J. Suresh is the Managing Director & CEO of Arvind Lifestyle Brands Ltd, the Brands & Retail subsidiary of India’s largest textile company Arvind Ltd.
Suresh joined the company in September 2005 and since then has turned around the company by strengthening brands and retail portfolio of Arvind through organic growth and acquisitions and aggressively growing Megamart as a leading value retail chain in apparels.
During his tenure, the company added international marquee brands like Calvin Klein, Nautica, US Polo, Gap and The Children’s Place to its portfolio. In the last 8 years, Arvind Lifestyle Brands turnover has increased 10 times and profits manifold. Arvind Lifestyle Brands Ltd is a significant contributor to the parent company Arvind Ltd and is well poised to be a $ 1 billion company by 2018.
Prior to joining Arvind, Suresh has held several senior positions during his 18 year old stint in Hindustan Unilever Ltd and has served as a member of the management committee of the foods and beverages business. A mechanical engineer and an MBA from IIM Bangalore, he was also Chairman of the CII National Committee on Retail in 2013-2014 and is a member of the National Council of Retailers Association of India.
[“There is no question that all brick-and-mortar retailers today need to be omni-channel operations. It’s not like there is a choice.”]
Appointed by JP Morgan Chase as CEO when they invested in MTR Foods, Suresh was instrumental in growing a regional brand to a national brand with global presence. This resulted in the firm’s valuation increasing by five times in just three years.
Suresh believes the pure online model is unsustainable because the model thrives on selling below cost. But online commerce clearly is here to stay. How should brick-and-mortar retailers navigate the road to omni-channel excellence? “There is no question that all brick-and-mortar retailers today need to be omni-channel retailers. I mean, one simply has to be an omni-channel retailer now. It’s not like there is a choice.”
“If you look at the top 20 US online retailers, only one — Amazon — is a pure play. All others are omni-channel retailers who started out as brick-and-mortar formats.”
As for Arvind Lifestyle Brands, the company is currently developing a robust omni-channel framework — across all portfolio brands — which is to go live in October 2015, Suresh informs.
In a professional journey embellished with many achievements, Suresh’s next major spotlight moment will occur just a few days away, on May 30th, when US fashion chain The GAP debuts in India with a maiden store at New Delhi’s Select CITYWALK shopping centre.
Following that, in August, Arvind Lifestyle Brands will unveil the first Indian store of American kidswear chain The Children’s Place at the Orion Mall in Bangalore. The company will open a total of 4-5 outlets for the chain in India this fiscal across Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, Suresh confirms. Kidswear is a category he sees huge opportunities in, but also notes that scalability and pricing mismatches have so far prevented large-scale branding in the segment in India.
On the topic of marquee brands, speculation is rife that Arvind Lifestyle Brands is set to take over cosmetics chain Sephora’s India operations, but Suresh refuses to confirm the rumours. “At this point, this is pure speculation,” he insists. On a possible alliance with Japanese fast fashion major Uniqlo, news of which first emerged in 2013, Suresh confirms that there is no development on that front.”Post our initial talks in 2013, Uniqlo had lowered its interest in India. I am not aware if they have displayed a revival of interest in entering India in recent times.”
Going forward, as the consumer psychology continues mutating, what should Indian retailers do — in addition to transitioning to an omni-channel identity — to stay ahead of the curve, I ask him. “Get the location right; that is very important. Building brand equity and creating intuitive brand experiences at retail are what retailers must absolutely invest in,” he says.
Given the seemingly enlarging pull of online retail, how can retailers draw traffic to physical stores in today’s age? “Technology is certainly a critical tool — to create enhancements including in-store digital imagery, engagement and unusual experiences,” Suresh notes. “But customer experience is more than about that; it encompasses brand communication, in-store and post-sales service as well, for instance. And retailers have to pay even greater attention to these elements.”
With so much attention and investment on international brands’ entry, is the market for affordable mass fashion in India taking a hit? “Well, one always enters the market where there is demand and the prospect of a healthy return on investment. Having said that, fashion for lower middle class and below consumers will get organised, as the culture of branded lifestyle spreads,” he says.