Packed with pas­sion: 13 Rea­sons

Right from his ear­li­est days in the footwear in­dus­try, Opin­der Singh, MD, Jap­jee Group has been known for tak­ing risks and hav­ing his finger on the pulse of what’s cool. In his most widerang­ing and in-depth in­ter­view, Amit Cho­pra, MD, S&A spoke ex­clu­sivel

Shoes & Accessories - - Brand Focus -

Af­ter get­ting his start as a man­u­fac­turer, back in 1992, Singh spent twenty years work­ing his way up the lad­der to be­come a pop­u­lar brand,ef­fec­tively over­see­ing the sales, prod­uct, fi­nance, HR and sourc­ing de­part­ments of a com­pany that, un­der his lead­er­ship, was trans­formed into a glob­ally rec­og­nized brand, em­blem­atic of the ac­tive na­ture of com­fort styles. Singh’s each move was closely watched. In 2012, he skimmed his brand13 Rea­sons, a buoy­ant mid­dle-mar­ket com­fort footwear brand, which sorely needed a re­boot and Singh was the man to do it. He man­aged to se­cure short-term fi­nanc­ing to eke through the lean times. And ear­lier this year, crest­ing on dou­ble-digit per­cent­age growth in sales, 13 Rea­sons man­aged to es­tab­lish a solid foot­ing for growth.

S&A: Are things go­ing in the right di­rec­tion? Opin­der Singh:

We have seen dou­ble-digit per­cent­age like for like­sales growth in our sales and out­stand­ing growth in dis­tri­bu­tion over the last few­months. It seems like things are go­ing in the right di­rec­tion.

S&A: Are you happy with the re­sults? OS:

The re­sults are good. They are fine. Last year was more about con­tin­u­ing to cre­ate the in­fra­struc­ture, be­cause you know when we took this busi­ness on higher lev­els, we didn’t have enough pro­duc­tion lines, our own IT. So last year we set up a mas­sive sys­tems, IT, lo­gis­tics and ware­hous­ing project,3 new lines — and that took up a lot of our time. Sales came through con­sis­tently and we were pleased. What I re­ally did was give us a plat­form for growth, which is where this year comes in. We are do­ing just un­der 17 per­cent like for like sales growth, so it’s phe­nom­e­nal. It’s as if it’s just taken for hit a tip­ping point.

S&A: What have been the key driv­ers of this growth? OS:

Re­tail growth in In­dia is gen­er­ally flat and it’s not like we have opened a lot of new stores. The one over­rid­ing thing, more than any­thing else, is ab­so­lutely the prod­uct. Of course, I would say that be­cause I’m a prod­uct per­son, but it’s true. Sud­denly, we’ve found con­fi­dence. I thought it would take us few months to get here and it’s taken cou­ple of years, so it’s longer than I ex­pected. If you al­ready have a cus­tomer base, you can start off in that di­rec­tion, but if they all ba­si­cally say ‘I don’t want any of that,’ then you kind of have to com­pro­mise a bit. Even the bravest per­son in the world would have to com­pro­mise. You can’t just com­pletely alien­ate ev­ery sin­gle ex­ist­ing cus­tomer. You have to me­an­der and that’s what we did. And un­for­tu­nately, by com­pro­mis­ing, we never quite got go­ing where we thought we should be go­ing. It di­luted the of­fer. I sup­pose with the build up of editorial and word-of-mouth and peo­ple find­ing out about us, peo­ple have started to say, ‘Ac­tu­ally there’s some­thinghere.’ I se­ri­ously think it’s a com­bi­na­tion of talk about the brand and ab­so­lutely, sud­denly get­ting that prod­uct right. It’s got so much bet­ter, it’s got so much more con­fi­dent, and it’s got a real point of view.

S&A: Your views on work cul­ture at your com­pany? OS:

We have al­ways tried to cre­ate a cul­ture of be­long­ing. I be­lieve in the im­por­tance of cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment where peo­ple be­longed. It’s one thing that I’m proud of – the pas­sion of our em­ploy­’s a great les­son – how peo­ple re­ally want to be­long to some­thing that they be­lieve in – and that has been one of the high­lights of the past few years.

S&A: So what is it that you are of­fer­ing new? OS:

We are in­tro­duc­ing Me­mory Foam Tech­nol­ogy footwear in our new col­lec­tions. The num­ber of tech­nolo­gies that are be­ing used in shoes has in­creased

like CRINKLE and flex­i­ble soles. most peo­ple choose to buy the shoes and deal with it. That makes the de­sign an over­all suc­cess.

S&A:IF you were go­ing to de­scribe the 13 Rea­sons of the past, how would you do so?

