Interview: Gunjan Shah, CEO, Bata India

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October 29, 2021 7:05 AM

‘We’re aiming for 500 franchise stores over three years’

For the last two years, Bata's prime focus has been on expanding our retail network through franchise stores.For the last two years, Bata's prime focus has been on expanding our retail network through franchise stores.

Bata India is bullish about expanding its offline retail footprint through the franchise model as well as via multi-brand outlets. Gunjan Shah talks to Vaishnavi Gupta about online retail gaining prominence in the past year, the sustained demand for casual footwear, and Bata’s plan to foray into fitness apparel.

Bata India is betting big on the franchise route for expansion. What does your retail roadmap in India look like?

For the last two years, our prime focus has been on expanding our retail network through franchise stores. We have added nearly 70 franchise stores to our network in the last one year, and are planning to add another 40 before the end of this year. Currently, about 250 of the total 1,500 Bata stores follow the franchise model, and we are looking to double this number to 500 within the next two-three years. Additionally, we plan to expand the presence of our multi-brand outlets (MBO) in about 100 towns. Owing to the pandemic, there is a new and emerging market for branded products in smaller towns and cities. Therefore, we are planning to open franchise stores in smaller towns.

How much has the share of sales from online channels changed for you?

Our sales through digitally enabled channels have grown threefold in the past year, and contribute 15% to our total sales. We have also expanded our presence across marketplaces like Amazon, Flipkart and Myntra. However, in a country like India, the entire touch-and-feel experience of retail outlets can never be underestimated. Offline retail, D2C and online marketplaces can not only co-exist, but can also be cross-leveraged for faster growth.

There was a surge in demand for casual shoes during the pandemic. Is the trend still thriving?

Casualisation is one trend that has been consistent since the outbreak of the pandemic. In fact, the demand for casual footwear and sneakers has increased by over 40% in the last two years. Accordingly, we have also revamped our portfolio to include more casual wear. We have strengthened our sneaker range that includes performance (walking, running, fitness), outdoor, fashion, work sneakers, and our casual portfolio which includes floats, sandals, slides and mules.

Even as offices open up, people will still gravitate more towards footwear that can provide them home-like comfort even in the office. While the formal category is witnessing a strong turnaround with offices reopening, the casual category will continue to witness huge traction. In tandem with this, we have launched a Relaxed Workwear range.

As consumers slowly warm up to shopping offline, how are you enhancing the in-store experience?

We are piloting a dedicated section for sneakers in our stores, called Sneaker Studio. This section will offer over 250 sneakers from nine international brands under Bata, including Hush Puppies, Power, North Star, Naturalizer, etc. Moreover, we will expand the presence of Happy Feet Centres, which are present in five Bata stores currently — two in Mumbai and one each in Delhi, Bengaluru and Kolkata. These centres are equipped with facilities like trial rooms for shoes, shoe-spa for worn-out shoes, 3D-scanned personalised insoles, and foot massages from a professional.

What were some of the initiatives that helped Bata offset the impact of the pandemic?

In August last year, we launched Bata on Wheels to reach out to consumers right at their doorstep. We were doing 150 Store on Wheels activations per week last year. It proved to be incremental for us in reviving our sales post-Covid. It will continue to be a part of our omnichannel strategy. Furthermore, we forayed into the health and hygiene category last year, with the launch of anti-viral face masks under Power, Bubblegummers and North Star brands, at a price range of Rs 149-299.

We are now experiencing good demand for casual footwear, sneakers, comfortable workwear and open footwear. Footfalls have increased due to the festive season, opening up of offices, increasing consumer confidence to step out with precautions, opening up of schools in a limited manner, and the increase in vaccinations.

Will you be foraying into newer categories soon?

We had plans to launch a collection of training and fitness apparel under the Power brand. However, the launch has been pushed back because of the second wave. We are waiting for an appropriate time to introduce it in the market. We will also continue to expand our accessory range, comprising belts, bags, etc.

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