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IT's UniverCell appeal: Sathish Babu

Shubhra Rishi | Jan. 16, 2014
In the last 13 years, that gap grew into UniverCell, a Rs 1,000-crore mobile retail chain, with 450 stores in 300 locations, that sells three times more phones than any of the other large retailers in the country, says Babu. But now Babu is faced with another challenge: To ensure mobile retailing stays relevant in the age of e-commerce--and grow UniverCell into a Rs 10,000 crore company by 2020. IT, he says, was key to getting UniverCell to where it is today and it will help it get to the next milestone.

CIO: You give IT a lot of credit for UniverCell's success.

Sathish Babu: Today, we are a Rs 1,000 crore company. It would be inappropriate not to give IT a fair share of the credit for UniverCell's consistent growth and success. Even during the inception years of the UniverCell brand, we needed to know more about our customers; what models they liked, and what time of the day they had a tendency to buy more. Therefore, we invested in technology, which at the time, wasn't very affordable. We introduced a central server system to connect our stores when most other companies relied on fax machines to communicate. Looking back, I have to say that our early investments in IT paved the way for a better future. Today, we have a dedicated team that looks after IT deployments. We have already implemented an ERP system that ties all our stores and enables the exchange of real-time data.

CIO: Are you depending on IT to get to the next milestone?

Sathish Babu: We want to become a Rs 10,000 crore company by 2020, that's a 30 percent year-on-year growth. With 100 new stores in the pipeline, we will grow to 550 outlets this fiscal. We are investing in IT and we plan to connect all these stores using an ERP platform. We have new format stores such as SYNC to improve customer experience. We want to build a system of intelligent connects with the customer that will enable us to identify the customer the moment he enters our store. In this age of cashless transactions, we are looking at investing in wireless IVMs (intelligent vending machines) that will provide customers with a seamless shopping experience. This means our investment in IT is only going to increase.

CIO: Isn't it true that advertising was also crucial to your success? What's your take on digital advertising?

Sathish Babu: I used advertising as a medium to get quick recognition and increase UniverCell's brand awareness among consumers. We started by advertising in the classifieds section of Tamil dailies and that propelled phone inquiries. We gradually moved to press and television. Between 2 to 3 percent of our sales budget is set aside for advertising.

Today, digital has expanded our reach to customers, both old and new. It is a cost-effective way to create traction for our brand and allow easy access to the younger, under-30 crowd. During festivals, we indulge our online customers with several offers that allow them to either buy online or visit our stores. I take inspiration from countries like China and Vietnam where a number of large retailers are moving away from television and are increasing digital spends. We are taking a similar position. While it's true that digital outreach is still very nascent, we will continue to leverage it in order to stay relevant to customers.


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