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International Fashion Brands in India – 2011: Auguring a New Wave

February 7th, 2011 by Tarang Gautam Saxena

It has been almost two decades since the government in India re-opened the economy to international investors and brands. During the first dozen years or so, apart from a single visible bump in 1995, every year had a steady dribble of fashion brands coming into the country. It was not until 2005 that this rate accelerated to over 20 international fashion brands entering the Indian market annually, even as the existing brands grew their own retail footprint in the market.

2008 and 2009 were both slightly damp by comparison, reflecting the global economic sentiment, but we were optimistic as we laid out our expectations for 2010. While writing the previous version of our research report released a year ago, we felt that 2010 was going to be promising and it could well be a “curtain-raiser for a new decade of growth for international fashion brands in India”.

The increased bustle in the market has endorsed our forecast. Though initially slow, the growth of new international brands entering the Indian market in 2010 bounced back with the same vigour as before the downturn. Some brands that had exited the Indian market earlier also made a comeback as in the earlier years.

The Entry Strategies In 2010

The most preferred entry route for the international fashion brands entering India in 2010 has been franchise or distribution, with more than half the brands selecting this strategy that allows high control over the product and the supply chain with less intensity of involvement at the front-end. There are two discernible categories of brands that are picking this route: firstly, brands that are usually distributed through department stores and multi-brand independent stores in their home market and other markets, but also those brands that are as yet unsure of their capability to engage intensively with the Indian market. Franchising remained a popular choice in 2010 particularly for the brands looking to test the market or operating in niche or luxury segments.

Routes chosen by international fashion brands to enter the Indian market in 2010

Some brands taking this route for entering the Indian market include Forever 21, Etro, Tom Ford, and Ladybird, amongst others. However, a number of brands that entered in 2010 (nearly 40% for the new entrants) also showed that they wanted a piece of the action through some degree of ownership (whether through a majority or minority stake in a joint venture or through a wholly owned subsidiary). Some – such as S. Oliver – also switched to joint-ventures from their earlier franchise structure.

Under the current regulations governing foreign investment into retail, several companies that typically want control operate either through 100% subsidiaries that sell to independent retail franchisees , or through 51:49 joint-ventures that operate the stores as well.

We are finding increasing signs among companies of a confidence in the market, a growing comfort with the operating environment, and a desire to own and control the direction their brand takes in a strategic market like India. it is likely that if the government decides to allow 100% FDI in single brand retail, several brands will opt to set up wholly-owned subsidiaries that control the entire chain of activities, source-to-store.

International brands opting for the ownership in the Indian venture included OVS (Italy’s Gruppo Coin), Yishion (China) and Chicco (Italy).

International fashion brands launched in India in 2010

Fast Fashion for the Family

Amongst the new launches, a highlight of the year was the launch of the most awaited and discussed-about brand Zara. The first store was launched in Delhi with menswear, womenswear and childrenswear, followed by a store in Mumbai, and a third again in Delhi. While almost every other brand launches with an advertising blitz, Zara – in its usual fashion – needed none. The news buzz it generated created enough traffic to provide record sales during the first few weekends. It was also instrumental in generating 30-40% more footfall in the malls where it opened.

Inditex was certainly one of the brands looking for control, and has formed a 51:49 joint venture with the Tata Group’s retail business, Trent. For now the company has adopted its global supply chain for the Indian market as well which clearly adds cost and time to the supply chain. The merchandise is imported from the central distribution centre in Spain, and includes products manufactured in the Indian subcontinent. Competing brands in the industry have raised questions about Zara being able to build a successful and sustainable business in India just on the back of rapid fashion changes, at prices that are not quite “competitive”. However, the brand is reportedly aware of the struggle in building a successful business around import-led sourcing model and is seen to have planned growth conservatively.

Another southern European value fashion brand, OVS Industry, was launched last year by Oviesse through a joint-venture with Brandhouse Retail from the SKNL group. OVS Industry also offers a range for men, women and kids. While in the first year products have been imported from Italy, the company says it intends to bring in the merchandise directly from the supply source for speed and cost effectiveness, to achieve aggressive growth over the next five years.

Multi-Brand Platforms, Larger Stores

International brands have been drawn to India by its large “willing and able to spend” consumer base and the rapidly growing economy, but so also are Indian companies – manufacturers or retailers – who are ready to act as platforms for their launch.

Given the current restrictions on investment into retail operations, Indian companies are increasingly setting up large multi-brand outlets for an array of international brands under one roof. This allows the Indian franchisee to share overheads among many brands, and also negotiate harder for shopping centre space that is increasingly unaffordable. However, the idea is not only to gain from the operational efficiencies and cost efficiencies, but also to capture a higher share of the wallet of the consumers walking into the stores.

