VGL, with its vertically integrated business model, and its steadfast focus on the evolving needs of its customers, was able to navigate the disruptions caused by the pandemic better than most. The last year was a true test of our strength and spirit, and I think we can say with some confidence that we have emerged more resilient, wiser and more future ready.
With the adjustments and enhancements that we made to our business model, we were able to deliver a very robust 31% increase in retail revenues to ₹2,515 crores. While the increased consumer propensity to shop electronically did provide some tailwinds, it was the ability of our teams to modify our product mix, improve our storytelling, and make our customer interface more compelling that led to such sterling growth. In FY21, we introduced new product lines that included a range of ‘essentials’, personalised jewellery, and an entirely new channel for beauty products. We also introduced a new mobile application with a simplified user interface and that enabled a ‘two-click’ shopping experience. The engaging content, both on television and live streamed on digital channels enhanced customer connect, and our new loyalty programme went a long way to ensure customer stickiness. Our Budget Pay offerings, continued to allow customers to buy their favourite products on instalments. What is most heartening is that our teams were able to achieve this growth while maintaining strong operating margins.
It was the spirit of our people and their willingness to rise to any challenge that was thrown their way, that was central to the great performance of the company in this most unpredictable year. While keeping the safety and wellbeing of employees as paramount, our teams delivered quarter after quarter of growth. This allowed increments in minimum wage rates, and enhanced payments of overtime, bonuses and profit sharing. Such efforts, and the increased trust of our employees in VGL’s vision and capabilities, enabled us to earn the ‘Great Place to Work’ certification in India, Greater China, the UK, and the US.
Our community engagement continued to make a positive impact on the lives of those around us. We rebranded our ‘One for One’ programme as ‘Your Purchase Feeds’, and I am happy to report that VGL has provided 51 million meals since its inception. During the peak of the pandemic, VGL distributed 2.64 lacs masks in the US, UK, India and China, and also provided 34 lacs meals to people in need through Akshaya Patra in Jaipur. During the year, we also on boarded new NGO partners to enhance the reach of our social initiatives.
At VGL, we are cognisant of the need to conserve and preserve the natural environment. We strive to reduce our environmental footprint throughout our value chain. We became the only SEZ unit in Rajasthan with LEED Platinum V4 certification. The ‘Austin Green Business’ award in the US and numerous other awards corroborate our commitment to sustainability. Our efforts towards a sustainable business extend to energy, water, waste and biodiversity through the strategy to Reduce, Recycle, Reuse and Reclaim.
Good governance is the foundation on which we have built our growth-oriented business model. Our framework of corporate governance is robust and is periodically refined with the Board’s supervision and guidance. VGL was adjudged the Best Governed Company by The Institute of Company Secretaries of India (ICSI) at their National Awards for Excellence in Corporate Governance. The validation of our governance standards has been our consistent performance over the years. You will be happy to know that our Fortune India Next 500 ranking has gone several notches higher from 132 in FY20 to 65 in FY21. We humbly accept these recognitions as a testimony of growing stakeholder confidence in our capabilities.
As I conclude, I would like to thank my fellow Board members, whose insightful guidance has helped steer VGL from strength to strength, in a dynamic backdrop. I also express my gratitude towards all shareholders, stakeholders, and customers whose continued confidence drives us forward. As we continue to deliver on our strategy and build a consumer centric business, I look forward to your continued patronage.
With My Best Wishes,
The year gone by tested the resolve of people, societies, countries, and all of humanity. During such a year, we delivered a robust operating and financial performance – made possible by remaining true to our core values.
We remained focused on our vision of being the value leader in electronic retailing of jewellery and lifestyle products. This meant that: 1) we offer outstanding value to customers ahead of competitors 2) we deliver joy to a large and rapidly growing customer base through omni-channel retail presence and 3) we continue building our bottom-price, sourcing capabilities across existing and new product categories.
In addition to delivering strong progress in business, we are deeply committed to our mission of inclusive growth. Our defined mission is a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) that we aspire to achieve through our flagship program ‘Your Purchase Feeds’.
Over the last year, our commitment to all those who are a part of the VGL’s ecosystem, has only strengthened.
With the well-being of our team as a top priority, we took various measure to keep them safe during the pandemic. Our seamless operations continued to deliver throughout this period. Stepping up to the situation with agility, we realigned our business to meet the shifting customer needs. We also donated masks and meals to those in need.
Our endurance was put to test on more occasions than one and each time we emerged more resilient. In February 2021, an arctic snow-storm hit Texas. Despite the severe disruptions, Shop LC continued operations and deliveries.
As you would be aware, our end to end business model forms the base for our unique market position in key retail geographies of US and UK. Most recently, we launched a proprietary TV channel and website in Germany under Shop LC brand. We will operate with a similar value proposition and cater to a similar customer profile as the US and UK. Our learning over the last few years will benefit us immensely there. TV Channel is still in beta version from a temporary studio. We expect to bring it to our own studios before the end of this quarter.
A strong sourcing network across 30 countries, provides the agility necessary for a fast fashion retailer. Over the years we have diversified away from fashion jewellery and added adjacent product categories in line with spending patterns of our target customer base. We added essential products last year, which was an opportune pivot in the backdrop of the pandemic. Overall, all spokes in VGL’s wheel of business aligned well to deliver strong performance during the year.
Now, coming to our 4R strategy covering Reach, Registrations, Retention and Repeat purchases. This strategy is deeply embedded in our operating model ensuring that our teams are aligned to the Company’s objectives.
