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Home Truths: How retailers are working up private labels to gain consumer loyalty

Business Standard, Mumbai, February 28, 2011

Sayantani Kar (with inputs from Preeti Khicha)

When some of India’s big retail chains banded together recently to substitute Reckitt Benckiser’s products with private labels to protest the latter’s decision to cut sales margins on its products, they were doing something many global retailers have done with great success. Part of their overall strategy, especially for large chains in the US and Europe, is to develop quality private label products that complement other pieces in their marketing mix. While this is one way retailers can differentiate their firms from competition, it also helps them flex their muscles in their relationships with brand manufacturers. Indeed, retail giants Tesco, Walmart and Carrefour have a significant portion of their sales coming from private labels — ranging from 10 per cent for Costco and 50 per cent for Tesco.

India is a back runner in the private label race, but it is catching up. A Shoppers Trend Study by Nielsen found awareness about private labels has gone up from 64 per cent in 2009 to 78 per cent in 2010 across 11 cities in India. Nielsen Director (retail services) Siddharthan Sundaram says, “Over the last three to four months, we found an increased awareness of private labels in categories such as staples, household products, personal care products such as soaps, biscuits and packaged groceries.” Thanks partly to the recent economic downturn, there is greater acceptance — and even loyalty — to such brands in India, say marketers. Future Group Business Head (private brands) Devendra Chawla reasons, “A label on the shelf becomes a brand by covering the two feet distance from the shelf to the trolley. After all it is the consumer’s choice.” Even in the toughest segment for private labels to crack — fast moving consumer goods including food and personal care — store labels claim share of 19-25 per cent.

Low-involvement categories such as household cleaners were among the first to see the entry of private labels (17-44 per cent of sale in modern trade), bringing in huge margin-lifts for modern retailers. In categories such as food products — jams, biscuits and staples — private labels today contribute more than 25 per cent of modern trade sales. Little wonder, retailers are now mining shopper data to make private labels shed their ‘low’ly tag — low involvement and low cost. Store chains are segmenting their brands according to consumer needs, combining more than one brand according to consumer behaviour, besides launching high-involvement premium products and innovative packaging to give national brands a run for their money.

Innovate or die
Retail innovation has had a big role to play in speeding up the process of consumer acceptance. Future Group’s retail arm, which includes Big Bazaar and Food Bazaar, calls its in-house products ‘private brands’ not labels. It has a separate team, headed by Devendra Chawla, to research and test FMCG products before launch. The team has a range of private brands — Tasty Treat, Fresh and Pure, Cleanmate, Caremate, Sach, John Miller, Premium Harvest and Ektaa. Look at how it is using shopper data to improve its products. The insight that kids found ketchup bottles cumbersome and had to be served — making it inconvenient if an adult was not around — led it to change the packaging that in turn gave the brand a margin advantage. By offering ketchup in pouches, it saved on the price of the glass bottle and freight (pouches take up less space in a truck, hence more can be fitted in). While ketchup in glass bottles continue to be Rs 99 for a kilo, its Tasty Treat ketchup pouches come in Rs 59 packs.

By working with vendors it has also come up with interesting combinations — for example, its Tasty Treat jam has three small tubs packed as one unit, each tub containing a different flavour to offer consumers larger variety.

Retailers have now donned the hats of “product selectors” and “product developers” at the same time, points out Third Eyesight CEO Devangshu Dutta. “So far, most of the retailers were just selecting products from vendors which are mostly lower-priced knock-offs of manufacturer brands,” he says. Not any more.

Ashutosh Chakradeo, head (buying, merchandising and supply chain), HyperCity Retail, explains the process his company follows: “To develop food products, we identify vendors, tie up with food laboratories, chefs and consumers to be part of the tasting panels. Before launching a private label we do at least a month of consumer testing. We identify customers from our loyalty programme called Discovery Club, which tells us who buys a certain category of product. We give the relevant consumers our private label products for trial for a month. We meet the customers at their homes, take their feedback and these changes are incorporated into the private label brand.”

“Our stores act as research labs and are a constant source of feedback,” points out Chawla of Future Group. Chawla estimates 3-4 per cent of the sales of private labels are ploughed back into packaging and design innovation. Reliance Retail CEO Bijou Kurien says, “The teams are our main investment in private labels. Our 100-strong designers across all the formats help in coming up with product designs that fill a need gap or offer a few more features at the same price as national brands.” Reliance Retail has recently launched its own brand of watches priced Rs 149-199 which “no national player can offer” points out Kurien.

