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Harkirat Singh

MD | 27 Nov 2010

“We have always been an outdoor brand and very much in tune with nature. Whatever we do, it will never be against the environment but rather in consonance with it...Woodland plans to leverage this association more strongly to further strengthen the brand by changing over its entire range of shoes and apparel to quality eco-friendly products — made with materials and chemicals that don’t harm the nature; by making the manufacturing process less harmful to the environment...The intent is to make eco-friendliness the brand recall.”

Harkirat Singh hails from a family of industrialists and has been able to take over Woodland quite competently since 1989. Singh has done his bachelors in Commerce from Hindu College, Delhi and further pursued Philology from Moscow University. On completion of his academics, he joined business full time concentrating on exports to Europe and US. Singh’s acute perception of the market trends has assisted him to sustain the volume of business even in times of down-turns in the market, period of recession, keeping the brand on top, ahead of all competition.

Harkirat Singh in conversation with Tuhina Anand of exchange4media, discusses the journey so far and how Woodland looks ahead...

Q. How would you describe the brand journey of Woodland so far?

The brand Woodland is owned by Aero Group, the flagship company which began its operations in the 1960’s and now has an asset base of over US$100 Million. Woodland was started in Quebec, Canada, for making winter boots and entered India in 1992. When we entered India, the footwear market was largely unorganised. Woodland created a new category for specialised ‘outdoor sports’ shoes. Our product positioning was different and we were known to be rugged, outdoor leather shoe brand, the kind usually preferred by ‘adventurists’. The youth took a fancy to our shoes. That was in the beginning and we gradually developed a product line especially for India.

Our products have been well accepted worldwide and are known for quality and durability. We have always acknowledged the feedback of our customers and have accordingly customised the products to suit the needs of our consumers. Woodland, which was once known as a sturdy footwear brand, launched its apparel category. Woodland also came up with fashion footwear category in 2004-05 by the name of Woods.

Q. Woodland has always focused on being in sync with nature. Any plans to leverage this further?

We have always been an outdoor brand and very much in tune with nature. Whatever we do, it will never be against the environment but rather in consonance with it. It’s this connect that has been the soul of the brand. We not only build this association through our promotions, but also through our processes and practices. Woodland plans to leverage this association more strongly to further strengthen the brand by changing over its entire range of shoes and apparel to quality eco-friendly products — made with materials and chemicals that don’t harm the nature; by making the manufacturing process less harmful to the environment; and by communicating and promoting the brand on the same lines. The intent is to make eco-friendliness the brand recall. Woodland has always been an outdoor and adventure brand with close association with nature and environment. Woodland also has Woodland Adventure Club for which we have tied up with some of the leading adventure tour providers in the country and the world. We indulge in various adventure activities.

Woodland commands a network of 300 + exclusive stores and are growing at the rate of 25 to 30 per cent. The brand also has a presence in more than 3000 multi-brand outlets in a number of countries.

Q. What according to you has been a major turning point for the brand?

Woodland has always been known as an outdoor and adventure brand in close association with nature and environment. Our products have been well accepted by our consumers and are known for quality and durability. Woodland, which was once known as a sturdy footwear brand, launched its apparel category in 1998 Woodland also came up with fashion footwear category in 2004-05 by the name of Woods. Woodland has also diversified into other product categories as like Yoga collection and the Kids’ collection. This foray into various categories has been a turning point in the history of the brand and its perception.

Q. In terms of advertising, how has it evolved over the years for Woodland?

Woodland advertises aggressively across print, electronic and online mediums. Most of our advertising is youth-oriented channels like MTV, Channel V, UTV Bindaas, Discovery, National Geographic. The themes of our campaigns have always sent out the message of eco friendliness and saving the nature. Additionally, we sponsor various youth fests, adventures sports events etc.

Q. How do you intend to create a greater presence of the brand both in terms of increasing mind share and revenue in the next year for Woodland?

