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    Metro shoes: The journey to success

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    Named after the famous theater Metro, which was the fad in those days, , founder of Metro Shoe Store, launched the brand’s first store in Mumbai catering to the needs of Bollywood icons, ramp models and the upper-middle class. Tejwani was a visionary man with good understanding of the footwear market focusing mainly on customer service. Taking over the reins of the business from his father, , Chairman and MD, decided to take the brand from a one-store operation to a chain, thereby making Limited India’s largest footwear retailer. We speak with Rafique Malik to learn more about the brand’s journey.

    Please take us through the early days at Metro.My father was a visionary with great understanding of the footwear market. His main focus was customer service. He could say ‘hello’ in 14 different languages! He was also well focused on regional customisation. Even when we opened our second store in the suburbs of Mumbai, he ensured that the products at both our stores mirrored the community fashion and tastes. These still remain our guiding principles as we manage our 1cureent chain of 44 stores. When I decided to take the brand from a one-store operation to a chain, my biggest challenge was to replicate the passion of a store owner and high levels of customer service – something Metro had become synonymous with. As I ventured into the business, my immediate goal was to make Metro Shoes available across all major cities of India without compromising on value; this made us popular as a one-store retailer.

    What kind of obstacles did you face along the journey?

    Like food habits, footwear fashion changes every 100 km. This explains why fashion footwear has always been dominated, and successfully managed, by local retailers. The footwear industry is still largely unorganised and hence it is not easy to replicate the passion and zeal that the brand owner has and pass it down to the employees and store personnel. One of the biggest challenges that this industry faces is that of getting a good front-end staff that has absolutely no inhibition performing their duties. Footwear retailing primarily involves touching the feet of the customers as part of service and hence the front-end does not attract the best manpower in terms of education, technical expertise and sophistication. The fashion footwear industry primarily consists of a large number of vendors with limited capacities and minimum technological investment. This works well for the unorganised sector as their requirement is primarily limited to a shop or two. However, for large retailers who have a capacity of more than 100 stores, this proves challenging.

    Please share details of your IT platform.We are fortunate to have one of the best internal IT teams not only in the footwear but in the entire Indian retail industry. We were one of the first organisations in our league to computerise all stores. This feat seams significant against the fact that most of our store staff were technically ignorant and hence the systems needed to be simple yet provide the necessary information to manage the stores. Considering these limitations, we could not find a single product in the market that could fit our requirements. Hence, our internal team developed a unique 3-click system that ensured all required reports were just three clicks away. Recently, we have also developed a vendor management portal, which provides our vendors with easy access to information about their products, sales, inventory and sell-through as of last Sunday. This enables them to manage their inventory effectively.

    More than 290 outlets and still going! That indeed is a commendable feat, especially since all the stores are COCO. Please share a brief synopsis of your journey.The Metro story goes back to 1947, when we opened our first store. Today, we have 290+ stores with presence in over 90 cities across India. In the last 10 years, we have achieved excellent growth as a result of our focused efforts on expansion, customer insights and strategic use of technology. The company has registered a CAGR of 27 per cent in the last five years alone. Metro has emerged as a leader in fashion footwear retailing by providing quality footwear to customers.

    What has kept you away from the franchising model?

    We believe a brand is made by a delightful customer experience. In order to maintain our brand image, we incur substantial amounts of fixed and recurring investments on staff motivation and training as well as on furniture and fixtures of our showrooms.

    The footwear industry, owing to its nature of work, does not attract the best quality of front-end personnel. Hence, we make good investment in training them to achieve a highly motivated workforce. Moreover, the remuneration of our staff is directly linked to the performance of the store and internal promotions further solidify the quality of front-end employees. This ensures excellent service to the customers, both at the time of sale and after sale. Customer service and ambience along with quality of products are the most important pillars of our brand image. It is our constant endeavor to standardise this delightful experience throughout our stores.

    Since we are yet to come across a successful model of implementing and maintaining this across our stores, we have still not taken the franchisee route.

    Have you ever taken the franchise route before? We have been following the COCO model right from the beginning.

    Based on your experience and expertise, can you please share what makes the COCO business model apt for India.

    A franchisee business model would require in-depth training and manuals on business processes to ensure that the franchisee understands the brand thoroughly. It would further require a good audit system to ensure that the brand experience is not compromised in any way. In low value product industries, where the brand experience is largely dependent on tangible values like price, it would be easier to use the franchisee model for growth. This model also allows for growth with far lower investment.

    In our industry, currently the COCO method is preferred to ensure the brand experience across the cities.

    To conclude, what has been your mantra for survival?Our expertise lies in sourcing products and retailing. Hence, we scout for best possible footwear across the world: from India, Brazil, China and Italy and then retailing them in the best ambiance. However, we work closely with our vendors to ensure that products are brought in as per trends and that they uphold the quality that Metro Shoes stands by. Metro Shoes can be credited for mentoring many vendors and upgrading their pair capacity from 50 pairs per week to 2,000 pairs per week.