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    La Martina: Defining Luxury in the Land of Polo

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    Luxury brand LA Martina is a polo lifestyle company with a strategic retail division and a focused philosophy about what this sport represents. With devotion, passion and the utmost commitment to excellence, the brand dedicatedly offers the very best products within the sport of polo. With global offices in North and South America, Switzerland and the UK, La Martina has opened its first Indian store at DLF Emporio Mall, New Delhi. The 1,600 sq.ft. standalone store offers a comprehensive range of aesthetically tailored clothing, eyewear, technical equipment, leather goods, fragrances and accessories. In conversation with IMAGES Retail, Eliana Koulas, Director of Luxus Retail and the Indian franchisee for La Martina talks about the company’s business strategy and expansion plans in the country. Excerpts.

    India’s contribution to the luxury industry is less than a tenth than  that of China, and both national and international luxury retailers are in a spree to foray their footprint on India. This sector has been affected by high tariffs, complex legislation and lack of retail space, prompting brands to trade mainly in luxury hotels.
    Inception 
    Lando Simonetti was the Founder, Visionary and Owner of luxury brand La Martina based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He took up the challenge to create his own company, starting with the link between clothing and polo. The English invented the sport but it developed in Argentina. From the very onset, the vision was to create an Argentine brand that could expand internationally, closely linked to polo and sharing with the sport values such as elegance, luxury and skills, which constitute the DNA of La Martina. To achieve this purpose, Simonetti spread his passion around the world, fostering the development of polo in every country he visited and making La Martina the official supplier of the most prestigious polo events, such as the competitions in Saint Tropez, Miami and Sylt and in the most traditional and renowned universities (Harvard, Yale, Oxford and Cambridge). Off the polo field, La Martina understands that polo is a passion, a lifestyle choice, and a historic sport with a unique culture that needs protection and preservation.
    La Martina’s first store, La Casona, opened in Buenos Aires in 1984. Since then, La Martina has continued to expand its retail division strategically across North and South America, Europe, Middle East and Asia. Eliana Koulas, Director of Luxus Retail and the Indian franchisee for La Martina, opines: “The philosophy is simple – walk into a La Martina store anywhere in the world and you walk into the heart of polo. It is a community, a lifestyle, a sport and a style choice. This approach has earned us a loyal following across the globe and we are confident that our products will have a wide appeal among India’s fashion-conscious people. I am confident that anyone who wears La Martina will be wearing the brand for life as it is a true manifestation of sophistication and élan.”
    Spreading wings
    In India, La Martina is located at DLF Emporio Mall in Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, which is India’s largest luxury hub. The standalone store occupies more than 1,600 sq.ft. of men’s, women’s and kidswear space. They also cater to professional polo players for technical equipment.
    Speaking on choosing Delhi as its preferred location to open its first retail store, Koulas said that La Martina had strong association with vacations and leisure. Hence, it made great business sense for La Martina to be at the DLF Emporio Mall in New Delhi.
    “We look at this move as a springboard to further investments into the retail markets. We are, therefore, delighted to establish our presence at the Emporio Mall, the world’s most talked about shopping destination today. We have recreated the La Casona (which means ‘home’ in Argentina) concept designed to evoke an ambience of coziness, as if they are visiting a polo champion’s house,” she adds.
    Luxus Retail, at the forefront of presenting luxury, has brought the brand into the Indian market alongside other iconic brands. It was formed in 2012 with the objective of starting up a company focusing on international niche luxury brands by shaping their identity and behaviour in the Indian market through a joint tie-up directly with the brand.
    Challenges faced
    In the world of luxury retail, designing and building a store means each design element is of absolute importance, which cannot be compromised at any cost. Koulas said: “Sourcing local talent in India to execute and translate an equivalent store in quality, design, construction and replicating the brand’s global image in another geography like our counterpart stores across the world, is by far the biggest challenge. This could only be possible by being 100 per cent personally and actively involved in the project from the design inception phase until completion. This involves managing each milestone onsite, being constantly involved with La Martina’s design team and architects in Argentina, ensuring every detail is respected as per brand standards. We could not compromise on quality and detail so that our customers are able to enjoy a world-class global brand experience. Furthermore, we have added some Indian touches to the store giving a touch-point to our Indian customers through Indian memorabilia. Our latest seasonal ‘Test Match’ store window is another example of our dedication and honour for India.”
    Factors propelling the industry’s growth 
    Talking about the factors propelling luxury industry’s growth in India, Koulas elaborates: “There is a huge gap in the Indian market as no high-end polo brand has yet entered the country. La Martina being the crown jewel of the Equestrian world, it is ready to bring its products to the Indian consumer. It will build the awareness of the sport, and work on brand building in order to generate demand.” The key risks involved in the business are foreign exchange rate fluctuations, rigid import duties and super high rentals.
    Product portfolio & prices
    La Martina’s range of products offer aesthetically tailored lifestyle clothing for men, women and children, eyewear, technical equipment, leather goods, fragrances and accessories. On an average, majority of their merchandise are available in the price range of `8,000 to `100,000. Their polo T-shirts are the brand’s best-selling products.
    Marketing strategy
    Nowadays, La Martina is the official supplier of over 90 polo events around the world in addition to a great number of associations, universities and other institutions. The brand intends to expand this quota in India through participation and association with polo clubs and teams through concentrated polo lifestyle events. “We will be pushing the envelope by creating specialised products that are customised for the Indian market and polo lovers alike. Our aim is to carry forward the vision of La Martina by educating, translating and leveraging the passion and spirit of polo. We haven’t even scratched the surface yet. We have big plans for the market,” reveals Koulas.
    Business dynamics
    “Approximately `5 crore has gone into setting up the store in DLF Emporio Mall and the ROI expected is very low at this moment. However, this is going to improve when some more luxury malls open with the right mall partners and the right rental price,” points Koulas.
    Bringing a luxury brand to India is one thing, and locating the right mall partnership who truly understands luxury is another. According to Koulas: “Currently, there is a lack of good luxury destinations able to offer the best luxury environment for its super rich customers due to the limited infrastructure available in the market. This is the only challenge we are facing since there are limited malls catering to these brands, which understand the expectation of a customer and satisfy the brands’ expectation. As and when the luxury environment will grow, we shall be accelerating our expansion.”
    Malls vs high street
    Due to the lack of high-street culture in India and the fragmented retail environment scenario, the brand is targeting medium-traffic luxury mall environment, which attracts the target aspirational and luxury customers. The market trend has slowly moved away from unorganised to organised formats, and customers today by far prefer a destination offering a wide array of choices. Koulas stated: “Since La Martina is a new market entrant in India, it was a natural decision to open our first flagship in a mall. The level of brand visibility, awareness and footfall traffic that a brand receives from a highly luxurious retail environment is the key ingredient to its initial success.”
    Layout and design
    According to Koulas, flagship stores are the favourite places where La Martina clothing lives; they are the instrument through which La Martina showcases its own values. Comfortable sofas and spaces dedicated to relax give the essence of a ‘home feel’, which is what makes an emotional impact to the customers. Crystal, silverware and high antique trade furniture create an extremely chic and refined atmosphere. All these elements provide an ‘old world charm’, which is closely associated with the La Martina design philosophy.
    Innovation
    La Martina is in a constant process of technological research, pursuing leadership in innovation and safety for polo equipment. Always considering the demands of the professional polo players and interpreting their needs, La Martina manages to achieve evolution without disregarding design.
    Boots: The brand has 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 fibre and closed cell foam. These layers disperse shock energy, offering increased security to the polo player because they are so much more light and more resistant than traditional materials. Comfort has been 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.
    Competition 
    Considering the target that La Martina aims, competitors are the brands that ride the traditions and the world of polo, such as Polo Ralph Lauren and Etiqueta Negra. Currently, neither brand has made a foray into the Indian market.
    Customer profile

