Having walked miles in those everlasting shoes has been a great and comfortable journey. Durability, comfort and value for money are the three essential traits based on which legacy footwear brands like Liberty, Metro, Action, Paragon, Relaxo, Khadims, developed their customer base. However, with couture range and global brands being accessible at the tip of our fingers, international trends are driving market trends.
To keep up with the changing trends, the Indian brands are constantly improvising in terms of technological innovation, material and design to distinguish themselves from high-street fashion. According to a KPMG report, the footwear sector has the potential to grow up to $80 billion, or eight times its present size by 2030.
A Challenge Well Accepted
With well-heeled and trend-conscious Indians looking out for more, the definition of footwear has upgraded from just comfort to comfi-style. Today, each brand offers number of options for a single style in terms of more colors, patterns and even design, unlike the earlier times when the option of variants in a single brand was next to NIL.
Brands like Metro Shoes and Khadims are collaborating with major international brands to further increase their customer base and visibility. Action Shoes, best known for 90s kids’ favourite ‘schooltime’ shoes has recently extended its product range to daily wear chappals and occasional wears. They believe that their sport brand is all set to compete with trend initiators like Nike and Puma. Another legacy brand Relaxo, which has a strong presence in Northern India, is also foraying into other footwear segments.
Elaborating on this, Ankur Bisen, Vice President, Technopak - a retail brand consultancy firm, says, “These legacy footwear companies have begun to contemporize their brand to connect with the new-age foreign brands and to expand their markets in terms of domestic and international reach. They have been consistently growing year-on-year in terms of opening up retail stores, launching brands, be it Liberty, Metro Shoes, or any other legacy footwear brand for that matter.” However, with ‘being in vogue’ becoming a necessity, it is also essential for the legacy brands to hold onto some of their core values.
Raman Bansal, Founder, Liberty, a brand synonymous to comfort and durability, says, “We do not compromise on comfort, today it is the key USP of our brand. We have imbibed love and comfort in our product’s DNA, which each shoe requires. This winter we are planning to launch ‘Healers’, where comfort would be in its DNA.”
Having commenced their operations in 1954, today, other than the usual footwear segment, Liberty has also forayed into other leather accessories. “We are basically targeting products made of leather, like belts, wallets, ladies hand bags, laptop bags and even socks,” says Bansal. Speaking about USP of the brand, Rafiq Malik, Chairman, Metro Shoes, says, “We believe we don’t sell shoes, we sell services and shoes are just an excuse we use to sell services to our guests.”
Metro Shoes launched the business with few showrooms and today, it enjoys the distinguished status of being one of the India’s largest fashion footwear retailers. Few of its path breaking moves has been acquiring brands like Crocs and introducing sub-brand Mochi, which redefined women footwear fashion in early 2000s. Apart from that, Metro Shoes is constantly introducing innovation in men’s casual segment.
Making the Presence Felt The competition does not end there. Today, international footwear brands, are offering extreme fashion at premium prices. “The markets have changed drastically and the traditional businesses have become multi-dimensional. Hence, today we have have all kinds of business models,” Bansal confirms. Today, Liberty is present in exclusive brand stores, online mediums, penetrating the market in every way possible.
With 85 per cent of the market still unorganized, Liberty carries about 5-10 per cent of the organized segment. Malik affirms that Metro Shoes, which is doing 40 styles per week, has nine per cent market share of the organized footwear market. Relaxo, meanwhile, as a family footwear brand, has evolved over the years from an Rs 1 million company in 1976 to more than a Rs 15 billion company last year.
Penetrating deep into the country, with more than 1,000 distributors, above 50,000 retail outlets and 250 exclusive showrooms, Action Shoes claim to be the highest selling shoe brand in India. The brands are also batting hard to increase their visibility, carrying out major endorsements and collaborations. Relaxo has recently bagged stars like Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar and Sonakshi Sinha to endorse their brand, which helped them regain the foothold.
Similarly in a smart move, Action Shoes has tied up with Cartoon Network, imprinting almost all charaters on their chappals. They believe such a move will help them win attention of the children, a market they once dominated. The constant change in trends, rising fashion and inclination of Indian consumers towards foreign brands, are collectively posing a threat to existing players in Indian footwear market. But with utmost proficiency and continuous technological advancement, these legacy brands are making a mark across the globe.
(This article was first published in the August issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)