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Garmin on India expansion plans and why Apple Watch Ultra is good for the smartwatch industry | Exclusive

‘Our biggest expansion will happen in 2023.’

Garmin on India expansion plans and why Apple Watch Ultra is good for the smartwatch industry | Exclusive
Yeshudas Pillai, Country Head, Garmin India (left); Sky Chen, Regional Director, Garmin South East Asia & India (right)

Garmin has announced the appointment of Yeshudas Pillai as new India head to help “drive stakeholder engagement, growth, and development of the brand” in the country. The iconic brand, known for its razor-sharp accurate GPS navigation products, wants to expand its business in India where it sees huge potential thanks to a 32% YoY growth till Q3 2022.

Garmin, in fact, is eyeing to make India one of its top 3 markets (in the Asia region) in the next 5 years. Pillai, evidently, has a lot on his plate. (He has over 16 years of experience and has previously been associated with brands like Harmon, Sony, Casio, Canon, and Nestle.)

“I have always been a great believer of innovation and technology and the potential it has to change the moving world,” he tells FE on the sidelines of the announcement, adding that he is “excited to join the Garmin team and accelerate its growth in India.”

The Garmin India story

Garmin needs little introduction. It has been around for almost three decades. (Fun fact: Garmin made GPS and Personal Navigation Devices (PND) for automotive, aviation, and marine activities during its early days. The name Garmin is a portmanteau of its two founders, Gary Burrell and Min Kao.) Its India story, though, is relatively new starting off –only—in 2008. Slowly and gradually, it has transitioned to— also— making wearables for consumers.  

“Garmin has this huge legacy, especially on the GPS front. But we also keep evolving and innovating. We spend a lot of money on R&D so as to offer something which makes people’s lives easier,” Pillai says, adding that “that’s the reason for coming from aviation, marine to wearables.”

Also Read | Garmin on pricing strategy and what sets it apart from Apple, Samsung in a highly competitive market like India

He notes how important wearable tech has become, now, especially in the wake and aftermath of COVID. You want to stay healthy; you want to track yourself, and how energised you are— as accurately as possible.

Cracking the India market isn’t easy and Garmin is aware of its strengths— and some of its limitations, too. It is one of the few brands designing its products end-to-end. Complimenting the core portfolio is an equally impressive and elaborate set of accessories. But all this comes at a cost, Sky Chen who is regional director for Garmin South-East Asia and India tells FE.

“We make products end-to-end ourselves so we make sure that the quality is the best in the market. (So, our prices are also a bit high.),” he says, adding that “more and more local brands are playing the price war, which is a challenge [for Garmin] but we want to aid more on the value side of the services [we offer] through the products we deliver to market so consumers can enjoy them for longer.”

Pricing and competition

Pillai is quick to reiterate that Garmin has established itself as a niche category brand which is to say its products –and services— are meant for a very specific group of users who want “to lead a healthy lifestyle” and that overall “quality comes at a price.”

When you look at its Venu series, Garmin follows the $300 price bracket. That’s the gateway or entry-point into the Garmin-verse, at least at the time of writing. The line-up exists because Garmin needs a product like that, at that price point, for those – first-timers— who want to experience Garmin for the first time. Beyond that, it’s all about use case and budget. These things can go up to $2,000.

Despite the varying price points, the quality stays consistent, Sky says. You only pay for getting more and more features as you climb the price ladder. The core pillars, say for instance, quality of the heart rate sensor or SpO2 tracking, plus strong battery life, are the same across the board.

“The way we progress in terms of pricing, you get more and more features and advantages [as you go up]. That’s how we place our products categorically. Venu, for example, is a wellness category product. It’s for someone who is more concerned about health. Whereas we have a series called MARQ, which is focused on divers and aviation experts. But the quality of a $200 watch is same as a $2000 watch,” Pillai explains.

When asked if Garmin would ever launch a smartwatch below $250-$300, Sky says “no, we can’t fall below that because we can’t compromise on quality.”

That $250-$300 segment is also where Apple and Samsung are dominating fair and square. They are the undisputed “mainstream” brands even as local and Chinese players are making sure “affordable” watches and bands are a dime a dozen.

Sky argues that Apple and Samsung are more lifestyle-centric while Garmin is “already strong in the running and cycling space” and has “ecosystem accessories [like power metre for cyclists] also, something that they don’t have.” And it is apparently more serious about each of this, down to the minutest detail. That said, Garmin is definitely trying to break into more markets and attract more consumers through events and initiatives like Garmin Run Club.

Speaking of which, when asked about how it feels about Apple entering its turf with the Watch Ultra, Pillai says “having a competition [like that] in the local market is always healthy,” because “it motivates you to deliver better products and to perform better in the market.”  

He adds that Apple getting into the high-end smartwatch game is actually good for Garmin because it helps build awareness [about health and fitness and how far smartwatches have come in terms of offering a holistic experience] which invariably also leads to growth of the industry.

“Sometimes people are aware [about tech] because of a competitor and then they can know who’s who, and which one they should choose, after,” Sky says, adding that “Garmin already had SpO2 before COVID. When COVID happened, people were like, Apple supports SpO2 [too] but we had it first. Now, people know smartwatches can be used for diving also but Garmin has had it for years.”

Expansion plans

Garmin has a pan-India presence, Pillai says. It is present across all the channels but at the same time, it has been very selectively available in those channels. For instance, it’s there on Amazon and Flipkart but it is aware that it needs to also venture into more online platforms. It’s present at Helios and Just in Time but it also wants to be at Ethos and Kapoor Watch Co. On the modern trade front, it’s there on Croma and Vijay Sales but it wants to also onboard Reliance Digital. It has its own brand stores, too, and also available across the sporting goods channel.

Pillai admits, all these efforts have been in “bits and pieces” so far but its “biggest expansion will happen in 2023 wherein we will foray into almost all channels that India has to offer.”

Garmin plans to have more than 10 brand stores in the country by the end of 2023 as part of this strategy.

As for products, Sky says that Garmin has seen “a growth in the preference for mid high range ($300 and above) smartwatches over the last couple of years in India,” and that based on these trends, the brand is bullish on the premium segment and plans to actively expand its offerings in the near future.

Also Read | Garmin Venu Sq 2 review: Watch out, Apple and Samsung

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First published on: 02-11-2022 at 18:22 IST