Even those Indian companies that are already retailing their own brands in a particular category are seeking franchise or distribution relationships with international brands, in order to capture a complementary segment of consumers or to offer a larger choice-set to their existing consumers.

For instance, Reliance Brands has partnered with some well known premium to luxury fashion and lifestyle brands. In 2010 alone, it brought Diesel, Paul & Shark and Timberland to the Indian market. On the other hand Maxwell Industries’ relationship with Eminence, a French innerwear brand, has allowed it to address the premium segment in which it was not present, and to compete with other international players such as Jockey, Triumph, Hanes, Fruit of the Loom and others.

RPG Group’s Spencer’s Retail, one of the pioneers of modern retail in the last two decades is looking at increasing the share of its apparel business. Apart from its private labels, Spencer’s is also actively seeking to grow its international brand portfolio quickly. Following up on its launch of Beverly Hills Polo Club in 2008, Spencer’s introduced Ecko Unltd (a youth fashion brand) in 2010. It has also become the platform for the British childrenswear brand Ladybird in its second coming to India.

While the emergence of large multi-brand franchise outlets is driven by Indian franchisees looking to optimise their businesses, the brands themselves are also looking at larger store sizes that are gradually becoming comparable to their stores elsewhere. For instance, the American brand Forever 21 launched with 10,000 square feet for only women’s western clothing and accessories. Similarly, Zara launched its business with a 14,000 square feet store. Larger stores are allowing brands to increase the efficiency of their operations, maximise the visual impact, and increase the speed at which they can achieve critical mass in the country.

Beyond Europe and the US

While European and American brands clearly dominate, 2010 also saw brands from China, Japan and Turkey making inroads to the Indian market.

China’s apparel retailer Yishion launched a 51:49 joint venture with a distribution company, Upmarket Group. Yishion is aiming at rapid growth in the mid price segment in India through own stores and multi-brand outlets (MBOs).

Turkish brands Tween, ADV and Damat from the Orka Group have been brought to the market by Blues Clothing Company, a mid-sized retailer of fashion apparel that also distributes brands such as Versace, Corneliani and Cadini.

The Strategy Shifts & Changing Structures

In the past the international brands have undergone changes in their strategy and operating structures to suit their current context and changing environment. Last year was not an exception to the correction and some brands did undergo a change in their approach and strategy for the Indian market.

Italian denim brand Energie exited the market and their partnership with Reliance Brands in 2007. However, in 2010, the Miss Sixty group entered into a licensing agreement with Arvind Limited which relaunched Energie as part of its portfolio of international denim brands. Arvind already had international brands catering to the mass and the middle segments of the denim market, and with the launch of Energie, it has achieved brand presence in the super-premium category as well.

Another notable denim brand that re-entered the market in 2010 was GAS, also from Italy. After it fell out with Raymond, the brand investigated other relationships, and finally decided to set up a fully-owned subsidiary. The brand was re-launched with one flagship store and through various shop-in-shop counters at Shoppers Stop, the department store chain.

The second attempt of the Germany-based casualwear apparel brand Lerros owned by the House of Pearl was ill-timed in 2008. With business coming up below expectations, the company decided exit the business in India. But instead of exiting the market, it granted the license to manufacture, retail and distribute Lerros to the maker of the Indian denim brand Numero Uno. With a complementary product mix, the principal and the licensee are looking to achieve greater success together.

Another brand that has undergone a shift in its strategy and the operating structure is the Italian brand Zegna, a world leader in luxury menswear. It was first introduced in the Indian market early on in the decade through a franchise arrangement. In 2005 with 51% FDI being allowed the Zegna Group invested in taking a majority stake in its Indian operations. Last year the brand entered into a joint venture with Reliance Brands Limited with the objective of ramping up its India operations and capturing a larger share in the Indian luxury market. For Reliance, it was a great addition to its international brand portfolio.

Compared to 2009, 2010 witnessed hardly any exits, Aigner being one.

Strategies for Growth and Prospects For 2011

Overall the year 2010 has been very positive and the pace of new brands entering the market is picking up. Those already present in the market, have been adapting their strategies to grow their India business. The growth strategy for international brands has revolved around lowering the prices and entering new segments.

The brands that have rationalised their pricing last year to attract more customers include Adams Kidswear. Previously priced significantly higher than the market leaders in that segment, Adams is looking to change its sourcing strategy and source a part of its product range locally. Similarly, having tasted success in the previous year, The Body Shop not only rationalised prices for more products in 2010, but also introduced new products at lower price points.

