Argentina-based luxury brand La Martina – a polo lifestyle company known for its apparel, technical equipment and accessories – started its India operations in 2014 with the launch of its maiden store in the capital’s most coveted luxury mall, DLF Emporio. La Martina in India has diversified the brand to add general fashion products for ladies, men and kids.Director of Luxus Retail, the Indian franchisee for La Martina, Eliana Koulas, finds colossal potential for the brand in the country. Talking to IMAGES Retail, Koulas points out that La Martina falls in affordable luxury segment and says that the brand doesn’t have any direct competitors in India.
Tell us about the history of the company and profile.
La Martina is a deeply authentic brand. Its style was born on the Polo fields. From the beginning, the vision was to create an Argentine brand that could expand internationally closely linked to Polo and share sporting values such as sacrifice, elegance, luxury and skills which constitute the DNA of La Martina. To achieve this purpose, La Martina spread its passion around the world, fostering the development of Polo in every country around the world making the brand the official supplier of the most prestigious Polo events including competitions in Saint Tropez, Miami and Sylt and in some of the most traditional and renowned universities of the world – Harvard, Yale, Oxford and Cambridge, with the addition of a number of other associations and institutions.
How big is the market for the products of La Martina in India and what is the growth rate?
While the Indian psyche is driven towards value luxury and discounting, there is a fine line between what the India consumer aspires for and the price he is willing to pay for this aspiration. Indians are instinctively value-laden and would think twice before splurging on luxury items. We have observed that they don’t necessarily buy into random purchases where there’s no repeat purchase behavior happening, although, this is starting to change as more and more brands become available in the market. Fortunately for us, we are in the affordable luxury segment and don’t have any direct competitors in India, which means colossal potential for our brand. Polo Ralph Lauren and Etiqueta Negra ride on the same traditions.
Our annual growth has been continuously growing at a pace of 20-25 percent per annum.
What is your reach in terms of the total number of outlets and cities? How many footfalls do you get each month? How many of your stores are franchise stores?
We have a total of two outlets in India – one in Delhi and one in Hyderabad. Delhi is the main flagship anchor. Both these stores are currently franchised. We get approximately 400 footfalls in a month.
What are the factors propelling the industry’s growth?
This is a good question since many brands have had a lot of stops and starts in between. Others have entered and exited the country very quickly for various reasons. Whether it was a premature brand entry, or poorly handled local operation there have been many such examples since the 2007 luxury boom. But in an overall larger context, luxury has been growing continuously for the past several years. What is powering this growth is a massive increase in consumption, urbanization and economic leverage. While high net-worth individuals will grow, a lot of wealth will get created in India too.
To win in India you need to be relevant to the people of the country. Generally, brands see some sort of opportunity, be it a consumer opportunity or otherwise, but they are not relevant to what people really need. Relevance will ultimately pave success for the brand.
The presence of international brands has further increased due to the level of competition for big domestic brands, which has been evident over the last four to five years. Domestic players are using big budget advertising (something most luxury brands do not have much leverage in India due to budget restraints), using ATL, and BTL marketing. Bollywood and sports celebrities are also playing a significant role in the overall domestic brand strategy, which has changed the power of branding. Stars are lending their names to promote local brand messages, which have a widespread effect especially on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
What are some of the trends you have been witnessing in your industry in India over the past few years?
India has been inspiring the luxury and fashion industry for years and has been a source of inspiration for the rest of the world for decades. Parallelly, it is currently passing through a window of demographic transition, which is rare. 72 percent of our population is below the age of 32 and rarely has this happened in the history of the world when you have a very young population, when you pass through this window of demographic transition that the luxury market does not grow. In the case of India, the population in India is getting younger and will keep getting young till 2040, and therefore the scope of the luxury market will keep going up.
This is a huge growth opportunity for new players entering the market where they have the chance for an early brand seeding. It requires mammoth patience and financial commitment in order to thrive and survive in the luxury business with a minimum of three to five years to start making profits. I think we need to look at this from a long-term perspective of a two-decade market.
