The next time you walk into a Bata store don’t be surprised if the sales person who helps you try out shoes is a woman—a far cry from the ‘middle aged’ salesmen one has come to associate with Bata. This is part of the effort to reinvent itself as a modern, youthful brand that is currently on at Bata.
Says Bata India MD Stephen J Davies, in a burst of candour, “Unfortunately, Bata had come to be looked upon as a fuddy duddy brand, dependable and value-for-money, but definitely not fashionable. We felt it was time for an image makeover. Also, with 60 per cent of the Indian population being youth, this is an important market segment for us.” What is left unsaid is the compulsions of keeping up with competition in the Rs 10,000-crore footwear market (of which 20 per cent is in the organised sector) and overcoming its losses. In the nine-month period ended September 30, 2003, the company’s losses stood at Rs 11.9 crore with a total income of Rs 530.7 crore. For the year ended December 2002, Bata registered a loss of Rs 7.4 crore on a turnover of Rs 704 crore.
The new focus at Bata then is to don a younger, more fashionable look. Says Davies, “we are becoming a more customer-focussed brand now. Earlier, we sold models we thought would go down well with customers. Now, we intend to tap the customer’s needs and give him what he wants.”
It will depend on other brands with a younger image and smarter styles to help it achieve the ‘fashion’ label. Bata manufactures around 2/3rd of its products and imports or outsources the rest. Its new Flagship and City stores will display a large array of these brands, besides a range of accessories like wallets, handbags and shoe-care products. This is on the lines of Bata’s European retail strategy, where its stores have a range of other brands as well on their shelves. Though Davies does not say how much the outsourced products will increase by, the very fact that the focus is shifting to more fashion models and the company is widening and deepening its association with brands like M&B Ltd (licensees of the Lee Cooper brand in India), Reebok, Nike and Adidas, indicates that outsourcing will increase. School shoes and Sandak, which are Bata’s strong points, will continue to be manufactured at its 5 units.
Bata, which had earlier been retailing the three sports brands’ shoes in its stores, is now more interested in getting into arrangements for exclusive ranges from these brands. It has tied up with M&B Footwear for supply of a specially designed range of Lee Cooper and ID Shoes (M&B’s own brand). M&B will supply 3 lakh pairs annually to Bata from its Baddi facility in Himachal Pradesh, says M&B Director Inder Dev Singh Musafir.
With 70 per cent of sales coming from the men’s category, Bata intends to tap the women’s market also more seriously this year. It has taken the first step by employing a woman merchandiser to oversee the women’s range for its Flagship and City Stores. It is also increasing the intake of women salespersons—already 100 have been employed. It has set aside a budget for an intensive retraining programme for its store managers.
With a target of selling 75 million pairs by 2007 (up from 60 million), it is also banking on reinventing itself through an agressive retail strategy. This year its retail segmentation strategy, catering to the needs of different customer segments, will gain momentum with more stores being opened in each of the four categories it has identified: Concept Flagship stores, City, Family & Bazaar stores.
The Flagship Stores will be 2,500-3,000 sq feet, situated mainly in shopping malls with an exclusive ambience.