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The edge
Most vendors directly supply to retailers’ distribution centres, cutting out cost leakage at the distributor’s and carrying and forwarding centres. Direct access to store shelves and aisles also cuts out the high mainstream advertising costs that brands have to bear. By clever product arrangements and in-store promotions, retailers can sway the shopper and draw attention to the price advantage. Chakradeo says, “We display private labels in heavy footfall areas in the store. We complement displays — so we keep our private label ketchup near the bakery.”

To tackle the tricky personal care category of face creams and shampoos that Aditya Birla Retail’s More chain has entered, it plans to communicate promotional offers straight to its loyalty programme members. “It will help us induce trials,” says Thomas Varghese, More’s CEO.

Bundling products is another way to woo the value-conscious consumer. Six months back, Future Group started bundling its private brands. Chawla says, “Take home-cleaning, which requires a floor cleaner, glass cleaner, toilet cleaner and utensil cleaner which we combined as a shudhikaran solution of our Cleanmate brand.” The combi-pack costs Rs 125, which would come to around Rs 220-250 if shoppers bought a la carte. The margins are still high at 26 per cent. “Vendors are assured of volumes,” points out Chawla.

What it also does is convert the fence-sitter who has not yet bought into a category. For example, consumers who avail of the shudhikaran solution also get into the habit of using glass cleaners — a category which has a small base and gets most of its sales from modern trade. Similarly, Future Group saw a 25 per cent spurt in the sales of soups when it clubbed soup mugs with its Tasty Treat soup packets based on the insight that Indians preference to sip their soup out of a coffee mug.

Don’t be surprised if you see MNC brands coming out with combo-offers for their products, way bigger than the occasional bucket with a detergent!

Growing up
There are signs the industry is evolving. Private labels in FMCG are shedding their low-cost tags. But retailers know better than to vacate low price-points altogether. Instead, they are segmenting their brands just as a manufacturer brand would do. Chakradeo of Hypercity says, “Over a period, we hope to increase the stickiness and the differentiation our brands bring to our stores. Particularly, in staples where we have seen our private label business grow rapidly. This is a very quality and price-sensitive category. We started with basic products but now we have premium daals (lentils) and basmati rice as part of our portfolio.”

Future Group too has its ‘good, better, best’ policy firmly in place. In staples, the stores offer some products ‘loose’, such as rice, wheat, lentils, which is at the bottom of the ladder. Its Food Bazaar version of the products straddle the middle category, and above the two is its brand, Premium Harvest, which retails at a price higher than some manufacturer brands.

Stickiness may also result from the manner in which retailers are positioning their brands. Future Group’s brand Ektaa will retail regional food and staples across its stores in the country so that migrants can buy supplies they are comfortable with. Be it Govindbhog rice and kasundi (a rice variety and mustard sauce preferred by Bengalis), khakra (Gujarati snack) or murukku (loved by Tamilians). Boston Consulting Group Partner & Director Abheek Singhi says, “Indian retailers are not cut-pasting private label products from other markets but adapting them.”

Are private labels a risk worth taking? Chakradeo says, “The entire product formulation for our cleaners was done in partnership with Dow Chemicals, USA. We did not make any investment and we gave them a percentage of sales as fee. Investments are not huge in making private labels as in most cases it is partnered with vendors. It is more of operating expenses than capital expenditure.”

Future Group brought down logistics costs further by 6-8 per cent by appointing vendors in more than one region for 10 of its product categories to fill its distribution centres. Chakradeo adds, “As the volumes go up, we will be able to put up for backend infrastructure facilities for development and R&D.”

Should national brands be worried? Devangshu Dutta says, “As long as retailers have access to the production and development and have customers for it, the private labels will remain profitable.” India Equity Partners Operating Partner V Sitaram sums up, “In modern trade, though the market leaders will face some slip in market share, the number 3 or 4 brands might have a bigger problem in certain categories thanks to private labels.”

As retailers leverage consumer insights to deploy private labels more effectively, national brands are aggressively fighting the challenge. From sprucing up supply chains to galvanising in-store promotions, they are covering all bases. KPMG Executive Director Ramesh Srinivas says, “Earlier brands had to adjust between a modern trade and a general trade supply chain. The former had to be serviced directly at the stores or had their own supply chain while the latter used the manufacturer’s supply chain. Now, some brands separate modern trade teams and even distributors.”

