Rohit Patra, Head - Projects from Reliance Brands Limited
A gamut of international brands are finding confidence in Indian vendors for their store fit-outs. Could it be because logistics are simpler? Or are Indian vendors actually upping the ante? VM&RD attempts to find the answers with Rohit Patra, Head - Projects from Reliance Brands Limited, who is responsible for bringing the store design IDs of substantial number of noted international brands to India.
Would you say that a majority of Indian fixture manufacturers are now competent in terms of their material and finishes?
I wouldn’t say a majority, but yes, quite a handful of them are as competent as their international counterparts. Therefore, it makes more sense for us to choose the Indian vendors. What’s better is that our international business partners have also acknowledged the Indian fit-out vendors for their quality.
According to you, what factors can raise the quality levels among Indian vendors?
Had it been 10 years back, I would have said that development of infrastructure was the crucial factor. However, that’s not strictly true today as service providers/vendors who have been in the business for than 10 years are investing more in infrastructure. But the issue is that they refrain from investing in developments when it comes to premium and luxury store fit-outs, simply because of the limited volumes. But my view is that even if the volumes are low, the opportunity to learn and grow is much bigger in the premium segment. Therefore, as a vendor, you must take up the challenge, even if the infrastructure development doesn’t initially mean a lot of business.
Now, mere infrastructure development may not make you an ace retail fit-out specialist. Lot of excellence lies in skillsets too, which comes from experience in the business. So I feel that there is still an abysmal imbalance between developed infrastructure and the honed skillsets. This needs to be set right for quality to improve.
What do you look for when you zero down on a particular fixture manufacturer? What is your checklist for the manufacturers?
Apart from the basic fixture finishes/ materials etc, I always look for the adventurous ones. This means that the vendor should be open to unconventional /non-standard finishes. And I tell you, all it takes is the right skillset to say a “yes”, even if it means outsourcing it. My only parameter while selecting a particular manufacture is the right skillset with understanding and the ability to prepare the correct shop drawings & odd finishes.
Reliance relied on International vendors for the Zegna and Bally stores? Why did you chose not to work with Indian vendors?
It’s because of the store numbers. Bally and Zegna are super luxury stores with limited store expansions in India. Importing fixture was more viable for us as we got only 4-5 months to build their stores and the number of stores was only a few. As rentals are very high in India, opening store on time is crucial to avoid business loss. However, we did test prototyping with some Indian vendors for these brands, but the best of them could only achieve 90% of the desired finish. Therefore, to save time and for the sake of efficiency, we finally opted to import.
What is the price difference when you compare Indian vendors with international vendors?
Though the international vendors have a better understanding of engineering drawings offering better scope for innovation in processes, the price difference is sometimes as good as a dropdown of 50%. But one of the major factors that work against international vendor is the high import duty, which is 22-25 per cent (plus other landing factors). If we look at highend super luxury brands like Bally, I think it would be 65% more economical to go with the Indian vendors.
So do you still see any benefit in importing the fixtures?
Though the cost is high, logisticswise it is easier to import. We haven’t faced any challenge with the international vendors because 95% of the delivery happens on time and the packaging is damage-proof.
How has the overall perception of international brands evolved regarding the Indian vendors especially for store fitouts?
If you are talking about fixture vendors, all our partners today, except for the super luxury ones like Zegna and Bally, are confident that we can make fixtures in India. For instance, for Superdry we are the only business partners allowed to build our own fixtures locally. However, I would like to add that it was not an easy walk to gain that confidence. We had to do two rounds of prototyping and sampling until we got it perfect. There were twenty different types of fixtures and we did all of them with three different vendors and finally shortlisted one. Scotch & Soda is another example where we initially imported fixtures for India stores; but now the Scotch&Soda principle partners have gained so much confidence in our India vendors that they are being asked to supply in global markets too.