We do expect growth trajectory in some new mall developments over the next two years across Delhi and Mumbai to help ease the real estate problem. This is presently a major concern, since there are not enough real estate players to offer the right destination.
What is your market positioning and customer profile?
The Indian luxury landscape is experiencing strong evolutionary undercurrents that are redefining the consumer profile and how luxury players operate in this domain. La Martina is truly a global name known as Polo’s luxury technical and lifestyle brand with a portfolio of stunning and highly desirable collections thanks to the brand’s ability to combine style with performance infusing its key focus on British tailoring. Our main global target audience is people who have a passion for beautiful things, which enhance their way of living. These patrons are brand conscious, and in some cases, have strong brand loyalties. In absolute terms, they are unafraid to spend and are highly individualistic be it on high quality homes, food, clothing, or luxuries. They are also finding new ways to splurge, such as on buying art and artifacts or travel experiences.
Our global audience is predominantly men as we are a polo inspired brand (since more men are drawn to the sport than women). However, this ratio is rapidly changing and we see more and more women involved in the sport. Simultaneously, we have also witnessed the purchasing power of women rising in India, where they seek collaborative opinions and collective influencers such as social media engagement and other digital experiences to finalize their purchase decisions. We will see more and more mobile and Internet penetration on the increase this year, which will be the driving force of this growth change.
Please provide details about the product range and services available at your stores.
We place heavy emphasis on quality and dedication in offering the very best of products within the sport of Polo, which represents a whole way of living, culture and lifestyle. Our product pool offering comprises of menswear, women’s wear, shoes, leather goods and small accessories such as scarves, sunglasses and fragrances. We also have custom-made / made-to-order Polo riding boots and saddles – all made in Argentina.
A crucial part of our business offering in India is extending private appointments at our customer’s residence or office. There is a huge chunk of the target audience who do not have the time or reach to visit the store and having the luxury of a well-curated product selection, personally styled by us is a propelling part of their decision-making process as well as overall brand experience.
What is the price range of your products? Which price band is the most popular with customers?
Our prices range from Rs 3000 for a silk pocket square and can go up to goes up to Rs 100,000 for a jacket. Our most popular price band is Rs 13,000 for our medium range polos and shirts. This fits into the ‘affordable luxury’ category. Pricing and distribution are amongst the key challenges where luxury goods in India are generally over 30 percent more expensive than other major markets – after including duties and taxes. In order to keep a global approach and maintain the impact of the brand image, we aim to retain our pricing fairly equal to the rest of the world.
What kinds of items sell the most at your stores?
The polo T-shirt has been and will always remain our highest best seller due to its high-detailed construction and true representation of a Polo-inspired product. A customer feels the instant connection to the world of Polo. Both women and men alike value and appreciate our T-shirt segment. However, our men’s shirts are far more detailed versus women’s. Globally we have witnessed women steering away from the ‘badge brand syndrome’ and moving towards simpler products with lesser logos. The quiet minimalist revolution in India is trending particularly with our male customers, which is the new India Modern Man. He doesn’t like ostentatious branding and wants to downplay the brands his wears, with a stroke of subtlety.
What is the location strategy for your stores – malls or high street and why?
The ideal space for a flagship store is approximately 1000 sq. ft. as this minimizes the investment risk and the brand gets to showcase their product range in a more focused way. However, our Delhi flagship is 1800 sq. ft. (almost double of the average size store expectation) due to lack of available retail space. Since we didn’t have a choice, we decided made a conscious choice to maximize the opportunity and create a colossal impact for the brand.
Currently we have 2 EBOs in New Delhi and Hyderabad, which are vital building blocks for the brand. The Delhi flagship store is in a mall format, whilst the Hyderabad store is on a high street. It was a natural choice positioning Hyderabad on a high street location and while scouting for prime locations we realized there was no prime luxury destinations housing luxury brands in this market. Jubliee Hills had a denser and more concentrated catchment for our La Martina target audience which was ideal. Our neighbours are Bentley Cars, and Bentley Furniture – a perfect alignment of brand values comprising of elegance, luxury and skill which we both share.
