What do you look for when you buy a pair of footwear? Comfort, style, mobility, attitude or plain covering of your feet. There is little doubt that the evergreen (approximately Rs 20,000-crore) Indian footwear industry has undergone a massive change in terms of branding over the past few years.
Footwear is an aspirational and lifestyle commodity. Multinationals sell us health and wellness in the segment with Indian brands concentrating on attitude and workmanship, especially for women.
However, in a surprise of sorts this is the one purchase where the average tricity customer seems to actually exercise a lot more caution and pragmatism before spending and is uncertain of what he wants. People here want more of the same and once it fits, it stays. A premium brand from a major Indian industrial house closed down presumably for its failure to attract customers. By all accounts, for a retailer and a maker, this is an easy business to take to and perhaps to exit out of. However, with the predominant raw material being leather and hides of animals, concerns persist over the factories’ environmental impact.
The recent Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) advisory to schools that leather shoes might not be considered mandatory has queered the pitch further.
Labour, as always, is a concern, but only in certain pockets as of now.
There is cut-throat competition. The Sector-19 market has around 10 shoe showrooms, even after some have shut shop.
“Women form more than 50% of our customers, as they tend to tailor footwear according to dresses. Children’s segment is growing,”says Sanjay Pahwa, owner of Metro, a Mumbai-based brand’s showroom in Sector 19. He opened the store two years ago and the statement reflects a social trend of more working women moving out of homes and thus buying and needing more footwear. A good example of a business gaining from social change.
There is also an increased preference for running or health shoes. This has of course, been a focus area for multinational shoemakers for long. Different shoes for all and every occasion is the mantra, a smart way to market the product and rev-up sales.
After-sales service and the ease of getting a product changed or repaired is also important. Most shopkeepers target a service level of around 8-10%, implying that of the units sold this number will have to be changed or repaired due to defects. Seems a little high, but we have to consider that shoemaking is a labour-intensive industry.
Most multinational super-luxury manufacturers dealing in leather, like bags, for instance, pride themselves on their hand-made only tag and command a premium.
Most retailers tend to believe that people do not take enough care of their shoes. This remains a moot point and a bone of contention. However, most also point out that building brand loyalty remains a challenge. So, they also stock accessories like socks, polishes and belts to increase that chance that footfall translates into sales. Online retailing of footwear tends to worry me. They might offer easy exchanges, but why be casual in buying something that will carry your entire frame.