Best foot forward

From a family footwear brand, offering the best value for money, to a lifestyle brand for those who see themselves as inseparable from the latest trends, global class and tasteful appreciation of beauty — Liberty Shoes has made it look so easy.  Founded in 1954,

the Rs 600 crore+ company is now among the top 5 manufacturers of leather footwear of the world producing more than 50,000 pairs a day using a capacity of more than 3 lakh square feet of leather per month and with its presence in more than 25 countries, including some of the top fashion destinations of the world like France, Italy and Germany. And the man who has been instrumental in such spectacular growth and phenomenal expansion of footprint is its effervescent managing director, Anupam Bansal.

With a projected revenue of Rs 1,000 crore by 2020, Liberty Shoes has drawn up plans to open nearly 50 outlets over the next one year as part of expansion plans. An Economics graduate from Delhi’s Shriram College of Commerce with a background in footwear designing from Ars Sutoria of Italy, Bansal, foresaw that the retailers needed to take a quantum leap forward if footwear shopping was to be turned into a rewarding experience. The way ahead was to change dealer mindsets about the art of selling. So after re-christening them as Channel Partners he worked towards establishing a very interactive relationship through periodic Channel Partners Meet that gave a big boost to the sales and greatly benefited the partners. In a free-wheeling interview with

Ritwik Mukherjee of FC, Bansal delved at length on wide ranging issues and virtually decoded the Indian footwear industry. Edited Excerpts...
FC: How big would be the footwear industry in India (organised sector & unorganised sector, if possible with break-up)?

Bansal: The estimated size of the footwear industry in the country is Rs 35,000 crore with 60 per cent being unorganised and 40 per cent organised. Of this 60 per cent casuals, 22 per cent mass, 7 per cent sports, 7 per cent premium leather, 3 per cent premium non-leather.

FC: Which segment: men’s/ women’s/ children/ girls’ — is growing faster?

Bansal: If you are talking about the industry, as a whole, womens segment is the fastest growing.

FC: For Liberty, which is the fastest growing segment? At what rates these different segments are growing?

Bansal: For us, the Male segment has grown the most.

FC:   Which of these different segments, will be company’s thrust, going forward?

Bansal: As a family brand our thrust is on all segments and we enjoy a sizeable share in each segment. As a company policy we continue to look at innovations in the products and these determine the new launches that come from the Liberty brand.

FC: How many retail outlets do you have, at this point of time? How many of them are company owned and how many are franchisee-owned?

Bansal: We have 400 exclusive showrooms and around 5,000 MBO which are serviced through 150 distributors. About 30 per cent of the stores are company owned and we partner with some very successful business person for the franchise model.

FC: Are you looking at expanding your retail presence? Could you please elaborate on that—how many stores would you add, how many of them would be company owned and how many franchise?

Bansal: We constantly receive many applications for partnerships by franchisee. We partner with the most suitable ones that can ensure the delivery to the consumer the Liberty Way. It would be difficult to put a figure to the number of stores because it is a continuous process and dependent on various factors. We are also expanding our base in the tier-2 towns.

Yes, expansion is the key to growth. 

FC: How much would you invest over the next 1-2 years for brand promotion and retail expansion?

Bansal: In our scheme of things brand promotion and retail expansion fall under different verticals and are headed by separate individuals. We have allocated a figure of around 4-5 per cent of the sales for brand promotion and allied activities for the year.

FC: Do you currently export? If so, what would be the export volume? To which countries, do you export? Any new geographies/markets, that you are looking at?

Bansal: Our export division has been growing steadily and today is a separate entity within the Liberty Portfolios. We export to over 25 countries wherein not only our fashion footwear is in demand but our Safety Shoes segment has grown admirably

FC: What percentage of your total sales revenue comes from institutional sales (school uniform etc)? Would you look at this segment with increasing thrust?

Bansal: Our institutional Sales is  a sizeable chunk of our sales. We are the preferred brand amongst most of the leading corporates and have made a niche for ourselves. There are many innovations that are institutional team develops in the market and this constant effort has been very fruitful. Institutional Sales segment has been a focus area for quite some time and will continue to be engagaed in our future strategies.

FC: What would be the impact of GST on footwear industry?

Bansal: Overall and in the long run the impact will be positive as it will push the unorganised sector to move into the organized sector wherein we will be at an advantage.

FC: How much of your sales comes from e-tailing? Going forward, by how much would you expect this percentage to go up?

Bansal: Our online sales have shown a steady growth. In the category the online sales will grow but at this point it difficult to put a figure to it. Many parameters are changing and our online team is focusing on the user experience on the sites and also the practices on delivery and consumer delight. We see it as a very positive initiative for delivering our brand to a larger audience.

FC: How many brands/sub-brands do you have? Are you looking at more brands under the Liberty umbrella?

Bansal: We have 12 brands under the Liberty mother brand. Each of these brands are focused to a defined audience and deliver distinct features.

FC: How do you position your brand in the market? Would you continue with this brand positioning in future or would you look at a different positioning?

Bansal: Fashion is comfort. We would like to continue with the same position as it stands for Liberty’s values and beliefs today.

FC:  You are known to have redefined the brand -consumer interface by revamping the visual merchandising at all the outlets. How did you do this?

Bansal: We did it in the form of the following manner:

1. Displaying products in a creative way.

2. Using imaginative methods to highlight products.

3. Changing displays frequently.

4. Visually designing store with colorful focal points to draw shoppers to those key areas.

5. Using theme merchandising to send a powerful message that will get customers hooked.

FC: What is your take on the changing face of retail business in the country?

Bansal: It’s no longer about what we want to sell. It’s about what the consumer wants to buy. It’s about understanding consumer perceptions, attitudes, tastes and desires. In a nutshell it’s about understanding consumer psyche. And those who understand it best succeed most.

ritwikmukherjee@mydigitalfc.com

Columnist: 
Ritwik Mukherjee