    La Martina is a brand internationally known as an icon that represents the Argentine polo, the best in the world. Since India has a long-standing association with polo from the Maharaja Era, Indians have long been the patrons of luxury and refinement. The sophisticated Indian male wants the very best in clothing and the finest accessories for all aspects of his life and he wants it presented in a modern way that resonates with the new world. La Martina aims at a high target, purely male, relying on the evocative power of the game of polo. The Indian luxury clothing aficionados are now ready for a breath of fresh air in polo wear.
    “We hire the best professionals in the business to give the ultimate offering to our customers. We offer the ideal luxury environment and provide the latest collections, which can be found at any La Martina store anywhere in the world,” points Koulas.
    Marketing & sales
    “Our flagship store houses a combination of highly trained and skilled luxury professionals who are well travelled and well versed in the luxury business for many years; above all, they have a passion for sports. It is necessary to have highly trained employees, who are committed, motivated and who share the company’s vision and goals, but above all, who have a passion for detail, customer service and excellence. Our group believes in its people. Its investment in human resource lies at the foundation of its success. We build platforms, which transform followers and herd-like-mentality into leaders. We constantly fuel the growth and development for each individual to re-discover their truest potential through various training, coaching and development programmes, such as ‘Understanding the Brain’s Perceptual Arrangements’, ‘Thought Adaptation & Development’, ‘Mind Mapping’, ‘Changing Old Belief Systems’, etc. In order to accelerate one’s thinking and bring newer, fresher perspectives into the business, one must pave new roads,” concludes Koulas.
    Going forward
    La Martina’s market concentration is currently Delhi, but they plan to roll out their next flagship store in another metro city by 2015.