Dia Rekhi & Faizan Haidar, Economic Times
New Delhi, June 29, 2023
Fast Retailing, the parent company of Uniqlo, is looking to set up a significant manufacturing presence in India through about 20 ‘production partners’, multiple people aware of the development told ET.
One of the world’s most valuable clothing retailers, Uniqlo already has a cluster of production partners in India and is looking to expand this network through a significantly large investment, they said without sharing any estimated amount.
“The investment amount will be significant because Uniqlo is serious about India and views it as an important market,” one of the persons said. “Unlike the existing facilities in India, which cater more towards exports, the production partners that Uniqlo will bring to India will be specifically meant for the domestic market.”
One of the company’s production partners that ET spoke to confirmed that their current mandate is to produce only for exports.
Uniqlo, which is Asia’s biggest clothing brand, had said India is one of the top priority markets for them where consumers are increasingly shifting from ‘fast-fashion’ to long-lasting essentials and functional wear.
The company’s ambitions for India are considerable with its CEO Tadashi Yanai indicating that he wants Uniqlo to become the “best-selling retailer in India”.
The Japanese brand opened its first door in September 2019, but stringent lockdown measures announced to contain the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020 delayed the expansion plan.
The brand is now planning to enter Mumbai and Bangalore. It has already opened stores in Lucknow and Chandigarh after Delhi.
Uniqlo does not own any factories. Instead, it outsources production of almost all its products to factories outside Japan.
As per a report titled ‘The Uniqlo case: fast retailing recipe for attaining market leadership position in casual clothing’, this model allows Uniqlo to keep its breakeven point low and improve return on investment.
“As we expand our global sales, we continue to grow our partner factory network in countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and India,” the company has stated on its website.
As per its list of garment factories, as on March 1, 2023, Uniqlo has 227 factories in China, 54 in Vietnam, 33 in Bangladesh, 13 in Indonesia, and 16 factories in India and Japan among several other locations.
As the world’s second most-populated country, India is an attractive market for apparel brands, especially with youngsters increasingly embracing western-style clothing.
Over the past decade, global brands Zara and H&M became market leaders in the fast fashion segment in India.
“For global brands, India should be one of the most logical sourcing hubs given its large vertically integrated manufacturing sector on the one hand and the large, growing domestic market driving demand on the other hand,” Devangshu Dutta, founder of retail consulting firm Third Eyesight, told ET. “However, its weight in the sourcing baskets has historically been low due to several reasons, in spite of China being visible for decades to the management teams of brands and retailers as a concentrated sourcing risk,” he said.
Uniqlo’s existing production partners in the country include Shahi Exports, Brandix Lanka, Tangerine Design, Maral Overseas, Shingora Textiles, Silver Spark Apparel, SM Lulla Industries Worldwide and Penguin Apparels.
As per Fast Retailing’s first-half results, the company said its revenue was 1.4672 trillion yen, or around $10.2 billion, and that its operating profit had risen to 220.2 billion yen ($1.53 billion), bolstered by strong performances from operations in several regions, including India where it said it generated significant increases in both revenue and profit.
With regard to Uniqlo International, in particular, it said revenue stood at 755.2 billion yen ($5.25 billion), while operating profit was 122.6 billion yen ($852.93 million).
The company said regions like India “reported significant revenue and profit gains as they enter a full-fledged growth phase”.
(Published in Economic Times)
Over the past five years, legacy players have made a slew of investments in D2C startups.
Marico has acquired men’s grooming brand Beardo, beauty brand Just Herbs and breakfast brand True Elements. Similarly, Emami acquired vegan cosmetics brand Brillare Science and grooming brand The Man Company. It recently picked up a minority stake in nutrition company TruNativ. Colgate-Palmolive and Reckitt both hold minority stakes in Bombay Shaving Company, whereas Wipro Consumer Care has invested in The Ayurveda Company. ITC has invested in baby and mother care brands Mother Sparsh and Mylo.
Devangshu Dutta explained the reasons behind the trend of larger FMCG companies acquiring D2C brands.
The apparel retail sector worldwide thrives on change, on account of fashion as well as season.
In India, for most of the country, weather changes are less extreme, so seasonal change is not a major driver of changeover of wardrobe. Also, more modest incomes reduce the customer’s willingness to buy new clothes frequently.
We believe pricing remains a critical challenge and a barrier to growth. About 5 years ago, Third Eyesight had evaluated the pricing of various brands in the context of the average incomes of their stated target customer group. For a like-to-like comparison with average pricing in Europe, we came to the conclusion that branded merchandise in India should be priced 30-50% lower than it was currently. And this is true not just of international brands that are present in India, but Indian-based companies as well. (In fact, most international brands end up targeting a customer segment in India that is more premium than they would in their home markets.)
