operated by Trust-Mart, in which it bought a 35% stake in 2007. The retail giant competes with France’s Carrefour and the UK’s Tesco in China.

On The Road? Don’t Miss These 50 Top Shops

The editors of Southern Living pick out their favorite shops from Florida to Texas, Maryland to Mississippi

For Splurges And Special Surprises

1. Neiman Marcus; Dallas, Texas: Visit the first location of the department store icon where high fashion still reigns. 1618 Main St;

2. Tiny Jewel Box; Washington, D.C.: This six-story gem stocks vintage and new jewels, from pearls and diamonds to gold and glass. For the Casual Garden

3. Garden & Home; Pensacola, Fla.: From pots that you can fit in the palm of your hand to gigantic planters as tall as an adult, the assortment of terra-cotta astonishes. 501 N Ninth Ave; 850-439-0640.

4. Garden Deva; Tulsa, Okl.: Find handmade metal furniture and yard art made on-site. 317 S Trenton Ave;

5. Martha’s Bloomers Home and Garden Store; Navasota, Texas: All things garden from seeds and bulbs to pottery and tools fill this great store with a tearoom. 8101 State 6;

6. Eden. A Gift and Garden Store; Nashville, Tenn.: Shop for plants, annuals, and herbs, as well as fabulous outdoor glass baubles and quirky bird feeders to give your garden some personality.

For The Elegant Garden

7. Boxwoods Gardens & Gifts; Atlanta, Ga.: Part nursery and part antiques nook, the ivy-covered cottage boasts garden containers and birdhouses as well as leather picture frames and baby gifts.

8. Southern Homes & Gardens; Montgomery, Ala.: Almost 300 acres brim with plants and decorations, including a 20,000-square-foot shop featuring tree-trimming supplies, holiday china, and collectible ornaments. 3561 Wetumpka Hwy;

9. Garden Architects; Annapolis, Md.: Sophisticated outdoor furniture, water features, and works by Frank Lloyd Wright accent this innovative place. 115 West St; For the Art Aficionado

10. Objects of Desire Gallery; Louisville, Ky.: Contemporary jewelry by international artists keeps company with purses made of unusual fabrics.

11. Tamarack Craft Center; Beckley, W. Va.: Admire the hand-carved furniture, glass, pottery, and Appalachian quilts.

12. Seldom Seen Gallery; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: Loaded with a variety of mementos from a $1 pocket angel to a $10,000 piece of hand-painted furniture, this institution breaks the normal gallery rules and isn’t a bit stuffy. 817 E Las Olas Blvd;

13. Art & Invention Gallery; Nashville, Tenn.: Located in a former garage, the four-room gallery showcases locally made fine art, handmade jewelry, and whimsical crafts.

14. Square Roots; Decatur, Ga.: Take home a bouquet of daisies and a handmade picture frame from the part flower shop, part folk art emporium. 117 E Court Sq;

15. Beans Ferry Pottery; Fulton, Miss.: Known for his Santa Claus ornaments crafted in the shape of Southern states, artist Keith Carpenter makes this gallery a great gift-giving stopover. 427 Justice Rd;

16. Sans Souci Fine Crafts Gallery; Lafayette, La.: This gallery spotlights the pottery, sculptures, folk art, and furniture of the Louisiana Crafts Guild members, including artist Carol Thibodeaux’s ever-popular gourd roosters. 219 E Vermilion St; 337-266-7999.

For Kitchen Gadgets

17. Star Provisions; Atlanta, Ga.: This 4,000-square-foot chef’s market is a gourmet’s yummy dream with fresh bread, wine, and more than 200 types of artisan cheese.

18. Viking Cooking School; Greenwood, Miss.: This Delta store sells all types of cookware, including kitchen furnishings and grilling gadgets. 325-C Howard St; 662-451-6750.

19. Kiss The Cook; Wimberley, Texas: Situated just off the quaint square in a small Hill Country town, the cooking-supply shop sells knickknacks for a few dollars and cooking equipment in the hundreds. 201 Wimberley Sq;

For Antiques and Furniture

20. Westheimer Antiques Market; Houston, Texas: Look beyond the disarray for armoires, dressers, tables, and more.

21. David Tims Antiques; Cropwell, Ala.: Find a bargain at this warehouse of beautiful antiques where there aren’t a lot of tags but you can bet the prices are all good.

22. Green Front Furniture; Farmville, Va.: This array of converted warehouses and storehouses is filled with furniture. 316 N Main St;

23. Stuart Kingston; Rehoboth Beach, Del.: Family-owned for 75 years, the place stocks unbelievable Oriental rugs and porcelain. 1 Grenoble Pl;

For Local Flavor

24. Fiesta on Main; San Antonio, Texas: The Mexican decorations inside (paper flowers and piñatas) go for cheap, while Talavera pottery fills a courtyard right outside.

25. A’Mano; Mountain Brook, Ala.: A combination art gallery and gift store, it sells everything from folk art paintings to jewelry.

