CEO | 15 Sep 2008
To be a brand, one has to focus on a clearly defined target consumer and be loyal to her. The merchandise offer and the brand experience are then tailored to suite the specific aspirational needs of this TG. This makes it unique and relevant to the TG in focus and relevant for the ones outside. It is true that the while many foreign brands are entering Indian, their merchandise and concept is not tailored to the needs of the Indian market, be it from the product or pricing point of view.
As CEO of W, Vijay K Misra is at the helm of one of the most successful women’s fashion brands in the country today. Born and brought up in Lucknow, Misra joined St Stephens for graduation and then moved to JNU for post graduation in International Affairs. The search for his ‘calling’ took him to Salzburg, where he spent five years studying hotel management and working in luxury hotels.
It did not take him very long to realise that this was not the career for him. Not willing to compromise at 26 years of age, Misra gave up everything to restart his life as a student. He moved to France to pursue Fashion and Textile Management at Esmod, Paris. This was the turning point of his life. He had finally found his ‘calling’. Another few years there and having gained valuable experience during his association with European brands, Misra returned to India after eight years. At this juncture, he turned entrepreneur and started his own apparel manufacturing and export business catering to large European brands.
Having gained the professional expertise in the apparel business, Misra then got an opportunity to move to TCNS, a well-known garment export organisation servicing the US market.
W was launched with a singular vision to bring global designs and clothing to the Indian woman, stylising contemporary wear to globally acceptable standards at affordable prices. Preceded by two years of extensive research, W was successfully launched in 2002 and has since then come to be known as the brand of choice for the new age Indian woman with over 120 points of sale across the country.
In conversation with exchange4media’s Pallavi Goorha, Misra shares his vision for Brand W and how the apparel brand has managed to carve a niche for itself in a competitive market.
Q. W is an interesting brand name and women have been able to connect with it. Why and how did you choose this name?
Our objective was to create a brand personality that was modern Indian. A typical Indian name like Saheli or Sanskriti was completely out of question, whereas an English name or word like Princess or Jacqueline would not connect with the Indian women. In W we found a neutral canvas – ours to colour and shape. W today represents the archetype of the modern Indian woman.
Q. From a single store to a national footprint, the brand has grown manifold in the last five years. Tell us about the journey of the brand.
Before we test launched W in the last quarter of 2002, we spent a year and a half researching the women’s wear market, talking to potential customers, identifying the market gaps, sizing the market opportunity, fine tuning the business concept and creating a business plan. It is important to understand that research is at best indicative, not conclusive. In the initial phase, we rolled out three stores in Delhi and focused on live testing and fine-tuning our business model over a period of a year. This was a critical learning phase during which a lot of changes were implemented – right from product and pricing to store format and target customers.
Once we had this done, we were ready to roll. We formulated a franchising model and rolled it out to the business community with immediate success. It was clear that the market was starved for organised women’s wear brands. Our first franchisee store came up in Delhi in December 2003, a year after our test launch. In February 2004, Pantaloons provided us our first break in the department store business and within six months, we were present in all known department stores.
The years 2004 and 2005 were years of rapid growth, which compelled us strengthen the organisation, bring in professionals and strengthen backend support systems like IT, warehousing and logistics.
However, somewhere we got comfortable with our initial success and lost the innovative mindset and in 2006, the market gave us a wake up call. We saw stagnant or negative same store growth and ended up selling fewer pieces than the previous year.
We changed tracks, took on the ‘fashion platform’ and vowed not to be caught napping again. 2007 has been a wondrous year. Same store growths of up to 70 per cent have been recorded and we are rocking once again.
Q. What all products does Brand W offer to its target audience today?
In a market place which is divided into ethnic and western wear, W positions itself as a women’s wear brand for the urban Indian woman. We understand that our target customer is an occasion appropriate ‘cross-dresser’. Her wardrobe is a motley of churidar-kurta, pants/jeans and top-wear, and even sarees. The current product offer is fashion apparel. We offer top wear of different length. It is up to women to decide if she wants to cover herself up to her knees, hips or just till the waist. We combine these tops with bottom wear, the unstructured Indian variety or the structured western kind. In winters, our offer includes the de rigueur categories that keep her warm and protected, but fashionably.
