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The story of Reliance starts in the 1950s when Dhirubhai Ambani was working as an assistant in petrol pumps and living in a one-bedroom chawl in 1960s Bombay. But this story has been repeated hundreds of times across articles, magazine covers, TV shows, and even movies hasn't it. It would help to sum up the entire back-story with just one of his quotes “I don't believe in not taking opportunities”.
The Reliance of today
Let's fast forward a few decades, and zoom in on where the group stands now. It helps to start with the Annual General Meeting in Aug-2019 where Mukesh Ambani emphasized that Reliance is driven by 3 growth engines- The PetChem business, Reliance Jio, and Reliance Retail. While the PetChem business is still the dominant part of the business, for the sake of this post we will focus on their two younger businesses - Jio and Reliance Retail which are the pillars on which JioMart is being built.
Jiomart or as referred to in the 42ndAGM as “New Commerce Venture” will be a cross-venture using the infrastructure of retail and user-base from telecom verticals. RIL announced that it plans to connect 3 crore offline retailers to more than 20 Cr households under Jiomart using an offline-to-online marketplace model.
In the past few years, Reliance has combined the nimbleness and drive of a young firm combined with the tremendous strength of its war chest to position itself well to win multiple high growth markets. We now try to see how the firm stands to leverage the combined strength of Reliance Retail and Reliance Telecom to win with JioMart.
Reliance started out under Dhirubhai Ambani making polyester yarn for export and then went on the create the brand Vimal, starting on of the first franchising model with the only Vimal stores. This was almost 5 decades ago. In its current form Reliance Retail Ltd. stands tall as the largest retail chain in the country, valued at more than $34 billion.
Reliance Retail has more than 11,000 stores and 50 warehouses across the country. The firm has strategically developed a very strong presence across categories. It serves the household and grocery segment via Reliance Fresh, the Electronics segment via Reliance Digital, the cash and carry segment via Reliance Market, the Fashion segment via Reliance Trends and AJIO, the jewelry segment via Reliance Jewels and the online grocery segment via Reliance SMART. Other than these, they have tie-ups with brands across the spectrum ranging from Armani to Tiffany to MUJI. What this does is gives Reliance a very strong presence across categories creating a formidable retail franchise.
However, unlike the Telecom business where it is acting as a disruptor, if it relies solely on its brick and mortar presence it has the risk of falling into the disrupted camp. Online e-commerce is growing fast in the country niches are developing for almost every country we have described above. With Flipkart and Amazon now beginning to make inroads into Tier2 and Tier3 cities, the time to defend the turf is right now. And like always, Reliance has chosen to defend, by going on the offensive!
So with what do they go to war? Capital certainly helps, and the cash cow PetChem business provides a tonne of it. Presence on ground and brands are another key link. Here too, they are second to none. Touchpoints with retailers help in last mile as well as hyperlocal. The network established via Reliance Market (cash & carry) will play a pivotal role here. And last but not the least, the ~370mm mobile subscriber base which provides the last piece of the puzzle. Let's delve into that in greater detail with our analysis of Jio.
Today Jio will find mention in the pitchbooks of many a startup as a player that opened up the high-speed low-cost mobile internet market, and in a very short period of time radically increased the internet penetration in the country. As per their latest report, they have added 5.6 million mobile subscribers in November, taking its total user base to 369.93 million, which is about 32% of India’s population. While this number is expected to come down a bit on the back of folks with multiple sims abandoning them given the now increasing tariffs, the impact of Jio on India's telecom space is undeniable.
After strong upfront capex in the telecom business and sustaining steady cash burn for the first three years, the firm is now on a deleveraging mission. All of Jio’s fiber and tower arms are now transferred to two infrastructure investment trusts (InvITs)—Digital Fibre Infrastructure Trust and Tower Infrastructure Trust—which will be offered to external investors in the second half of 2020, paring down their debt significantly.
The Jio business has now begun showing strong earnings improvement on the back of higher tariffs and zero outflow of IUC charges, as well as minimal incremental capex spend. It's two major competitors, on the other hand, find themselves in very murky waters. Airtel and Vodafone-Idea are saddled with Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) payouts to the Indian government (which they’re fighting back hard in the courts, but while they may be successful in deferring them, avoiding them looks unlikely). This combined with the already levered balance sheets and the steady loss of customers to Jio has put the future of these players in jeopardy, with Vodafone-Idea now trading in the low single digits.
Overall RIL has turned free cash flow positive for the first time since the December quarter of FY13, with capex declining by 27%QoQ. The fiber and infra asset divestment combined with a stake sale in part of the PetroChem business to Saudi Aramco (which is seeing some pushback from the Indian government) is likely to make the firm's balance sheet significantly stronger in the periods to come. In simpler words, Reliance’s vaults have enough dough for JioMART to 'blitzscale'.
This brings us to the last piece of the puzzle and a factor that will give the firm a significant competitive edge. Its ability to bridge retailers and consumers.
Bridging the Retailer and Consumers:
India's retail landscape stands out globally due to its heavy reliance on the local kirana stores (mom-and-pop). While the obsession of the Indian consumer with price is frequently documented, another very important factor-proximity isn't spoken upon as much, and is believed to be a pivotal part of the customer's purchase decision.
JioMART's pilot phase started in Jan-2020 with 3 locations in suburban Mumbai, with an offline-to-online philosophy. Reliance is looking to deploy 500+ micro-stores across North India in the next couple of months. The users will be able to order online and pick it up from these stores or order from their local retailer. What this model does is partially help with one of the most pressing issues and highest cost-heads in e-commerce: last-mile delivery.
The retailers will be Jio partners getting access to points of sale (PoS) terminals, low-interest working capital, inventory management skills, and GST compliance training from Reliance. Reliance Market which is the cash & carry business of Reliance Retail will be able to provide a mix of Reliance private labels and other FMCG brands to the retailers. This would essentially mean RIL will be integrated across the consumer business value chain.
While organically grown behemoths combined with the partnerships would have sufficed to provide a brilliant edge, Reliance isn't stopping there. What they also have done is made a lot of smart acquisitions that given them access to parts of the business where they are personally weak. These acquisitions which were worth a combines US$2.5bn have strengthened positioning before the launch of Jiomart. Let us quickly take a look at a few of these.
Last-Mile Delivery Logistics: Hyperlocal delivery startups like Grofers & Swiggy and even bigger ones like Amazon & Flipkart are suffering from increasing demands from the delivery persons, with the pain especially strong in peak holiday and festive seasons. To make up for their lack of any major assets in this area, they acquired 3rd part last-mile logistics startup Grab a Grub for $1.5 billion. While this gives a good platform to start given Grab a Grub's presence in Mumbai, Reliance will have to find a way to scale the model effectively elsewhere in the country. This combined with the local kirana partners should make the firm a force to reckon with in the last mile delivery space.
Vendor On-Boarding: Reliance has entered into a ten-year partnership with Microsoft Azure. Jio will offer Microsoft solutions to small and medium enterprises at just Rs 1,500 per month as a package. This deal will start in the first-half of 2020, right in time for Reliance to offer a similar version to their kirana partners, making the cost of acquiring new vendors almost zero.
So that is where we stand today. One of the world's largest markets. And a company firing on all cylinders - distribution, install base, brand, capital, partnerships, and acquisitions to capture the opportunity. From where we stand today, it certianly looks like a behemoth in the making.
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