British sportswear brand Umbro is betting big on the Indian market. Images business of fashion had a quick conversation with Ajay Chablani, Business Head, Planet Sports, on their view on the Indian market.
What led to the launch of the brand in India?
The brand was launched in India by Planet Sports in April 2014. Umbro has a strong soccer connect worldwide and given that this sport is set to grow at a rapid pace in next few years, there was strong enough reason to launch the brand in the country. It was strategically decided that along with the Hardcore Soccer range, which consists of soccer boots, jerseys and equipment, we would also be targeting a huge base of sports enthusiasts who want products at an affordable price point. These primarily include running and lifestyle shoes, lifestyle and training apparels, bag packs and other accessories.
What were the initial set of roadblocks and challenges you faced in introducing the brand?
Supply chain and building a good vendor base for manufacturing products remains the biggest challenge in the country. Given the varied product assortment that we are offering in lifestyle and performance categories like running, training, outdoor and team sports, it requires a very robust vendor base, which we are trying to establish from within and outside India. Umbro will be competing with the best of brands in the space and there is always a constant challenge to upgrade the product every season.
Milestones achieved in the India chapter?
We have successfully launched the range across all Planet Sports and Central stores in a short span of time. The range includes various product categories in apparel, footwear, equipment and accessories in both lifestyle and performance categories. Not to forget, we have been successful in getting to the floor our soccer range, well in time, for the FIFA World Cup fever.
How different was it for Umbro to launch itself in India as compared to operating in other parts of the world?
Umbro is a predominant player in soccer products and has specialised in that space since the past 90 years. Soccer in India is a niche segment; it will still take about 4–5 years to become a sought after sport. Planet Sports is leveraging Umbro’s brand name and presenting a very strong and affordable range in running and training categories, which today drive more than 80 percent sales in any other sports brand. So, initially, the strategy will be to showcase Umbro through ‘Lens of Soccer’ and gradually build its core range (soccer) over a period of time.
India is a nation defined by cricket fervour. Didn’t Umbro at any point of time decide to have an exclusive range of cricketing apparels in India?
Undoubtedly, in India, cricket is the most popular sport. However, if you see other major sports brands, even they do not carry a major range in cricketing apparels and gear. It is a market defined by a huge fan base and not by people who actually play serious sport. We can target the fan base through other product categories like lifestyle, training, running and outdoor. Umbro has a great heritage in soccer, which is the most followed sport in the world, and it will remain the core of this brand.
To talk about the brand, please share details on the range available (apparels).
In case of apparels, 80 percent of the range consists of lifestyle products; the remaining are training and running categories. Key products in the lifestyle range are vests, sleeveless tees, crew-neck tees and polos. These are well complimented with an interesting range of shorts, three-fourth and full-length bottoms. The highlight of the apparel range is the ‘World Cup Collection’, inspired by the spirit of FIFA World Cup and more precisely the countries that are synonymous to soccer. We also have a very good performance range, which comes with a moisture management technology to help you keep dry and cool while running and training.
You ‘Performance’ range is believed to be technically driven. What does that imply?
Our ‘Performance’ line has been fabricated with moisture management technology for keeping the body cool and dry while doing intense training, running or playing sports. Some of the key features include 100 percent polyester fabric with mesh inserts, side vents and reflective detailing. These make the garments suitable for high-performance sports and training needs of an athlete.
Do you have a range for women and kids?
We have launched soccer boots and equipment for kids. However, we will be developing more range for kids across all product categories by next year.
How much of sale do you generate from menswear (India specific) as compared to womenswear?
Menswear contributes to 80 percent sales, and the rest is by womenswear and kidswear. Nevertheless, with more women showing their inclination towards sports and fitness, this equation is now changing.
The brand portfolio tilt towards ‘Core’ and ‘Performance’ range? In India, what is the break-up?
In case of apparels, 80 percent of the range is tilted towards core fashion range or we can also call them lifestyle products; 20 percent consists of running and training line. However, in case of footwear, we have 80 percent range in running or training category and the remaining is soccer and lifestyle.
What are the retail touch-points for the brand as of now and plans for 2014?
We are present across all Planet Sports, Central and a few HyperCITY stores. In the online space, we have gone live with Amazon, Flipkart, Myntra and Jabong.
Are there any exclusive stores for Umbro in the offering?
As of now, we are not looking at any exclusive store. However, in 2015, you may witness a few.
Cities or towns you are present in and if you could please share the top performing city/town for you?
Umbro is present across all major cities in India – New Delhi (NCR), Chandigarh, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Coimbatore, Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Ahmedabad, Baroda, Surat, Lucknow, Jaipur, Kolkata, Guwahati, Shillong, Siliguri, Panji, Indore, Bhopal, Nasik, Raipur, and Ranchi. The brand is performing very well in all the major cities. It is doing extremely well in Chennai, Hyderabad, Gurgaon, Bengaluru, New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Pune, Chandigarh, and Lucknow.
Top lessons learnt from the journey so far.
Meeting customer expectations is the most important aspect of any brand; hence we need to constantly upgrade our products and services to keep the target group interested. Brand legacy or product knowledge needs to get drilled down to all the levels in the sales team. We also aim at maintaining high visibility for the brand, keeping the customers engaged through various activations at the store or online platforms, and bringing innovation and new technology to the forefront.