Textile Industry Report Calls for Capturing Billions in Lost Value


September 16, 2006

Textile Industry Report Calls for Capturing Billions in Lost Value

A report by management consulting firm, Third Eyesight, has called upon the Indian textile and apparel industry to urgently develop capabilities to capture the value that is being lost due to inadequate focus on product development and value addition.

The report titled “Eternal Hope to Reality: Sustained Global Competitiveness for the Indian Textile and Apparel Industry” was released by the Hon’ble Minister of Textiles, Shri Shankersinh Vaghela, and a well-attended industry conference organized by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI)

.Highlighting the immense gap between the current exports of about US$ 20 billion and the vision of US$ 55 billion, Third Eyesight’s report says that the Indian industry needs to look beyond incremental steps.

Presenting the report, Third Eyesight’s chief executive, Devangshu Dutta said, “Dramatic growth cannot come through concentrating on volume alone. Even if the industry wishes to increase its volume of trade, ports are operating at 91 to 92 % of capacity utilization. This sort of growth of exports is only possible through focussing on value addition.”

Photograph of Report being released by Shri Shankar Singh Vaghela, Hon’ble Union Minister for Textiles, the Government of India (Left to Right: Mr. Ness Wadia – Bombay Dyeing, Mr. Devangshu Dutta – Third Eyesight, Mr. Shankar Singh Vaghela – Textile Minister (India)
Photograph of Report being released by Shri Shankar Singh Vaghela, Hon’ble Union Minister for Textiles, the Government of India (Left to Right: Mr. Ness Wadia – Bombay Dyeing, Mr. Devangshu Dutta – Third Eyesight, Mr. Shankar Singh Vaghela – Textile Minister (India)

Value captured by indian textile and  apparel export  in comparison with other countries

The Third Eyesight report highlights the fact that when India compares poorly to other countries on the value captured per employee. For instance, if Indian industry were earning as much as Turkey, India’s exports would be close to China’s exports of US$ 161 billion.

The report says India’s exports are still too weighted in favour of raw materials and intermediate products, rather than finished products, and this is a major concern

if one looks at the long-term competitiveness and value-capturing capability of the industry. According to the Third Eyesight report, apparel exports account for only 41% of India’s textile exports in 2007-08.

India is neither the cheapest producing country nor possibly the quickest in terms of delivery, but it already provides buyers with value in terms of product development and design. According to Third Eyesight, this is the winning formula that needs much more focus. The report describes how design, merchandising and product development capabilities can enable Indian companies to become strategic suppliers to global industry. India’s domestic industry, and its skill at understanding market needs, creating and merchandising product, can also play a valuable role in the industry’s growth in the global area.
India textile and apparel  export 2003 to 2008 and  projections

Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of Third Eyesight, said that India already had a significant cachet as a brand in the 1960s, but lost its position until the beginning of this decade. While the trade-brand of India has now started becoming stronger, it is time for the industry and the government to emulate successes created by countries such as Italy. By creating an ecosystem focused on design and product development, India can create and capture the billions of dollars worth of value that is being lost to other countries.

The Power Of Renovations


September 15, 2006

In classic “Mission Impossible” style, I was asked to research and write a report on how renovations impact retail businesses. Every person I called responded in the same manner. First they laughed, then said “good luck, no one gives out that information” and then several people actually were kind enough to share their company’s statistics.

After researching this topic I have chosen to divide the subject into three sections: Emotional/Psychological Impact of Renovations, Fixtures Old and New, and Renovation Facts and Figures.

The Emotional and Psychological Impact of Renovations

Why choose to renovate?

The negatives are: renovations are expensive, time consuming and there’s no guarantee that they will improve business.

The pluses are powerful.

Renovations talk to your customers and to your staff. When management chooses to renovate a store it is showing its faith in the future of the store. Both customers and staff are aware that renovations are rarely made to stores about to be closed.

This certainty creates good faith and a sense of continuity and trust. In today’s fragile business climate, developing trust and a sense of security are primary goals for all retailers.

When a retailer renovates a store he is telling the competition:
” I’m here to stay”
” I’m a player”
” I’m offering my customers more than my competition”
” Match me!”

