afaqs! news bureau

From making 600 hawai slippers a day to roping in Big B for its national ambitions, the story of the VKC Group

The company’s MD VKC Razak tells afaqs! co-founder Sreekant Khandekar the tale of the company his father founded over three decades ago.

Think of the classic hawaii chappal and you’ll imagine a weapon or the pains of seeing the strap and button snap easily, and you dragging your feet till you reach your destination.

It is the latter that Kerala-based footwear maker VKC Group exploited three to four decades ago to make hawai chappals where “we formulated soles with high quality of synthetic rubber,” says VKC Razak, managing director, VKC Group.

Founded by Razak’s father VKC Mammed Koya, the footwear maker used to manufacture 600 pairs of “Hawai slippers” a day in 1984-86. Today, it is three lakh pairs a day.

An interesting facet of this tale, Razak tells afaqs! co-founder Sreekant Khandekar, that the company did not give this new product to the best distributors in cities. “My father opted for smaller distributors who don't have a direct brand, and changed the packaging from simple black and white to colour.”

The company has continued to practice this packaging strategy for all its products.

Operating out of Kerala, the VKC Group’s expansion wasn’t intentional but due to word of mouth. The state used to enjoy a healthy number of migrant labourers from Tamil Nadu and when they returned home, returning with them would be VKC's "hawai slippers" as Razak calls it. Soon, the footwear company became popular in Tamil Nadu as well.

However, the VKC Group’s advertising foray did not happen for its flagship offering.  “Between ’94 and ’96, we imported products from Delhi, Bombay, and Bangalore. To distinguish the product from others, we started advertising in footwear regionally.”

The company roped in local stars – an unusual move at that time because ads used to star models who’d only act in ads – and made use of a jingle synonymous with its brand name.

“As a policy, we spent 2-3% of our revenue on marketing, including ATL and BTL,” states Razak. The company first advertised across South India before moving to the rest of India.

What were common across their advertisements were two features: “long-lasting footwear and honest pricing.”

The MD says the company has stuck with stars because, “these celeberities have a good recall value and they have a good name. When they introduce the product, there is value added to the product.”

VKC Razak
VKC Razak

VKC Group does a lot of market research and checks for any bad marks against the celebrity before choosing one to represent it.

It roped in Amitabh Bachchan – immediately after the Coronavirus-induced lockdowns – to grow its name in the north and west markets. “With his face on the packaging, there's understandable trust in the product. Last year, we grew double in the western market. In the north, it's 45%. It's a good impact on the business.”

He says it was the first time Bachchan endorsed a footwear company and that they weren’t sure if he’d agree to endorse the company. “We got a reply in a week after sending the company’s profile,” reveals Razak.

An eyebrow-raising aspect of the VKC Group is its lack of presence on e-commerce websites. One reason is the conflict with traditional distributors.

“Our products are not high-value so the courier charges given to the e-comm platform or directly don't match the requirement. You've to add additional price for the product.”

As of today, “almost 60 per cent of sales is from the south. 20-25% is from the east and the rest is from the north.”

One’d expect the company to go active on social media but it is not right now. It also advertises on print and television, “Our main marketing is happening through wholesale and retail distribution.”

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