Another notable trend last year was the focus of international brands on Tier 2 and 3 cities. Marks & Spencer unveiled its plans to enter Tier 2 cities such as Jaipur and Chandigarh and grow its national footprint. Reebok, Adidas, Ed Hardy, Tommy Hilfiger, The Bodyshop and Puma are amongst those that have stated their intent to further expand to such cities. The success of adopting these strategies is bearing results already and the momentum is likely to build further as others follow.

For international brands, as for Indian brands, significant challenges remain in the path of growing their business.

At the base level is drumming up adequate demand. While India is often compared with China because of similar size of population, the fact is that urban discretionary incomes and the concentration of spend are far higher in China. This reflects in the speed with which brands have been able to ramp up in the two countries. For instance, Mango entered the two markets around the same time. However, a the end of 2010, the network of stores in India was only a tenth the size of the store network in China (100-plus), with over 200 more stores projected to open in 2011.

In scaling up, the lack of affordable good retail locations is one of the other biggest hurdles. With the slow growth in 2008 and 2009, brands are significantly more cautious in signing up space at high rentals.

Future challenges also remain more at the internal operational level. Retaining adequately trained front-line staff is an issue. Not only does the increasing number of international brands increase the competition for the employee pool, so also does growth in other segments of the economy and it is tough to sell retail as an employment option of first-choice.

We expect prices to become more realistic, but also operational efficiency to be a driver. Clustering of stores for efficient management, a concerted drive towards lower cost locations and variable (revenue-linked) payments to landlords are likely to be critical in driving better performance. We also expect many brands to seriously consider scaling up the network to provide critical mass to their business, which can also drive local sourcing of merchandise or direct shipments to the Indian business from Indian and other Asian sources.

If the Indian Government announces further relaxation in the foreign ownership norms, we would expect more brands to take equity stakes in the business in India, including the entry of those that wish to operate fully-owned subsidiaries. However, with many different signals from various arms of the government it is best not to try and read the crystal ball too closely on that issue.

Despite challenges and barriers, the market is far from being saturated right now as newer product segments and product lines create ever-newer needs. With India being one of the few large economies showing consistently strong performance, many more are considering the Indian market seriously. Among the ones reported to be interested in launching are GAP, Uniqlo and Polo by Ralph Lauren.

The market may become more segmented and even fragmented with a plethora of international brands being available.

The largest brands currently include Levi Strauss and Reebok which are both reportedly well past the US$ 100 million mark in India, but the race for market leadership is still well and truly on. No matter which brand comes out ahead the winner, without a doubt, will be the consumer.

(To know more about how Third Eyesight could help your business in exploring the Indian market please click here: India Entry)

Posted in Apparel, Branding, Consumer, Footwear, India, Lifestyle & Fashion, Market Research, Marketing, Retail, Soft Goods, Strategy, Textiles, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Franchising International Fashion Brands

March 19th, 2010 by Tarang Gautam Saxena

India has been consistently rated amongst the top destinations for consumer businesses year after year. While international fashion brands had earlier entered India at a steady pace, there was a greater surge of the global brands in the Indian market since 2002.

Interestingly many international brands opted to choose the franchise route for their entry into India. There were changes in the market environment and government policies that made the business environment favourable for growth through franchising.

Firstly, as a signatory of the WTO, India reduced import duties consistently. Consequently products could be sourced from other countries at more competitive prices and international brands could create an internationally-consistent product offering, with greater control on the supply chain.

Secondly, with more international brands vying for a share of consumer’s wallet, there was a need for brands to create a distinctive brand identity. Exclusive branded outlets increasingly became a marketing tool through which the brands could not only showcase a complete product range but also create the full brand experience.

Simultaneously the real estate market grew significantly, bringing in many “investors” who did not have the capability or the desire to develop their own brand. The availability of potential master franchises ready to invest capital and real estate created an environment conducive for growth of franchising.

As per Third Eyesight’s report (“Global Fashion Brands: Tryst with India”), by the end of 2008, just under half of the brands were present through a franchise or distribution relationship.

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Unlike more developed markets where brands have sizable networks of large-format store as a launch and growth platform, in India there are still limited choices to simply “plug-and-play” using department stores or any other large-format retail network. Also, having a local partner as a franchisee provides a closer understanding of the market and the ability to adapt to changing consumer needs.

For a successful relationship it is vital that a franchisee should have an entrepreneurial mind-set. The essence of the brand needs be well understood, and the franchisee must have operational involvement rather than a “passive investment” approach.

The question is whether franchising would continue to remain the preferred entry mode as a new decade starts. Liberalisation of foreign investment norms has already led to many brands transitioning into a joint venture or subsidiaries. (See the more recent version of the report on International brands in India.)

