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Monday, December 04, 2006

Home-grown retail cos get into expansion mode

As global retail behemoths make a beeline to the Indian market, domestic retail chain promoters are rushing to raise funds to complete their expansion plans. Domestic players like LifeKen, largest pharmacy retail outlets from Bangalore; MobileNXT, country’s first mobile retail chain from Delhi; 24/7, a pharma retail chain from Delhi; and Digital Shoppy, a consumer durables retail chain from Hyderabad, have all knocked at the doors of private equity investors for funds. Sources said both LifeKen and MobileNXT have begun talks to raise around $15 million each. LifeKen has given mandate to Mumbai-based Avendus Advisors. Digital Shoppy, which operates 22 outlets in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, has just concluded a PE placement of Rs 17.5 crore with Leverage India Fund, managed by IL&FS Investment Managers (IIML). Lifetime Healthcare, which owns ‘LifeKen’ brand, has grown to 25 pharmacy retail outlets in Bangalore and three in Chennai, all owned by the company, ever since its inception in April 2005. Lifetime’s plan is to increase LifeKen outlets to 200 in south India by the end of 2006-07 with an investment of around Rs 40 crore. Its plan is to spread wings for an all-India presence with more than 700 LifeKen outlets within the next three years. “Many PE players are keen to pick up stake in these retail players. They are established brandnames in their home markets. Valuations have shot up manifold over the last one year of their operations,” said an investment banker. For instance, Avendus had invested around $5,00,000 in MobileNXT early this year, when the first store was just being set up. “The retail chain now covers around 15 outlets, and is growing fast. Apart from their expansions, MobileNXT is also doing brisk business online, helping it drive up valuations,” said Ranu Vohra, managing director of Avendus. Most of these retail chains are promoted by first-generation entrepreneurs. Digital Shoppy is promoted by A Mahesh Raju, a technocrat from IIT, under Pratyankara Electronics, while LifeKen is promoted by three individuals — MC Kini, A Suryanarayanan and Pranabh Mody, with an equity base of Rs 10 crore. MobileNXT was founded by Romy Juneja, now chief operating officer of the retail chain.

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