By Tarang Gautam Saxena & Devangshu Dutta
Since the onset of reopening of India’s economy in the late 1980s, fashion is one consumer sector that has drawn the largest number of global brands and retailers. Notwithstanding the country’s own rich heritage in textiles the market has looked up to the West for inspiration. This may be partly attributable to colonial linkages from earlier times, as well as to the pre-liberalisation years when it was fashionable to have friends and relatives overseas bring back desirable international brands when there were no equivalent Indian counterparts. Even today international fashion brands, particularly those from the USA, Europe or another Western economy, are perceived to be superior in terms of design, product quality and variety.
International brands that have been drawn to India by its large “willing and able to spend” consumer base and the rapidly growing economy have benefitted in attaining quick acceptance in the Indian market and given their high desirability meter, most international brands have positioned themselves at the premium-end of the market, even if that is not the case in the home markets. In addition, Indian companies – manufacturers or retailers – have been more than ready to act as platforms for launching these brands in the market and today there are over 200 international fashion brands in the Indian market for clothing, footwear and accessories alone, and their numbers are still growing.
Global Fashion Brands – Destination India
Europe’s luxury brands have had a long history with India’s princely past, but modern India tickled the interest of international fashion brands in the 1980s when it set on the path of liberalisation. The pioneering companies during this stage were Coats Viyella, Benetton and VF Corporation. At the time the Indian apparel market was still fragmented, with multiple local and regional labels and very few national brands. Ready-to-wear apparel was prevalent primarily for the menswear segment and was the logical target for many international fashion brands (such as Louis Philippe, Arrow, Allen Solly, Lacoste, Adidas and Nike). (Addendum: The rights to Louis Philippe, Van Heusen and Allen Solly in India and a few other markets were sold after several years to the Indian conglomerate, Aditya Birla Group, as part of the Madura Garments business.)
The rapidly growing media sector also helped the international brands in gaining visibility and establishing brand equity in the Indian market more quickly. However, this period did not see a huge rush of international brands into India. West Asia and East Asia (countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and even Thailand) were seen as more attractive due to higher incomes and better infrastructure. In the mid-1990s there was a brief upward bump in international fashion brands entering the Indian market, but by and large it was a slow and steady upward trend.
The late-1990s marked a significant milestone in the growth of modern retail in India. Higher disposable incomes and the availability of credit significantly enhanced the consumers’ buying power. Growth in good-quality retail real estate and large format department stores also allowed companies to create a more complete brand experience through exclusive brand stores in shopping centres and shop-in-shops in department stores.
By the mid-2000s, however, a very distinct shift became visible. By this time India had demonstrated itself to be an economy that showed a very large, long-term potential and, at least for some brands, the short to mid-term prospects had also begun to look good.
While India was a promising market to many international brands, it was not completely immune to the global economic flu. More than its primary impact on the economy, it sobered the mood in the consumer market. Even the core target group for international brands tightened the purse strings and either down-traded or postponed their purchases.
In 2008, in the midst of economic downturn, scepticism and uncertainty, international fashion brands continued to enter India at nearly the same momentum as the previous year. Many international brands such as Cartier, Giorgio Armani, Kenzo and Prada entered India in 2008, targeting the luxury or premium segment. However, given the high import duties and high real estate costs, the products ended up being priced significantly higher than in other markets. Many brands ended up discounting the goods heavily to promote sales, while a few gave up and closed shop.
The year 2009 saw the true impact of the slowdown as fewer international brands were launched during the year. The brands that launched in 2009 included Beverly Hills Polo Club, Fruit of the Loom, Izod, Polo U.S., Mustang, Tie Rack, Donna Karan/DKNY and Timberland amongst others. Some of these had already been in the pipeline for quite some time and had invested considerable time and effort in understanding the dynamics of the Indian retail market, scouting for appropriate partners, building distribution relationships and tying up for retail space, setting up the supply chain and, most importantly, getting their operational team in place.
