The Indian retail landscape has changed drastically over the last two decades and the confident and suave Sachin Jain, Managing Director of De Beers India, has had a front-row view. Having worked with an envious list of brands like Benetton, Swatch, Lladro and now the De Beers group, Jain believes that the Indian consumer is no longer a “brand stereotype or a luxury stereotype”. In COVID times, there couldn’t have been a better man to steer the company’s ship through troubled waters. Jain’s experience is already helping the brand push sales to pre-COVID levels. In conversation with BrandSutra, Jain shares his confidence that the brand is poised to achieve 90%-100% of the business volume of last year, and it will only get bigger and better.
Benetton, Swatch Group, Lladro to Forevermark… With an impressive career in the retail and luxury segments, you have closely watched the Indian consumer. What are the instances that stand out as learning? Tell us some stories from your worksphere.
For me, the career has panned out not by design, but out of sheer coincidence. I happened to be in a space where organised retail was just kicking off in India. In the last two decades, I’ve witnessed different industries and interestingly, as the consumer is evolving, the impact of millennial way of thinking is changing our businesses rapidly, the impact of digital has also evolved dramatically. I’ve been in times when we introduced Omega, Rado, Tissot, etc., in India, and at a Kolkata store opening, I recall talking to a consumer who was shocked to see the price tags and said, ‘Oh my God! Rs 5,000 for a watch!’ Then, seeing a higher-priced model, she exclaimed, ‘Rs 20,000 for a watch!’ Eventually, she saw the Rs 2 lakh price tag and it was a huge shock for her. Today, to sell an average Rs 1 lakh rupee watch is a way of life. It doesn't shock anybody and the consumer has evolved in terms of opening up to consumption patterns. This has happened across every industry.
Despite the pandemic, you and your team at Forevermark have kept the brand buzzing with new store launches in North India and the recent Tribute Collection campaign. But as the wedding/ festive season is upon us, do you see COVID playing spoilsport?
We had a good start to the year - January and February were strong. In March, the world turned upside down. There were a series of webinars with everyone, including me, making predictions about how the pandemic would pan out. However, the reality is that different markets, consumers and genres have behaved very differently. When the markets opened in May-June, we witnessed a bit of pent-up demand. However, bigger markets like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, and Chennai just didn't take off because of the rise in COVID cases and the consumer did not want to walk into a physical store. Digital did play a role, but it had a very small role in terms of just finding information. Interestingly, the tier III and tier IV markets have done well, and continue to get stronger. The quarter started on a promising note and I believe we should end at about 60 to 80% of last year. The reason I am giving this range is that this will vary from how you execute it on ground. If you connect with the consumer regularly, then you will get to that level. At Forevermark, I’m certain that we will be 90 to 100% of last year because we’ve stayed connected to the consumer.
In the diamond industry, how do you go beyond the 4Cs? Give us a sense of how the category has been faring and how does Forevermark stand out over competitors? What are the plans you have for the brand?
Every Forevermark diamond has 132 years of De Beers legacy. Less than 1% of the world's diamonds are eligible to be Forevermark. So, every diamond goes through an extremely strict process of selection and screening before it earns a Forevermark inscription. Every Forevermark diamond comes with the promise that these are the most beautiful diamonds and I've underlined ‘the’, they are rare and responsibly sourced. These are the three broad pillars that we give. There's a tangibility of promise that you need in today's time, so we put a unique inscription number on every diamond. It's tamper-free and tamper-proof, and once it's in, anybody can go online and check what the diamond really is where it's come from and transparently hold value into the future. We believe brands are built on trust. In the future, trust will be the baseline, there will be no or little business left where you don't make this as a baseline. And Forevermark becomes that base standard. At Forevermark, we conduct 29 quality tests to qualify for the diamond to be beautiful. So, we go beyond the 4C’s.
Tell us about a high point in your career or any accomplishment that you are most proud of. And what has been your biggest learning from any failure?
I’ve had lots of highs and lows in my career, but I would like to focus on something recent. When we went into lockdown, those were uncertain times but I have never felt so proud to be part of an organisation that kept its calm. And I've never been more proud of a team that I've worked with; it was just incredible how every member of the team inspired me every day. I'm extremely grateful that I’ve been part of De Beers and the team.
In an environment of job losses, business losses and a general sense of uncertainty, what has been your mantra, not only as an MD but a family man or simply as a citizen, to tide over the present crisis? What is that one rule you have made for yourself?
First and foremost, besides rules, I got a great gift of time. My work required me to travel 20-25 days a month, therefore I got the opportunity to be at home. It was also the most important time for us as leaders to be communicating with our team and as business people to be talking to our business partners even more. The other aspect is that we all have to be hopeful and not get bogged down with the present, we really have to look at a tomorrow which will be different. Of course, different people are going through different adversities. People have fallen sick, lost jobs, families have been impacted but I think it's extremely important that we look at the light at the end of the tunnel. We have to be future-focused because this will pass.