How Liberty's First Franchisee is Still in Awe with the Brand Virender Narwal, Partner, Naruson Sales Corporation, shares his story with the brand over the last three decades and how Liberty differentiates from the competition.
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Narwal brothers of Karnal, Haryana, were the first to open a Liberty footwear showroom in India. It was in 1983 when Giani Zail Singh, President of India and Mikhail Gorbachev, President of USSR (now Russia), persuaded Liberty to set up showrooms in India. As Liberty approached the market, Surender Narwal and Virender Narwal were quick to partner. The move worked wonders as they expanded base across the country after first outlet in Kurukshetra in 1984. The Naruson Group is currently the biggest franchisee of Liberty with 12 outlets and three sub-franchisees. Excerpts from an interview:
What are the benefits you see in franchising with Liberty?
Unlike other brands, which have segmented approach while selling men's, women's, formal and casual shoes, Liberty offers footwear for the entire family under one roof. The brand offers margins of 30-40 per cent which can increase further with good performance and meeting the targets. Moreover, unlike brands like Adidas and Reebok, Liberty has a clear demarcation between offline and online channel and offers different products through online platforms to safeguard the offline store interests. In fact, the robust support from the brand has enabled us to become principal distributor as well as expand our base throughout the territories with franchise and sub-franchise outlets.
How are the current challenges different from the earlier ones?
Coming from an agricultural background, footwear retail was a completely new area for us. Moreover, the footwear industry was mostly unorganized and the branded space was monopolized by Bata. However, the market had humongous scope and we had a great learning while understanding the segment.
Currently, we face challenges with the influx of international brands and predatory pricing from e-commerce portals. Simultaneously, establishing a showroom at premier locations in Tier-1 and metro cities has become difficult and unviable due to skyrocketing rentals/property prices. Thankfully, we are seeing increasing demand for Liberty in Tier-2 and -3 cities as we expand our franchise and sub-franchise portfolio at these locations.
What support do you provide to your sub-franchisees?
We offer sub-franchises under three flexible models. We are open to investors if they are willing to invest for the store and want us to run the business. We also have 50-50 sub-franchise where we help the individual with half of the investment. Further, we offer sub-franchise where the store is owned and operated by the individual. We help our sub-franchisees in finding a location for their outlet, as being a Liberty distributor, we are aware of the demand for Liberty products in a particular market and can give sound advice on the viability of an outlet in any location. We also provide marketing, staff training and guidance on day-to-day transactions for the first few months.
What are your expansion plans?
We are targeting to have 20-25 stores within the next five years in Delhi-NCR and Rajasthan. We are also considering the viability of venturing into markets like the UK, UAE, Canada and EU.
(This article was first published in the December 2019 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)