“I’m here to stay” falls into the reliability/stability category. People want to know that they are buying from someone who will stand behind their merchandise. Although the “Going Out of Business” signs in the windows of several electronics/gift stores on Fifth Avenue in New York City generate sales, confidence in the products is limited. Generally only tourists think they might get a “deal” on Fifth Avenue.

Renovations = longevity in the mind of the consumer.
Renovations = longevity in the minds of the employees. They will treat their customers better with lower job anxiety levels.
Better service = better sales.
Renovations = better sales.

“I’m a player” is an annoying expression but it sums up the feelings of both the manager and the staff of a renovated store. When a store is renovated it says to the competition – “I’m in business, I’m counting on growth and I’m going after you!”

The perceived quality of a purchase is in direct proportion to the look of a store. People buy down in prices when a stores’ energy and appearance is faded, tired and old. Even when maintenance standards are high, people can sense dead energy.

A store that feels old and faded gives customers the feeling that the merchandise assortment is made up of “losers” and is unwanted. Only clearance goods will move well in that kind of environment.

Renovations = management’s confidence in the future of the store
Renovations = employees pride in the look of the store
Renovations = customers awareness that the store is in business to stay and is growing.
Awareness of growth and appreciation of new look = improved sales

“I’m offering my customers more than my competition” is another way of saying, “my merchandise mix and my employees are terrific – and I have the power to make it even better.”

Making it even better is the key.

Customers are a captive audience in many of Aramark’s locations. Where else are they going to go for souvenirs or gift items at Muir Woods or Ellis Island? But, even with a captive audience, they will buy less if the energy in the store is old. While cleaning and moving merchandise will improve energy flow, renovations alone create a dramatic increase in the perceived value of the merchandise. If the merchandise is perceived to be more valuable, customers will feel better about themselves when they buy.

People like to be associated with winners.

When a store positions itself as a “winner”, it’s telling the customers that they too are winners for buying at this store.

This may sound simplistic or childish – but it’s true.

Imagine that you bought two t-shirts. One was purchased at a basic discount store for $12.99 while the other was bought at an attractive gift store for $15.99. Which T-shirt will have more emotional value?
Which shirt allows you to feel like a “winner?”

The experience at the attractive gift store would be more memorable because it was appealing. The discount T-shirt would be a practical purchase while the gift store shirt may be more emotional.

Now, add an overall positive experience to the attractive gift shop – such as a walk in Muir Woods or experiencing the win of your favorite team -and the T-shirt’s emotional impact doubles in value.

Renovating the store adds to the value of the merchandise by helping the customers and the employees feel like they are worth the effort. When people feel like they are worth such an intensive effort – they feel like winners. Winners support the store that makes them feel great.

Renovations = people feeling like winners
Winners = spending money to keep feeling that way
Renovations = more money spent in the store

“Match me!” This is not just a challenge to your competitors; it’s a challenge to your staff.

It’s one thing to have a great location and just wait for people to wander in – and another to galvanize them when they come in to buy far more than they intended.

A store that hasn’t been renovated in 7 years has fallen into patterns and traps. The personnel, no matter how hard they try to do something different, are going to repeat merchandising habits over and over.

A newly renovated store offers a fresh floor plan, new fixtures, different lighting and forces the staff to rethink the entire merchandising for the store. Rethinking encourages creativity. Creativity honors both the customer and the sales staff.

Renovations + Creativity = sales.

Renovations get energy moving in a store. Most merchants will either admit – or brag that when they move something – it sells.

There are several reasons for movement creating sales.

  1. People tend to dust in new places. Dirt discourages sales. Neat and clean stores increase the perceived value of the merchandise.
  2. When you move something you create energy. Energy attracts other energy. People like movement and are attracted to moved objects.
  3. When something remains unmoved for long periods of time it becomes “wallpaper” – attractive but unwanted and invisible.

Why not just move stuff around the store? Why go to all the trouble and expense of renovation?

