Harkirat Singh, the Managing Director of Woodland India, hails from a family of industrialists. He has earned a name for himself in Woodland with his competency and calculative methods. A bachelor of commerce from Hindu College, Singh pursued Philology from Moscow University, went to Harvard Business School and Stanford University to study Design Innovation.
It was during this time that his love for footwear design matured and he started learning the intricacies of the high fashion shoe business. After completing his education, Singh joined the family business where he was involved in exports to Europe and US. Harkirat Singh was appointed the Director of Woodland in 1989, and since then he has made a significant contribution towards the leading brand, which is famed as ‘the maker of tough shoes’. He ventured into the unorganised Indian shoe market and introduced the adventure footwear category.
Talking about the brand, he says, “The brand ‘Woodland’ owned by Aero Group was started in Quebec, Canada for making winter boots. Woodland entered into India in 1992 when the Indian footwear market was largely unorganised. We created a new category of specialised ‘outdoor adventure sports’ shoes. Our product positioning was different and we were known as a rugged, outdoor leather shoe brand, the kind usually preferred by adventurists. The youth took fancy to our shoes and we gradually developed a product line especially for India. Since then we have never looked back. The success of our shoes encouraged us to enter new segments like clothes, handbags, and the likes.”
In an exclusive interaction with Shubhra Saini, Singh talks about Woodland and the footwear retail market, how it has evolved over the years and the role Woodland has played in further intensifying the market.Retail Footprint:
Currently we have a chain of over 600 company-owned stores and a presence in over 5,000 multi-retail outlets in the country. Globally, the brand is present in more than 40 countries.
Footfalls vary throughout the year. As ours is an outdoor brand, people prefer trying out products before buying them so there is a good footfall across our stores in standalone locations as well as shopping malls. Talking about franchise stores, we don’t have many such stores but we are working to further strengthen our franchise model to grow our presence in smaller cities and towns. We prefer franchise stores in remote locations like Kashmir and far off places in Northeast India.
Market Positioning and Customer Profile:
Woodland products are strong, meant for tough conditions and have a different style. The brand has a USP of being long-lasting and has been synonymous with adventure sports and outdoors for years now.
Our customers include urban youth (both men and women) looking for adventure, aged between 17-25 years who are students, college kids and professionals.
Our wide product range includes apparels, shoes and accessories for men and women and outdoor equipment like tents, sleeping bags, waterproof outdoor backpacks and all that one can associate with adventure travels and sports. Most of our products are manufactured in country plants.
Our prices are in sync with the buying power of our target audience, which is essentially the non-earning youth segment that is looking for stylish and value for money offerings. Our jackets are available at a starting price range of Rs 4,000 whereas the price range of our boots starts from Rs 5,000.
Men shoes and t-shirts are our highest selling items at the stores currently. The most popular price range with our customers starts from Rs 4,000.
We target malls and high-street markets of the Tier I, II and III cities for Woodland stores. We may set up shop in shops with existing retailers in overseas countries, where retail is fairly organized.
We keep running customer loyalty programs from time-to-time as they provide our existing customers with additional benefits and also help us reach a wider audience. Our endeavour has always been to create such programs that motivate existing and new customers and to generate loyalty and satisfaction. Loyalty programs also help us to further maintain conversations with our clienteles. What we feel proud of is that the same customer comes to us repeatedly.
We are planning to add another 60 stores in this financial year that would be an equivalent combination of small towns and metros. Woodland as a brand has also been present in the international market for quite some time now. We are currently working on entering more foreign countries in the near future to add to our kitty of international presence.
We are planning to set up 60 more stores this year majority of which will be in Tier I, II and III cities. We have recently expanded our business in collaboration with Aokang International to enter China. This partnership will allow us to sell our products in about 5,000 retail outlets in China. We will initially start selling through 150 Aokang outlets. After testing the market with 150 stores, we shall scale up stocks by September and will be available in Aokang stores across China. We are planning similar collaborations in some South African countries and Canada.
Betting Big on E-commerce:
Our online sales are growing at a faster rate and we expect it to grow to 40 per cent in three to four years. We plan to concentrate more on a seamless approach through all available shopping channels, i.e. mobile Internet devices, computers, brick-and-mortar, television, radio, direct mail, catalog, in-store experience and so on. Our EMI scheme for online sales has proved beneficial for us. It is one of the prime reasons for the growth of our online sales. Soon after is launch, it generated a tremendous response from our customers. Nearly 15 per cent of our sales are now through this scheme.