NEW DELHI, December 14
There is a charming contradiction in footwear marketer Rockport's aspirations when it comes to the Indian market. On the one hand, the company is looking to replicate the performance of mother brand Reebok - be it in terms of sales turnover, brand recall or brand aspiration. On the other, it is determined that it does not want to achieve greatness riding piggyback on Reebok.
Yet, strangely, Rockport's raison d'etre is to offer the Indian consumer the entire gamut of premium footwear options by complementing the Reebok brand. "Rockport was launched in India so that the consumer could get all categories of shoes - sports and non-sports - under the Reebok umbrella," says Manish Dawar, country manager, Rockport. With Reebok accounting for the sports shoe segment, it made perfect sense to launch Rockport in the brown shoe segment.
And the brown shoe segment holds a lot of promise, if Dawar is to be believed. "Footwear and apparel account for the largest consumer spends in the non-durables market, both globally and in India," says Dawar. Despite that, in India, the footwear market has been under the sway of the unorganized sector for a long time. Till recently, other than Bata, there was no big branded player in the market. And even today, national footwear brands are few in number.
The domestic market for branded formal footwear is pegged at 3.5 million pairs, with the premium segment - shoes in the Rs 1,000-plus range - accounting for 1 million pairs. While among the branded players Action Shoes is the market leader in terms of volumes, in the premium segment, the brands competing for the consumer's attention are Hush Puppies, Florsheim, Lee Cooper, Lotus Bawa and Red Tape. And Rockport, of course.
"Rockport is actually in the super-premium bracket," says Dawar. "The lowest-priced Rockport shoe is retailed at Rs 2,490 while the highest goes for Rs 10,000," he adds. Which is one of the problems Rockport faces. Even the well-heeled consumer sees Rockport as being very expensive.
"The kind of technology that goes into Rockport shoes has to be experienced to be believed," says Subhinder Singh Prem, executive director, sales & marketing, Rockport. "Rockport has spent over Rs 400 crore on technology-based research. People should know why they are shelling out so much money for a pair of shoes. So, honestly, it will be another two-three years before people start buying Rockport."
It is not as if there aren't any 'footfalls' in Rockport stores. "Conversion in our stores is as high as 75 per cent," informs Dawar. Great! Not really, says Dawar. "Typically, the conversion rate should be 10-15 per cent. The high conversion signifies that those who are walking into Rockport stores are people predisposed to the brand, such as NRIs." Which means that not enough non-loyalists are walking into Rockport stores.
That Rockport suffers from low brand awareness is a fact. One reason Rockport decided to launch Rockport apparel in the first quarter of 2000. In India, apparel being more affordable, it provides an entry point to the consumer. The figures suggest the plan seems to have worked. While globally, apparel's contribution constitutes just 10 per cent of the sales turnover, in India, half of Rockport's sales come from apparel.
To create awareness, the company has also increased its visibility in the media. It is running a print campaign, devised by HTA, which talks about The Rockport Experience. 'Don't just walk' is the Rockport tagline. The idea is to appeal to the adventurous-at-heart. With reach being a vital factor, the company has spread retail presence to all the metros and many mini-metros. While 15 exclusive Rockport stores are present nationwide, the company is also retailing the brand through footwear and apparel dealers, and shop-in-shop outlets such as Ebony.
For a company that has invested $4 million - over a two-year period - in setting up its India operations, Rockport has much at stake. The company is expecting to close the year 2000 with a turnover of Rs 6 crore. "Which is not bad," insists Dawar. "For Rockport, one full year of operations, in the true sense of the word, will happen only next year." The company hopes to end 2001 with a Rs 30-crore turnover.
Dawar is also banking on the de-reservation of the footwear sector - "hopefully in one year" - for better economies of scale. "Today, most of our shoes are imported, but we are certainly looking to manufacture shoes in India. Once the restrictions are removed, we can make that kind of investments in plants and machinery," he avers.
© 2000 agencyfaqs!