Early in his association with Liberty Shoes, Anupam Bansal realised that retailers needed to revamp their modus operandi to catch the attention of consumers. He thus went about creating a retail team for Liberty footwear, and turned around the way business was conducted at stores. Liberty had always been perceived as a value-for-money family footwear brand, but to Bansal goes the credit for changing the perception about it to a premium lifestyle brand characterized by the latest trends, class and good taste. Liberty shoes are retailed in 25 countries.
You describe your journey at Liberty Shoes as ‘a journey of personal discovery and professional evolution’. Tell us more about it.
I foresaw that our 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, I worked towards establishing a very interactive relationship through periodic channel partner meets that gave a big boost to sales and greatly benefited the partners.
We also ensured that the relationship with the partners extended beyond conventional business dealings. We achieved this by making them all feel like members of a close-knit family working together, evolving together and prospering together. I actually redefined brand-consumer interface by revamping the visual merchandising at all the outlets in 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 colourful focal points to draw shoppers to those key areas
5. Using theme merchandising to send a powerful message that will get customers hooked.
After your mission to improve the brand-consumer interface at Liberty outlets then, what are your key focus areas for the brand now?
Our key focus areas for the brand right now are product development, youthful designs, manufacturing, marketing strategies and opening more stores to grow.
How much do you rely on technology to grow the business? What is the e-commerce component in sales?
Technology plays a very crucial role in today’s world, especially to remain relevant in the competition. One of our top performing brands is Healers. The brand is based on enriching the comfort of the consumer by constructing the footwear with latest comfort technologies like H, H1, Hm, H4, HA and H8. These technologies are primarily designed to provide stimulation to specific nerves and major pressure points. Healers are specially crafted to stimulate these particular points in order to improve the blood circulation of the wearer for specific body parts and increase the flow of blood to these areas. We are actively planning to extend our efforts, designs, development and technologies in the same category. We also plan to invest in enhancing H-H8 technology of Healers and are confident about coming up with new innovations and expanding the brand.
Talking about the e-commerce component, footwear is a fashion product where people want the touch and feel experience before buying the product. Moreover, more than 80% e-commerce business is based on discounts; people buy online just because of discounts. As per data, hardly any fresh sales (new products) happen online. Further, I don’t see online as a threat; it could be a support model. Also, I don’t agree that consumers are completely shifting online - they always want to experience the product first.
How have the two sub-brands, Healers and Leap 7X, fared? What are your expectations from them?
Liberty has been one of the favourite footwear brands of India for many decades. Presently, Liberty is successfully capturing the markets of Tier II and Tier III cities of the North. In the South, Karnataka, to be precise, is the topmost buyer of Liberty. We encompass several brands within Liberty, all of them are doing well in providing their consumers with suitable, comfortable, stylish and affordable footwear. However, with the athleisure style dominating the markets these days, Leap7X, our athleisure brand for men, women and kids, has been doing extremely well along with our Healers category in the recent past. We are sure these categories will be in demand in future as well.
What is one business strategy that has worked while marketing Brand Liberty Shoes in a market full of competition? Tell us about your brand ambassadors and some of your recent marketing initiatives.
We have recently launched the campaign ‘Sitaare Aise Hi Nahi Bante, Mehnat Karni Padti Hai AM To PM’ with Ayushmann Khurrana and Rakul Preet Singh as brand ambassadors. The campaign showcases the new collection of Leap7X. The vision behind the campaign was to break the ice, and imagery of Liberty’s style language, to establish youthfulness, to connect with the younger audience who are filled with energy, ready to hustle towards their goals day and night. At the same time, we aim to increase our market-share with greater presence all across the target groups and demographies.
How do you assess your financial performance in FY22 and what are your overall growth and expansion plans for FY23? Is diversification on the agenda?
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the markets and economy have not been the same as the pre-pandemic world. After the pandemic struck, we went through a dip in sales. The retail industry sales were the most affected. Liberty, being in the retail sector, experienced a significant drop in sales. But we were quick to control the situation and today, we are at 30% annual growth rate. At present, we are trying to maintain this tempo and in the upcoming 2-3 years, we plan to grow further and boost this percentage higher.
Going forward, what is your outlook for the footwear industry in India? What are the trends you see? Is people's preference for athleisure and comfort footwear here to stay?
India has immense potential in the footwear sector and is the second largest producer of footwear in the world. The size of the Indian footwear market is around $ 23 billion, as per the latest statistics by Statista. The market is growing at a CAGR of around 7%.
Anupam Bansal, Director Retail, Liberty Shoes |
Athleisure is surely the fastest-growing segment in the footwear market. People these days like to wear comfort shoes all day; that makes it easier for them to walk around all day long without feeling tired. This particular category is dominating the markets these days as people have started seeing shoes as an investment in their health.
What is one belief/motto that guides you as a business leader?
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.
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