OS: Most of the cus­tomers when I first went round the stores — when we started into the brand — had grey hair, which is fine, but it ledme to be­lieve that it was an older cus­tomer base and there weren’t any new, younger cus­tomers com­ing into the brand. And that wor­ried me. Even right from the start, we knew we wanted to change it from what it was to what it had once been, which was an in­ter­est­ing, as­pi­ra­tional, con­tem­po­rary brand. We keep in­no­vat­ing and in­tro­duc­ing newer ma­te­rial

S&A: How about the price point?

OS: Cer­tainly, when we started, we iden­ti­fied that there was a gap in the mar­ket for com­fort fash­ion; for con­tem­po­rary, ef­fort­less, comfy fash­ion—not clas­sic. There were a lot of peo­ple in that pre­mium price point that were do­ing clas­sic things, but they had an iden­tity that re­ally didn’t change that much from sea­son to sea­son. We aren’t about that. We are about comfy fash­ion.we are re­ally ex­cited by it and ap­peal to cus­tomers who are ex­cited by it, not nec­es­sar­ily peo­ple who just want to slightly up­date their footwear wardrobe each year.

S&A: We have ob­served that in this tough eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment, what’s per­form­ing are lux­ury brands at the very top end of the mar­ket and brands at the very low end, su­per cheap, fast fash­ion. But you’re res­o­lutely po­si­tioned in the mid­dle and the re­sults demon­strate that it’s work­ing for you. Is it?

OS: Maybe it is. I’ve been in this busi­ness, as has my team, for a long­time and I think, in­stinc­tively, we knew that there was some­thing that was lack­ing, some­thing that men wanted that wasn’t there. You have to take risks some­times and say ‘I think this is the case’ and try it — rely on your in­stincts. We did that to an ex­tent with 13 Rea­sons.

S&A: Where do you see it go­ing now? What role do you play with re­gard to prod­ucts and de­signs?

OS: When I started 13 rea­sons, there were many strong brands re­tail­ing al­ready. I didn’t start comfy footwear. But we sim­ply in­no­vated it fur­ther. This has been with us for a long time. I call my­self a prod­uct per­son, but I’m not a de­signer, nor have I ever been. My role is to es­tab­lish the creative di­rec­tion of the brand and then to ar­tic­u­late that to the team. My role is very much of some­one who is sort of nudg­ing it to the left or to the right and mak­ing sure it’s still ad­her­ing to our orig­i­nal vi­sion; and mak­ing sure that we are push­ing a lit­tle bit fur­ther and not fall­ing be­hind. That’s my role. And also ar­tic­u­lat­ing the mes­sage to the cus­tomer, in terms of build­ing the brand and po­si­tion­ing the brand in ev­ery­body’s minds. That’s pretty much what I do, as well as con­sid­er­ing where we think the brand needs to go next in terms of strat­egy.

S&A: What’s your fo­cus on now?

OS: The re­tail­ers port­fo­lio that we took over was mixed. There are some great stores, but also some that didn’t work and prob­a­bly weren’t the right stores for the brand. So we’ve iden­ti­fied gaps in the mar­ket. We’ve iden­ti­fied 50 more stores in South In­dia. We have also con­firmed that we will grow with our ex­ist­ing dis­trib­u­tors, and grow in more stores in New Zealand, which gives us an op­por­tu­nity to re­ally show­case the col­lec­tion to in­ter­na­tional buy­ers. It’s too soon for us to open our stores, so we will stick to whole­sale model. But be­cause we are man­u­fac­tur­ers we can keep drop­ping prod­uct — there’sal­ways new­ness com­ing through. Our sell­throughs are al­ways 70 to 80 per­cent.

S&A: How fre­quently are you mak­ing new prducts?

OS: Ev­ery 4 weeks or so. You have to. The only way it will work is if the cus­tomer is see­ing some­thing new.

S&A: So where does 13 rea­sons go from here?

OS: As­sets are one thing, but it’s peo­ple who make a com­pany and it is peo­ple who make a dif­fer­ence. It’s our com­pany. It’s our op­por­tu­nity. It’s our fu­ture. On op­er­a­tional front, we are start­ing our in­ter­na­tional ex­pan­sion. We are start­ing with Europe and UAE. Our stress would be on comfy col­lec­tion. Idon’t want to make any mis­takes and I also want to find out which mar­kets work and which don’t. In five years’ time, I hope we would be dou­bling our busi­ness in In­dia and have a cou­ple of our own stores. I’m not sure I see the ne­ces­sity to open that many stores, es­pe­cially with on­line be­ing as strong as it is. I think nowa­days if you’re in the right re­tail stores, you don’t re­ally need to open hun­dreds of stores across the coun­try. Af­ter New Zealand, I think that Aus­tralia has got to be a huge mar­ket for us, but we are go­ing to leave that for an­other year. We are re-de­sign­ing our­site right now which will launch shortly. I think on­line is tremen­dously ex­cit­ing.

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