2010 was better in comparison: although initially slow, the growth of new international brands entering the Indian market in 2010 bounced back later during the year, and some brands that had exited the Indian market earlier also made a comeback. Amongst the new launches, a highlight of the year was the launch of the most awaited and discussed-about Spanish brand Zara. The first store was launched in Delhi to an absolutely phenomenal response, followed by a store in Mumbai, and a third again in Delhi. The Italian value fashion brand, OVS Industry, was launched in 2010 by Oviesse through a joint-venture with Brandhouse Retail from the SKNL group. While in its first year products were imported from Italy, the company had mentioned that it intended to bring in the merchandise directly from the supply source for speed and cost effectiveness, to achieve aggressive growth over the following five years.
2010 indicated a fresh round of optimism as the pace of new brands entering the market picked up, and those already present in the market showing signs that they were adapting their strategies to grow their India business, including lowering prices and entering new segments.
Though the number of new brands entering the Indian shores in 2011 and 2012 may not have matched the numbers in the peak years, both years have been healthy and the list of new brands ready to enter in 2013 already seems promising.
Amongst others, 2011 saw the entry of Australian brands such as Roxy and Quiksilver having tied up with Reliance Brands for distribution. The largest British football club and lifestyle brand Manchester United, signed up with Indus-League Clothing Ltd. to bring the fashion products to India, after having launched café bars in India in 2010 through a franchisee.
2012 brought in luxury brands such as Christian Louboutin, Roberto Cavalli and Thomas Pink, womenswear brands such as Elle, Monsoon and fashion accessories brands such as Claire’s.
Routes to Market – The Evolution
The choice for entry strategy for the fashion brands has evolved over the years. During the initial years licensing was the preferable route for international brands that were testing the market. This shifted to franchising as import duties dropped and brands looked at exerting more control on the product and the supply chain. More recently, brands seem to be opting for some degree of ownership, as they begin to take a long-term view of the market.
In the 1980s and the early 1990s, licensing was a popular entry strategy amongst the global fashion brands, with minimal involvement in the Indian business.
In the mid-1990s a few companies such as Levi Strauss set up wholly owned subsidiaries while others such as Adidas and Reebok entered into majority-owned joint ventures. This helped them to gain a greater control over their Indian operations, sourcing and supply chain, and brand. In the subsequent years import duties for fashion products successively came down making imports a less expensive sourcing option and the realty boom brought in many investors in retail real estate who became franchisees for the international brands. By 2003, franchising became the preferred launch vehicle for an increasing number of international companies, while only a few chose to enter through licensing.
In 2006 the Government of India reopened retail to foreign investment (allowing up to 51 per cent foreign direct investment in single-brand retail). Using this route, many brands have entered India by setting up majority-owned joint ventures, or moving their existing franchise relationships into a joint venture structure. By the end of 2008, more than 40 per cent of the international brands were present through a franchise or distribution relationship, while more than 25 per cent had either a wholly-owned or majority-owned subsidiary. All these structures allowed the brands to have greater control of operations, particularly of the product.
Amongst the international brands that entered the Indian market, a few were on their second or even third attempt at the market. For instance, Diesel BV initially signed a joint venture agreement in 2007 with Arvind Mills. However, by the middle of 2008, the relationship ended with mutual consent, as Arvind reduced its emphasis at the time on retailing international brands within the country. Within a few months of ending this relationship, Diesel signed a joint venture with Reliance Brands as the iconic denim brand wanted to take on the Indian market full throttle and the Indian counterpart had indicated that it wanted to rapidly build its portfolio of Indian and foreign brands in the premium to luxury segments across apparel, footwear and lifestyle segments.
Similarly, Miss Sixty entered India in 2007 through a franchisee agreement with Indus Clothing. It switched to a joint venture with Reliance Brands in the same year but the partnership was called off in 2008. Miss Sixty finally entered India through a franchisee agreement with a manufacturer of women’s footwear and accessories.