26. South of the Border; Dillon, S.C.: This classic tourist must-stop offers 14 shops crammed with every type of souvenir you’ll never need but want. I-95 at the South Carolina/North Carolina border;

27. Mast General Store; Valle Crucis, N.C.: Since 1883, folks have relied on this legendary spot for boots, rocking chairs, maple syrup, and other staples. State 194;

28. Maverick Fine Western Wear; Fort Worth, Texas: Pad your wardrobe with boots, cowboy hats, and other high-fashion country wear as well as turquoise jewelry.

29. New Orleans Silversmiths; New Orleans, La.: Estate jewelry and a great collection of vintage corkscrews can be found here.

30. McCartys Pottery; Merigold, Miss.: Purchase special trademarked “Mississippi River” plates and bowls at McCartys. 101 S Saint Mary St;

For Home Decor

31. South of Market; Atlanta, Ga.: Make your home a showplace with unique lighting, furnishings, and accessories. 345 Peachtree Hills Ave. NE, Suite 100.

32. Elizabeth Stuart Design; Charleston, S.C.: With a mix of antique, mid-century, and new furniture, chandeliers, pottery, tableware, and pillows, this place is a one-stop spot for your home. 314 King St;

33. Design; Seagrove Beach, Fla.: Its upscale showroom is an interior decorating mecca with an entire room dedicated exclusively to rugs. 4281 E Scenic Hwy 30-A;

34. Wharf Hill; Smithfield, Va.: Antique pieces are mixed with modern home and garden accessories in the town’s original hardware store. 216 Main St;

35. Second Chance; Baltimore, Md.: Salvage remnants from chandeliers to old glass knobs fill a roomy warehouse.

36. R.H. Ballard Art, Rug and Home; Washington, Va.: This small boutique has been known to sell original Matisse lithographs from their basement. It’s a bargain. 307 Main St;

37. Coco & Company; St. Michaels, Md.: From antique and vintage furnishings to private label candles, Coco is known as one of Maryland’s best spots to shop. 209 S Talbot St;

38. De Provence et D’Ailleurs; Blowing Rock, N.C.: The store features home decor items and accessories imported from France, including Provence linens and pottery, glasswork from Biot, and Laguiole knives. And, oui, French is spoken here. 131-8 Morris St; 828-295-9989.

39. NOFO at the Pig; Raleigh, N.C.: Browse eclectic home accessories and gifts such as recipe organizers and pink flamingo lamps.

For Gift Giving

40. International Spy Museum; Washington, D.C.: Visit this awesome museum store for walkie-talkie watches, silk houseplants that have hidden cameras, or safes that look like peanut butter jars.

41. Route 66; Oklahoma City, Okla.: From handmade jewelry to good-smelling soaps to cute clothing, unique finds abound here. 1900 Northwest Expy; 405-848-6166.

42. Hové Parfumeur, Ltd.; New Orleans, La.: French milled, perfumed soaps and fragrances are made on-site.

43. The Villa; Hot Springs, Ark.: Clothing, gifts, and bedding–you’ll get it all. 110 Central Ave;

44. Helix; Athens, Ga.: This eclectic shop sells everything from hand-painted pillows to stylish laptop bags. 146 E Clayton St; 706-354-8631.

45. Bathos; Franklin, Tenn.: Batches of all-natural soaps, scrubs, and masks are mixed here. 416 Main St;

46. Panache, The Aromatique Gallery; Heber Springs, Ark.: Bask in candles, soaps, oils, and other elixirs for the home and body. 3421 State 25 N;

For Clothing and Accessories

47. Lois Gean’s; Magnolia, Ark.: This high-fashion boutique, hidden in small-town Arkansas, draws celebrities and socialites in search of designer finds. 109 S Jackson St;

48. The Tiecoon; Dallas, Texas: Men’s things rule at this small store where you’ll uncover cuff links, watches, money clips, shirts, funky gift items, and, of course, ties.

49. Skif International; St. Louis, Mo.: Try on a few asymmetrical, free-form sweaters made by local designers and fashioned to flatter any shape.

50. Sister Dragonfly; Louisville, Ky.: Snatch up baubles at reasonable prices, including fun rings and silver bangle bracelets.

Web Exclusive: Editors’ Picks

We asked Foods Editor Shannon Sliter Satterwhite, Homes Editor Sara Anderson and Garden Editor Gene B. Bussell to pick their favorite shops in the South. Here’s where they like to shop:

Visit Charleston Cooks! to find everything you need or want in a kitchen. Foods Editor

Shannon Sliter Satterwhite says, “Charleston Cooks! is the all-purpose kitchen shop for any level cook. They have gadgets galore, a great selection of appliances, and Lowcountry food products made by local chefs. You can even take a cooking class or watch a demo to learn more about regional food.”

Simple. Comfortable. Elegant. That’s how Homes Editor Sara Anderson describes home decor store Bungalow Classic in Atlanta. “It’s a really fresh, light, and airy space with an amazing lamp collection,”she says. “It feels relaxed, like a beach house, with all these great finds.”

Garden Editor Gene B. Bussell lists Gardens, a fashion-forward Austin store where plants and design-intensive interior pieces rule, as one of his favorite garden shops. “Where else can you buy great plants, beautiful containers, and smoked chocolate at the cash register? It’s a neat store,”says Gene.