Dhiraj Bathija, Heel & Buckle In­dia

Heel & Buckle, which hails from Lon­don, is a new en­trant to the In­dian footwear mar­ket and has ac­cord­ingly tai­lored its of­fer­ings. On the In­dian mar­ket.VM&RD gets into a con­ver­sa­tion with Dhiraj Bathija , CEO, Heel & Buckle In­dia.

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Cu­rated and con­cep­tu­al­ized for the In­dian mar­ket, Heel & Buckle, the brand has its In­dian back­bone in the form of Dhiraj Bathija. Al­though a Char­tered Ac­coun­tant by qual­i­fi­ca­tion, Dhiraj’s in­sight into the re­tail in­dus­try and the footwear mar­ket in In­dia and Europe com­bined with his dili­gence was in­stru­men­tal in launch­ing Heel & Buckle in In­dia. Be­low are ex­cerpts from a con­ver­sa­tion with the achiever.

Give us a brief about the brand

Heel & Buckle is a Lon­don based be­spoke footwear stu­dio which was launched in 2011. It is a multi-brand for­mat which spells lux­ury. It has great em­pha­sis on de­liv­er­ing qual­ity along with great style and looks. It houses lux­ury brands which are ded­i­cated to footwear. There are high-end lux­ury brands which fo­cus on footwear as part of their collection, but those brands are not our forte. For In­dia, the brands we house have been duly mod­i­fied to suit the mar­ket.

Why did you de­cide on bring­ing this par­tic­u­lar brand to In­dia?

The In­dian mar­ket re­sponds very well to high­street brands like Aldo, Charles and Keith, Steve Mad­den etc. Then we have the lux­ury brands as well. This mar­ket gap is pretty huge and that is where Heel & Buckle comes in in the form of a multi-brand lux­ury footwear house.

Do you have be­spoke ser­vices for the In­dian cus­tomers as well?

In In­dia, we don’t do be­spoke on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. We have events once in a while when we take be­spoke or­ders. But we take in­quiries all the time and let the cus­tomers know when we would be able to cater to their be­spoke re­quests.

You are a Char­tered Ac­coun­tant by pro­fes­sion. What got you into re­tail?

I have done a lot of things in my life. I also used to do a lot of Re­tail Strat­egy con­sult­ing. With con­stant ad­vis­ing and work­ing closely with brands like Sel­f­ridges and Next, I got deep in­sight into the in­dus­try. Also, the Heel & Buckle owner is a per­sonal friend of mine.

Tell us about the process you went through to bring the brand to In­dia.

The process was not that dif­fi­cult on the Lon­don side. I have con­tacts there and de­ci­sions were eas­ily taken on that front. On the In­dian side through, it was a bit of a task as lot of pa­per­work had to be taken care of, be­sides get­ting the right people and also de­cid­ing on an apt lo­ca­tion. We were very clear it had to be a lux­ury lo­ca­tion, as that is what suited the po­si­tion­ing of the brand. The en­tire process took about 10-11 months.

Who is your tar­get au­di­ence?

Our tar­get au­di­ence falls within the age group of 20-55 years. They are well-ed­u­cated and well-trav­eled people. They are a very so­phis­ti­cated au­di­ence and know what they want. They are look­ing for high qual­ity prod­ucts and can in­dulge in qual­ity. Also, they have a very in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic ap­proach and not a herd men­tal­ity. Price is not on their cri­te­ria list.

How has the brand been mod­i­fied to suit the likes of the In­dian mar­ket?

All mar­kets are very dif­fer­ent from each other. We can­not cre­ate a replica of the Lon­don model in In­dia. The mar­ket strat­egy has to be duly ad­justed. Also, the collection we house in the In­dia stores has been hand-picked for the In­dian cus­tomer. Brands and styles are brought in ac­cord­ingly. Here shoes with a gold base colour are quite a re­quire­ment as they cater to their tra­di­tional wear needs as well. The heel size of the shoes is also re­duced based on In­dian pref­er­ences. Also, for men changes are re­quired. They pre­fer wider shoes for in­creased com­fort. So we of­fer more Ital­ian choices for men based on the lo­cal de­sign sen­si­bil­i­ties.

How has the brand been re­ceived in In­dia?

We opened our first Delhi store at the DLF Em­po­rio mall a few months back. We al­ready have a store at the Pal­la­dium mall in Mum­bai. The Delhi store is do­ing re­ally well. Delhi cus­tomers are not very price sen­si­tive and more will­ing to ex­per­i­ment. They are bolder in their choices. We have a wider mar­ket in Delhi com­pared to Mum­bai, though, I must say the Mum­bai store is do­ing pretty good as well.

Who has de­signed the store and what was de­sign brief to de­signer?

We were very clear on the con­cept we wanted. It also had to be a con­tin­u­a­tion to the Heel & Buckle stores in Lon­don. The In­dian stores have been de­signed by B&K group. Both the stores are about 600-800 sq. ft. The am­bi­ence of the store had to be very old world and very woody in the look. It had to em­anate lux­ury and con­vey a very plush look. The feel had to be very up­per class English to be in sync with the brand’s stan­dards.

How much you have you spent per sq ft for build­ing the store?

We have spent about Rs. 6000-7000 per sq. ft.

Which are the brands housed at Heel & Buckle? How was the call taken on the se­lec­tion of the brands ?

The In­dian stores have high-end lux­ury brands like Mag­nanni, Paco Gil, Rad Rus­sel, Pazzion and Alessan­dro.

What is the Home Ser­vice con­cept and how suc­cess­ful is it?

It is a very new con­cept in the In­dian mar­ket. For cities like Delhi and Mum­bai where life is fast-paced and traf­fic is a big has­sle, Heel & Buckle of­fers the lux­ury of shop­ping at home. Our sales specialist takes a few shoes based on the clients’ choice and their size, to a lo­ca­tion pre­ferred by the clients- mostly their res­i­dence. This gives them the ad­van­tage of shop­ping from the com­fort of their home by ac­tu­ally try­ing out the prod­uct and then buy­ing. We have a very niche clien­tele for this ser­vice. Usu­ally they are re­peat cus­tomers or cus­tomers who have been re­ferred for this ser­vice.

Is the e-com­merce ver­sion of the brand do­ing equally well in the In­dian mar­ket?

All our re­tail chan­nels rep­re­sent what Heel & Buckle is all about. E-com­merce is for cus­tomers based away from Mum­bai & Delhi. We have a good mar­ket in Ra­jasthan and Ban­ga­lore. It pro­vides a great plat­form for us to reach out to the rest of the coun­try.

What are your ex­pan­sion plans?

In In­dia we plan to ex­pand in the North it­self. NCR re­gion is our im­me­di­ate tar­get. Since Delhi has given a great re­sponse we will open more stores in Delhi. Our ex­pan­sion plans are not limited to In­dia. We plan to set foot in the Mid­dle East and Gulf re­gions as well. A store in Dubai should open by the end of this year

Dhiraj Bathija CEO, Heel & Buckle In­dia

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