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Meet the unassuming Videocon boss
Ranju Sarkar in Mumbai
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November 09, 2007
Last week, when the Videocon [Get Quote] Group acquired Planet M, the music retail arm of media house Bennett, Coleman & Co, it surprised a few observers. But then Venugopal Nandalal Dhoot (VND), chairman of the Rs 13,000-crore (Rs 130 billion) Videocon Group, is known to spring such surprises.

Back in 1994, when Videocon picked up a 25 per cent stake in the Ravva oilfield, people wondered why it is getting into oil exploration. Today, its investment yields the group Rs 600 crore (Rs 6 billion) in cash flows annually, and proved to be a masterstroke.

People were equally surprised when it acquired Thomson's cathode ray tube business for which there were few takers. But sources close to the group say Videocon is quietly working on developing LCD and plasma panels.

Planet M may appear to be a drag on the group, but there could be synergies with its durables retail chain NEXT. "NEXT will launch a range of new IT products through Planet M stores," Dhruva Chandran, CEO of NEXT, said last week.

With 150 stores across 42 cities, Planet M has a turnover of Rs 150 crore (Rs 1.5 billion). Dhoot plans to invest Rs 500 crore (Rs 5 billion) to add 850 stores and target a turnover of Rs 1,000 crore (Rs 10 billion). Dhoot and his executives were not available for comments.

Planet M may not be doing well on a standalone basis, but "it has good real estate value," said Rajeev Karwal, former CEO of Reliance [Get Quote] Retail, adding, "it might have entered these malls at rentals which are a third of the prevailing rates".

The group could also convert some of these stores into NEXT outlets. "They need to do a hell lot in the NEXT retail business. I am not sure how it fits in," said a senior executive with a consumer company who has been tracking the group.

"I am not sure if they can consolidate as the stores are franchisees. People at the stores are equipped to handle music software and not trained to handle consumer durables. I think it's a misfit," added the executive.

NEXT sells durables and private labels under the same brand name through 500 stores in 180 cities. But it would be too early to write them off the Planet M deal.

The Dhoots have done well. Their multi-brand, flanking strategy in televisions has ensured that the group has more than 30 per cent market share with brands like Videocon, Akai, Sansui and Hyundai.

"The fact that they had separate COO for each brand helped and were able to delegate power," added Karwal.

This, coupled with the personal involvement of younger brother Pradeep Kumar Dhoot helped, who often travels 20-25 days in a month, and personally knows and meets most of his dealers.

In tough times, the Dhoots were helped by their backward integration into glass shells, which are used for making picture tubes and provide good cashflows. This business is managed by the middle brother Rajkumar Dhoot, a member of Parliament who also oversees the group's oil business.

"The Dhoot brothers complement well, are very hard-working and involved," said Nabankur Gupta, CEO, Nobby Brand Architect. VND is financially savvy and with old hand SK Shelgikar ensures that the group is able to structure complex deals.

While the group has done well in the television business, the same cannot be said about its appliances business. "With Kelvinator-Electrolux, it has a goldmine but has not leveraged it enough," added an expert.

But marketers feel the group has done well in building the NEXT chain. "It provides an alternative channel, which ensures that its dealers can't dictate terms anymore," added Gupta.

But as margins in durables remain under pressure, the group is keen on foraying into infrastructure (it is setting up SEZs and trying to bid for airport and metro rail projects) which can provide stable cashflows to grow the durables business.

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