Customers know the difference. Fixtures, flooring, wall treatments and lights all get old. They are very difficult to move. Even fixtures on casters may move – but they never change – except to get beat up and old looking. So, you can move product all over the place and it’s a short-term good investment in energy. In the long term, only renovations will give the total store the lift it needs to get people to buy more when they come in to browse.

Fixtures Old and New

After talking with numerous fixture manufacturers and store designers one fact came up over and over. The only people who buy stock fixturing are small Mom & Pop stores that think they can’t afford custom fixtures.

The big box retailers who have seas of chrome quads can afford to have the quads manufactured to their exact specifications. Even the most mundane, typical fixtures in a chain store have probably been recreated and engineered to fit the store planner’s needs.

While there are many specialty fixtures on the market that are standard – such as some quilt holders, poster swing frames, etc., the bulk of fixtures are custom made.

Custom doesn’t have to mean more expensive. A lot depends on the surface materials and how complicated the fixture gets. Interesting, expensive surfaces = interesting, expensive merchandise.

Interesting surfaces can make even the most mundane gifts seem unique. When you are trying to develop a mood, feeling or image for a store, standard non-custom fixtures will more often than not destroy that mood by making the store similar in feel to the local convenience store.

Custom fixtures have the most impact in the front of the store, in focal areas and at the cash wrap. These are the areas that will convey the entire theme of the store. If these areas are standard issue – the store will have less impact than 7-11.

The logic behind this is easy – what we see influences what we think. If we see bland off-white counters and chrome racks with a vast assortment of gifts heaped on the shelves, we think – “okay, let’s grab something for the kid and get out of here before the traffic gets bad.”
If, however, the counters are wood mixed with copper and the sides are birch and you see trees wherever you look adding a soft feeling throughout the store – all of a sudden things start looking more appealing. It’s more interesting, fun and engaging. The store has honored you, their customer, by making itself more presentable and different from the competition. The merchandise then looks more appealing and interesting which leads to increased sales.

Renovation Facts and Figures

Very few people were willing to share their renovation facts and figures. One major fact that became extremely obvious was that if renovations didn’t pay off, no company would be doing them.

Every company that renovates one or more stores figures on a minimum increase of 10% of sales with an anticipated and/or hoped for increase of 38% which seems to be the average increase after significant renovations.

The method of analyzing the success of a renovation is unique to each company.

There is virtually no way to compare sales and profits figures or, “apples to apples” by company. Each figures their costs differently. The only figures that matter are those within each individual company.

Some smaller companies saw immediate increases in sales and didn’t dwell on the actual renovation costs. For other companies, the costs are factored in to determine the actual profit and the percentage of profit increase over time after the initial renovation costs are covered.

One of the premier upscale chain of stores in the United States shared their process with me for this essay. They did not want their name mentioned.

When they decide to renovate one of their stores they first look at the real estate deal. The costs of the real estate determine how much they need to make on the property after renovations.

They then create a target for this location. They look at the history of the location, the national average of their stores and their actual goal for the store.

They determine the sales per square foot by category in the store, the average throughout the chain, their expectations for each department and the gross margin by department.

This corporation expects -and generally gets 2.5 growth out of each renovation – for example: 1 million spent on renovations will generate 2.5 million in sales.
The one million will be amortized and capitalized over five years.

Their oldest stores are often located in their best market areas. To remain competitive and to keep their best customers from going into their worst stores, they often renovate highly successful locations to keep them fresh and appealing. They believe they must remain competitive in their own market.

Bobby Drouin, the director of Real Estate and Store Planning for “Things Remembered” was very helpful with information regarding their remodeling projects.
” Things Remembered” has two types of remodels/renovations:

The Skin Package
This is a clean-up/fix-up program that deals with the storefront, carpet, wall paint and lights.

Full In-Place Remodel
This includes new architecture, custom fixtures – which consist of a standard fixture package that is custom for them.
They tend to have stronger percentages of growth after either type of remodel in “A” centers.

