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CXOs in Sports: Interview with Arun Barathi, Group CEO, Aventus Retail (Franchise for WHSmith)

An interview with Arun Barathi, CEO, Avenues Retail. WH Smith are the principal sponsors of Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Arun Barathi

Arun Barathi

WHSmith, India’s leading retailer, is the ‘Principal Sponsor’ for the SunRisers Hyderabad. There are a slew of activities being planned by the company to attract the audience towards the game.

Mr Arun Barathi, Group CEO, Aventus Retail, recently spoke to Sportskeeda on his love for sports and the activities that being undertaken by WHSmith during the IPL and beyond.

How big a sports fan are you? What sports do you play/follow?

Like many Indians, I am a big cricket fan but I also closely follow Formula 1.

When did you start following and playing sport?

I started playing cricket right from school days. It was the great pass time for many of us kids, whether it was on the street, gully or the school playground.

Is playing still a major part of your life? If yes, how often do you play these days?

Not that much now but certainly I keep track of the scores.

Which sportsperson inspired you the most as a youngster?

A lot of sportsperson across multiple sports; Prakash Padukone, Mika Hakkinen, Michael Schumacher, Muhammad Ali are some of the names.

Any favourite sportspersons in modern times?

From the present lot, I’ve really been impressed with Usain Bolt, Fernando Alonso and Virat Kohli.

What has been your best sporting moment? Describe it for us.

I think it would be India–Pakistan match at Bangalore nearly two decades ago. The confrontation between Aamir Sohail and Ventakesh Prasad, when Prasad rattled the stumps the very next ball  after after taunting from Sohail following a boundary. That awesome exhilaration, I haven’t experienced that in sports to date!

What do you think is the problem of sports in India?

It is not an easy answer but so tempting to say too much cricket. It probably starts with sports not been seen as career choice for most Indian parents even today, resulting in a lack of a sporting culture and reduced emphasis in schools. Sports governing bodies need to get far better at governance, encourage corporate funding of sports specifically into facility creation and not just ads etc are some issues that can help put India in the top 10 sports powers in the world.

How do you think we could build a sporting culture here?

India is a developing country where securing livelihoods are the most important task to many families. So parents need to see that sports can pay for their children’s and their family’s future handsomely. This will encourage parents to at least throw the dice with sports encouraging schools and institutes to improve facilities.

Global success team or individual can galvanize this process, bring government and corporate money in, sporting bodies will get professional and all this will bring about a sporting culture that does not necessarily be about sustaining livelihoods but other dimensions of achievement, health, better way to spend time etc comes into the mix.

Why did WHSmith choose Sunrisers Hyderabad of all the teams?

SunRisers Hyderabad is an emerging team which has lots of international and national players. It is like our brand which is making its presence felt in the country, we couldn’t have asked for a better partnership to embark into our IPL journey and act as the building pillar to make a mark in this series. Also, Hyderabad has the maximum number of WHSmith stores in the country and it was an apt decision to partner with SunRisers Hyderabad.

WH Smith Sunrisers Hyderabad jersey 2014

WHSmith proudly display their brand on Sunrisers Hyderabad’s jersey

What is WHSmith’s expansion plan in India and UAE market?

As WHSmith franchisee for these regions we have steady expansion plan. We are on track to double our stores in the next 18 months across these regions. As always it is about individual store dynamics and profitability that will guide our expansion.

What are WHSmith’s plans for brand promotion in Dubai during the IPL?

We have identified in store promotions and digital platforms for giving us the best returns for a variety of business and marketing objectives. We have launched a series of special promotions were are giving away SunRisers merchandise and free tickets at our shops to lucky winners, opportunities for people to meet the players etc. Our initiative at Dubai mall at WHSmith shop was a big success where we had invited hundreds of school kids to meet there favourite players, through our social media initiative on Facebook and Twitter people have the opportunity to win signed merchandise by the players.

What’s WHSmith’s IPL marketing initiative in India?

We have identified in-store promotions and digital platforms for giving us the best returns for a variety of business and marketing objectives. We have launched a series of special promotions were we are giving away SunRisers merchandise and free tickets at our shops to lucky winners, opportunities for people to meet the players etc. Additional we provide the customers and patrons with opportunity to walk for the toss along with the SunRisers captain.

How do you to intend to use the IPL to connect with the consumers?

In India, there aren’t too many vehicles that allow you to connect consumers in A,B,C centres across the county barring a few such as the IPL. We identified brand awareness as a key area we need to work on to help with our scale up plans. In both these markets IPL has a tremendous following and brand strength and it offered us the best ROI for our raising brand awareness initiative.

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