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“This is the right time for aggressive expansion.”

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It defied the aftershocks of a slowdown and decided to fight back with aggressive marketing and branding. For Kolkata-based footwear retail brand Touristor, the downturn has been a rather positive experience — it led to a balance of aggressive expansion with consolidation of operations.

“We want to reach out to every customer, wherever he or she is, ” says Vedvyas Chhabra, managing director, Touristor Shoes Pvt Ltd. Chhabra joined the family business of footwear manufacturing way back in 1969 but soon realised the potential of footwear retail and started the retail brand Touristor in 2000. The brand currently offers what it calls the right mix of product, price and place for the middle and upper middle class segment. The brand has been witnessing a sharp rise in sales across its 28 outlets — including 14 EBOs — covering eight cities in eastern and central India. Propelled by the numbers, the retailer is now planning to add 50 more EBOs by FY2010-11. In an exclusive chat with IndiaRetailing, Chhabra outlines his vision and aspirations.

IndiaRetailing (IR): What is the driving philosophy of retail operations at Touristor?
Vedvyas Chhabra (VC):Catering fashionable footwear at affordable prices is the driving principle of our retail operations. Touristor is positioned as a stylish, value- for- money footwear retail brand targeted at the middle and upper middle class segment. Footwear is no longer just a necessity; it`s a fashion accessory, so there is an aspirational value attached to it. We believe in providing the widest possible range of designs to our customers. At any time you will get almost 500 SKUs for ladies sandals alone in our stores. We also want to reach out to customers in every corner of the country. That is the reason for us investing in aggressive retail expansion across India.

IR: While taking your retail operations forward in the Indian context, what is the biggest learning from the current slowdown?
VC: The biggest learning has been `understanding the importance of consolidation`. When the market was growing, we thought, let us grow with the market but many of us forgot to look into the details. The slowdown has taught us the need to grow with the market while keeping a sharp focus on price and product. You can`t take growth for granted; you have to be in touch with market trends, all the time.

IR: Your personal vision when it comes to leading your team?
VC: I make them feel that it is their organisation. We are a performance-driven team, therefore we give huge incentives to our emplyees to acknowledge their hard work.We get quality people in our team and train them to become the best. Every 15 to 20 days, we arrange training sessions at our stores. We are still a growing company, our brand does not have instant recall yet; therefore, we need to push sales, by investing in the sales team.We take them to competitors` stores, update them on latest product trends so that they can help the customers in the best possible way. I believe that Touristor is not very far behind the bigger brands and you can experience that confidence in our stores.

IR: Given the two school of thoughts that are currently dominating the Indian retail industry — aggressive expansion versus slow-but-steady growth — which has attracted you as your own retail strategy?
VC: Well, I think this is the right time for aggressive expansion. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the domestic market evolving so fast. The market is witnessing growth in terms of lifestyle spends and media exposure. The asprational value of a brand is very high. But there are not many players to cater to this market. If we miss the bus at this time, we will miss the opportunity of a lifetime. Slow but steady expansion is definitely a wise philosophy, but I believe this is not the time to go slow. The western market has been stagnant for the past few years. All that is happening there are replacement sales; therefore, most international brands are looking to emerging markets like India to encash the growing trend of aspirational buying. We should capitalise on the opportunity before they do.

IR: Your comment on the expression `Powerful Retailer`. According to you, which are the three most powerful retailers in the world and why?
VC: A powerful retailer would be a retail brand that is able to pull consumers with its brand equity and convert them into lifetime customers.According to me, Nike would top the list because of its unmatched brand equity. Nike customers buy Nike products with their eyes closed. Second would be Wal-Mart. The reason is that it has successfully positioned itself as a `reasonably priced` retailer. The third — in the Indian context — would be Pantaloons. It offers the right product mix for the Indian market. While Indian customers are increasingly aspiring for modern retail experiences, they also want variety and assurance to come with it. They want the high street experience at a modern retail environment. That`s what Pantaloons does.

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