Better malls = better growth

They try to do their renovations when their lease terms expire.
In the better malls they have been averaging 22% increase in sales after full remodels.
In their stores located in less successful malls, the increases were based mainly on the Skin Package type remodel and generated between 7 – 12% increases in sales.
When asked about their use of custom fixtures, Drouin mentioned that non-custom fixtures often had variations of colors/shades and standards. When combined in a store, non-custom fixtures looked significantly less professional and attractive. The only “off the shelf” fixtures they buy are specialty items such as bronze throw holders and prop pieces.

Mike Grimes, the president of GH Home Furnishings in Charlestown, MO finds that when he makes improvements to his store the confusion and movement during construction excites customers and sales increase. When he put a new façade on his building the sales increased 28%.
When he did a remodel in the bedding area of his store (new carpet, new walls, banners and fixed the ‘dip’ in the floor) the sales in that area increased 45%.

“Spirit of the Red Horse” carries American Indian western-themed gifts. Jim Stelton of CBR. Inc. carried out a renovation for this interesting store that included:
– Replaced the ceiling coves to make the energy flow better and create an airy feel.
– Changed the fixturing from solid to the floor to “leggy” so the airflow and energy improved and the store feels lighter. – Redid store front
– Created storage drawers by each bay with twin panels to reflect the new traverse detail.
After renovations “Spirit of the Red Horse” improved their business by 30% yearly with an average ticket price increase of 10%.

Devangshu Dutta, based in New Delhi, India has been researching the impact of renovations on retail sales internationally. What he discovered was the impact in the six months following major refits and renovations ranged from 10 to 40% of a sales increase with large discounters showing a lower impact than smaller specialty stores. Gross margins also improved to the extent of 10 to 12%. The sales upswings tapered off after the initial months but sales levels per square foot remain higher than comparable stores that remain unrenovated. They also remain about 5-10% higher than previous levels for the same store. The impact, Mr. Dutta states, comes from the renewed consumer interest as well as better management of space and merchandise.

These figures are supported in the United States by every person interviewed. All those who did not want their names or companies mentioned in this report agreed that the percentage increase in sales after a full renovation averages between 30 – 39%. “Skin” remodels averaged 12 – 20% sales increases.

A renovation tells the world that you are putting your money where your mouth is – a cliché that makes financial sense.

When you renovate you are offering your customers more than the competition. You are giving them an interesting, fresh, creative and hopefully exciting shopping experience. When you correctly factor-in location, renovation costs and new merchandise, experience proves that your profits will increase significantly over time.

Pie in the sky


September 14, 2006

Just a decade ago, it might have been hard to imagine that the take-out food of choice for millions of Indians would be a baked good of Italian origin.

But since then, calling for a pizza has become quite the urban ritual, though its possible that many of the pies that are rushed to Indian homes wouldn’t be recognised in the country of origin.

Like most consumer brand successes, pizza has been customised for the Indian market, from its toppings to its delivery models. And in this fast-growing category, it’s a bunch of homegrown brands that have turned into stars, leading the way for MNCs to pick up the crumbs from the table.

Smokin Joe’s, the first chain to open in Mumbai, before Pizza Hut and Domino’s set shop, was a result of two like-minded companies forming an alliance and today boasts of 60 outlets in 23 cities.

A breakaway started by one of its founder members — Garcia’s, today is a Rs 10 crore brand and is seen as a major competitor to the big guys. Bangalore-based Pizza Corner started in Chennai over a decade ago and has expanded into other markets with 60 stores to date, while Delhi-based Slice of Italy which started in 1996 has a 2.5 lakh strong customer base and sees Rs 40 lakh revenue a month across its six outlets in Delhi, with another five in the pipeline.

Even the numbers seem to be on their side. Estimates Ajay Kaul, CEO, Domino’s India, “The pizza industry is about Rs 450 crore, growing on par with the fast food industry at a healthy 25-30%. The category is still in the growth stage and the country can take about 500 more stores.” Says Kaushik Roy, CEO, Pizza Corner, “The consumer has definitely evolved over the years. There are more people ordering out in the second rung cities, while pizza is first on the priority list in metros when it comes to deliveries.” Nirmal Momaya, director of Smokin’ Joes, points out, “Earlier, pizza was limited to just the elite and now anyone who eats at an Udipi, eats pizza too.”

