Nissan Joseph, CEO, Metro Brands, Retail News, ET Retail
New Delhi: Talking about the recent partnership between footwear retailers Metro Brands and FitFlop, Nissan Joseph, CEO of Metro Brands and Gianni Georgiades, CEO of Fitflop share their insights in an exclusive interview with ETRetail on their strategies and plans to grow their business in India . Edited excerpts:
Q. What is the idea behind the partnership between Metro Brands and Fitflop in India?
Georgiades: India is for us one of the strategic places for the future growth of our company. For us, coming to India is extremely important in terms of the partnership that we start and with whom we sign this partnership. And on a larger scale, we’re also looking at ‘Vocal for Local’ production in India, because we know there are a lot of opportunities for us in that region.
joseph: We have been selling Fitflops in our stores for over four years. Before forming the partnership, we were excited to see the authenticity of the product and its effectiveness. We operate approximately 400 stores nationwide under the Metro and Mochi brands. We believe Fitflop is a great fit for consumers looking for affordable premium products.
From a digital space, we would sell Fitflop now only through our own touchpoints where we will launch, operating the fitflop.in website specifically for India. There are also distributions, so there are stores across the country that cater to various consumer segments that might be a little different from the Metro consumer, Mochi. So, we would actually supply the Fitflop products to their stores. As there are always supply chain constraints – pandemic or wars or for other reasons. I think local production will help us ensure that the supply chain is less interrupted.
Q. What consumers or target audience are you targeting?
Georgiades: From a branding perspective, the demographic sweet spot is probably between 35 and 45 years old. Our future plans are to strategically expand our reach and consider the next generation to complement the existing customer base we already have.
joseph: A nice thing to see in India has been the rise of men’s sandals, especially in the South. We also look at positioning Fitflop as something our consumers value.
Q. Can you briefly explain how Metro Brands’ incubation model works? How has this helped Fitflop?
joseph: We incubate global brands. Fitflop has been in India for 4 years, we felt they were under-penetrated and undeserved in the market. So we’re working very closely with the UK office to make sure we’re looking at how the brand is positioned globally and trying to build on that and create our own position in the domestic market. So it’s a lot of those kinds of partnerships that it’s a win-win for the brand coming to India, of course for us as we incubate the brand.
We recently opened our first branded store for Fitflop in Chennai, which is a big step for any brand in India that is starting to open their own stores.
Q. How do you plan to further develop your brand across the country?
Georgiades: It is a strategic model of partnership in which we entered. And it will be a combination of Metro’s own stores and their own networks as well as the opening of the standalone fitflop stores.
joseph: To ensure that there are customers in Tier II and Tier III cities who will want a fitflop, so we will provide fitflops in multi-brand stores in those cities. Fitflop’s growth strategy from a front-end perspective is to capitalize on multiple channels that Metro is placed on. Ultimately, we hope they will continue to look for the opportunity to produce locally in India as well, i.e. to help access a shorter supply chain and improve reach and penetration that the brand could have.
Q. Are you also planning to increase the number of stores in Tier II and Tier III cities?
joseph: Incubate is a good word for a program like Fitflop. We take what we consider to be the proverbial low hanging fruit, which would be Tier I metropolitan cities. And as that grows, there are also a lot of Tier II cities that are starting to move closer to Tier I. And then they act and walk like level I. And in two or three years they will become a level one. So we would look at those cities as well.
We’re not here to try to rush the mark and just see what we can do. We are here to build it for the long term. We’ve been in business for 70 years and we approach our partnerships with a very long-term view to build them the right way.
Q. As we move into the pandemic, how do you see online channels contributing to growth in the days ahead?
Georgiades: We expect aggressive digital growth and aggressive retail growth and footprint.
I think the consumer experience and their expectations from a global perspective have changed when they walk into the store. So for us, it’s about how we bring our technology and our brand USP to life, because an in-store experience from a brand perspective is what’s going to be really important to us and to what we are working on.
joseph: We are going to see more and more Omnichannel come into play, because online to offline, offline to online is becoming a big game. Consumers always want to have the touch and feel of products. We want to return to stores with purpose, as the omnichannel sensation becomes more and more prevalent.
Q. How is consumer behavior changing for footwear segments in India?
Georgiades: I’m not a big fan of digital first. I think digital is important but as soon as we come out of the pandemic, the consumer will want to leave their homes and want to go to malls or stores to experience brands.
We saw a real stabilization in the first quarter of this year, where digital platforms returned to a normalized level, we started to see an acceleration in footfall and sales speeds, whether in wholesale stores, etc across the region and that’s pretty much what’s happening from a global perspective.
joseph: From an Indian perspective, we have certainly witnessed a casualness of footwear across the board. Metro sells about 50% of shoes in the casual space. “Precariousness is a trend, but so is well-being.” Comfort is the main thing everyone is looking for.
Q. How do you assess price sensitivity in the Indian market?
joseph: It’s not so much about price sensitivity, it’s about value proposition. Consumers are willing to spend money, but they need to see value in the product. We are convinced that Fitflops products have immense value. Consumers pay an average of 7,000 rupees for a sandal, which is one of our highest prices for a sandal in the country.
The customer will still be price sensitive, but in this space the consumer is looking for the value proposition.
Q. Do you plan to expand your product line or partner with brands that sell other accessories?
joseph: Our goal is to be the largest specialist footwear and accessories retailer in India. Going forward, we will look to incubate brands, we will look to take over other brands, but the important thing is the backwards approach to the customer, we look and see what brings value to a consumer’s journey . And when they come to one of our stores, if that brand or accessory meets that need, we will certainly supply it assuming it is not already supplied with our own house brands.
We believe it brings a unique proposition as a complement and it’s incremental and a credit to our business, it’s not diluted and cannibalistic to our business. Because we don’t sell a 7000 rupees sandal in our stores.