During the year we expanded our reach with linear TV and OTA programming and enhanced broadcasts via upgraded HD channels. Contracting with new television channel partners, our overall reach increased to 104 million households. In US, we strengthened our presence on OTT platforms, especially on Roku and YouTube; Upgraded our mobile app to enhance customer experience. In short, we reach customers on every platform that they are on, which includes TV, web, mobile, social and marketplaces.
To improve customer Registrations, we further diversified our product portfolio across fashion, home and health & beauty categories. Also introduced essential items and personalised jewellery. In the UK, Shop TJC, launched a new channel ‘TJC Beauty’, with dedicated product focus showcasing the latest beauty trends and expert opinions. Our deep value proposition and engrossing content drove new customer registrations count to 3.4 lacs for the year compared to 1.78 lacs in the previous year. The total number of unique customers we catered during the year increased 38% YoY, crossing half million mark.
Retention of customers and expansion of lifetime value are important operating metrics. We value our relationships with our customers and ensure greater convenience for them through several service offerings such as Easy Returns, Budget Pay, and Personal Shopper. Well planned holiday season (Thanksgiving and Christmas), with extended order cut-off time, timely deliveries and extended returns period ensured customer delight. In UK, we launched the TJC loyalty programme, ‘TJC Plus’, offering free and express deliveries, extended warranties, and exclusive deals, for a fixed membership fee. During FY21, overall retention rate improved to 51.5% compared to 50% the year before.
The propensity of customers making Repeat purchases on our various shopping interfaces is driven by the increasingly stronger value proposition. We sold an average of 27 pieces per customer compared to 30 pieces per customer the prior year. This parameter bore slight impact of the large number of new customers acquired last year. We aim to deepen our engagement with these customers going forward.
Moving on to top-line performance - In FY21, overall revenue grew by 28% to Rs. 2,540 crores with almost all of it being contributed by the retail business. Retail revenues, increased by 31% to Rs. 2,515 crores. In local currency terms, Shop LC (US) recorded a growth of 22% and Shop TJC (UK) grew by 32% YoY.
FY21 was a grand stress test for the world. The new normal has made global consumers more aware about value-based buying, which has opened a big window of opportunity for us. Our omni-channel presence and continued emphasis on value-focused shopping have helped us strengthen our position in both our retail markets.
The business model has inherent advantages of operating leverage. A low debt structure and low capex generated a passthrough of the Company’s operating leverage to the bottom-line. Gross margins have hovered around the target level of 60%, indicating our ability to expand into new product categories and platforms while maintaining per unit contribution. EBITDA registered a 5-year CAGR of 38.9%, and margins grew by 820 bps from 7.1% in FY17 to 15.3% in FY21. Profits grew at a 5-year CAGR of 46.7%.
Being cognizant of the rapidly evolving industry landscape and swiftly adapting to it is our strength. We have delivered consistently with this approach, by growing presence across platforms, expanding product portfolio, and offering value added services. This is reflected in the numbers on your screen. We expect to continue to improve this mix in the coming years.
Improving profitability on a near stable asset base has helped us report higher return ratios. In FY21, ROE increased to 32% from 26% in FY20 and ROCE expanded to 61% from 46%. Our capex-light business model aids strong cash flow numbers. This allows us to maintain a balance between investing in growth and distributing dividend to shareholders. During the year, we paid interim dividends aggregating to Rs. 17.5 per equity share (pre-split). The Board has proposed a final dividend of Rs. 1.5 per equity share (post-split) which will be put to vote during this meeting, and we hope to garner the requisite shareholder support.
At VGL, a conducive environment not only means the opportunity landscape but also the physical world around us. Even though our direct environmental footprint is quite small, based on the nature of our operations, we are committed to reducing it. I am happy to share that in FY22, ~100% power requirement of manufacturing units in Jaipur will be fulfilled through our solar power capacity of 3.23 MW. Towards afforestation we have already planted ~13,000 saplings in one acre land for a Miyawaki forest. Another similar size plantation is underway now. We have also planted 1,100 saplings in the government schools where we distribute our One for One meals.
Under our flagship One for One meal program called ‘Your Purchase Feeds…’, we continue to deliver a meal to a school going child for every product sold at VGL’s retail channels in the US, UK and now Germany. The program offers more than just a meal, it also helps to feed the hearts, minds, and futures of children.
We are guided by our belief in holistic approach towards sustainability, social responsibility, employee well-being, regulatory compliance, and transparent functioning. As shared by our Chairman, it is an honour for us at VGL, to be recognized by ICSI for our deep and sustained commitment to governance practices.
Market share: In FY22, we expect to continue to gain market share in our existing markets of US and UK with constant currency growth of 16-18%. Over the medium term, we expect this growth to range between 15-17%.
Germany: We plan to fully operationalize our Germany business on TV, Web, Marketplaces, Social and OTT during the year.
Digital: We are continually investing in digital assets and marketing. We expect to launch US ECom on advanced Sales Force Commerce Cloud platform this quarter. We expect all our three businesses to reach 50-50 TV-Digital by FY’25.
Lifestyle: We are expecting to expand textile manufacturing in Jaipur as well as sourcing it from China, Vietnam and Bangladesh. Along with expansion of beauty and home solution products, we expect to reach 50-50 Jewellery and Lifestyle product ratio by FY’25.
Technology: We are in the process of automating our warehouses in US and UK to improve efficiencies and reduce error rates substantially. We are also enhancing our analytics, including AI/ML quickly.
Sustainability: As I mentioned above, we are highly conscious of our responsibilities towards communities and environment. Our One for One Meals program will continue to expand with expansion of piece count to nurture children of our world. With our close attention to environment, we are making every effort possible to rapidly reduce our carbon footprint through reduction of carbon as well as sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.