NEW DELHI (TIP): Despite offers for fresh tie-ups, Sunil Mittal-led Bharti Group appears set to go solo in the retail business and expand the footprint of its EasyDay stores through fresh investments, estimated at Rs 700-800 crore annually. Bharti Enterprises and Walmart, which called off their six-year-old relationship last month, are in the final stages of ending their joint venture for wholesale cash-and-carry operations. The partners had set up 20 wholesale stores under the Best Price brand while Bharti handled the front-end operations through the Easy Day chain.

Although Bharti and Walmart were expected to be among the first movers to tap into the vast retail business in India, the US giant’s eagerness to get a policy regime to its liking is said to be a reason behind the split. At the same time, a joint venture for the multi-brand retail business would have come at a cost as the partners would not have been able to tap into prosperous markets such as Punjab as the state does not permit foreign retailers to set up shop. Punjab has emerged as a hub of sorts for Bharti’s retail foray. Even as regulatory clearances are being sought, sources said, bankers have approached Bharti for fresh tie-ups. But, instead of opting for a new alliance, Bharti is going to expand its presence and look at roping in a partner later.

“The plan is to grow this format further and expand. New investments will continue to come and Bharti Enterprises remains committed to the venture… There appears to be no immediate need for a foreign partner,” said a senior executive, who did not wish to be identified. The executive said that over the years, Bharti’s executives had worked out the details of the retail business and some of Walmart employees are also joining EasyDay.

The list includes Raj Jain, the former Walmart India head, who has now joined Bharti as an adviser. While Walmart and Bharti have ended their JV, the US retail major continues to support Bharti in the business. “They are still supporting the Bharti venture in areas such as logistics and IT. There are a lot of things from Walmart which are embedded with the system. We still enjoy a great relationship,” the source said. Despite the split, EasyDay will source goods from Walmart’s wholesale stores.

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