During the turbulence of 2008 and 2009, a few brands also moved out of the market. Some of them were possibly due to misplaced expectations initially about the size of the market or about the pace of change in consumer buying habits. Others were due to a failure either on the part of the brand or its Indian partners (or both), to fully understand what needed to be done to be successful in the Indian market. Whatever the reason, the principals or their partners in the country decided that the business was under-performing against expectations for the amount of effort and money being invested, and that it was better to pull the plug. Amongst the brands that exited the market during 2008 and 2009 were Gas, Springfield and VNC (Vincci).
In the last few years as the foreign direct investment rules are being softened in particular with regard to the more flexibility in the 30% domestic sourcing and clarification on brand ownership norm there is an increasing preference for international companies to enter the India market with some form of ownership while those that are already in the market are looking to increase their stakes in the business.
Several brands have taken the plunge into investing in the Indian operations and moved more aggressively into the market. Since the year 2009, international brands increasingly opted for joint-ventures as the choice for entry into the market. Even the brands already present started looking to modify the nature of their presence in India in order to exert more control over the retail operations, products, supply chain and marketing. Brands that changed their operating structures and, in some cases partners, include VF (Wrangler, Lee etc.), Lee Cooper, Lee, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Burberry amongst others. Mothercare, the baby product retailer, which was initially present through a franchise agreement with Shoppers Stop, formed a joint venture with DLF Brands Ltd to enable the expansion through stand-alone stores.
During 2011, Promod changed its franchise arrangement with Major Brands into a joint-venture that is majority-owned by Promod. From its launch in 2005, the brand has opened 9 stores so far. However with the new joint venture in place, the international brand is reported to be looking at opening 40 stores in the next four years with the hope of increasing the contribution of India business to its global revenue to the extent of 15-20% from a mere 3% at present.
After its partnership with Raymond fell through in 2007 and all of its standalone stores were shut down, Gas (Grotto SpA) scouted around for an appropriate partner for India business. Eventually, the brand set up a wholly owned subsidiary in 2010 for wholesale operation while retail stores were franchised. In 2012 the company formed an equal joint venture partnership with Reliance Brands with plans to ramp up India retail presence.
2012 was a defining year marking the government’s decision to allow 100% foreign direct investment in single brand retail business and permitting multi-brand retail in India. Not only has this encouraged new brands to consider the Indian market but many existing brands have started reviewing their existing operating structures and alliances, and have initiated moves towards greater ownership and a stronger foothold in the Indian market. Some of the brands have taken the decision to step into an ownership position in India as they felt that India was too strategic a market to be “delegated” entirely to a partner (whether licensee or franchisee), or that an Indian partner alone might not be able to do justice to the brand in terms of management effort and financial capital.
S. Oliver restructured its India operations in 2012 by exiting its prior relationship with the apparel exporter Orient Craft and tied up with a new partner through a majority joint venture. To gain a larger share in the Indian market the company has repositioning the brand, changed its sourcing strategy, reduced the entry-level prices by 40% while reducing the store size (from 5,000 sq. ft. to 1,200-2,400 sq. ft.). It has also put in place an aggressive expansion strategy for tier II towns. The change in FDI norms towards the end of last year may cause it to review its position further.
Canali has entered into a majority-owned joint-venture with its existing partner Genesis Luxury. The brand had entered in India in 2004 through a distribution agreement. Through this change the international brand plans to grow its presence in India multi-fold by opening 10-15 stores over the next three-four years.
Pavers England is the first international brand to have applied for and been granted the permission to own and operate its retail business in India through a 100 per cent subsidiary owned by a UK based company. Newcomers such as H&M and Loro Piana are reportedly considering the joint venture route.
