By Vinay Umarji
It once used to be a footwear brand, but Woodland is now seeing more products joining the bandwagon. From apparel to skin-care products, the company has been adding all kinds of products for the outdoor customer. Woodland Managing Director Harikirat Singh tells Vinay Umarji about the company’s plans to expand its product portfolio, as well as retail network. Edited excerpts:
Woodland suddenly seems to be focusing on expansion. Why?
We have been very flexible since the beginning. The company has been changing and exploring different markets — right from Canada, Northern Europe and the CIS countries. We are not country-specific until and unless we see a potential there. China opened up four to five years ago. Earlier, it was a very closed market. We were watching this because we already had our counterparts from whom we used to source. It is now that we find the time is right to enter that market since they are accepting international brands.
There is no point in entering a market unless there is a potential. Which is why we are now expanding aggressively in India, especially in the tier-2 and tier-3 cities. Five years ago, if we had opened a store in Bhavnagar (in Gujarat) or any other smaller town, there would be potential. I will now only go there after I have done my homework and know my store will not make a loss.
But what was the trigger to move into tier-2 and 3 towns?
We did some experiments and kept opening some stores here and there in these towns. Initially, the response was not so good. But then, we went to some towns and opened big stores because the cost of rentals were cheaper in smaller towns. We couldn’t afford a 10,000-sq-ft store in Mumbai, but we could do that in small towns. Also, when you open such a big store, it becomes a landmark there: everybody comes to know about it and it becomes our advertisement in itself. Further, we saw how our competitors and other brands were doing in these towns. That is when we took a call, knowing there was now potential in these towns.
What began as a footwear brand is giving increased focus on apparel and accessories. How do you plan to build your merchandise in the near future?
Woodland has always been a clear concept as a brand — and a brand doesn’t have to be product-centric. But the lifestyle, look and feel of the brand should be the same, irrespective of the product. We always thought of Woodland as an ‘eco-friendly outdoor’ brand. Today, if I launch sunglasses or watches, it will all have to do with outdoor. So, we have to have features in the product that will showcase ‘outdoor’ part of the brand in it. We saw that a store without garments didn’t have much colour.
Also, a simple shoe shop doesn’t become a brand. You got to have some lifestyle into it. Garments is the best way to express yourself. If a customer is an outdoor person and likes external environment, (s)he will need Woodland as a brand to cater every part of one’s aspirations. All our garments tend to give that same look and feel of outdoor environment as our footwear.
So, how do you bring the ‘outdoor’ factor into every product?
We have given clear concept to our designers — and they are asked not to deviate from the outdoor look. You have got to provide all that the customer needs in his garments and jackets if he is trekking. On our side, we source the right kind of material that are eco-friendly and of technically high standards.
How are you incorporating new technologies in your products?
We tie up with the top-most suppliers of raw materials, with good technical base. Chemical companies in Germany, such as BSF and Bayer, keep coming up with new innovative raw materials that are environment-friendly and give better resistance. Similarly, you have companies that are developing new fabrics that offer moisture wicking and sun protection. We keep taking new technologies from them and add to our existing product lines, so that we keep upgrading our products.
You have footwear and apparel in your product portfolio. Any more products being added?
We have accessories like backpacks, sippers, belts, wallets, outdoor socks, shoe care and caps that would be of use for the outdoor Woodland customer. We are now also going into skin care material. Jackets protect you from outside, while shoes protect your feet. But what about your skin? When you are outdoors, you need skin protection as well. We are working with a German company, BNS, to develop some special cream for a traveller. These products will be launched in September-October this year in the prices range of Rs 500-1,000.
This seems to be an important year for you. How?
Yes, we are adding about 60 stores in this year alone. We were growing at about 25 per cent so far, but last year we clocked 30 per cent growth. This year, we have begun focusing on smaller towns, which should also give us some more growth. We have around 300 exclusive Woodland stores. Of this, a fourth will be in tier-2 and tier-3 towns. Apart from India, we are going to China. We are already there in the Middle East and Northern Europe. Internationally, though, we are focusing more on multi-branded stores. Maybe, down the line, we will have our own stores.