Britannia Category Director (delight and lifestyle) Shalini Degan says, “We have divided our portfolio into three categories, A,B,C, each having its benchmark fill-rate. We don’t allow fill-rates to drop below those levels. Why the segmentation? We need to focus on brands which have a higher traction in modern trade when servicing it, else we might end up focusing on brands that are not modern trade-led.”

Fill-rates denote how often and to what accuracy the retailer’s orders for a product are supplied by the manufacturer. Low fill-rates could mean lost opportunity since the shopper sees an empty shelf or a private label instead of the brand she might have thought of picking up.

Samsung Vice-President and Business Head (home appliances) Mahesh Krishnan says, “We have gone in for central billing system 4-5 months back with all large-format retailers. Orders are tracked on a daily basis giving retailers more control over the chain.”

In other words, private labels are here to stay and will evolve as more and more chains gain national footprint and the economies of scale kick in. Dutta of Third Eyesight says, “Gross margins for organised retailers are still low compared to global standards: So, margin fights will continue for some time till retailers gain a bigger share of the pie.”

(Also read: The Private Label Maturity Model.)

Textile firms seek exports boost in budget

REUTERS, Mumbai, 23 Feb 2011

Swati Pandey

The textile industry has sought measures to boost exports of apparels and textile products in a cost-competitive market and easier access to funds for cotton buyers as it peaks in a year of global shortage.

The Confederation of Indian Textile Industry (CITI) has also sought the restoration of drawback rates as "our textile products are facing tough competition in global markets."

"There is an opportunity for taking up market share because costs in China have risen considerably and buyers are shifting some of the sourcing to other parts," said Devangshu Dutta, chief executive, Third Eyesight, a textile consultancy.

"We should be looking at encouraging conversion of raw material within the country. Far too much export is weighted towards raw material and intermediate products," he added.

The government has restricted exports of cotton yarn at 720 million kg for 2010/11 season that began on Oct. 1.

India’s apparel exports volume may crimp by at least 15 percent in FY11 as sky-rocketing cotton prices shrivel demand.

U.S. cotton futures early this month rallied to a record high of $2.1102 per lb. While cotton prices in India are still near a record high touched on Feb 10.

One export sop would be the re-introduction of Section 80 HCC, which exempt income from exports, Manish Mandhana, managing director of Mandhana Industries, said.

"Boosting the cost competitiveness of Indian products in the U.S. and EU markets" is what the industry needs, he added.

CITI also wants that working capital for cotton purchase to textile mills be given at lower margins, cheaper rates and a longer credit-period.

"Given that the situation is not very good because of cotton prices," said R.K. Dalmia, president, Century Textiles, "They should have a sympathetic view of the industry."

CITI wants the government to abolish duties on all machinery for textile and clothing industry until domestic industry is able to supply products of global standards.

It also wants more allocation under the Technology Upgradation Fund Scheme (TUFS) for FY11 and FY12 in order to avoid delay in disbursements.

TUFS, under which textile units can avail loans at concessional rates, has been suspended as funds earmarked for the eleventh plan period has been already been utilised in the first three years.

(Editing by Harish Nambiar)

Expanding Its Horizon – Shoppers Stop’s new strategy

Businessworld, February 14, 2011

Vishal Krishna

Shoppers Stop (SSL) has topped the list of the Most Respected Companies in the retail category for the third year in a row. The company, which started as a small retail outfit in 1991, now has 34 stores across 13 cities in the country. It has been rated No. 1 by its peers in all categories except one. While the rating on quality of its management, innovativeness, products and services, ethics, people management and global competitiveness are higher than all its competitors, it is second to Pantaloon Retail in financial performance.

“Shoppers Stop has been built brick by brick by passionate and committed people who have always gone one step forward in serving our customers,” says B.S. Nagesh, who spearheaded the company for 17 years and now continues to mentor the top management as the vice-chairman. The customer focus is reflected in its financial results. Though it suffered a loss of Rs 81 crore in 2008-09 due to low buyer sentiment thanks to the global recession, it turned around in 2010, ending the year with a profit of Rs 50 crore. “Our focus on systems, processes and best practices has helped us achieve the best results,” says Govind Shrikhande, managing director of Shoppers Stop. He says that differential positioning, good merchandise range, service and ambience have helped the company remain connected with customers. Adds Nagesh: “For me the test of what I have built over the years is customer satisfaction and the continuing performance in the current year.”

