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Consumed in Awareness…or not?

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Gauging the ‘fashion quotient’ of a market is a big challenge today for brands as they expand out of metros. Right from identifying the right property to the product range, everything depends on how educated the consumer is about fashion!

Doesn’t it completely stump you when you sign-off a foolproof expansion strategy, execute it to perfection, launch the brand in a new market…only to realise in a few months that it was a mistake! What went wrong if your product was world class and the store designed in the standard international format? Before you start looking at other factors like advertising and customer service, it might be a good idea to look at your customer profile, especially if you are in a new market. It becomes even more important to review the customer profile if you have expanded into tier II and III cities.

Perhaps, what challenged your brand was the ‘Fashion quotient or awareness’ of your customer! Strange though it may sound, it is the single most influential factor when scouting for property to expand into a new market. It is also the biggest challenge most brands face in India.

Defining the challenge

There are several factors that contribute to the ‘fashion quotient of a population, the main ones being:

Exposure to fashion – This comes from various media like television, films, newsprint and now the internet. Whether it’s television or films, Indians are still likely to see their women draped in saris, especially if the woman being discussed is the ideal Indian mother or wife. Westernwear, until very recently was a part of the vamp’s wardrobe, even in metro cities! This cultural bias against westernwear still lingers in the smaller towns and cities. Short clothes, plunging necklines and sleeveless garments are often synonymous with nudity; and a woman’s figure is actually covered in either drapes of a sari or dupatta. Given this exposure, it’s unlikely that the Indian rural population would have heard of boot-cut or the slim fit.

Expendable Income – It’s true that the economic boom in the country did see rising salaries for a certain class of population. Fortunately for business, this was also the class that aspired for lifestyle products. Typically, this was also the class that lived essentially in metros or tier I cities.

Aspirations – This is the keyword. Fashion is nothing but the aspiration of an individual to look like ‘someone’ he/she admires, aspires to be like. It’s pure imagery. Successful brands have been able to sell an image to their customers and continue to build upon this image. But what if your customer doesn’t aspire to be what your brand portrays? Aspirations are images that are built on the cult following of a people. They can’t be borrowed from another culture or people. And people worship certain successful achievers in our country. Amitabh Bachchan has had people lining up in front of his house every evening at a certain time for over two decades now, without missing a single day! The tourist buses from smaller towns have his house on their itinerary! Here is a ‘man-brand’ beyond a shred of doubt!

Meeting the challenge

There are undeniable differences in the fashion awareness of cities. According to Mr Prasad Pabrekar, MD, Spykar, “There holds some difference in the fashion awareness of buying population in tier I, II and III cities in India because fashion here follows a set path from metro to tier I to tier II to tier III cities. One of the reasons for this is the price differences between each tier. These price-sensitive consumers in tier II and III cities have huge access to cheap products but not to the latest fashion, variety and style. Tier II and III cities are also faced with far less professional competitiveness in comparison to tier I cities, hence the buying population in tier I cities is a little advanced. In terms of denim, the latest fashion enters the tier II and III cities one season later than metros and tier I cities.”

A similar, albeit less stark difference, exists between the populations within the same cities as well, given the large population of the Indian metros and the satellite towns developing around them. This difference, should then influence the property scouting. Like Mr Pabrekar explains, “this difference influences the identification of properties to open Spykar stores. For example: In Ahmedabad, the buying population is not open to the mall culture. Therefore, high streets are preferred over malls in such areas.”

A brand may undertake several studies before investing in a particular market or area of the market, including a demographic study to understand the population, average income group and the psychographics of the population. These studies would also indicate the product requirements. For instance, a store in an orthodox town of Rajasthan is wasting investment if it decides to keep short skirts in their product range!

But that’s an extreme example. Sometimes capturing the finer nuances of a place makes the difference between success and failure. The results, in fact can be very surprising sometimes. For instance Mr pabrekar says, “Bilaspur – a tier III city has done unexpectedly and remarkably well; on the contrary Bangalore – one of the metros, gave us trivial numbers in terms of sales.”

Even when a brand understands the market, in fact once the brand understands the market, it should make concentrated efforts of reaching out to its consumer. Educating the consumer and creating aspirations are the only way to expand the market that becomes more and more competitive every year!

Prasad Pabrekar is the Founder and Managing Director of Spykar Lifestyles Private Ltd. Started in 1992, Spykar claims to be the only homegrown denim brand to become international. In 1994, Spykar moved beyond denims and introduced brands like Helium’s, and Forays.

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