Woodland has always been known as an outdoor and adventure brand in close association with nature and environment. Woodland’s main focus has been the quality and eco friendly products. We use raw materials which are less harmful to the environment. We are known to be a durable, high quality. Woodland, primarily a brand known for its sturdy, durable shoes with futuristic designs, has made its mark in apparels and accessories as well. Designs and concepts are developed in-house by a highly skilled team of designers, who are in constant touch with fashion trends worldwide. The main strategy is as follows:

We currently have 300+ company owned Woodland stores across 50 cities across the country and are available through multi brand outlets as well. We are soon going to launch our e-commerce store as well. Our production capacity has been enhanced three fold in comparison to where we started and are equipped with the latest technologies and equipment in line with our eco friendly commitment. Woodland, primarily a brand known for its sturdy, durable shoe with futuristic designs, has now made its mark in apparels and accessories as well. We also have more specialised products like Yoga collection, Kids collection,Woods collection now. We have customized our products for the adventure enthusiasts and keep adding new technologies to make our product the ideal choice for all adventure lovers. Initially, our stores were only approximately 1500 to 2000 sq ft. but now the stores are as big as 4000 sq. ft. giving the convenience of large display, big trial rooms, more space for stocks. We are not only focused on metros but are also present in Tier II and III cities like Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Amritsar, Jaipur, Shimla, Saharanpur, Haryana, Patiala, Kota, Jammu, Dehradun. 40 per cent of our stores are in Tier II cities and 60 per cent in metros. Soon, this ratio will be 50:50.

We have a tie up with a German company who does the interiors of our stores. We advertise across print, electronic and online mediums. Most of our advertising is focussed oriented channels like MTV, Channel V, UTV Bindaas , Discovery. We sponsor various youth fests, adventures sports events etc. We are exploring social media in a big way. It is useful not only to communicate the brand values but it gives a two way interface. It is an important medium to get the feedback from our customer. Proplanet, our CSR initiative is committed to make our home, our planet, a better place to live in. We wish to share our passion for social causes with the community. Our goal is to inspire the next generation of enthusiasts and increase their participation in conservation of nature. We are also exploring this through the digital platform by an event called Eco-Lution, an innovative and interactive digital campaign to protect the environment and sensitize the youth to spread the awareness to make our planet a better place to live in.

Q. With many international players in the market, do you see this segment to be crowded and competition stiffening?

Not really, we believe in our products and do not feel immediate competition from anyone. We have our own targets and are working towards achieving them. We have a specialized strategy for each country and our strategy would be the same as earlier.

Q. Besides the regular advertising, how much does the brand give importance to social media? If you could share some plans...

Like mentioned before, we are exploring social media in a big way. We understand that it is useful not only to communicate the brand values but it gives a two way interface. It is an important medium to get the feedback from our customer. Also, the e-commerce model is in process and our products will be available online by January, 2011. We are also doing a project with MTV called Eco-lution which would include planting virtual trees on Facebook.

Q. For 2011, if you could elaborate on some of your key plans.

Key plans for 2011 include- exploring our CSR initiative through the digital platform by an event called Eco-Lution, an innovative and interactive digital campaign to protect the environment and sensitize the youth to spread the awareness to make our planet a better place to live in. 60 stores are in pipeline across Jalandhar, Hissar, Dehradun, Mumbai, Chattisgarh, Jammu, Amritsar, Kanpur, Shillong, Jallandhar, Lucknow, Allahabad, Ghaziabad, Cuttack, Raipur, Navi Mumbai, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Chennai. We are also launching the E-store and getting into social media in a big way

Q. Can you share vision of the brand by 2015?

We are aiming to be one of the best adventure brands worldwide while taking care of our nature and people in harmony

Q. Any other initiative that you could share with us?

Woodland has tied up with a German company called Desma to offer the best quality products. Footwear manufacturing has always been labour-intensive, involving cutting of leather, stitching, sewing and so on; more manpower means more mistakes. To avoid these mistakes, Woodland, in collaboration with Desma would now bring robots in the manufacturing process. The new technology will take in automated designs and handle most of our functions using robots. It will reduce the manpower to one-third.

Woodland also aims at preserving the natural resources of the environment. We purify the waste water at out tanneries through a process. Effluent (water mixed with used chemicals) comes out of the tannery and is passed through a series of pits where the water is treated with chemicals like ferrous sulphate and lime mixed with poly electrolytes to precipitate and separate the clear water and sludge. During the process, other machines like effluent lifting pumps, blowers for air aviation, clarifiers of sand and coal are also used to clear the water. 25000 litres of water is purified per 8 hours.

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