The big brands have outlets in markets as varied as Hubli, Goa and Faridabad as well as in the top metros, and even some international expansion plans. Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of Delhi-based consultancy Third Eyesight, believes that in order to build brand loyalty, players need to work on differentiation, “Anyone who wants to establish a brand has to be clear on positioning and the outlet format and metrics has to be geared in that direction,” he says.

Most brands are doing just that. A brand positioned as a delivery and ‘value for money’ brand, started just four years ago is Mumbai-based Garcia’s Famous Pizza. Founder Ashit Patel researched the US market and decided that there was space in Mumbai for a fourth pizza brand — Garcia’s now has 17 outlets in Mumbai with plans to enter Pune next, followed by other major cities.

“I knew the basics and understood the food business. I thought to myself, ‘It’s no magic: base, puree and cheese’,” he reminisces. Garcia’s first store opened in the Mumbai suburb of Bandra, an area where Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Smokin Joe’s combined had sales of Rs 30 lakh. Patel believed he could take away 20% of that with the price, service and sales points that he had in mind. Patel chose the brand name “as it sounded ‘catchy’ and more quirky, because of Elbert Hubbard’s essay titled ‘Message to Garcia’ about self-reliance and problem solving.”

For Patel, it was pretty much a one man show for the first couple of months as he wore the hats of a distributor, business developer, marketer and chef. He remembers going door to door distributing flyers, and striking deals with suppliers.

Before the first Garcia’s outlet could break even, Patel thought that more shops would result in higher awareness and started a second one in South Mumbai, “So I had not one, but two shops making losses!” he says. His first store finally saw sale breaking even a year later, but today, a new store breaks even in just a few months.

“The initial temptation of taking the franchisee route was immense, but somewhere my conscience did not allow that. I came across investors but our visions didn’t match. For instance, someone wanted to start a 100% vegetarian restaurant and I was not convinced that it would work,” he says. Patel says that a lot of thought goes into the new offerings that they launch to avoid wastage and customer dis-satisfaction. “As a person who understands food, I know that something out of the ordinary will not work on pizza just because it is an Indian topping.

There is only so far that you can take innovation for the product,” he says. Some of the popular toppings for the chain are cheese and pepperoni based with basics like capsicum, corn and jalapenos and 70% of its customers place repeat orders for these toppings.

Interestingly, while one might think most of the focus is on delivery, a significant chunk of business comes from dining in. Smokin Joe’s, formed by a merger in 2000 between Navroz and Rashid Billimoria’s Billimoria Foods and Nirmal Momaya’s Pizza Express, started out positioned as a delivery chain.

The brand has now tweaked its model and format depending on what works in each city; but 60% of its revenue today is from its dine-in business. Delhi-based Slice of Italy currently gets 85% of sales from delivery but in the past few months it has concentrated on a dine-in model and also increased the contribution of cakes and desserts to its turnover. In Delhi’s Lodhi Colony the chain has a 65-seater, and plans to turn its outlet on Nelson Mandela Road into a 120-seater by adding more to its food and beverage menu.

The reason for this shift, says Slice of Italy’s Tarun Chaudhary, is that the chain’s customers wanted to see the place they’ve been ordering from, “As we have a real estate background, we are able to identify profitable locations. We would look at a franchise model where we could manage so that we don’t compromise on quality. Slice of Italy’s USP is, “authentic Italian food cooked in American style and delivered to your doorstep. We do not make fast food,” he explains.

Some believe that the franchisee route is the way to make money in the F&B space, like, for instance, Smokin’ Joes. “Both companies were clear that we wanted to take the franchise route and wanted to be pan-India,” says Momaya of Smokin’ Joes.

He says, “The average bill size has gone up since we started, but not more than by 15-20%.” On an average, the brand has seen a 16% increase in sales per store in towns and smaller cities and a 15-20% sales increase in larger markets.

Meanwhile, Slice of Italy is weighing funding and joint-venture options from Malaysia and Middle East and will be deciding on an option in the next few months. Smokin’ Joes has a total of 38 different kinds of pizza on its menu and plans to have the ‘world’s biggest pizza menu’ in the coming years. For smaller regional players who aren’t yet able to offer a huge range or bank on delivery, more differentiation is needed.