However, while for many international brands it would be ideal to have ownership and control over the operations in a strategic market like India, direct investment does also increase their risk and the investment is not financial alone.

Therefore, for many brands, franchising would still remain the more practical choice whether by using a national master franchisee or using site-specific franchise relationships in combination with a direct wholesale presence in India.

[If you are working for a company looking entering the Indian market, you may be interested in looking at our list of services > India Entry.]

Posted in Apparel, Footwear, India, Lifestyle & Fashion, Marketing, Retail, Soft Goods, Strategy, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Brand Immortality and Reincarnation

January 18th, 2008 by Devangshu Dutta

The entertainment business suggests that nostalgia is a very powerful driver of profit.

It is quite clear that retro is “in”. The movie business worldwide is full of sequels, prequels, re-releases and remakes. The music business is ringing up the cash registers with remixes and jukebox compilations.  Star Wars and Sholay still have a fan following. ABBA has leaped across three decades, Hindi film songs from 30-60 years ago have been given a skin-uplift by American hip-hop artists, while Pink Floyd is hot with Indian teens along with Akon and Rihanna.

As copyright restrictions are removed from the works of authors long-gone, the market gets flooded with several reprints of their most popular writings. Of course, we know that classic literature survives not just a few years but even thousands of years. Examples include the still widely-read 2,500-year-old Indian epic Ramayana by Valmiki, the Greek philosophers’ works that continue to be popular after two millennia and the Norse legends that have been told and re-told for over a thousand years.  Spiritual and religious leaders’ writings are also recycled into the guaranteed market of their followers and possible converts for a long time after their passing away.

On the other hand, the basic premise of today’s fashion and lifestyle businesses is that silhouettes, colours and design-cues will become (or be made) obsolete within a few weeks or a few months, and will be replaced with new ones.   This principle is true not just of clothing and footwear, but is applied to home furnishings, furniture, white goods, electronics, mobile phones and even cars.  In fact, the fashion business (as it exists) would find it impossible to survive if customers around the world chose only classics which could be used for as long as the product lasted in usable form.

What Fashionability Means for Brands

Other than individual styles or products falling out of favour, as fashions move and as the market changes, it is evident that some brands also become less acceptable, are seen as “outdated” and may also die out as they lose their customer base.

Of course, that some brands become classics is quite apparent, especially in the luxury segment where brands such as Bulgari have survived several generations of consumers, and continue to thrive.

However, the past is of relevance to the fashion sector because, other than planned or forced obsolescence, the fashion business has also long worked on another principle – that trends are cyclical.

Skirts go up and down, ties change their width, and the colour palette moves through evolution across the years.  A style formula that was popular in the summer of a year in the 1970s might be just right in another summer in the first decade of the 21st century.

So, the question that comes up is whether the same logic that is applicable to individual products, styles and trends, could also be applied to brands.

The answer to whether apparently weak, dead or dying brands could be brought back to life is provided by brands such as Burberry’s, Lee Cooper and Hush Puppies.  Sometimes innovative consumers create the opportunity – as with Hush Puppies in the 1980s – while in other cases (such as Burberry’s, Volkswagen’s Beetle, or Harley Davidson), vision, concerted effort and resources can make the brand attractive again.

The question then is not whether brands can be relaunched – they can. The more important question for brand owners is: should a brand be relaunched. And using the logic of the fashion business, rather than being left to linger and then dying a painful death, could brands be consciously phased-out and later brought back into the market as the trends change?

The Brand Portfolio – Diversifying Opportunities and Risks

These questions are particularly important for large companies, or in times when market growth rates are slow, or when the market is fragmented. Organic growth can be difficult in all these scenarios, and companies begin to look at developing “portfolios” by acquiring other businesses and brands, or by launching multiple brands of their own.

The car industry worldwide has lived with brand portfolio management for long. Even as companies have merged with and acquired each other, the various marques have been retained and sometimes even dead ones have been revived.  The companies generally focus the brands in their portfolio on distinct customer segments and needs (such as Ford’s ownership of “Ford”, “Volvo” and “Jaguar”, or General Motors with its multiple brands), and then further play with models and product variants within those.  When things go right portfolio strategies can be quite profitable, but the mistakes are especially expensive. Sensible and sensitive management of the portfolio is absolutely critical.