Q. How would you describe today’s woman consumer?
The W woman is young, urban, spirited, innovative and contemporary.
Q. What will the future market for women be like? What are your future plans?
The total size of the women’s wear market in India is estimated at Rs 37,330 crore and is growing at about 16 per cent annually. The branded segment is, however, growing at 30-40 per cent. To meet the rising demand in the sector, we will continuously expand our points of sale and go deeper into the market. Simultaneously, we are innovating and expanding our product offering to provide a complete wardrobe solution to the W woman.
Q. When you started Brand W, there weren’t many brands, but today the scenario is changing. What is your strategy to stand out in the category?
Yes, we had the good fortune to be the pioneers in a virgin market. We understand that the future is ours only if we remain seductively relevant. Our competitive strategy is, therefore, based on an ongoing and compulsive innovation mindset with an equal focus on process, technology and people that will enable us to service the aspirational needs of our consumers consistently better than our competition.
In addition, women’s fashion brands compete on their design language. W has evolved a unique fusion ‘design signature’ that is recognised and loved by its consumers. This sets it apart form me-too women’s brands created from Adams ribs that keep popping up in the market.
Q. How do you plan to compete with the international brands in your category? Where does the potential lie – is it in high end and aspirational brands or in brands with mass appeal?
To be a brand, one has to focus on a clearly defined target consumer and be loyal to her. The merchandise offer and the brand experience are then tailored to suite the specific aspirational needs of this TG. This makes it unique and relevant to the TG in focus and relevant for the ones outside.
It is true that the while many foreign brands are entering Indian, their merchandise and concept is not tailored to the needs of the Indian market, be it from the product or pricing point of view. Therefore, their TG is necessarily limited to a small subset of the Indian market. That leaves a giant market open to brands like W, who understand what the Indian woman wants. W is currently positioned as a fast fashion brand at moderate pricing – bang in the middle of the organised market. Having said that, W positions itself as an aspirational women’s wear brand, creating fashion with passion.
Q. W does not seem to be advertising a lot. What is your marketing budget and how do you promote your brand?
The operating truth is that our value pricing does not permit the luxury of cash burn through the media. We, therefore, focus on adding value to our merchandise and providing a branded experience at the point of sale. We divert our investments in picking up the right brand store locations, which we believe to be our living and breathing advertising. Our three-fold channel strategy – EBO, MBO and Department store – ensures that we are where the footfalls are and make sure that we look good.
Based on our brand tracks, amongst our competition (including some very heavy media spenders) W enjoys high awareness-to-trial ratios and best trial-to-repurchase behaviour. W has won over a huge loyal consumer base who returns every month to look for freshness. Word of mouth is our best advertisement, bringing in fresh customers. Thus, despite limited media exposure, our customer base is growing.
Q. Do you conduct any market surveys/ researches to keep track of your performance/ industry?
Yes, market surveys and researches are important for any brand to survive in the competitive environment. We at W are continuously active in competition mapping, trend mapping and TG interaction. From these, we draw insights that we use to create tomorrow’s strategy.
Q. What is your retail reach? What are your expansions plans?
W has a national footprint today with 120 points of sale. There are 30 exclusive stores in all major cities across India and is also retailed out of department stores Pantaloons, Shoppers Stop and Lifestyle. By 2010, W will be available in more than 250 points of sale, including 80 exclusive brand stores. Retail design is another important aspect where we are focusing as it becomes the key factor to enhance the brand experience. Our first new format store rolls out in a few months in Phoenix, Mumbai, taking the W branded experience to a new high. Further, we plan to introduce new product categories to cater to the wardrobe requirements of the new age women, thereby increasing the frequency of purchase and tapping a larger customer base.