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Corporate Report

Published on: Oct. 9, 2022, 3:50 p.m.
Landmark Cars on a growth drive
  • Sanjay and Aryaman Thakker: robust business processes; Photo: Sanjay Borade

By Lancelot Joseph. Executive Editor, Business India

This is the Chai Pe Charcha story of 1998. Thirty-two-year-old Sanjay Thakker was having a chat with his young friends and one of them announced that Honda was looking for a dealer in Ahmedabad. They decided to give it a try and Thakker jumped at the idea. That was how the first shop of Landmark Cars Limited was set up at New York Tower in 1998 in Ahmedabad.

“Looking back, it’s with immense happiness that we realise that the gamble worked as today we have emerged as a large, professional setup with 112 outlets across 32 cities,” says Thakker. “The Japanese appreciated the young blood and their courage and helped us bring in a lot of professionalism,” he says.

His father passed away when Sanjay was 11 years old and he grew up in an extended family which proved to be very helpful. Both sides of the family come from business backgrounds, and there were early conversations about growing the family business or venturing into new areas. That left a lasting impression and sowed the thoughts of becoming an entrepreneur in Thakker’s mind. He was just 17 years old when he started working. He set up his first office in a small room in Sewri in Central Mumbai from where the family managed collection of rent and getting encroachers out of their properties.

He quickly ventured into the arbitrage business, taking advantage of the price difference between the Madras and Mumbai stock exchanges. He grabbed the opportunity to build the capital which was subsequently used for setting up Landmark.

Landmark took the major decision to separate management from the dealership, thus empowering the men at the showroom. This is revolutionary since 95 per cent of dealer outlets are looked after directly by promoter families even for day-to-day activities. A majority of dealers own the properties and try to thrive on realty appreciation.

Rajiv Vohra, board director who has been associated with Landmark since the beginning says: “I have always had the highest regard for Thakker, not only as a business person but also as an individual. He firmly believes in separating ownership from management and this set the foundation for growth in the early days. This helped not only attract talent at all levels but also retain it,” says Vohra who was with Honda Cars in 1997 and subsequently joined Landmark.

Debt-free

“Landmark goes with an asset light model with long-term lease arrangements,” explains Thakker. Landmark continues to be debt-free. Group Landmark has a presence across the automotive retail value chain, including sales of new vehicles, after-sales service (including spare parts, lubricants, and accessories), pre-owned passenger vehicles, and facilitation of sales of third-party financial and insurance products.

The company was the number one dealer in India for Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Jeep in terms of wholesale sales for Fiscal 2021 and a top contributor to Volkswagen retail sales for calendar year 2020. It was the third largest dealership in India for Renault in terms of wholesale sales contribution for calendar year 2020.

In Fiscal 2021, Landmark contributed 13.41 per cent (Mercedes-Benz), 5.20 per cent (Honda), 21.63 per cent (Jeep), 5.95 per cent (Volkswagen) and 4.83 per cent (Renault) of domestic sales, as per a CRISIL Report.

Urvi Modi, Board Director says: “Sanjay is extremely approachable and accessible to all, irrespective of their level in the organisation. He is great at time management; he is able to fit in so much into his day that it amazes me.” Modi particularly appreciates the multitasking skills of Sanjay Thakker, who she says is very hands-on, and can think of the micro details of things yet does not micro-manage.

In 2015, TPG was looking to invest in an auto dealer chain which runs on the successful model of China Grand Auto (CGA) and it arrived at Landmark. TPG took a 29 per cent stake by putting in Rs140 crore which helped Landmark expand its portfolio with Jeep.

  • The company is the number one dealer in India for Mercedes-Benz

    The company is the number one dealer in India for Mercedes-Benz

According to the CRISIL Report, currently, there are only a handful of very large dealerships in India with more than 100 outlets and a presence across four to five states in India. Compared with global dealership giants such as Penske Automotive (approximately 320 dealerships across the US and UK, Group 1 automotive (approximately 185 dealerships across the US, UK and Brazil) and Zhongsheng Group Holding (386 dealerships across China), Indian dealerships are still in the development stages with significant room for expansion.

Thakker explains that his company’s focus has been on the fast-growing premium and luxury segments of the Indian passenger vehicle market. CRISIL Research expects the premium segment to grow at a CAGR of 10-12 per cent from Fiscal 2021 to Fiscal 2026, while the luxury segment is expected to grow at a CAGR of 20-22 per cent during the same period.

Landmark recently signed a letter of intent with the automaker BYD, a leading player in the global EV (electric vehicle) market, for dealerships in the National Capital Region-Delhi and Mumbai for their electric passenger vehicles.

Complementary businesses

The Indian auto market was divided between Maruti and other brands, with the former ruling the roost till last year. But now there is a clean shift towards premium and luxury cars. “Our business caters to the entire customer value-chain including retailing new vehicles, servicing and repairing vehicles, selling spare parts, lubricants and other products, selling pre-owned passenger vehicles and the distribution of third party financial and insurance products,” says Sanjay Thakker’s son Aryaman, director of Landmark. “We benefit from the synergies of these complementary businesses as well as increased customer retention from servicing our customer’s various automotive needs,” adds Aryaman, a Warwick Business School product with an MSc in Marketing and Strategy.

“I am a happy user of a Jeep Compass 4x4 which I bought quite recently,” says Shatrughun Jiwnani. “It was a good choice and a pleasure dealing with the team at Landmark. They were very professional and I had a great purchase experience buying my Jeep from Landmark Jeep.”

