“Building a sustainable relationship with customers is a key opportunity for businesses to achieve an omnichannel strategy. Seamless access across web, mobile and store channels and the ability to convert this into richer engagement is critical. Adopting the right technology platforms can help transform the business model, and establish a centralised system that enables consistent service delivery across channels. By improving the forecast of demand and inventory processes, significantly decreasing customer lead-time through high investments in online fulfilment centres and converging physical and e-commerce channels, Woodland is aiming to build a future-proof supply chain. The target is to have a higher availability, lower inventory and higher service level than its competitors.”
Woodland began its operations in the 1960s and was started in Quebec, Canada for making winter boots. In the late 1980s, on account of bankruptcy, Woodland changed hands from Marcel Garneau’s Quebec-based importing company, to the Indian exporter – Aero Group. The Indian company was already exporting manufactured products, like shoe uppers and leather boots, to Canada and the former Soviet Union; this acquisition turned Aero Group from a supplier to an owner with access to three brands: White Fox for fur-lined shoes, Boutique for fashionable footwear, and Woodland for those who love the outdoors.
Since India was still in the pre-liberalisation period, the Group preferred to tread in familiar territory and continued to export products to European countries, like Russia, who took a liking for the brand’s sturdy boots meant for extreme cold weather. Currently, Woodland retail is present in over 40 countries and the company has also set up offices and
warehouses in countries like Hong Kong, Moscow and Dubai to cater to the requirements of different geographies.
Woodland is an aspirational brand and it has seen the Indian retail scenario change over the last twenty-five years. It was in 1991 that India opened its economy to the world and Woodland saw a huge opportunity to market its products in India. They entered India in 1992, post a research conducted on consumer behaviour that helped the company offer a special line of shoes designed specifically for India. Though it had to alter its design to match the Indian climate, it held onto its basic attributes of ‘tough’ and ‘wearable’. The brand positioned itself as a rugged, outdoor leather shoe brand, the kind usually preferred by adventurists. As the target was youth, who were 17–25-yearsold, they connected instantly with this new category of specialised ‘outdoor adventure sports’ shoes.
Since retail in the country was at a very nascent stage and largely dominated by unorganised and highstreet retail, the company collaborated with some established retail footwear brands like Bata and Carona to sell their product, but the partnership did not go well. This pushed Woodland to open its own single-branded retail outlets in India in 1996. The brand immediately clicked with the youth and slowly a separate product line was designed especially for India.
Today, India is one of the key markets for the adventure brand and it is present across 600 company stores and over 5,000 multi-retail stores, like Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, Reliance Trends, etc. The domestic market contributes 80% towards Woodland’s business, while exports contribute 20%. As it is one of the first companies to start the singlebrand store in India, Woodland does not believe in franchising. The exclusive stores act as a foundation for the brand and help it to control its position and quality through an expansive display of its product line. There has been a sea change in how the customer connects with the product since the advent of the brand in India, and the company has adapted itself to meet the needs of the customer. The brand believes in the best possible customer outreach and wants to be present where the customer is. Currently, Woodland has 600 company- owned stores in India and has plans of a yearly expansion of around 50–60 stores. The brand is also slowly increasing its store sizes to accommodate the changed product line. Though footwear remains the flagship segment of Woodland, the share of apparels and accessories is growing and today accounts for 40% of the overall sales.
Typically, a Woodland store can range between 2,000–3,000 sq ft. The brand not only has a robust presence in big cities but also plans to invest in stores in Tier III and IV cities in India. The increase in disposable incomes and the awareness about Woodland through various online platforms have paved the way for its entry into Tier III and IV cities and currently 30% of its revenue share comes from non-metros cities.
Woodland believes that constant innovation and aligning itself to the customers’ needs is what has kept them going strong. Since the major target segment of the brand is the youth, there is an increase in demand for adventure products in India. Keeping these things in mind, the company has expanded its product line and has now started to sell premium adventure and outdoor equipment for sports such as hiking, biking, trekking, climbing, fishing, camping and paragliding. This advanced product range is particularly designed for people who love expeditions, outdoor sports and adventure.
It is this philosophy of ‘be present where the customer is’ that has made Woodland’s brand recall very strong and has translated in its strategic decision making process. Woodland took to the online platform in 2013–2014 and developed its own retail website to capture the changing retail market. Today, the brand sells its products through various formats like malls, high streets, and Woodland’s retail website and also through aggregators like Amazon, Myntra and Jabong.
This multi-channel presence has not only made shopping hassle free but has also made the product more accessible to the people. As it is not possible to have a store in all locations, being accessible to its customers online from any part of the country has worked in favour of the adventure brand. Currently, the online platform contributes 10% of the sales and its attractiveness amongst customers is growing constantly.
For instance, it might not be possible to stock warm jackets and winter boots in the southern cities of India, but being able to order the product online through any of Woodland’s formats makes it easily available to the customers. On the other hand, having an online presence also saves the company from the woes of skyrocketing rents, compliance issues and stock maintenance in stores. The middleman also is eliminated in an online platform and it gives the brand an opportunity to interact directly with the customer through various social media platforms.
However, as technology advances, just being present in different formats are not enough. Woodland has realised that a multi-channel approach might increase its customer outreach but it does not guarantee conversions if the customer does not have an integrated shopping experience. The brand is currently working on its technology, so that all platforms and devices that the customer uses to interact with the company are accounted for. This knowledge will thus be used to help Woodland give a seamless integrated shopping experience to its customers.
Woodland is constantly altering its omni-channel approach to adapt to the market and since it is a relatively new business model, it has its initial hiccups. Technology plays a very important role in the smooth functioning of this model. Given that the concept is so dynamic and nascent, constant upgradation and integration of retail formats with the supply chain – warehousing, vendors, and distributors – with technology is very vital for its success.
Woodland is working on upgrading its technology and is trying to bring its existing divisions like export, key store, and distribution on the same platform for a seamless shopping experience. Woodland as a brand believes that the omni-channel model of retailing is here to stay and that the way forward to maximise their revenue share and customer outreach is through the omni-channel approach.
The company also plans to raise its export volumes by 30% in the coming years to consolidate its sales post the demonetisation in India. As currently, only 20% of Woodland’s business comes from exports, the company is consciously trying to increase the current 80:20 ratio to a 50:50 business.•••