In the fashion and lifestyle sector, the players who already follow a portfolio strategy are as diverse as the luxury group LVMH, mainstream fashion groups like Liz Claiborne (with brands in its portfolio including Liz Claiborne, Mexx, Juicy Couture, Lucky Brand Jeans) and LimitedBrands (Limited, Victoria’s Secret, La Senza etc.), retailers such as Marks & Spencer (with its original St. Michael’s brand having given way to “Your M&S”, and also Per Una) and Chico’s (Chico’s, White House | Black Market, and Soma Intimates) who wish to capture new customer segments or re-capture lost customers.  Some of these companies have launched new brands, some have relaunched their own brands, and some have even acquired competing brands.

The issue is also relevant to the Indian market, whether we consider Reliance’s revival of Vimal, the new brand ambassador for Mayur Suitings, or the PE-funded take over of Weekender.  As the market begins evolving into significantly large differentiated segments, branding opportunities grow, and so will activity related to existing or old brands being resurrected and refreshed. An additional twist is provided by Indian corporate groups such as Reliance, Future (Pantaloons) and Arvind that are looking to partner international and Indian brands, or grow private labels to gain additional sales and margin.

The issue also concerns those companies whose management is attached to one or more brands owned by them which may not have been performing well in the recent past, but due to historical or sentimental reasons the management may not like to close down or sell them.

It is equally critical for potential buyers who would like to take over and turn brands around into sustainable profits. This is a real possibility in this era of private-equity funds and leveraged buyouts, where a company or a financial investor might find it cheaper and more profitable to take over an existing brand and turn it around, rather than building a new brand.  This is already happening in the Indian market. More interestingly, Indian companies have also already acquired businesses in the USA and Europe, and the potential revival or relaunch of brands is certainly relevant for these companies as well.

When to Recycle and Reuse

Relaunch or acquisition of an existing active or dormant brand can be an attractive option when building a portfolio, or when a company is getting into a new market.

For the company, acquiring an existing brand is often a lower cost way to reach the customers, and also faster to roll-out the business. The company may assess that the brand already has an existing share of positive customer awareness that is active or dormant, and that the effort and resources (including money) needed to build a business from that awareness will be much less than that to create a new brand.

The risk of failure may also be lower for a relaunched brand than for a new brand.

This is because the softer aspects, the hidden psychological and emotional hooks, are already pre-designed. This provides a ready platform from which to re-launch and grow the brand.

From the customer’s point of view, there is the confidence from previous experience and usage, and possibly also nostalgia and comfort of the ‘known’.

‘Age’ or vintage is respectable and trustworthy. This is especially powerful during volatile times or in rapidly changing environments when there is uncertainty about what lies in the future, and makes an existing brand a powerful vehicle for sustaining and growing the business.

On the Downside

However, when handling brands it is also wise to keep in mind the cautionary note that mutual funds issue: “past performance is no indicator of the future”.

In re-launching active or dormant brands, there is also a downside risk.  While the brand may have been strong and relevant in its last avatar, it may be totally out of place in the current market scenario.  The competitive landscape would have shifted, consumers would have changed – new consumers entering the market, old consumers evolving or moving out – and the economic scenario itself may now be unfriendly to the brand.

Also, the “awareness” or “share of mind” may only be a perception in the mind of the person who is looking to re-launch the brand, and the consumer may actually not care about the brand at all.  There are instances where the management of the company has been so caught up in their own perception of the brand that they have not bothered to carry out first-hand research with the target segment to check whether there is actually an unaided recall, or at worst, aided-recall of the brand. They are imagining potential strengths, when the brand has none.

It is also possible that, during its last stint in the market, the brand may have gathered negative connotations – consumers may remember it for poor products or wrong pricing, the trade may remember it for late deliveries, vendors may remember it for delayed payments…the list goes on. In such a scenario, it may be a relaunch may be a disaster.

So how does one know whether to resurrect a brand, or to reincarnate it in another form, and when to just let it die?  The answers to that lie in answering the question: what is a brand? And then, what is this brand?

A Critical Question: What is a Brand?

Even in these enlightened marketing times, many people believe that the brand is the name. They believe that once you advertise a name widely and loudly enough, a brand can be created. Nothing could be further from the truth.  High-decibel advertising only informs customers of the name, it cannot create a brand.

If we put ourselves in the customer’s shoes, a brand is an image, comprising of a bundle of promises on the company’s part and expectations on the customer’s part, which have been met.  When promises are delivered, when expectations are met, the brand develops an attribute that it is defined by.

The promise may be of edgy design (think Apple), and the customer expects that – when the brand delivers on the promise and meets the expectation the brand image gets re-affirmed and strengthened. However, these attributes are not always necessarily all “positive” in the traditional sense. For instance, a company’s promise may be to be low-cost and low-service (think Ikea, or “low-cost airlines”), and the customer may expect that and be happy with that when the company delivers on that promise.  The promise may be products with a conscience (think The Body Shop), which may strike a chord with the consumer.

