Clarks expands footprint as more Sri Lankans get stylish

Thursday, 3 October 2013 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

World famous footwear brand Clarks is expanding its presence in the country, encouraged by the growing demand for its shoes among Sri Lankans. Having set up the first store at Crescat in 2011 in partnership with DSI Group, the second outlet was opened yesterday at Maitland Crescent, Colombo 7. Established in 1825 in UK and now present in over 100 countries, Clarks has mastered the art of shoemaking since it successfully blends style with comfort. In Colombo for the opening Clarks India CEO S. Ramprasad in an interview with the Daily FT yesterday revealed that sales via the maiden store have exceeded expectations prompting the launch of a further outlet, both offering a wide array of quality men’s and women’s footwear. “We are actually doing twice than what we estimated. We are continuing to grow and the opening of our second store reflects on that.  We are doing really well,” he said. Going forward, Clarks want to increase brand familiarity further and foray into the kids wear segment as well as tap online sales channel. Following are excerpts of the interview with Ramprasad in which he highlights the brand’s unique value proposition and what makes it stand out from the rest of the footwear brands in the world.       By Shabiya Ali Ahlam Q: What is Clarks about and what makes it unique? A: Clarks is the world’s leading everyday footwear and has been around for 188 years. There are lots of pioneering initiatives that Clarks has brought to the footwear market over the years. However, what makes Clarks unique is that it provides in one product, style, comfort and craftsmanship. It successfully links the key elements to give customers the best footwear.   Q: How has the brand grown over the years? A: Established in 1825, Clarks has grown to become one of the leading brands in the international footwear market. In the last financial year its revenue topped 1 billion pounds in the UK alone. Our shoes are made available in over 100 countries worldwide with key markets in the UK, which is the home market, and the USA, which is the second largest. Only in the last decade Clarks started venturing out from the two. That is when we made serious efforts in branching out to potential markets.   Q: The company has been around for 188 years. So why did it initiate venturing to other markets only in the last 10 years? A:  In the 70s Clarks did a big push in the US. Till then it was very satisfied in the home market. It must be understood that Clarks has a great heritage in UK where it has over 500 branches within the UK. So it was focused on making the brand a household name, and I can say that today it certainly is. The brand is treasured by the people there. So the opportunities to grow within the UK were immense. In the 70’s it decided to move out and selected USA as the first country to mark its footprint. When Clarks decides to venture, it takes a long term view. Long term for Clarks is 50- 60 years. When we enter a new market, we want to make sure we remain there and grow to be a leader in the same.   Q: So what led the company to venture into Sri Lanka? A: The whole South Asia region was unexplored by Clarks for many years. In 2010, the company set up a joint venture with Future Footwear Group India. From the South Asia perspective, Sri Lanka is treated as a strategic market and we have entered here by establishing a partnership with DSI group, which is a leader and household name in Sri Lanka, similar to what Clarks is for the UK. Our initial discussion with DSI was to start with a store at Crescat in Colombo, which we opened in 2011.  We were pleasantly surprised by the initial response. There were a couple of factors that lead to the success. The number people who knew about the brand were extremely high, which I think is because many from Sri Lanka travel to the UK, and those who go there cannot miss Clarks. Secondly we didn’t realise there is such a great demand for women’s footwear here. We are pleasantly surprised with the response received to our products when we entered the market.   Q: What are your target segments? A: We cater to men, women, and children. Under the three primary segments we do smart, casual and sports. So we cover all areas of footwear. In Sri Lanka we started with the men’s and women’s range. The Kid’s range was only recently started and is a limited product range for the time being. The kids market is rather difficult since the sizing involved is rather complicated. One of Clarks’ core expertises is on protecting the growing feet of children. Our motto for that segment is ‘Growing feet in safe hands’, and it’s a real pleasure for Clarks as in the UK we dominate the kids market. So in Sri Lanka it will take some time for us to grow in the kids market.   Q: How are the products moving in Sri Lanka? A: We are actually doing twice than what we estimated. We are continuing to grow and the opening of our second store reflects on that. We are doing really well.   Q: Does Clarks localise it shoes? A:  Clarks philosophy is not so much about localisation. We buy the product from a country where the design is made best. What we have seen with Clarks is that our customers expect international styling. So when we launch, we have a few locally adapted products as well. However, the consumer feedback was overwhelming about international styling. They did not want localised products since it is readily available in their country. With Clarks, consumers want a truly international product which is sophisticated and extremely stylish.   Q: What would you say about the footwear trends in Sri Lanka? A: We also assume that with the availability of knowledge about our products, consumers are at most instances more aware than our sales team. They ask for products that we haven’t launched yet in the country. This means that we have to launch products in the same seasons as we launch in UK or the USA. When we don’t, consumers immediately know it is an old design when they see the product. They are so much in sync with faction that we have to make the product available as soon as we launch the same in our larger markets. We see that footwear for work has great demand. What makes the work-wear market in Asia different from the West is that people also look for a bit of style. They don’t want a boring black shoe anymore. We see that people here like to dress up a bit. For this we bring in more metallic colours.   Q: Clarks is opening its second exclusive store. Where next? A: We will continue to expand. The next big effort will be on rolling out the kids wear. We are also exploring the opportunity of online ecommerce where we hope to facilitate delivery of our products as well. This will allow us to reach a larger market. We just launched this in India, and it is doing really well.   Q: Any plans on branching out of Colombo? A: We are considering the idea but there are no solid plans as yet. It will definitely be there in the future. If we were to select a location, the next move for obvious reasons will be Kandy. But I see we still have more opportunities to branch out in Colombo. Clarks will establish its mark here before moving on to the next location. We want to increase the brand familiarity to increase the product confidence in the market. Pix by Upul Abayasekara and  Sameera Wijesinghe