A Sporting Spirit

Seeking escape from his family business of running a general store Niteen Shah, Director, Total Sports, followed his dream and opened a 400 sq. ft. sports and fitness store, named ‘Total Sports’ in 2003. STORAI profiles his journey.

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“I belong to retail and I love it” quips Niteen Shah, Director, Total Sports. “I was leading a very mundane life till about 10 years ago (2002). Stuck for 20 years in our 80 year old family business of retail, Asian General Stores, which my grandfather had established in 1932. I had joined in 1983, at the age of 20. I wanted to move with the changing scenario in India. Our country had started taking baby steps towards liberalization and modern retail formats.” Says Niteen.

It was this will to do something different that made Niteen take the plunge in the year 2003. He leased out a 400 sq. ft. shop in the adjacent building and opened a sports & fitness store, called Total Sports.

Reminiscing about his early experiences Niteen says,” I had started this business without any knowledge or experience of sports and fitness industry. Dhobi Talav has been and still is the hub for all sports and fitness goods in Mumbai.  There was no distribution system like the one in FMCG industry. So we had to source all goods from other retailers who were also semi wholesalers. I hired one person to manage the store, and we went about sourcing merchandise. We were original in our store design and concept and in the first week of getting into this business I realized I had hit the bulls-eye.”

In the shoes of the customer

Total Sports integrates sports goods, sportswear, fitness equipment and food supplements under one roof. Since 2003, health and nutrition consciousness has grown among consumers. In addition, parents now view sports practice as an important part of imparting all-round education to children – a structural change from the 1980’s and 1990’s where time spent on sport was considered a distraction. Profile-2

“Most parents are keen that their children participate in sports. Chronic diseases have forced many to get into some kind of physical activity and there is a realization that regular physical activity throughout one’s life is the key to staying fit. There is tremendous amount of realization about the benefits of a sports and fitness regime. It is also becoming fashionable to be playing a sport or being a member of some club or gymnasium.” – says Niteen.

Apart from this Media has been playing a huge role in promoting sports and fitness. People get inspired to follow and emulate their icons. “But there are very few open spaces or sporting infrastructure, like the ones I have seen abroad. We need more government support on this front” suggests Niteen.

Educational institutions have a huge role to play. But very few schools and colleges take sports and fitness seriously and in right perspective. ‘Sports is Education’ It cannot be segregated from studies. Sports and fitness as an activity is integral to the overall development of a personality. I wish every child gets an opportunity to showcase his or her skills in this area. It’s my dream to see India turn into a great sporting nation in this world.”

“RAI has a role to play here by pushing the government to act and promote sports and fitness – creating world class sporting and recreation infrastructure and making sports compulsory from early school. Investment in community sports infrastructure can help governments reduce health care budgets by boosting immunity and building healthy minds and bodies. We can be more productive as a nation. Prevention is always better than cure. Can’t we do that?” Niteen asks.

Profile-3Building the concept

Total Sports was started with about an investment of 15 Lakhs spent on interiors, stock and a staff of four people. The store displayed sports goods in an attractive manner and gave direct access to customers in terms of touch and feel and advice.  “Conceptually too, no one ever thought about this category, the way we did. So we had a head start. Customers were amazed as they had never seen anything of that sort, back in 2003.” – says Niteen.

Total Sports offers the widest range of sports and fitness merchandise in the country and are highly respected and recognized within and outside the industry. “Kids and teenagers love just Total Sports & Fitness (TSF) and for them, buying from TSF is cool.” Niteen says.

The growth Total Sports has also been due to innovative strategies and initiatives, including:

  • Introduction of delivery vans which were custom designed and branded. These acted like mobile hoardings and added brand value.
  • Inducting an in-store dietician to help customers achieve their health, fitness and performance enhancement goals.  “Placing a dietician in a retail sports store was something nobody ever imagined. It was very difficult to recruit a dietician initially, as they thought it was not a dignified job, but eventually I was able to convince them.  It worked wonders.” Niteen says.
  • A wide and deep category range –sports goods, sportswear, fitness equipment and food supplements. They also have a separate division for institutional sales, where they do Clubhouse and recreation setups including putting up a gym, steam, sauna, indoor and outdoor game courts, pool, snooker, table-tennis, garden equipment, etc.

To maintain supply-chain efficiencies Total Sports, gets its supplies from owned warehouses located at Bhiwandi, outside the city limits..

Challenges faced

A. Competition from unorganized retail sector – Customers were used to buying piecemeal from unorganized retailers. Over time, Total Sports has built brand  recall and experience. With scale has come supply chain efficiencies and they are now able to provide comparable value for money to the unorganized sector.

B. High real estate rentals – Successful mall developers have started demanding high rentals which are unaffordable to emerging retailers like Total Sports.  They have opted for a mix of high street and mall stores – “We have 3 stores on high streets and 3 in malls” says Niteen.

C. Complicated regulatory processes – From the number of licenses needed to open a store to the multiple taxes applicable to sports goods (Octroi, Cess, Local Body Tax, VAT etc) – compliance is costly and cumbersome.

Impact

From a 400 sq. ft. store in 2003, today there are six stores amounting to a total of 12000 sq. ft. retail space, with a customer base higher of two lakh.  Niteen says, “We want to open more number of stores at the earliest and also promote and support sports in a big way. Our aspiration is to be the best in the field of sports and fitness and continue to promote and create sports and fitness culture in India.”

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RAI
Retailers Association of India (RAI) is the unified voice of Indian retailers. RAI is a not for profit organization (registered under section 25 of Companies Act, 1956), works with all the stakeholders for creating the right environment for the growth of the modern retail industry in India. RAI is the body that encourages, develops, facilitates and supports retailers to become modern and adopt best practices that will delight customers. RAI has a three charter aim of Retail Development, Facilitation and Propagation.