In the third quarter of 2010-11, SSL generated a turnover of Rs 515.9 crore and a net profit of Rs 27.9 crore, a 24 per cent and 45 per cent jump, respectively, over the third quarter figures of 2009-10. And in the nine months of the fiscal, revenues have risen 24 per cent to Rs 1,401.5 crore and net profits, 63 per cent to Rs 55.2 crore.

Shoppers Stop’s success can be partly credited to some key strategic decisions taken by the company, including its focus on sharing sales data with merchants and suppliers. Once this data was made available, merchants realised that since buying patterns were different across locations, they had to stock particular items at particular stores and locations, thereby increasing customer satisfaction and sales. Earlier, in the absence of robust data, buyer behaviour was unpredictable. But now, the number of members in its loyalty programme, First Citizen, has increased to over 1.8 million (and contributes 73 per cent to sales). With such data, SSL is able to understand what will sell where and what won’t. This has led to lower inventory and higher margins.

SSL works on two models. Under the buyout model, which contributes 60 per cent of revenues, apparel is bought from brand owners at factory price and the inventory is solely managed by SSL. Second model is the consignment model where the vendors themselves manage the inventory. This model is fast picking up.

“Retail as an industry has been recovering and this is partly related to reduced rentals and better inventory management,” says Devangshu Dutta, CEO of Third Eyesight, a retail consulting firm.

SSL has renegotiated rentals on all its properties and now the company follows a revenue sharing model with the builders.

Its EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) increased by 28 per cent to Rs 42.71 crore in the third quarter of 2010-11. “A fall in property prices was the key, and retail sentiment has also picked up,” says Shrikhande.

The company has several other points to its credit. In mid-2010, it acquired a 51 per cent stake in HyperCity, a food retail format. Currently, it has seven stores of this format and each is around 75,000 sq. ft. SSL plans to increase the number of HyperCity stores to 26 in the next four years. The current investment in this format is Rs 61 crore.

SSL also has different retail subsidiaries catering to various needs. There’s HomeStop, a home décor format with four stores in three cities, and Arcelia, another retail format with one store in Pune. The company has also moved into specialty retailing. Mothercare, a maternity, infant care store was started as an exclusive franchise agreement for departmental stores with Mothercare UK. Currently there are 28 stores of Mothercare (including eight standalone stores) across 11 cities. Then there’s Crossword, SSL’s bookstore, which has 33 outlets across the country. The company also set up MAC, a high-end cosmetics store, a couple of years ago in a retail agreement with Estee Lauder. At present there are 15 MAC stores in Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Amritsar, Chennai and Hyderabad. Under cosmetics, SSL has also another brand called Clinique, which has seven stores at present.

SSL is also betting big on airport retailing. It has one store at Hyderabad’s domestic airport and two at Bangalore’s domestic airport. Besides, two duty free stores are run by the JV company Nuance Group at the Bangalore international airport. However, airport retailing is yet to break even.

Not all decisions made my SSL in the past have paid off. The company has made its share of mistakes. It introduced catalogue retailing through Argos and entered into a joint venture with the UK-based retailer. However, this did not succeed and SSL wrote off losses of Rs 35 crore. Then four of its small-format food retail stores, ExpressCity, shut down within months in 2007-08.

Currently, the challenge for SSL is to keep its rivals — Lifestyle and Pantaloon — at bay. These companies have a higher share of private labels, especially Pantaloon, which boasts a 75 per cent private label collection. Then there is Lifestyle, which follows a similar model as SSL but has been rapidly expanding and increasing its private label collection to more than 25 per cent. SSL, too, expects private label sales of more than 25 per cent this year. Shoppers Stop has positioned itself as a premium retailer and so is in direct competition with Lifestyle, which is a close second in the BW list.

SSL will need to draw on its 20 years of experience and continue to innovate to stay ahead.

No 2: Lifestyle International MD Kabir Lumba’s Lifestyle has a strong merchandising team and a great product range.

No 3: Pantaloon Retail Kishore Biyani, MD, will focus on the aspiring Indian rather than the Indian who has higher income

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 14-02-2011.)

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

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.