Confirms commitment to Sri Lanka with first-ever character meet-and-greet
Mickey Mouse and Spiderman had their work cut out for them on Sunday (29 September) as 1,400 families thronged to The Kingsbury to meet the much-loved characters and spend a day with them. As children queued up to pose for photographs and share their stories, Disney UTV Managing Director Consumer Products, Publishing and Retail Roshini Bakshi and her team down from India noted the joy on the children’s faces and agreed that the time was right to strengthen their presence in the Sri Lankan market. Stating that Disney only brings their characters to a country when they are certain of the market and as a confirmation of their wiliness to “invest money, time and effort in to a country,” Bakshi joined the Daily FT for an exclusive interview to share their commitment and plans for Sri Lanka
By Cheranka Mendis
Q: When did Disney launch its licensing business in Sri Lanka and how is the operation progressing?
A: We have been in Sri Lanka since 2005. We had just one partner at that time, Trendy Collections. Back then, Sri Lanka was a small country for us. However in the last three years it has really been progressing. I see progress all around Sri Lanka, not only in terms of our business but as a country on the whole. We see the progress of infrastructure and see more retailers coming up. We also see a lot of benefit for our business. There is a lot of aspiration for the children, who form the core of our consumers, to buy into our characters and our stores.
Q: Who are the local bodies you work with as partners?
A: Today we have some of the larger names in Sri Lanka as our partners. In total we have eight partners and they are very good. Starting with Trendy Collection in 2005, today we cover a wide area of sectors such as apparel, footwear (DSI), stationery (Atlas and Ceylon Pencils), chocolates (Edna), umbrellas (Rainco), and even have retail partners such as Cool Planet and House of Fashion in our network. We have also partnered with Emcee. Our product SKUs number at 436. We are also speaking to more companies to expand our presence here.
Q: What is your coverage in Sri Lanka?
A: What I have been told is that Edna alone covers 70,000 stores islandwide and our products reach all those stores. With DSI, we are in all their stores as well. I was informed by Atlas that there are over 1,000 doors just in terms of supermarkets, while there are other modern stores as well as single stores to which are products are sent to. Our coverage is close to 99,000 retail doors right now and is growing. We see more great potential for the expansion of this coverage in the country.
Q: What made you come to Sri Lanka in 2005?
A: At that time Trendy reached out to us for license and we also worked with them on a couple of categories. However, in the last three to four years it has been totally different. Sri Lanka has proved to be a very good market. I come at least twice a year to Sri Lanka and I see progress every time I come. I see it in the roads, the ports, businesses that are coming up, and the fact that you now have Commonwealth coming up – each one of these will benefit the country in terms of infrastructure but also through the retail network that is coming up along with this. Each of these starts expanding the potential for products in the country; for consumers, and even for brands like ours which really depends on great retail spaces.
Q: Who is the most popular Disney character here?
A: Mickey is obviously the largest in terms of awareness. Mickey was brought to Sri Lanka for the first time on Sunday. We brought Mickey as well as Spiderman for a meet-and-greet. We ran a consumer promotion over the last 20 days through which children got the opportunity to come and spend the day with these popular characters.
Q: Could you tell us more about the promotion?
A: Titled ‘World of Disney’ we gave the opportunity for 1,400 families to come and interact with the two characters on Sunday. The promotion was such that during a set period any family that purchases Disney and Marvel products from DSI footwear stores, Arpico, Cool Planet, Fashion Bug, No Limit and many other stores were entitled to win a chance to be part of the ‘World of Disney’ experience. The promotion was successful and throughout the day the saw the look of pure thrill in the faces of children when the characters came. As it was titled ‘World of Disney’ we also had other activities such as princess makeovers for girls and a Marvel superhero zone for the boys. It was a fun day for families.
Q: How have you managed to sustain the brand image of Mickey Mouse throughout the years?
A: As a brand, Mickey is over 80 years old. The thing with Mickey is that he is relevant everyday for any consumer anywhere. He is like your next-door friend; and a friend always remains a friend, it doesn’t matter what the generation is. Kids love Mickey. But we must make sure that what they see connected to Mickey is also as beautiful as the much loved character. We put in a lot of efforts in to product innovation.
Q: What are the key strategies used in this regard?
