Lacoste was among the very first international brands to enter the Indian market, during a time when building a brand in the affordable luxury segment was an uphill task. The retail market was largely unorganized, with few Indian brands capturing the major market share in the organized retail segment.
During this phase, when the Indian economy was preparing itself for globalization and privatization, Lacoste made a foray into India and set up a manufacturing facility.
This was a very ‘thought through’ executive decision taken by the company to bring the brand – which is considered to be of exceptional French quality – to India. Not only did it require state of art machinery, which was unavailable in India at that time, skill and knowledge were also essential to implement and practice this French craftsmanship. After thorough training research, development and training, manufacturing facility was started in NOIDA.
After settling the concern over quality and craft, the second task was establishing the brand in top-end retail environment to charter the growth of the brand in India. The high streets too were in developing stage, access to a luxury shopping environment did not exist! Most mom-and-pop stores presented a mixed range to consumer without providing any brand a separate identity or structure. Surrounded by these stores, Lacoste handpicked the best available retail environments to build exclusive boutiques in key metros.
Lacoste in India was launched in 1993 and is present through Sports and Leisure Apparel Limited (SLA).
“We have the exclusive license to manufacture Lacoste branded apparel in the country and we currently market Lacoste branded apparel, leather goods and footwear in India and Maldives. We also deal in Lacoste branded fragrances, sunglasses and wrist watches. Our operations currently have 49 points of sales (POS) that include company owned boutiques, franchisee and shop in shop,” says Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Lacoste India – Sports and Lesiure Apparel Limited, Rajesh Jain.
The brand is present in all major cities in India namely Chandigarh, Gurgaon, Delhi, Noida, Jaipur, Ghaziabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Jalandhar, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune, Bhopal, Ludhiana, Amritsar, Goa, Hyderabad and Surat. Lacoste Maldives is also controlled from India. The company has been growing at a rapid pace.
“I can say, the journey since the beginning has been very interesting and encouraging. The growth in the last few years has taken the brand to new heights with customer preference for Lacoste at all time high,” says Jain.
Currently, the brand has 49 point of sales for apparel and other categories including one in Maldives. Additionally, brand Lacoste is present in nine footwear MBO POS.
“In terms of cities we have our presence in around 18 cities in the country. While most of our boutiques are company owned, we have around 10 franchisee POS in India,” says Jain.
With regard to finalising the franchisee partners, the brand likes to work with like minded entrepreneurs, who can present the brand keeping the brand’s DNA intact and service to its discerning customers with the same passion and enthusiasm. Apart from financial stability, franchisee partner should also have good understanding of the apparel and retail industry and should be able to handle the business well as per the brand guidelines.
While Working in ‘Indian Market’
Over the years there have been various factors propelling the industry’s growth, the economic growth in the country is a key driver. Consumers are well-travelled and exposed to international brands. The younger Indians have higher disposable income and are brand conscious. In terms of trends, people are looking for more international brands now and with the increase in income they are moving towards premium and understated luxury. Lacoste is positioned as accessible luxury and fits perfectly well for the niche segment that the brand targets.
“It is this accessible luxury that spoils the consumer for choice. It is a valued offering that is easily available in metros and selected Tier I and Tier II cities and is luxuriously affordable! To cater to the sensibilities of these consumers, accessible luxury brands like Lacoste have to create an offering that addresses the demands and evolved needs of style yet keeping comfort and quality sacrosanct. In an effort to understand them better, Lacoste tries to offer a deep range across categories.
Each Lacoste boutique maintains more than 30 colour ways in the iconic polo range each season. Bottle green for someone who enjoys darker shades, mint green for the trend follower, neon green for the sporty tennis player and pastel green for understated elegant persona,” shares Jain.
Lacoste is positioned as an ‘accessible luxury’ or ‘bridge to luxury’ brand globally. The positioning in India is in sync with Lacoste’s worldwide positioning strategy. Therefore, the brand caters to luxury consumer on one end, for whom accessible luxury perhaps encloses a large part of their daily wear wardrobe and on the other end the aspiring yet premium consumer, who begins with accessible luxury during special occasions and makes it a part of daily life with progression in career and lifestyle.
From a profiling perspective Sec A, A1 consumer mirrors the affordable luxury consumer set. These consumers enjoy fine dining, visits abroad, taste of fast cars, liking for tech gadgets, and visits niche events in music and lifestyle space.
Knitted apparel has always been at the helm for Lacoste. Therefore it is very natural for its consumers to be inclined towards Lacoste Polo, making it the core of the business worldwide. However, now the brand sees an increasing number of consumers walking into the boutiques eyeing gym bags, laptop sleeves and shoes! The accessories category within affordable luxury is rapidly growing. As a result the brand has expanded the offering to provide a diverse portfolio of bags, shoes and other accessories across boutiques in India.
“In apparel our price points start at Rs 2,900 for women polo and Rs 3,650 for classic men polo. Within the apparel category, the polos continue to be the best selling products,” shares Jain.
Twenty years ago, when the brand entered the Indian market, this iconic Polo shirt named L1212 quickly developed a cult following, and even today it accounts for 30 per cent of our total apparel sales in India. Following polos, the shirt category accounts for about 12 per cent of our apparel sales in India, and therefore is a good contributor.
Since men’s wear has been the genesis of the brand, its percentage contribution is much greater within the sale figures. This is a global phenomenon and India is no different to the evolving consumption habits of men across the world.