“As the number one dealer in India in terms of wholesale sales in Fiscal 2021 by sales volumes for new passenger vehicles for Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Jeep and the top contributor in terms of retail sales for Volkswagen in calendar year 2020, there is ample opportunity for new business in other segments by utilising our synergies in complementary businesses. For example, each sale of a new or pre-owned passenger vehicle provides us the opportunity to sell the customer an extended service contract or a financial product such as vehicle financing and insurance. Customers who purchase vehicles from us also entrust us with the servicing and repairs of their vehicles at our dealership’s authorised service centres through products such as extended warranties,” Thakker explains.

Paras Somani – Executive & whole-time director recalls the “inspirational 20 years” with Sanjay Thakker. “He practises empowerment while being approachable and transparent all at the same time with his visionary and democratic style of leadership while his analytical abilities, collaborative partnership, high impact communication and strategic innovation give him an edge,” says Somani.

  • Landmark runs service centres and provides after-sales service and repairs through 51 outlets across eight states

The senior Thakker explains that Landmark has established robust business processes “which assists us in reducing costs and increasing efficiency as well as ensuring faster operationalisation of new facilities”. The company made forays into technology and platforms through its investments in Chatpay Commerce Private Limited (known as Pitstop) and Sheerdrive Private Limited (Sheerdrive). It holds a 9.79 per cent equity interest in Pitstop which aims to be a multi-brand car service and repair provider that focuses on reskilling and training technicians and providing access to the necessary modern equipment and OES and white labelled spare parts.

The company holds a 19.97 per cent equity interest in Sheerdrive, an auto technology start-up. “We believe that the platform will drive transparency, accuracy and velocity of used car transactions,” he says as the company has implemented Sheerdrive’s platform in its pre-owned passenger vehicles business.

Continued to be profitable

Nimish Choksi’s relationship with Landmark goes way back, as he has been a loyal customer for almost 8 years. “The team at Landmark is always available, extremely knowledgeable with a tremendous ‘can do’ attitude,” Choksi says.

Landmark’s total income in the six months ended 30 September, 2021 was Rs1419.7 crore. The company clocked Rs1966.3 crore in Fiscal 2021, Rs2,228.9 crore in 2020 and Rs2,834.6 crore in 2019, says company CFO Surendra Kumar Agarwal. The fiscal 2020 figure reflected dull consumer sentiment coupled with inventory corrections for required BS VI emissions upgradation. The Covid-19 pandemic further impacted growth levels in Fiscal 2021. Despite a decline in revenues from operations between Fiscal 2019 and Fiscal 2021, in line with industry trends, Landmark’s operations continued to be profitable during this period, explains Agarwal.

According to the Federation of Auto Dealers Associations (FADA), the passenger vehicle segment continued its ‘Bolt’ run by showing a growth of 10 per cent YoY and 44 per cent when compared to September 2019. Better availability due to easing semiconductor supply, new launches and feature-rich products kept customers glued to dealerships for getting their favourite vehicles during the auspicious period. The waiting period continues to range between 3 months to 24 months especially for SUVs and compact SUVs which have become the absolute choice for today’s customer, FADA president Manish Raj Singhania says, quoting September 2022 data.

Landmark also runs service centres for Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Volkswagen, Jeep, Renault and Ashok Leyland, apart from providing after-sales service and repairs through 51 outlets across eight states.

  • Our business caters to the entire customer value-chain including retailing new vehicles, servicing and repairing vehicles, selling spare parts, lubricants and other products, selling pre-owned passenger vehicles and the distribution of third party financial and insurance products

Landmark Cars Limited is going public and has already received SEBI observations for its IPO. According to the draft red herring prospectus, the issue consists of a fresh issue of equity shares aggregating to Rs150 crore and an offer for sale (OFS) of up to Rs612 crore. The offer for sale comprises up to Rs400 crore by TPG Growth II SF PTE Ltd, up to R62 crore by Sanjay Thakker HUF, up to Rs120 crore by Aastha Limited and up to Rs30 crore by Garima Misra. The proceeds from its fresh issuance worth Rs120 crore will be utilised for the repayment or prepayment of borrowings. Axis Capital Limited and ICICI Securities Limited are the Book Running Lead Managers and Link Intime India Private Limited is the registrar to the Issue. The IPO is expected to hit the market by Diwali.

CRISIL Research expects overall passenger vehicle sales, including in the mass market and premium markets, to grow at a CAGR of 8-10 per cent from Fiscal 2021 to Fiscal 2026, and reach approximately 4.2 million units by Fiscal 2026. The agency forecasts the premium segment to grow at a CAGR of 10-12 per cent from Fiscal 2021 to Fiscal 2026, while the luxury segment is expected to grow at a CAGR of 20-22 per cent during the same period. Landmark intends to capitalise on this expected growth in demand.

Joining the digital India drive, Landmark has formed a 35-member Transformation Team under the leadership of Aryaman Thakker. “We are not to be swept aside by the disruption, but in a way, we are disrupting ourselves,” he says. The digitisation, using business and data analysis and even artificial intelligence, will enhance revenues for the company.

“As digitisation drives the nation and India takes off, we consider ourselves lucky to be in the business when the auto industry is going to witness exciting times over the next decade or so,” sums up the junior Thakker.

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