What that brand actually stands for can only be created experientially. Creating this image, creation of the brand, is a complex and step-by-step process that takes place over time and over many transactions. Repetition of the same kind of experience strengthens the brand.

The brand touches everything that defines the customer’s experience – the product design and packaging, the retail store it is sold in, the service it is sold with, the after-sales interaction – all have a role to play in the creation of the brand.

For instance, to some it may sound silly that market research or how supply chain practices can help define a brand, but that is exactly how the state of affairs is for Zara.  Changeovers and new fashions being quickly available are what that brand is about, and it would be impossible for Zara to deliver on that promise without leading edge supply chains, or a wide variety of trend research.

Similarly, it may sound clichéd that your salesperson defines the brand to the consumer, but even with the best products, extensive advertising, and swanky stores, for service-oriented retailers everything would fall apart if the salesperson is not up to the mark. This is indeed a sad reality faced by so many of the so-called premium and luxury brands.

Of course, brand images can be changed or updated, but the new image also needs to be reinforced through repeated action, a process just like the first time the brand was created.

Reviving a Brand: the New-Old Seesaw

Given that a brand is created over multiple interactions and repetitive delivery of certain attributes, it is only natural that the older the brand, the more potential advantage it would have over a new brand.  Just the sheer time it would have spent in the market would give an old brand an edge.

An old brand can appear to be proven, experienced and secure, while a new brand could be seen as untested, raw and risky.  An old brand may have had a positive relationship with the consumer, but may have been dormant due to strategic or operational reasons.  In this case, reviving the brand is clearly a good idea.  There is already an existing awareness of an older brand, which can act as a ready platform for launching the same or a new set of products or services.  Often, there may be a connection with the consumer’s past positive experience of the brand.

On the other hand, a new brand may appear to be fresh, more up-to-date and relevant, and vigorous, compared to an old one that may be seen as outdated and tired.  Certainly, if nostalgia had been all that brands needed to thrive, then old brands would never die and it would be difficult to create new brands.

Clearly, there is no single answer to whether it is a good idea to re-launch an existing or old brand.   If you are considering whether it would be a good idea to revive an old brand, or to acquire and turn an existing brand around, ask yourself this:

  • Is there evidence of enough customer awareness and support for the brand?
  • Are there positive connotations for the brand that can be built upon in the current market context?
  • Is there an opportunity to refresh the brand, so that it does not appear outdated, while retaining its core promise and authenticity?
  • Does the company have the resources and inclination to be a “caretaker” or “steward” of the relationship that has been created in the past between the brand and its customers?

If the answer is “No” to any of these questions, then one needs to think again.  However, if the answers are all “Yes”, then a resuscitation is just what the doctor might have ordered.

Posted in Apparel, Branding, Consumer, Customer Relationship, Entrepreneurship, Food & Grocery, Footwear, India, Leadership, Lifestyle & Fashion, Luxury, Market Research, Marketing, Product Development and Design, Retail, Soft Goods, Strategy, Supply Chain, Textiles, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Slices of the Bread Basket

October 11th, 2007 by Devangshu Dutta

The sector of retail that has been attracting the most corporate interest over the last few years is the food & grocery market.

Quite logically so, since this comprises the largest slice of spending – well over 40% in urban markets and above 50% in the lower income towns and rural areas. It, therefore, offers the maximum opportunity for rapid scaling. Working in sequential logic, the nature of that large business would be highly capital intensive, and the large amounts of investment and large footprint should logically act as entry barriers for competitors. Size should also drive costs down through efficiencies of scale and raise margins by removing intermediaries.

By that reasoning, the bulk of the small retailers should be out of business very rapidly, as the well-capitalised corporates buy their way into the market, whether by opening their own stores or by acquiring many retail chains and mashing them together into one company.

This has led some commentators and consultants to predict that within the next 5-10 years, as much as 25-35% of the food and grocery market would be taken by the so-called organised retailers.

That, in my opinion, is a gross overestimation of the pace of change.

Fortunately for the smaller retail chains and the independent mom-and-pop stores, and unfortunately for the large corporates, scale and efficiency is not enough of a competitive advantage at the local level. Retail is a business in which you have the opportunity of growing or diminishing your business’ future prospects every time a customer buys at your store, or chooses not to.

And the food and grocery business is tougher still, since you cannot impose a product top-down in India, with a mix of cuisines and cultures that are as varied as different countries in Europe.