As we have already mentioned in one of our earlier papers (“Tapping into the India Gold Rush”) we do not expect a dramatic short-term growth in the number of international brands following the retail FDI relaxation in September 2012. However, at that time we did foresee some changes in the operating structures for the single brand ventures already active in the market, as well as entry of new brands that have been holding back so far as they wanted greater control in their India retail business and this seems to be happening already.
In the luxury sector, 51 percent FDI and distribution relationships are likely to continue to be a norm, since it is virtually impossible for most luxury companies to meet the 30 percent domestic sourcing requirement in its true spirit. In many cases, the local partner in a joint venture is a mere placeholder until FDI rules are liberalised further and, unless the business grows significantly, most brands will be content to keep the existing structures in place.
In the other segments some more relationships could be reconstituted during 2013, taking the international brand at least a step closer to gaining greater control, even if their partners remain the same.
Franchising is still the more common form of route to market for most single brand retail companies although for many international companies an eventual ownership in India business may be desirable. However, licensing should not be excluded from the choice set, especially for companies that are multi-brand retail concepts such as Sephora or those that manage to find a suitable Indian partner that can provide end-to-end support from product sourcing to distribution and retail (for example, the relationship between Elle and Arvind).
Today two thirds of the international fashion brands come from three countries the U.S.A., Italy and the U.K. with nearly 30 per cent originating from the U.S.A. alone.
Is This A Lucky 13?
The theme for the year 2013 is positive for most brands, although still cautious.
Amongst the international brands that one can look forward to shopping in 2013 are “Uniqlo” of Fast Retailing, Japan’s largest apparel retailer, Sweden’s H&M, Emilio Pucci and Billabong. But India is not merely a destination anymore for the international brands to grow their business. The country is also increasingly becoming the innovation-platform or testing ground for new concepts and trends. World Co. a Japanese retailer with more than 3,000 stores in Japan and 200 stores in other parts of Asia is also test-marketing women’s apparel and accessories brands such as Couture Brooch, Opaque.clip, zoc, Tk Mixpie and Hot Beat to gain insights into consumers’ psyche. Italian brand United Colors of Benetton has recently introduced a global retail interior design concept which is present in major European cities but is the first-of-its-kind store in Asia and may well set the trend for the rest of Asia.
Gucci recently opened its largest store in India recently Delhi-NCR after two failed joint ventures. All of its five stores are now run directly by the company and the Indian business also reported to have turned profitable this year.
Brands such as Mango who have chosen the franchise route are tying up with additional partners (e.g. DLF) in the hope of making the Indian business contribute significantly to the overall revenue of the company.
UK-based apparel chain Marks & Spencer is accelerating its expansion in India with plans to add ten stores in the next six to eight months in the country. The company has identified India as one of the key markets to become the world’s most sustainable retailer by 2015. It plans to increase the number of stores in India from 24 currently to over 30 through the 51:49 joint venture with Reliance Retail.
Puma SE, the global sports lifestyle company for athletic shoes, footwear, and other sports-wear aggressively set out to gain 30 per cent of the Indian organised retail sportswear market within a year, from a share of 18-20 per cent in the top four branded sportswear segments in 2011. To this end the company targeted opening nearly 100 more stores during 2012. While the actual numbers are reportedly short of target, the brand has been opening amongst the largest stores during the year.
The confidence in the India opportunity is rising again, with existing global brands expecting the contribution from India business to grow multi-fold in a few years. However, the approach is of careful consideration and brands realise that India is a unique market, different not only from the West but also from other Asian economies such as China. Rather than adopting a “cut-and-paste” approach one needs to seriously consider the appropriate business model for India. Many of the global players have had to create a different positioning from their home markets. Some have significantly corrected pricing and fine-tuned the product offering since they first launched; these include The Body Shop and Marks & Spencer. Others are unearthing new segments to grow into; for instance, Puma and Lacoste are now seriously targeting womenswear as a growth market.
