Bismi: A Dazzling Retail Brand of Kerala

Kochi: When Ajmal V A decided to open his first store in Kochi, his plan was to offer Malayalis a different kind of shopping experience. Until then Bismi was a household name known for LPG distribution – Bismi Gas Agencies – which was launched in 1984. Today, Bismi has under it seven hypermarkets and 11 electronic retail stores across Kerala. A leading retail chain in South India, Bismi was among the first to provide a unique purchasing experience to customers coming to buy ‘white goods.’It was Ajmal’s farsightedness that helped Bismi’s growth as a leading retail brand. After this engineering graduate made up his mind to join his father-in-law V A Yusuf in business, he purchased a building at Kaloor in Kochi in 2001 and set up his first store, Bismi Appliances Store, which was a huge success. This marked the start of the Bismi saga.

A ‘Kerala retail chain’, which can match any of the pan-Indian brands, is now spreading its wings, leaving the shopaholics in us pleasantly surprised. Destination Kerala presents for our readers the success story of ‘Bismi’ and the brain behind it, Ajmal V A, who is redefining Kerala’s retail space with a chain of hypermarkets and electronics stores, and even mulling an entry into the online domain

“When I opened my first store, there were no other such shops which laid emphasis on giving the customers a wonderful shopping experience. What we were offering was an internationally proven format of providing everything under a single roof,” said Ajmal, MD, Bismi.

After opening its first store, Bismi slowly grew internally until 2006. They increased the range of products available at the store, focused on quality and cost effectiveness and after-sales services. In order to tap the potential of retail market and draw more customers, Ajmal then decided to step into retail in a more serious manner. As a result, he went ahead and opened their next appliances store at Perumbavoor and then at Tripunithura. It was only a beginning and Bismi soon went on to open more stores all over Kerala.

A major turning point for Bismi came when Ajmal decided that he has to reach a wider audience through a different kind of approach. He set a trend by keeping the store open on Sundays also. The Group’s decision to advertise this on popular local channels proved effective and the move received good response. In the early 2000, Bismi also began participating in major retail exhibitions held across the State which, in turn, helped in strengthening the brand’s popularity. Yet another key factor that made their appliances store a major hit amongst the shoppers was the availability of a wide range of products at highly competitive prices.

Bismi decided to give it a makeover by transforming itself from stand-alone stores to hypermarket in 2014 when the retail market segment in Kerala witnessed major changes. The company weighed the possibility of entering food retail for a year with the intention of coming out with something new. The plan was to open hypermarkets in tier-2 cities, and the first one was opened at Alappuzha. The hypermarket was a major success with huge footfall.

Following it, Kerala witnessed the opening of six more Bismi hypermarkets having an area of over 40,000 sq.ft. each offering products ranging from food items to electronic goods to household items to fashion apparels.

“We are planning to open six more stores in Kerala before March 2019. Just four months back we opened our 16th store in Palakkad and in the coming months we will be opening stores in Muvattupuzha and at Palarivattom in Ernakulam. Our initial plan is to open 40 hypermarkets each having an area of 40,000 sq. ft. in Kerala,” says Ajmal.

Today Bismi is the favourite shopping destination of people looking for home appliances, electronic goods, crockery, vegetables, fruits, fish and meat, bakery and grocery items, kitchen utensils, frozen food, home decor or personal products. Bismi ensures customer satisfaction by providing good quality products at affordable prices. Ajmal always prefers easily accessible locations with ample parking space while choosing a location for setting up hypermarkets.

Apart from a variety of popular brands, Bismi also provides its own products through their hypermarkets. Speaking about the products, Ajmal says, “Farmly is our own brand of dairy products.” The milk is organically produced at its farm at Piravom. These products have a shelf life of only 24 hours since no chemicals are added. Moreover, all the products are procured directly from the farmers.

“The other in-house brands include Bismi Pride (food products), Bishome (homecare products), Back Benchers (school products) and Dios (electronic products). We are planning a private label in every category. This will help tap 10 to 15 per cent of the total business in a particular category,” he said. The company has also opened a packing unit for hypermarket products at Nettoor.