Yes, change is coming to the food business. Like other products, food retailing in India will convert more and more towards modern retail, but it will happen in slices of percentage points. It will happen only when the modern retailers understand and respect the cuisine boundaries rather than imposing a sea of sameness for consumers across the country. It will also need retailers to plan and manage the supply chain and vendors at micro-levels.

There are plenty of speed-bumps and potholes on the way – proceed with caution.

Posted in Consumer, Food & Grocery, India, Marketing, Retail, Strategy, Supply Chain, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Retail FDI – Rains or Drought?

March 3rd, 2006 by Devangshu Dutta

In February, just before the mega-blitz of “India Everywhere” at the World Economic Forum, the Indian government took a step forward.  Amidst shrill outcries from its coalition partners and domestic anti-FDI lobbies, it finally decided to bell the cat, and let foreigners invest in retail again!

About a month has passed since the cabinet announcement, the dust has settled, and it is a good time to consider what has happened.

Since the initial euphoria of the early-to-mid 1990s when international retailers entered the market including companies such as Benetton (50% JV) and Littlewoods (100% subsidiary), this revised policy provides the first opportunity for large global companies to participate in the Indian market’s growth.

The key questions being raised are:

  • Will the new policy bring in a rush of companies?
  • Will domestic retailers be able to stand up to the competition from foreign retailers?
  • What impact will it have on manufacturers?

What Is Allowed, and Who Might Enter?

Let’s first deal with what the government has actually allowed. In a nutshell, a foreign retailer can set up a company in India in which it holds 51% equity, the balance being held by an Indian partner. This subsidiary can operate retail stores in India under one brand name.  All products in the store must also carry the same brand name, and this branding must have been applied during the process of manufacturing.

This means that, as yet, a foreign department store selling multiple national and international brands cannot set up its own 51% owned operation in India.  Nor can a supermarket or hypermarket chain like Wal-Mart, Carrefour or Tesco, sell their wide range of products under any name but their own, if they decided to take a majority stake in a retail operation.

In theory, you could have a Wal-Mart store selling Wal-Mart cola (not Pepsi), Wal-Mart butter (not Amul or Mother Dairy), Wal-Mart chocolates (not Cadbury’s), Wal-Mart cookies (not Britannia or Sunfeast), Wal-Mart T-shirts (not USI or Duke).  You could have Tesco jeans (not Levi’s or Numero Uno) or Carrefour luggage (not Samsonite or VIP).  This obviously dilutes the consumer proposition of the store, which may then have to primarily focus on a single-point agenda – such as low prices – to draw consumer footfall.

On the one hand, the cabinet decision clearly allows companies such as Starbucks and The Body Shop to step in with a majority stake, provided the branding is clearly by the primary name (store name) – thus, you may not be sold the famous “Tazo Tea” in Starbucks, but get “Starbucks Tea” instead.

However, to a brand such as Starbucks, this policy change is significant as its international expansion is largely through owned operations, especially in potentially large and strategic markets such as India.  Starbucks would now have the option of not only controlling the retail operation through a 51% ownership, but also the raw material sourcing, storage and wholesale operation.

On the one hand, this may mean nothing to a retailer such as The Body Shop, whose international strategy in Asia has been largely driven through franchise relationships.  This is true now of India as well, as The Body Shop announced its master franchise arrangement with Planet Sports in India.

A retailer such as Gap would need to set up separate retail operations for Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Forth & Towne.  There obviously are ways to consolidate operations even with the diverse retail corporate structure, but it does mean that the foreign retailer will be operating several corporate entities in India.

An existing company such as Benetton does not benefit from this change in regulation. In 2005 Benetton actually increased its stake in its joint-venture to 100%, but in the bargain had to forego the stores it was running. Its current network comprises entirely of franchise stores, and will have to remain so, unless Benetton reduces its stake to 51% in order to be able to run stores in India, which is highly unlikely.

Other existing international brands such as Levi Strauss, Adidas and Nike are not retailers in themselves, and are not dramatically affected by the change in policy at all.  All of them operate subsidiaries in which they have complete or majority ownership.  Brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Wrangler and Lee are also present through licence or franchise relationships, and unlikely to change their strategy.

Will Global Retailers Come?

All of this obviously raises the question whether government regulations preventing foreign investment in retail were or are actually keeping foreign companies out of the Indian retail market.

The answer to that is both “No” and “Yes”.  The reason is that companies that are looking at international expansion apply criteria that are specific to their own business needs which can lead to very different evaluations by each company.

Laws allowing or preventing FDI in retail are only one of the several factors that any global retailer would look at, when considering a market.

