The Art and Science of Retailing Occasion Wear in South India

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The Panel Discussion on The Art and Science of Retailing Occasion Wear in South India had industry experts discussing on how they blend science & art of retailing occasion wear.

Panelists of this discussion were:

K.R. Nagarajan, Founder & MD, Ramraj Cotton

Jagdish Sarda, Founder & MD, VENFIELD

Somesh Warakandan, Director, VKR Silks

S.Franklin John, Principal, Nehru College of Management

Moderator: Bijou Kurien

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Opening comments by Bijou Kurein (Moderator)

Occasion wear is emotive and high value. It needs a blend of both the art and the science of retailing.”

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  • The art of retailing is intrinsic; the science, that which is structured and learned
  • Owner retailer driven companies have retailing down to an art. Being an owner and feeling a ‘sense of ownership’ are two different things.
  • Owner retailers – feel the pain of profit and loss.  The promoters owns money – the professional, a sense of ownership,  The owner knows how money works – in terms of stock, customer service, employee satisfaction.
  • When you build a business in a smaller city, where your family has deep generational roots, you know the customer better and can ‘localize’ communication and marketing, without thinking about it as being  marketing.
  • The art of retailing is often transitioned over “dining table” conversations – it’s a DNA level infusion.

Question: How does your business integrate the art and science of retailing?

K.R. Nagarajan, Founder & MD, Ramraj Cotton

“Our mission was to create a status symbol out of the veshti”

“Fashion is about mixing habit with comfort”

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  • Converting the ‘veshti’ into occasion wear has been our mission.
  • When we started, in 1980’s – only the cooperative movement produced dhotis (called “Kadar” dhotis; Kadar means respect). However these were low quality.
  • Dhoti’s were associated with the blue-collar, labourer class.
  • In a bid to market the product, when I wore the product and went to a five star hotel, I was made to wait, while others (who were wearing formal trousers) were allowed to enter.
  • I realized that there was a need to re-position the product.
  • So, I made it a point to associate, tangible ‘signs of success’ with the ‘veshti’ – for example, I would make it a point to be seen driving in a Mercedes wearing the white veshti,  I got temple elephants to salute people wearing white veshtis and made sure that there were people passing them who wore that garment.
  • We’ve also used the emotive appeal of actors – from the Tamil and Malayalam film industries to be our brand ambassadors.
  • Focus: that’s been a critical component. We’ve stuck to the message of ‘pristine, pure white’.
  • We believe that consumers who wear white for 21 days, will not want to revert to coloured clothes.
  • While our range of merchandise spans mens wear, our entire branding,  positioning and marketing is about the “power of white”.
  • Our positioning of the veshti as ‘occasion wear’ was also deliberate.  Festivals and occasions are instances where people seek the comfort of traditional and the familiar.
  • We wanted the consumer to feel proud about wearing ethnic, traditional wear.
  • Lastly, we’ve used product innovation to get people to adopt the category (example – veshtis with belts, pockets, and inner boxers / drawers) – all based on consumer feedback and aimed at making the consumer comfortable about wearing the dhoti.

Somesh Warakandan, Director, VKR Silks

 

“Looking at the silk saree category from the “outside in” is what helped us expand.”

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  • For us the art of retailing is the art of “retaining”.
  • Most of our sales staff have been with us for more than 30 years. They are able to sell to three generations of women customers and are able to map merchandise to profile and taste.
  • Customers no longer see us as “wedding saree” sellers – they look at us as a place to shop for festivals.
  • That “outside in” differentiation is what helps us expand our business.

 

Jagdish Sarda, Founder & MD VENFIELD

“Garments and brands both become commoditized, but service endures. “

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  • Retail is not about opening a big store, dumping stock and pushing sales. Its about how you treat your customer.
  • You need to be present where the customers habitually goes. In the past that was the temple – today it’s the mall, and tomorrow it will be online.
  • As an entrepreneur I am in love with “action” but the business demands that – beyond a point – I have to be replaced by technology – otherwise it cannot grow.

Question: How can academia help retailers understand the art and science of retailing?

S.Franklin John, Principal, Nehru College of Management

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When it comes to occasion wear, do not assume that price drives value. “

  • Handling the customer is an art, understanding her is the science of it.
  • Research tell us that we have two brains (right and left) and two levels of consciousness (cognitive and sub-conscious)
  • Connecting with the consumer is a right-brain, emotive, and a sub-conscious phenomenon.
  • Retailers who forget this get lost in feedback scores and their brands become ‘bland’.

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