When asked about Bismi’s expansion plans outside the home State, Ajmal said, “For the time being we are focusing on Kerala market. But, of course, we have plans to tap the markets in nearby states. Through these 40 hypermarkets, we could employ 3000 to 4000 persons. At present, the company has an annual turnover of Rs. 750 crore and we expect it to touch Rs. 4000 crore by 2022.”

Having set an ambitious investment plan worth Rs. 500 crore, Bismi also has plans to raise capital through Private Equity. “Our ultimate aim is to become a listed company,” he says. As far as retail business sector is concerned, Ajmal adds, “The concept of single-brand outlets has become outdated. Multi-brand outlets also would not sustain in the business for long. In Kerala, retail stores cannot survive on seasonal sales alone. Similarly, what we require are vibrant hypermarkets where hundreds of people would walk in everyday for various shopping needs.”

Bismi is not keeping away from the e-retail boom either. An online portal, www.bismideal.com, is ready in the white goods sector. A soft launch of it has been planned in July.

A wide array of home appliances such as TV and home theatres, refrigerators, washing machines, and air-conditioners, kitchen appliances and crockeries of international and regional brands will be made available to the shoppers through the online platform. Attractive offers and discounts lasting for a day or two will also be available for the customers who make their purchases through the online store.

Ajmal makes it a point to maintain a very positive outlook even when faced with adversities or difficulties in building his business empire. He does not deny that demonetisation and GST had a negative impact on some of his segments. “Although they did not affect us completely, we are still slowly overcoming some of the problems they created. In the long run this will be good. For those who are doing businesses in straightforward manner, these initiatives have brought about clarity. These hurdles could be overcome and running businesses would become smoother with the passage of time,” Ajmal said.

About the current business ecosystem in Kerala, he says, “Kerala right now has a very good business ecosystem. This is a question that I often encounter. I have very good experience running a business here. I am getting tremendous support whether it is from the State Government or trade unions. The only thing that does affect business is hartal. It is like cancer and not good for the industry.”

How does Ajmal feel about opening a mall of his own? “I have not given a thought to it. I do feel that our stores should be maintained as one of those happening locations in an area. But then if we want to set up and run a mini mall-like set-up, we do have the resource to do it. If something like that comes our way in future we may consider it.”

Ajmal also shared his business mantra. “I believe that as business persons we should be reliable and provide best quality products at competitive prices. I also believe that we should always maintain an open mind and take forward good business relations, and it should be a win-win situation for both.” Ajmal is not alone in his journey; his wife Shabani Ajmal is also one of the directors of Bismi.

BRANCHES
Bismi Appliances: Kaloor, Perumbavoor, Tripunithura, Muvattupuzha, Kottayam, Kollam, Kalamassery, Thodupuzha, Angamaly

Bismi Hypermart: Alappuzha, Kaloor, Vytilla

Bismi Appliances and Hypermart: Thrissur, Kozhikode

Bismi Hypermart Electronics and Fashion: Perinthalmanna, Palakkad

 

LEADING BRANDS
Godrej, Sony, Whirlpool, Samsung, Videocon, Onida, LG, V-Guard, Prestige, Philips, Mr. Butlers, Usha, Butterfly, Siemens, Treo, Beetle, Voltas, Preethi, Panasonic, Yera, La Opala, Faber, Havells, Kenstar etc.

 

BUSINESS VERTICALS
Bismi Gas Agencies : Bismi Gas Agencies is the leading LPG distributor of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited since 1984 and is supplying domestic, 5 kg, 19 kg, 35 kg commercial cylinders to all major hotels and institutions in and around Ernakulam
Bismi Appliances: Launched its first showroom near Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium at Kaloor in 2002
Bismi Hypermart: The launch of Bismi’s first hypermart in Alappuzha in 2015 was followed by the setting up of hypermarts in Thrissur, Kozhikode and Kaloor
Bismi Lubes : Bismi Lubes was started in 1999 covering seven districts of Kerala as the first authorised automotive lubricant distributor of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited
Valiyaveettil Industries: A sister concern of Bismi Group, they are the dealers of spare parts like aluminium ferrules, different types of nuts and bolts, and other industrial parts
Unitech Enterprises: Unitech is one of the leading distributors of different types of LPG accessories
Online Store: To be launched soon