While menswear continues to generate greater sales, women’s wear is a growing category at Lacoste, evolving every year to provide more diverse lifestyle offerings including bags, footwear, accessories and apparel. Kids is one segment that is growing at a very fast pace. Our customers love to pick garments for the next generation either for their own kids or for gifting. With our expanding portfolio, it has been great to find an increasing number of customers walking in to purchase an entire ensemble, besides their favourite polos.
In terms of the location strategy, while the brand has presence in both malls and key high-street markets. “With the advent of the mall culture we prefer to open up our boutiques in malls. Another key reason for setting up boutiques in malls are the targeted footfalls. The consumer behaviour and mindset has changed over the years and they look at a whole experience when they step out of their home that is not only just shopping but food, movies et al. Keeping this in mind, we derive our location strategies. We are also present in shop-in-shops at select Shoppers Stop and some other select MBOs,” says Jain.
As per Jain: “We follow a hub and spoke model, where key cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore etc. have large flagship boutique and is populated with other 1,200-1,500 sq ft outlets. Other cities would normally witness Lacoste boutiques with an average size of around 1,200 sq. ft. The formats we currently operate in are company/ franchise-owned boutiques, Shop-in-shop in select MBOs and factory outlets. In terms of the layout and designs, we always follow the layouts, displays etc. as it is done globally,” he says.
It is important to have the store designs in sync across the globe, in order to offer the customers a seamless shopping experience. “In most cases, the brand has the same product offerings across boutiques however as we all know India is a mix of many markets with varied choices, we do select merchandise for different regions based on expected demand in that region,” informs Jain.
As part of this programme, the brand keep informing the customers about brand related news and promotional offers, etc. Members are able to earn points on their respective purchases and redeem their points on the next one.
“We understand the importance of giving a great customer experience to all our patrons. Therefore, we have our loyalty programme called ‘Club Lacoste’ for our loyal customer base. There are three tiers of a Club Lacoste member, namely, Classique for an entry level member, Chic for repeat customers and Elegant for a Lacoste fan,” Jain states.
Being a niche brand, its marketing efforts are also targeted. As part of marketing strategy the brand looks at engaging CRM activities for patrons, promotional activities both online and offline, in-mall branding at strategic locations to create awareness and drive footfalls to its boutiques and consistent media visibility in the right press through PR etc.
The brand plans activities through the year with focus on season launches and end of season sales.
Lacoste follows selective distribution policy, which is essential to keep the exclusive positioning of the brand. Lacoste believes in providing a superlative experience to its customers and hence is very selective about the retail areas and the stores within that retail periphery.
The distribution strategy is led by one or two flagship or premium stores in each of the key cities, viz., Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad, with approx. 1,200 sq ft to 1,500 sq ft boutiques in other key retail developments. Delhi and Mumbai being the most important markets, the brand has much deeper penetration in these markets and intends to expand further.
“We are keenly watching the developments in the next Tier cities like Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Indore etc. both in terms of consumer demographics and psychographics and also relevant retail developments. In fact, we have recently opened up our first boutique in Gujarat in Surat with a franchisee partner. The initial response has been very encouraging,” says Jain.
Basis the catchment, project, neighboring brands, size, façade, access and commercials, the brand targets to open another six to seven POS in this fiscal and most of these are planned to be through franchisee route.
“We constantly keep trying to bring alive the premiumness in our boutiques through the product displays, layout etc. Recently, we have opened our new concept boutique at DLF Mall of India. This is our new format boutique in terms of size, layout, design, window displays et al. The idea is to give the customer a completely global look and feel as he/she enters the boutique. In order to achieve this, we look at providing an ensemble approach in our collection from apparel to accessories to footwear, ease of navigation and suggestive selling through the window displays,” Jain shares.
“With regard to the learnings, we were quite surprised by the potential of travel retail that incorporates boutiques at the airports. The boutiques at the airports drive a lot of footfalls and also act as an important bridge between the brand and consumers where we are not able to reach. For eg. Our boutique at the Hyderabad airport, gives accessibility of the brand to consumers in Vizag etc. cities we are not present in and people travelling/ living at those places are able to buy Lacoste,” he quips.
With regard to the number of staff at the boutiques, it depends on the size of the boutique. On an average for its bigger boutiques have around four to five colleagues or as per the requirement of the boutique.
As per Jain, “At Lacoste, we have always believed in the importance of providing learning and development programs and so we have robust training module that includes, season launch, leadership development skills, brand/ product training and most importantly customer service. We have a separate training cell at the head office supported by regional coordinators in different regions. We provide similar training to our colleagues at company owned stores and at franchisee POS.”
Online and E-commerce
“Currently, we are not present on the e-commerce platform and service our customers only through brick-and-mortar stores. However, I strongly feel an Omnichannel approach is increasingly becoming a necessity and has multiple advantages,” informs Jain.
Going further he added tapping digital channels that will enable retailers like us to significantly expand their consumer base and reach consumers in geographies where we may not have a physical presence. Secondly, this medium of sales will enable retailers to further understand who the customers are and capture data via multiple touch points – website, mobile app, in store and loyalty programme. Thirdly, this will help create a seamless experience for customers across digital and offline channels.
“We do have firm plans for the online space and will reveal them in the time to come,” he concludes.