Quality, local tastes, and even a neighbourhood positioning can all help. “As regional players are able to offer products at lower prices, it makes a difference to a certain segment of society,” says Dutta. For instance, in a large-volume market like the US, there are two giant national players — so consumers looking for something different often turn to the single neighbourhood outlet.

 Measure Your Supply Chain Performance


September 14, 2006

When I was contacted for an article on supply chain management, for publication towards the end of 2002, two topics came to mind. One of them was a good one to begin a year with, and could form the basis of a “new year resolution” article. The other topic forms the basis of this article.

Just as you would introspect about and evaluate a number of other things at the end of the “old” year, how about evaluating your supply chain? Admittedly, it takes a little more time than the six days between Christmas and New Year, but we can certainly try to lay the foundation here. Remember, you cannot hope to improve what you cannot measure, and since the buzzword is supply chain improvement / optimisation / effectiveness, we do need to look at the measures as well.

Traditional Measures Will Not Get You There

In their efforts to improve profitability or just to sustain the businesses, most companies face a dichotomy in satisfying each customer’s needs and in keeping costs under control. In this context supply chain management is mainly seen as a means to contain costs. Thus, the traditional key measure many managers apply to effective supply chain management is the cost of their supply chain operations – the lower the cost, the better the supply chain looks to them.

However, even the most hard-nosed manager will acknowledge that it is virtually impossible to do this on a sustained basis – cutting “fat” too deeply can lead you to cutting muscle – similarly profitability, market positioning, competitive advantage can be whittled away if supply chain management only focuses on cutting costs.

Even if you just focus on costs, what costs will best indicate supply chain effectiveness? The cost of inbound and outbound logistics? How about the costs of inventory carried in the various distribution centres? What about work-in-progress? While we are looking at costs, let us not forget the other costs associated with sourcing, and distribution, including manpower costs which do not get covered elsewhere. And finally, if goods hit the market late due to a poor supply chain performance, discounts and markdowns need to be considered as well in the costs incurred by the supply chain. So the thinking that cost is a straightforward measure is, in itself, an incorrect assumption – if you think so, you are probably over-simplifying or under-estimating the costs involved.

Let us then look what other measures might be available. In a previous article I mentioned the need to integrate supply chain management with the company’s business strategy, rather than treating it as a back-office function with dirty fingernails and greasy elbows. In my view effective supply chain management must work backwards from the customer needs in mind. Adopting this approach can enable companies to add financial and business value not only in the long term but sometimes immediately.

Once you look at supply chain management this way, as emanating from customer needs and being integrated into every other function of the business, you begin to realise that there needs to be another way to measure its success as well as taking the key decisions related to supply chains: location, production, inventory and transportation .

Time and space will not permit me to detail the various methodologies, but I believe it is worthwhile highlighting one as the most comprehensive, if not complete, method. Even within this there are several detailed layers, which can only be briefly touched upon here.

“From Your Supplier’s Supplier to Your Customer’s Customer”

The Supply-Chain Council’s Supply Chain Operations Reference (SCOR) model is a method of benchmarking and measuring improvements in supply chain performance. The Supply-Chain Council was formed in 1996-1997 as a grassroots initiative by individuals representing companies including AMR Research, Bayer, Compaq Computer, Pittiglio Rabin Todd & McGrath (PRTM), Procter & Gamble, Lockheed Martin, Nortel, Rockwell Semiconductor, Texas Instruments etc.

SCOR, now in its fifth version, is a cross-industry reference model that contains standard process definitions, standard terminology, standard metrics, supply-chain best practices, and enabling information technology. The SCOR model defines common supply chain management process, and matches them against “best practices”. The model was designed to enable companies to communicate, compare and learn from competitors and companies both within and outside of their industry.

SCOR includes all customer interactions from order entry through paid invoice, all product transactions (whether physical or service) and all market interactions from understanding demand to fulfilling it at each individual order level.

The model works primarily with a three-level pyramid.