Even though the high street culture isn’t trending in India as much as in the West, I think many successful high street models like the Hermes Maison – located at the Fort in Mumbai – or Zara’s newest icon established in a 110-year old heritage building, sprawled across 51,000 sq. ft. in South Mumbai, are promising examples of where the future is heading for high street retail trends in India. As of now, we don’t have any MBO formats for La Martina in India. Our focus was initially to create brand salience and strong brand recall only through the EBO channel. But currently we are recalibrating our business model seeking other MBO channels to widen our Indian presence.
Do you have a customer loyalty program?
We don’t have a global customer loyalty program in place; however, we frequently offer special loyalty promos for our VIP clientele.
What is your marketing strategy? What impact do these have on your business?
The Indian luxury landscape is experiencing strong evolutionary undercurrents that are redefining the consumer profile and how luxury players operate in this domain. Our main global target audience is predominantly men as we are a polo inspired brand (since more men are drawn to the sport than women are). However, this ratio is rapidly changing and we see more and more women involved in the sport. Simultaneously, we have also witnessed a rise in women’s purchasing power India, where they seek collaborative opinions and collective influencers such as social media engagement and other digital experiences to finalize their purchase decisions. We will see more and more mobile and Internet penetration on the increase this year, which will be the driving force of this growth change. There is a global digital strategy and sports marketing strategy in place, which is La Martina’s new driving force in customer engagement and outreach for 2017. Our focus this year is transcending the old, and moving towards an era of digital evolution and new customer experiences. We believe that experience is the new brand of today.
What is your expansion strategy? Are you looking at other regions of India?
Our market concentration has always been Delhi; however, the idea was to widen our brand reach to newer audiences, and we successfully did this with our store in Hyderabad that was launched in November 2015. Due to the lack of good real estate options and insufficient real estate players offering the right destination, we have held back on opening a third flagship store in any another prime metro city till prime real estate space becomes available.
Are you looking for franchise stores too? If yes, what kind of franchisees are you looking for, and where in India?
We are currently the master franchise in India and not sub-franchising to other parties.
Are there any interesting concepts or innovations you have introduced at your stores?
La Martina is in a constant process of technological research, pursuing leadership in innovation. One of the areas in which we specialize is the safety of Polo equipment. Always considering the demands of the professional Polo player and interpreting their needs, La Martina manages to achieve evolution without disregarding design.
Boots – We have developed a new concept in high tech Polo boots and kneepads. They are handmade out of five different layers of leather, providing extra protection and comfort, after a thorough process of research and development.
Helmets – La Martina has created a helmet that meets the superior technological demands of a professional polo player. The result is the Pro Evolution Series Helmet© made of three layers of different materials: Kevlar, carbon fiber and closed cell foam. These layers disperse shock energy, offering increased security to the polo player because they are so much more light and resistant than traditional materials. Comfort was further enhanced by the Three-Way Strap System© that offers a snug fit, inspired by the harnesses used in other physical demanding sports such as mountaineering. We are always at the forefront of innovation and technology and translate this even in our fashion clothing lines.
How focused are you on e-commerce and what is your e-commerce strategy? What percentage of your revenues comes from e-commerce currently, and what revenue targets do you have from e-commerce over the next few years?
The digital online influence is currently not so much used for commercial viability but more to connect better with our consumers and reinforce the physical experience at every level. Until recently, a lot of international brands held back going the digital route as it would eliminate the physical experience. However, we are witnessing that this is enabling customers to purchase more if we give them an online opportunity. The international players often have a variation in their product offering and price point versus the local players, as some products are market specific. Hence, we do not see any competition in this segment. We are implementing our own e-commerce website for La Martina specific to India, which will now facilitate online shopping targeted to reach customers all over India via a local platform. This will be a retail offering with a huge product range. We see this a new turning point for the online Indian luxury brand space and hope to be pioneering it.