Of course, with growing incomes and increasing exposure to fashion trends promoted through various media, larger numbers of Indian consumers are opting to buy more, and more frequently as well. But one only has to look at the share of marked-down product, promotions and end-of-season sales to know that the Indian consumer, by and large, believes that the in-season product is overpriced.
Brands that overestimate the growth possibilities add to the problem by over-ordering – these unjustified expectations are littered across the stores at the end of each season, with big red “Sale” and “Discounted” signs. When it comes to a game of nerves, the Indian consumer has a far stronger ability to hold on to her wallet, than a brand’s ability to hold on to the price line. Most consumers are quite prepared to wait a few extra weeks, rather than buying the product as soon as it hits the shelf.
Part of the problem, at the brands’ end, could be some inflexible costs. The three big productivity issues, in my mind, are: real estate, people and advertising.
Indian retail real estate is definitely among the most expensive in the world, when viewed in the context of sales that can be expected per square foot. Similarly, sales per employee rupee could also be vastly better than they are currently. And lastly, many Indian apparel brands could possibly do better to reallocate at least part of their advertising budget to developing better product and training their sales staff; no amount of loud celebrity endorsement can compensate for disinterested automatons showing bad products at the store.
Technology can certainly be leveraged better at every step of the operation, from design through supply chain, from planogram and merchandise planning to post-sale analytics.
Also, some of the more “modern” operations are, unfortunately, modelled on business processes and merchandise calendars that are more suited to the western retail environment of the 1980s than on best-practice as needed in the Indian retail environment of 2011! The “organised” apparel brands are weighed down by too many reviews, too many batch processes, too little merchant entrepreneurship. There is far too much time and resource wasted at each stage. Decisions are deliberately bottle-necked, under the label of “organisation” and “process-orientation”. The excitement is taken out of fashion; products become “normalised”, safe, boring which the consumer doesn’t really want! Shipments get delayed, missing the peaks of the season. And added cost ends in a price which the customer doesn’t want to pay.
The Indian apparel industry certainly needs a transformation.
Whether this will happen through a rapid shakedown or a more gradual process over the next 10-15 years, whether it will be driven by large international multi-brand retailers when they are allowed to invest directly in the country or by domestic companies, I do believe the industry will see significant shifts in the coming years.
In most conversations we have had with international brands in the last 2-3 years, India consistently appears on list of the top-5 markets in which to expand into.
The second most populous country in the world, India has a young population that offers a vibrant population mix that will provide a workforce and consumers in decades to come. There is steady growth in per capita income and a greater availability of credit, as well as a significant change in the consumers’ outlook to life that has propelled consumption levels.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development ranked India as the second most attractive destination for global foreign direct investments in 2010. The lowest recorded GDP growth rate during the global slowdown was still a decent 6.7 per cent. This growth rate is expected to have returned around 9 per cent in 2011, and is driven by robust performance of the manufacturing sector, as well as government and consumer spending.
The ongoing opening up of the economy over two decades and its robust growth has steadily attracted brands and retailers into the country. Many of them have now been in the country since the early 1990s, and the numbers have grown exponentially during the last 8-10 years. Despite this, the market is far from saturation and many more international brands are actively scouting the market.
Many of them are value brands in their home markets and may, therefore, be more a logical fit into a “developing” market, but there are also plenty of premium and luxury names on the list. For instance while the growth has largely been led by soft goods product brands, as incomes have grown, the presence of more expensive consumer durable brands has also expanded.
While the journey to the Indian market has not been a smooth ride even for the well established and successful international brands in the market, brands that have invested in understanding the psyche of the Indian consumer, adopted flexibility in market approach and displayed persistence, have been paid off handsomely.
Some international brands have exceeded domestic brands in size and reach, while others have had to reconcile to being niche operators. Some have seen profits while others may have their senior management wondering what fit of madness brought them to tackle this market where they can only dream about making money sometime in the future.
Typically, when looking at a new market the very first question anyone would ask is: what is the market potential for brand?
However, you should also be prepared to ask yourself: what need is the brand addressing and what is the value being offered by the brand? How would it be able to effectively and efficiently deliver that value? In many cases, for those entering a non-existent product category a more basic question is: “Is there a need for my product offer?” Just because a brand is huge somewhere else in the world does not automatically make it desirable to the Indian consumer.