A: We do great quality products which is most important to us. Product designs are brilliant and we also place it in very nice retail environments so that when a consumer comes in, they want to pick up what they see – and this goes to smaller products such as chocolates as well. We got to the extremes in creating what we see as a ‘fantastic’ product. At the end of the day it is both the product and the brand that the consumer wants to take home.
Even though Mickey is a favourite, it is about keeping the excitement around him going. This is attained through consumer promotion and the likes of meet-and-greet. ‘I came to see Mickey’ creates more and more excitement and this is how we keep the value going. There are also television content running in Sri Lanka.
In India we do a lot of other things such as mall activation programs. Some of what we do in India is likely to be seen in Sri Lanka as well in the future.
Q: Setting aside the obvious size difference of the markets, do you see any resemblance in India and Sri Lanka. Can we go in to that kind of capacity?
A: As mentioned, market-wise India is multi-fold bigger obviously. But that apart I see a lot of good things here in Sri Lanka. First, I see the presence of a very good modern trade. For a small country like Sri Lanka to have over 1,000 doors in modern trade is a great shopping experience for consumers, and it is only going to grow. I see the start of a mall culture in the country. When malls come in there is a lot more that will happen – families go and spend the day, buy things, watch movies, play games, eat out, etc. This is very similar to what happens in India. When I talk to my Sri Lankan partners and friends they tell me that they come to India for shopping continuously. I believe in the next three to four years, the shopping here will be as good as India. I see a lot of things that are similar.
However, in Sri Lanka you have the ability to take some of these and move it faster, because it is smaller and more controlled. Small sometimes is an advantage.
Q: What plans does Disney have for Sri Lanka?
A: We are committed to Sri Lanka and we see this as an important market. The last two days have been a culmination to show our commitment to the country. We continue to build our business in Sri Lanka. We are very sure it will be a market which will make us and our partners very happy; and most importantly, our consumers in Sri Lanka happy.
Q: Any new initiatives to be launched in Sri Lanka?
A: There are many but we will announce them as we launch. We should also have more characters coming in, in the future.
Q: Number-wise how has the market grown?
A: In the last three years the market has been doubling year on year for us here. What you see today is much bigger than what you saw yesterday and this will only expand in greatness next year.
Q: Anything the country can do to accelerate the growth and development?
A: I think you are putting in place fantastic steps. There is nothing better than infrastructure as a key step for development and I think your President is doing a good job in that regard. Malls are coming up, retail stores are expanding and Colombo is now becoming a very expensive city. Everything is just right. There are so many big brands (such as Mothercare, Mango, Levis, Reebok, etc.) in Colombo which in itself is an endorsement of the growth pattern of the country.
Q: Tell us about the theatrical market of Disney in Sri Lanka?
A: It is our company that brings in Disney movies through a distributor here. I must note that the numbers of theatres are very low in the country; especially in Colombo, which has only three multiplex cinemas. We believe this too will change and grow in the future. But all the Disney movies come here. Planes is still running in Sri Lanka and Ironman was one of the bigger movies here. In November Thor will come to Sri Lanka. Captain America and Spiderman is lined up for next year. All movies we run in India, including our other UTV movies (such as Chennai Express) are brought down to Sri Lanka.
For us the theatrical market is seen as an extension to building our overall brand in the country. Disney channel and Disney XD is also in Sri Lanka which is also an opportunity for children to see related content.
Q: How would you describe your commitment to the market?
A: Disney is a very big brand and we are truly committed to the country. We are showing our commitment not only through our partnerships in Sri Lanka but more importantly though the fact that we are bringing our characters here. We only bring our characters when we believe that we want to invest money, time and effort into a country. In our own plans we would like to do things in India which we could bring to Sri Lanka and to treat it as one seamless area. We are committed. We see a lot of growth in the market. Sri Lanka is growing and we will be part of this growth.
Q: Any further comments you would like to add?
A: I have to tell you that I love the people here – some of the warmest and gentlest people I have seen are in Sri Lanka. Even Sunday we had 1,400 families coming in throughout the day and it was such a pleasure because they were so well-behaved, the children were queuing up as they were asked to with no fuss. Our event organisers told us that even though there were so many people coming and going, they didn’t feel stressed at all because no one was rude and everyone was nice. It was a wonderful experience for all of us to be here in Sri Lanka.
Pix by Sameera Wijesinghe