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M Rajshekhar | March 12, 2005

In a month or two, Raghu Pillai, the head of the RPG Group's retail business, will join Pantaloon Retail. He will head a new home solutions business being rolled out by the aggressive Mumbai-based retailer.

In the mid-1990s, Pillai built RPG's retail business. Under him, the group launched India's first supermarket chain (FoodWorld), first hypermarket (Giant), and other chains (Health & Glow, MusicWorld).

For a while, it was even thought he or Shoppers' Stop's B S Nagesh would be the king of Indian retail. It might have panned out that way, but for Pantaloon's Kishore Biyani.

What will his new role be?

According to a company insider, Biyani is going to open five home solutions stores in the next two years. These will be large, about 200,000 sq. ft each, and will offer everything that people may need for a home -- construction equipment, paints, furnishings, architects, the works.

Property for the first one, in Bangalore, has already been chosen.

Unlike the company's other formats (Pantaloons, Big Bazaar and Central), these will be managed by a new company, a 70:30 venture between Biyani and real estate and construction company Unitech. That is because the new stores stretch beyond conventional retail; one can hire  even contractors or labourers at these stores, says the insider.

Unitech's expertise will come in handy here.

As ever, Biyani is planning big. He will invest Rs 300 crore in the five stores. In three years, the stores are expected to gross Rs 1,500 crore between them.

Pillai, in all likelihood, will join as this company's managing director. However, when contacted, Biyani refused to comment, while Pillai denied it outright.

Nonetheless, Pantaloon sources affirm that Pillai is indeed coming aboard. He is not the only big gun Biyani is hiring. Damodar Mal, the head of HLL's SangamDirect, has already joined as president (foods).

Then, Shishir Baijal, the head of Inox, a multiplex chain, is joining to head Biyani's leisure and entertainment businesses, and to manage all property issues -- including the VC fund Biyani has set up to invest in malls.

Expect to read more about both these announcements in the pink papers on Monday.

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