With a history dating back over 80 years, AstorMueller is well known across Europe through the exclusive premium shoes they craft, it‘s flagship brand Bugatti and Daniel Hechter. On the occasion of it’s decennial anniversary in India, IMAGES BoF talks to the group about its journey of the last decade, and what it took to dramatically alter the landscape of fashionable footwear in India.
Headquartered in Switzerland, AstorMueller’s journey began in 1928, when Johann Müller, grandfather of AstorMueller Chairman Tim Müller, established the Johan Müller Workshop for bespoke shoes, in Schwelm, Germany. The interesting part of the group’s name is that Astor was the name of the company where Tim Mueller’s father, Johann Mueller, began working right after school. When he established the company, he included the name Astor, along with his own, for good luck. Today, AstorMueller has a presence in over 35 countries through its shoe brands.
The group is one of the few to consistently maintain double-digit growth in the men’s footwear segment and achieve over 50 per cent growth in the women’s category. The primary reason for the steady growth is the quality inherent in the shoes, and this comes from the processes, systems and adaptability to evolve with the times.
“Our vast design expertise ensures that we live up to the philosophy of when the shoe fits, the foot is forgotten. Consumers know it when they see it and their instincts are reaffirmed when they wear it. Over the years, we have dedicated a lot of effort to keeping an ear close to the ground, while maintaining constant, close communication with retailers. This varied system of intelligence gathering leads to consumer insights as well as market patterns, which helps us adapt and predict changes more accurately,” said the Chairman of the group Tim Mueller.
Journey to India
The Indian division was set up in 2007 with the country office in Bengaluru. AstorMueller was thus one of the early movers and the first major European shoemaker in the manufacture and export of high-end shoes. Over the years, AstorMueller have contributed immeasurably to the Indian footwear industry, and have successfully highlighted India’s potential as a global manufacturing hub, which is expected to encourage other international brands across varied sectors to follow suit. At the heart of this process has been extensive training, skill-development, and technology implementation towards production of critical European technical components. The group’s ‘Make in India’ ambition has successfully equipped regional supply partners with the latest manufacturing knowhow, technologies, systems and processes, enabling both scale and quality to take quantum leaps.
Today, India is the largest producer of Bugatti and Daniel Hechter shoes for AstorMueller, operating with a network of production facilities in Agra, Ambur, Vellore, Ranipet and Dewas. The group also has two state-of-the-art sample rooms in the country and as of 2016-17, AstorMueller produces 4 million pairs of shoes in India – almost all of which are exported to Europe.
The AstorMueller group’s flagship brand Bugatti is regarded as one of the top three fastest growing footwear brands in Europe. Globally, Bugatti shoes are known for exceptional fit and finish, alongside a trendsetting collection. The secret to Bugatti quality are the industry-leading standards maintained across AstorMueller’s cutting-edge design and development centres in Germany, Portugal, Romania, Italy, China and India, as well as the superior fit that stems from the AstorMueller focus on quality.
In image studies by the leading trade publication, TextilWirtschaft, Bugatti shoes have been rated among the highest for brand image, out of the 30 top brands in Europe, consistently through 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Tim Müller told BoF, “These studies primarily reflect the opinions of the dealer network in Europe, specifically Germany. When Bugatti is declared as the top brand with the best outlook for the future, it is an indication of not just the brand image, but also retail performance and market growth. What they have said about us each year has continued our resolve to deliver shoes that people love, backed by great channel service. The positive outlook emerges from a multifaceted marketing strategy which begins with a focus on the product itself. Then, it becomes a question of communicating the brand’s values from the audience’s perspective.”
Response in India
Having been soft launched exclusively online in India last year, the brand met with a strong traction and garnered over 1.5 lakh fans on social media within a very short span of time. “A major part of our appeal is that we launched the latest European styles in India at the same time, so we do have select styles from our global collection available in India. We also have an India-specific range for men and women, specially designed and handcrafted keeping in mind consumer preferences, the climate and other such important considerations,” said Tim Müller.
The brand is for age groups across the board, from the young biker and fashion-lover to the senior urban executive. The Bugatti wearer is stylish by instinct, an achiever by design, enthusiastic and self-assured about life. The target audience includes those who prefer to always dress well and appropriately for the occasion — whether that means the traditionally affluent, the professional rich or the young urban executive. Also, with its affordable prices, the brand quickly appealed to Indians who match lifestyle with reality and everyday living.
The Bugatti collection in India features over 200 styles for men and 80 styles for women in casuals, formals and boots. It is constantly updated with the latest designs from Europe. Many of these styles feature a handcrafted wash-finish, making them truly unique. The Spring/Summer ‘17 collection features a diverse range of styles, colours and moods, for men and women. It is a strong, contemporary line that includes formal derbies, casual moccasins, sneakers, pumps and active lifestyle wear. It’s a collection that has something for everyone.
The brand has also added a new collection called ‘Athleisure’ — an extension of its casual lifestyle category, which has carved out a niche for itself. The Athleisure collection makes a strong fashion statement and is well-built for an active lifestyle.
As a brand, Bugatti is uniquely positioned to fill a void in the premium space, offering the bespoke quality of a designer label, along with exceptional value. This segment is growing at 30- 40 percent per year, and is clearly set to be the most important one in the Indian market in future.
“Indian consumers are developing a distinctive fashion sense of their own and are more independent in the sense that they largely put personal preferences above perceived global trends. Moreover, most of the global bigwigs have already established themselves in India and a fair section of Europe and America are fully set to launch themselves too. The growth rate is indeed promising and we expect it to remain on the upswing,” says Tim Müller.
Growth wise, over the last two years, the brand has taken small steps with the aim of understanding the retail system and the way consumers interact with it. There have been a few roadblocks, as growing brands are likely to face, but overall, the brand’s presence so far has been productive and positive and if Tim Müller is to be believed, Bugatti would “definitely like to have mono-brand stores as part of the distribution channels”.
The brand also is vying at expanding its retail footprint in tier-I cities across all retail channels. “We intend to make our presence felt especially at high streets, premium malls and shop-in-shops at major departmental stores and multi brand outlets. We are currently working with retail partners who understand the potential of the premium segment, offer latest fashion trends to their consumers and recognise the strength of the Bugatti brand,” says Tim Müller.