While most brands want to target the Indian middle-class millions, their sourcing structure and strategy places them out of the reach of most of the population. Brands that have succeeded in creating a significant presence, maintaining their brand image and having a sustainable operating model have, almost uniformly had a significant amount of local manufacturing. Notable examples from fashion include Bata, Benetton, Levi Strauss, Reebok, among others. In case of certain food brands such as Domino’s and McDonald’s, the companies have collaborated with and developed their vendors locally to bring down costs, and improve serviceability.
Apart from the costs and margins, another important issue is that of the adaptability of the product mix. Brands that are sourcing locally and have a significant product development capability in India are also able to respond to specific needs of the Indian market better, rather than being driven by what is appropriate for European or North American markets. This is an enormous advantage when you are trying to be “locally relevant” to the consumer in an increasingly cluttered marketplace.
Indeed the question is more to do with the brand’s willingness and capability to create a product mix that is most suitable for India through a blend of international and India-specific merchandise. The famous “Aloo-tikki” burger by McDonald’s is a great example of a product specifically developed for the Indian consumers. Not just that, India is probably McDonald’s only market in which its signature dish, the Big Mac, is not sold.
Of course, flexibility in tweaking the product to suit Indian market can become a concern when it amounts to losing control over the brand direction, and mutating away from the core proposition that defines the parent in the international market. Many brands wish to control every aspect of product development head office, but this also severely limits their ability to respond to local market needs and changes. A one-size fits all strategy obviously will limit the number of consumers that the brand can effectively address in a market such as India.
Another key question is: what is the degree of control that a brand wants to exercise on the brand, the product, the supply chain and the retail experience of the consumer? The corporate structure itself may be determined by the internal capabilities and strategies of the international brand in their home market or other overseas markets. A brand that has presence through a wholesale business in the home market may not have internal capability or experience in retail, and would look for an Indian partner who can fill in the gap.
Based on whether they want direct operational control over store operations, international companies can set up fully owned subsidiaries or joint ventures to manage the business in India. Many brands prefer to take a slow and steady approach as they do want to exert a significant amount of control over the business (including companies such as Inditex, the owner of Zara, and other retailers such as Wal-Mart and Tesco), entering only when they are fairly confident of being able to closely manage the business in India right up to the retail store.
During our work we have come across both extremes – companies that want to manage the minute details of the India business out of their own head offices, as well as companies that are so hands-off that they only want to hear from their franchisee or licensee when things are especially good or particularly bad. While a balanced, middle-of-the-road approach would be the logical one in each case, in reality individual styles of the top management have a huge influence on the approach actually taken. Also, the size of the potential market segment – relevant to the brand – has an important role to play in the strategy. If the brand is meaningful only to a small segment of the population, or priced at the top-most end of the market, one company may choose to establish an exploratory distribution relationship, while another might choose to set up an owned presence rather than look for an Indian partner to handle their small business.
While perfect partnerships seldom exist, companies could be a lot more careful we have found them to be, in questioning the criteria and motivations for choosing partners. In some cases, financial strengths, or past industrial glory were qualifying factors for picking franchisees, and the relationships have failed because the business culture was divergent from the Principal’s. In other cases, partners have been picked because they “have real estate strengths”, but no consideration has been paid to whether the partner has the operational skills to manage a fashion brand.
On several occasions, franchise relationships and joint ventures have split because one or both partners find that their expectations are not being fulfilled, or the water looks deeper than it did when they got into the business.
The opportunities in India are many. As the managing director of one international brand commented in a conversation with Third Eyesight, India is a market where a brand can enter and live out an entire lifetime of growth.
However, international brands do need to carefully identify what role they wish to play in the market, and what capability and capacity they need operationally to create the success that can truly root a brand into the rich Indian soil.
Differentiation is the key to surviving and thriving in tough times. In the lifestyle products sector (apparel, footwear, home, etc.) a big difference is the product design itself.
More than ever, it is vital for Indian companies – brands, suppliers as well as retailers – to develop their own design and product development team, in the shortest time. The team, including designers, merchandisers, buyers, sourcing people, textile and apparel manufacturers – must sharpen their skills in reading the market trends and in developing new products that can make their brands or retail stores stand apart in the customer’s eyes.
To share its insights and experience, Third Eyesight is organizing an intensive workshop on Product Development and Forecasting (with an insight on Trends for Autumn/Winter 2009/2010). Click to REGISTER NOW.
The workshop will draw upon live experiences from the area of product development in the lifestyle and fashion sector, and will cover:
Past workshops have included top / senior managers from companies such as:
Discounted delegate fees start at just over Rs. 9,000.