It is not only international brands that are more optimistic. Indian partners are also reviewing their approach. For instance, the Arvind Group that had looked at reducing its emphasis on international fashion brands in 2007-08 has recently acquired the business operations of Planet Retail which operated the franchises of British fashion retailers Debenhams and Next, and American lifestyle brand Nautica in India. The company termed Debenhams’ franchise as a significant acquisition as it provided an entry into the department store segment. Arvind plans to increase the India presence of Debenhams from 2 stores to 8 over the next three years. It also plants to grow the network of Next, the large-format speciality stores, from 3 to 12 in the same period.
As customer footfall and conversions pick up, international brands are also shoring up their foundations for future expansion in terms of better processes and systems, closer understanding of the market, and nurturing talent within their team. Third Eyesight’s study of the market highlights international brands’ concerns with ensuring a consistent brand message, improved organisational capabilities right down to front-line staff, and focussing on unit productivity (per store and per employee).
India shows signs of a healthier business outlook for International brands but the game has just begun and with competition getting tougher, we can expect interesting times ahead.
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.
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Prime Source Forum (Hong Kong) has become the ‘must attend’ annual event for the apparel industry, offering senior executives from all over the world the chance to meet and discuss current challenges and opportunities with their peers, providing also a meeting place where competitors speak freely to each other in the knowledge that many major issues can be resolved only through mutual understanding and common solutions. More than 50 senior executives from 14 countries will lead the discussions ranging over the challenges and opportunities confronting the industry in today’s changing economic and political environment.
The event will be prefaced on 31 March with industry workshops.
The main event will be opened by the Keynote address – “The World May Be Flat But the Terrain is Rough: Global Sourcing in The Next Three Years” – by Dr William Fung, Group Managing Director, Li & Fung Limited.
Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of Third Eyesight, will be moderating the panel on the emergence of brands as retailers in their own right, and the change this is creating in developed and developing markets. The panel will include
Shuman Chatterjee, CEO, Levi Strauss (India) Pvt Ltd
Edward A Gribbin, President, Alvanon Consulting Group, Alvanon, Inc
So Hee Kim, Editor in Chief, Malcom Bridge, Korea
Carlo Rivetti, Member of the Board of SMI-ATI, President, Sportswear Company, Italy
Fernando Urrea, President, Leonisa S.A., Columbia
Fritz Winans, Senior Vice President – Corporate, Global Manufacturing/ Sourcing, Liz Claiborne Inc
Devangshu Dutta will also deliver the closing summary at the event.
For more details on the event, including registration information, please visit the event website: http://www.primesourceforum.com/
For those who are familiar with Kutchh, and its people, there is no doubt that it is one of the most active hotbeds of entrepreneurship. A lot of the business in India’s financial capital, Mumbai, is in the hands of the ‘kutchhis’ (those from Kutchh). Many of India’s largest companies and financial heavyweights are from this region, while Surat has been a force to reckon with in the global diamond trade. Amidst all this, one of the most interesting group that I have come across are the craftspeople and artisans working with traditional methods of craft – textiles, metal, wood, leather etc.
Beyond the timeless creative wealth that traditional craft creates, a conversation with one such craftsman – a handloom weaver – highlighted to me the value of crafts as a force of entrepreneurship. While talking about the world in general, his choices in life etc., he said that the strongest reason for him to stick to his family’s handloom tradition was the fact that he was an entrepreneur. He was his own boss, not reporting to anyone else, and his fortunes not subject to the whims and fancies of some better-educated higher-up in “a company”. To him, the sense of dignity from creating his own products and running his own trade was far more important than ‘earning more in a safe job’. An important learning to keep in mind during these times of hectic corporatization of Indian business.
The other aspect that is specifically important to the fashion / lifestyle products sector is the diversity of product base and the product development edge it provides the industry. The product development, design and merchandising capability is a backbone for the lifestyle / fashion / soft goods industry in India, that keeps it in the global competitive arena despite wheezing infrastructure, rising costs and other competitive inefficiencies.