Can Umbro score in India?

By Saumya Tewari , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Marketing | May 26, 2014
As Umbro works towards creating brand awareness, we take a quick look at what sets it apart from the Nikes and Reeboks of the world, in India.

Manchester-based sports brand Umbro entered the Indian market last year through Planet Sports, part of the Future Group. At the time, Umbro's portfolio included soccer boots and sports footwear. Last month, Umbro expanded its offering and launched an apparel range in the country. We take a look at what sets Umbro apart from the sports brands that have been present in the market for several years.

Kainaz Turel

Ajay Chablani

The brand custodians make a case for why it's more than just 'yet another sports brand' trying to make its presence felt in India. Umbro, that markets football-related apparel, footwear and equipment in more than 90 countries worldwide, claims its "specialised range of football-related merchandise" is what will set it apart from others in this market.

Defining Umbro's TG in India, Kainaz Turel, senior manager, marketing, Planet Sports, says "Despite Umbro primarily being a hard core soccer brand, it also has a wide offering for other sports enthusiasts, especially in India. So there is something for every sports loving Indian."

The Core and Performance ranges form part of the brand's clothing line for India. While the former comprises crew neck tees, knit shorts, track pants and track suits, the latter includes polo tees, performance shorts and track suits. The Core range is for everyone and the Performance range is targeted at athletes and sports enthusiasts. The company plans to offer sporty and colourful soccer gear and accessories, such as soccer guards, gloves, socks, caps and sport sippers.

Backpacks from Umbro are slated to be launched later this year.

According to Ajay Chablani, business head, Planet Sports, Indians are "sporty", as opposed to "hardcore sports fanatics."

"The response to Umbro," he says, "has been encouraging. We envisage that the sports accessories market will pick up over the next three to four years."

At the moment, focus is on creating brand awareness. The upcoming FIFA World Cup is a platform to do just that. Chablani says that such sporting events do bring in a spike in the sales. The challenge, of course, is to sustain sales through various activations.

"With the FIFA World Cup around the corner and the Indian Soccer League (ISL) now becoming a reality, we will witness a boost in sales. As a brand, however, we continue to put in efforts to create sustainable activity," he says.

Umbro is being promoted in the Indian market through a gamut of print and outdoor campaigns, executed by Allied Media. The brand is also working on consumer activations at the grass root level.

Umbro faces direct competition from other major players in the category including Puma, Nike, Reebok and Adidas. The TG and pricing certainly overlap. Chablani points out that Umbro's "special soccer range" is the brand's biggest differentiator.

Interestingly enough, many niche sporting brands take the online route to enter the market. Some of the examples include the National Basketball Association (NBA) Store and the US-based DC Shoes Store on Jabong. Apart from Planet Sports, Umbro is also available online on Myntra, Jabong, Flipkart and Amazon. Chablani says that e-commerce platforms reduce the cost of operating the brick and mortar store which usually is very high.

"Online portals help us gain momentum in sales. Through this live channel we can cater to our target audience in regions where we don't have a brick and mortar presence. Online distribution gives us leads. Moreover, we can dole out discounts and offers and influence online shoppers to buy more," he explains.

For the record, other sports brands offered by Planet Sports include Converse, Skechers, Champion, Spalding, Spunk and Wilson, among others. The multi-retail chain has presence in all the major metros as well as emerging markets like Chandigarh, Coimbatore and Pune. It is also present in cities like Vadodara, Nasik, Ranchi, Raipur, Guwahati and of course, Shillong and Siliguri, which, as Chablani puts it, are "soccer cities."

Currently, Umbro's products are available in all 45 Planet Sports stores and all 24 Central stores (large format departmental stores by Planet Sports) in India. At the moment, Umbro has no standalone stores in India. "We will0 address that when we gain critical market share and volumes," Turel says.

To Jagdeep Kapoor, brand guru and CMD, Samsika Marketing, a brand consultancy, Umbro's entry in India is a "great opportunity." He suggests a threefold marketing and advertising strategy.

Jagdeep Kapoor

"The brand can leverage the World Cup soccer event. It can highlight its specialist status bringing out its claim of 'the leading football brand in the world'. And it can start running football academies and ride the wave of the ongoing football craze in the country," he recommends.

He asserts that the brand will do well to single-mindedly focus on football and position itself as a specialist and not a generalist.

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