Business Standard, New Delhi, October 18, 2010
Five years ago, Woodland, the maker of outdoor shoes and apparel, with a flourishing business in the country’s metros, decided to test waters in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. It opened a store each in the retail high streets of Jaipur and Udaipur, both well-known, well-to-do cities. Woodland had much expectation. But the stores flopped — there just weren’t enough buyers — and had to shut. Woodland then decided to stay away from smaller cities for a couple of years. No more experiments, no more testing waters was the message from the head office in Delhi.
year-and-a-half ago, amidst the buzz about the potential of Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, Woodland decided to venture into these cities once again. This time it tweaked its strategy a bit. Instead of opening the regular 300 square feet stores, it decided to go full throttle taking up entire buildings or up to 30-40 per cent of all the space in a mall, and converting them into spacious, almost large-format stores. “We decided to make the Woodland store a landmark in such cities. Nothing works like word of mouth in small cities and towns. If people see a big store which stands out, it becomes a talking point and they make sure they visit it,” says Woodland Managing Director Harkirat Singh.
For the time being, the strategy seems to be working. The response from such stores has been encouraging. But Singh admits what’s also working in his favour is a sea change in the retail landscape and consumer attitude in the past two or three years. Smaller cities are buzzing with retail activity. Branded stores are coming up left, right and centre, and the consumer is no longer shy of opening his wallet. “The consumer in these cities is now ready. The youth is becoming brand conscious, and we see them much more open to spending,” says Singh.
No doubt, Woodland has been on an expansion spree in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. While currently 60 per cent of its 300-plus stores are located in metros and 40 per cent in smaller cities, Woodland wants this to change to 50-50 in the next one or two years, and then gradually to 40 per cent in metros and 60 per cent in smaller cities. “In the past two or three months alone we’ve opened stores in Varanasi, Allahabad, Vapi, Sangli, Thrissur and so on. Unlike five years ago, many of these stores have been doing well from day one. Our plans for the next two to three years will be concentrated on Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities,” says Singh.
“Certainly there is a big difference in real estate costs when it comes to Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities versus the metros. But what companies like Woodland will have to be careful about is that not every such city is going to work. Not every location drives enough demand for such products for the business to sustain. Yes, latent demand is there in many cities and locations, but Woodland will have to carefully evaluate the sites before selecting them,” says Devangshu Dutta, chief executive, Third Eyesight, a retail consulting firm which has been tracking the sector in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities.
But that’s a significant shift for a brand which has primarily been catering to the urban middle class in big cities for almost two decades. Woodland is a sub-brand of Aero Group which started as a winter boot manufacturer in Quebec, Canada in the 1950s. Called Aero America then, it manufactured outdoor winter boots for Canada, Russia and Europe. The company entered the Indian market with Woodland in 1992. With a factory in Sonepat, it catered primarily to Delhi and some other large cities in North India.
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