Happy with home-grown


September 12, 2006

By Justine Doody

The Indian call centre has become an international cliché. Its employees are young, educated, English-speaking and compared with their compatriots, well-off – and their disposable income, along with that of the rest of India’s fast-growing middle class, is driving extraordinary growth in the country’s consumer goods market. Retail sales in India were worth US$455 billion in 2008, making up 38% of the country’s GDP, which leaves plenty of room for growth when compared with developed markets, and that growth is well under way: in spite of recession troubles in 2008, the retail market grew by an annual average of 11.4% valued in US dollars between 2004 and 2008.

The people responsible for this boom are a new breed in India. Liberalisation of India’s economy in 1991 gave rise to the economic success story that the world has marvelled at – and as the economy grew, a new middle class grew up alongside. The Indian middle class has more than tripled in size in the last 20 years, and today numbers between 150 and 250 million people. And like the population as a whole, the middle class skews young: around half of India’s population is below 30 years of age.

Thinking global, buying local
Raised on Western TV and media, many of them English-speaking, these young up-and-comers should make natural consumers of Western brands. But Synovate’s research shows that instead of aspiring to owning the latest international must-haves, India’s consumers are happy with their home-grown products.

In a Synovate survey, 68% agreed that locally manufactured brands are just as good as international brands, with only 13% thinking that international brands were significantly better than local brands. And for these consumers, buying Indian is not just a matter of quality comparison – 56% of those surveyed said that if a local and international brand were of equal quality and price, they would prefer to take home the local brand. Given the choice of equally good products, only 27% would favour international brands.

It wasn’t always so. Between the exit of most multinationals during India’s self-sufficiency drive in the 1960s and their return after 1991, people looked at Western brands with covetous eyes. Synovate India’s Executive Director Paru Minocha says ‘There used to be a fascination for “west” and “foreign” goods. Fifteen or twenty years ago, one cherished and sparingly used even a shampoo a visiting relative from US would bring. Besides the origin, the feel of the product was very different – right from the packaging, sensorials etc.’

But times have changed. The quality of local offerings has improved, leaving less to make international products stand out. And even as the standard of Indian products has risen, so too has the self-assurance of the Indian buying public.

Gunjan Bagla, Managing Director of Los Angeles based consultancy, Amritt, Inc. and author of Doing Business in 21st Century India, says: ‘In 2009, eighteen years after liberalisation began, Indian consumers no longer carry vestigial prejudices for or against “imported” brands. They want the best product for their needs and desires. Subway sells sandwiches because they are good, not because they are American. Titan sells watches because they are good, not because they are American. Indian consumers will buy a Nokia phone with Reliance service not thinking of Finland or India as opposed to say a Vodafone (UK) service with Samsung (Korea) handsets.’

Poised to play
While recession has cut a swathe through the economies of the West, India has come out comparatively well – the country remains the fastest growing major economy in the world after China, and average annual growth is set to be 7.8% between now and 2012. For India’s emerging middle class, many of whom are too young to remember the days before liberalisation brought economic development, the country’s achievements are a fact of life, and the future is something to be cheerful about. As many as 91% of those surveyed by Synovate were proud of what the country has achieved, with 82% agreeing that India has a bright future and 85% considering the country to be innovative.

This national optimism is not rooted in political satisfaction – of all the criteria offered in Synovate’s survey on factors important to Indians’ lifestyles, political stability ranked the lowest with respondents, with family, education and health topping the list. The Indian middle class is largely disengaged from politics. Their personal aspirations are professional, not political, and they see the country’s influence on the world stage coming through its industry; national pride is fuelled not by nuclear testing or by regional dominance but by the success of new Indian multinationals like Tata and Reliance. Incidents like the purchase of British prestige car-maker Jaguar by Tata in 2008 have fed this new economic self-confidence: in this new order, the former colony feels ready to take its place alongside, or even eclipse, the former imperial power. 