Other factors, such as various market options possible at the time, the state of development in the market, existing sourcing and other relationships, scale and scope of investment required vs. the rate of return expected, the risk factors involved, and the retailer’s own business strategy, all play a part in their decision-making process.

Thus, in one company’s case India may be the hottest market in which it would like to open a store at the earliest possible date this year, while for another company India may be of interest only after 5-7 years.

Opening single-brand retail to foreign direct investment, therefore, is at best an encouraging signal that the government has provided.  It is unlikely to prompt international retailers to look at India any sooner than they might otherwise have.

The second key issue is whether FDI itself is of any consequence to whether the retailers enter India.  This again is related to the individual retailer’s own strategy and business context, as well as how they perceive the risk-return ratio.

Thus, while China may not have any restrictions on foreign investment in retail, western retailers may still prefer to go with a local partner due to the differences in cultural and market nuances.  Even in other unrestricted markets international retailers may prefer to enter through licensees or franchisees because the effort and investment in setting up their own company may not be compensated by the size of the opportunity, or their own investment strategy may not be in line with setting up international subsidiaries.

Some companies such as Wal-Mart, Tesco, Gap and Starbucks prefer to invest in international operations themselves, as ownership gives them a higher degree of control over the business.  Of course, both Tesco and Wal-Mart have set up joint ventures in markets that are starkly different in cultural and business norms from their home markets but, by and large, where feasible these companies prefer majority or 100% stake in the business.

Other companies, such as Mothercare, Debenhams and The Body Shop, have expanded their international presence through franchises.  Their premise is proprietary product and an enormously powerful brand that translates well across cultures.  These companies have taken the less intensive route of franchise.  In India, too, they have signed master franchises. Mothercare has assigned master franchise rights to the Rahejas’ Shoppers Stop. Debenhams and The Body Shop have both signed up with Planet Sports (soon to be renamed Plant Retail), which is also the franchisee for Marks & Spencer.

Thus, while allowing FDI may help some companies, it is unlikely to have investors beating down the door in a rush to enter.

What Does FDI in Retail Mean for India?

Permission for foreigners to invest in retail businesses in India obviously mean different things to different stakeholders in India.

For real estate owners, especially shopping centre developers, new entrants are always welcome, since it provides a wider basket of brands to present to the consumer, and the opportunity to differentiate one shopping centre from another.

To existing retailers, it does mean potentially more clutter in the market, possible higher marketing expenditure for them to maintain their position.  However, it also means that more players can encourage the growth of the market, which otherwise can end up looking stale and in-bred.  Brands that are entering the market for the first time can also bring fresh ideas in terms of merchandise, store planning and display, advertising etc.

To the question of whether Indian retailers are prepared to handle the competition, I would say that, while global best practices help, retail is a uniquely local business.  Indian retailers who bother to listen to the consumer and constantly upgrade their own business are possibly in a stronger competitive position than a foreign brand that wants to impose its own alien sensibility on the market.

For suppliers, new brands bring in new avenues for business growth.  Many of the international brands will look to increasing their sourcing from India, to take advantage of local labour costs and skills, or to down-play the disadvantage of duties on imported merchandise.  Thus, especially for suppliers of fashion goods this is definitely a growth opportunity.  Retailers might even prefer to work with the supply base from which they already source for their operations in other markets.  Thus, the growth opportunity exists for exporters – the question is how many of them are willing and able to make the transition to begin supplying locally.

Not only do new retailers bring the prospect of increased business, but also the possibility of better systems and skills, improved product development, and in all, an opportunity for the supply base to upgrade itself.  This will certainly have a positive fall-out for exporters, since their business is likely to become overall more competitive globally, too.

Let’s consider another stakeholder, who we tend to miss – the government itself.  Organised retailers, including global companies, tend to be more constrained by law than a retailer from the unorganised segment. Based on that assumption, a large international retailer (and his Indian counterpart) will set up a local company that will carry out business by the book, recording all sales and purchase transactions.  All local sales and purchases will be subject to VAT and sales taxes, while all imports would be documented and therefore subjected to import duties. All of this means more revenue for the government.

On the other hand, do foreign retailers pose a threat at all?

Well, there is certainly a threat to those retailers who insist that the market needs to remain structured the same way that it has been for years, and who refuse to upgrade their own business. There may even be a threat to the large Indian corporate retailers who are competing on the basis of their scale relative to the rest of the market.  With the presence of global retailers with deeper pockets, these large Indian retailers will no longer be the big boys on the block.  But the positive outcome for the many seems to outweigh the negative outcome for the few.

What I would certainly like to see is how quickly the government translates the promise of opening into a concrete plan that can benefit the Indian consumer, the Indian supplier, the Indian real estate market and the government itself.

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