Paru Minocha says ‘There is a strong sense of pride and a conviction that we are poised to become significant players (if not leaders) on the global map. And this reflects in consumer buying behaviour.’ If today’s Indian cultural pride is based not on political but on economic triumphs, it makes sense that it should be expressed not in political but in economic solidarity. As India begins to see itself as a peer of the other major players in the world economy, its new self-confidence comes out in satisfaction with Indian goods, whose quality, like the country’s, is seen to be a match for any international competitor.

Foreign affairs
Some foreign brands have managed to get Indian buyers to take them to heart. In among the local brands that scored highly in Synovate’s studies on brand image, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nokia, Sony and Samsung all found favour with Indian consumers. However, counter-intuitive though it might seem, the greater availability of Western goods could possibly have driven desire for them down. Paru Minocha says that the once ubiquitous yearning for Western items ‘has started changing primarily due to access to these products via product launches in India. So the products one desired from abroad, like a Sony in electronics, Pantene in shampoos, Lancôme for cosmetics, Kit Kat in chocolates and so on are now very available in India, and that lust for the West has decreased.’ At the same time, local brands are being measured against the competition and bearing the comparison. Devangshu Dutta, Chief Executive of India based consultancy Third Eyesight, says ‘expressing a desire to buy local brands if the international brands are of equivalent quality and price does have something to do with pride in local manufacturing. But more than pride, there is a fundamental confidence being expressed in the strength of locally manufactured brands.’

While the lure of the West has paled a little, the line between international brands and local brands can sometimes be blurred in local perception. Although Hindustan Unilever is majority-owned by multinational Unilever, it has existed in India since 1933, and its products like Lux and Pears soap are ingrained in the national consciousness, routinely topping lists of the country’s most trusted brands. GlaxoSmithKline’s Horlicks, popular in India since the 1930s, is the country’s leading health food drink, and the country provides the brand with its biggest market worldwide.

Adapt or die
But for those Western brands without a long history in India, how can they make headway among the new Indian consumer class? Paru Minocha says ‘it is clear that they cannot just rest on their origin as a selling point. The consumer is clearly seeking value and would demand customisation.’ The Western brands that have met with success in the Indian market mostly have one thing in common – they have adapted their core offering to meet the particular requirements of the Indian consumer. McDonald’s, facing the challenge of making a beef-centred business work in a country that has historically held cows to be sacred, branched out into vegetarian fast food like the McAloo Tikki Burger and the McVeggie. Pizza Hut found a winner with their Tandoori Pizza. But both companies held onto the less tangible elements of their global success: attributes like efficient customer service, air conditioning, cleanliness and quality ingredients are as welcome in Bangalore as they are in Boston.

Synovate’s research shows that customisation is key to getting a foothold in the Indian market. Providing a product for each price point is one way in which companies can take into account the country’s national specificity, and in the country that came up with the ‘one-lakh car’, the US$2500 budget auto launched by Tata in 2008, tapping the low end of the market can open up big opportunities for companies. Nokia, the country’s mobile handset market leader, has launched a range of low-cost mobiles to go along with its high-end offerings, so as to meet the needs of as many of the country’s consumers as possible. Single serving packs of soaps and snack foods are aggressively marketed by companies like Hindustan Unilever and Nestlé, who find the smaller size and cheaper price attracts consumers who would otherwise steer clear of their product lines. Gunjan Bagla says ‘International companies need to appeal to uniquely Indian values and messages to achieve volume in India. You can sell to a few Indians because of Japanese or American appeal. But Levi’s make Spykar jeans for Indian ways of buying. Tropicana sells juices in India for India’s unique needs. The global reach of international brands brings quality, consistency and scale. Local formulation and prices brings sales volume in India.’

To court the Indian consumer, international companies need to embrace flexibility. Devangshu Dutta says ‘global brands that have made themselves relevant to broad segments of their audience have done so not by diluting their international appeal, but by adapting it to the local customer’s needs.’ Well aware of their country’s progress, India’s new consumers expect respect and acknowledgement from the world, and from the international companies that want their business. Recognising and adapting to the individual character and requirements of the rising middle class can be seen as a way of paying tribute to the worth of the Indian consumer – and to make progress in a market that by some measures almost equals the entire US population, international companies might find themselves remembering that the customer is always right.