The business of fashion in India is witnessing an upsurge not only in apparels and jewelry but footwear too is seeing an entry of a lot many new players and designers – national as well as international. But as the age-old adage goes – Old is Gold; a lot many Indians are still more comfortable trusting the home-grown footwear brands. STOrai traces the journey of one such footwear brand which has created a mark for itself in the footwear category with its innovation not only in the area of design and quality but also making the brand available through its online format.
Named after the famous theater Metro as was the fad in those days, Malik Tejwani, founder of Metro Shoe Store, launched the first store in Mumbai catering to the needs of Bollywood stars, models and upper middle class. Malik Tejwani was a visionary man with a great sense of understanding of the footwear market focusing mainly on customer service. Taking over the reign from his father, Rafiq Malik ,chairman and managing director of Metro Shoes, decided to take the brand from a one store operation to a chain thereby making Metro Shoes Limited India’s largest footwear retailer with about 144 stores spread across 44 cities. Talking about his father’s modus operandi and how the same still helps the brand, Malik says, “My father was a visionary with a great sense of understanding of the footwear market. His main focus was customer service. He could say ‘hello’ in 14 different languages! He was also very focused on regional customization. Even when we opened our second store in the suburbs of Mumbai, he was particular to ensure that the product at both our stores mirrored the community fashion and tastes. These still remain the principles as we manage our 144 stores.” Adding to this, Malik humbly states, “When I decided to take the brand from a one store operation to a chain, my biggest challenge was to replicate the passion of a store owner and high levels of customer service for which Metro had become famous for.”
Malik very knew that the brand had the capabilities of becoming a national brand he accordingly devised means and measures to scale the brand’s reach across the country. Says Malik, “As I entered the business, my immediate goal was to make Metro Shoes available across all major cities of India without compromising on value that made us popular as a one-store retailer.”
As rosy as it looks today, the journey of this shoe brand has had its share of challenges and roadblocks. According to Malik; like food habits, footwear fashion changes every 100 km. Perhaps that is the reason why fashion footwear has always been dominated as well as successfully managed by local retailers. E.g. the crowded streets of Linking Road in Mumbai! Malik also feels that till date the footwear industry is largely unorganized (again the best example to talk about would be the ever vibrant Linking Road of Mumbai) and hence it is not an easy task to replicate the passion and zeal that the brand owner has and pass it down to the employees and store personnel. According to him, one of the challenges this industry faces is of getting a good front-end staff that has absolutely no inhibition performing his duties. Explaining this, Malik says, “Footwear retailing primarily involves touching the feet of our customers as part of service and hence the front end does not attract the best manpower in terms of education, technical expertise and sophistication.” Another challenge Malik cites as, “The fashion footwear industry primarily consists of a large number of vendors with limited capacities and minimum technological investment. This works well for the unorganized sector as their requirement is primarily limited to a shop or two. But this provides a challenge for large retailers who have a capacity of more than 100 stores.”
Overcoming the Challenges
By developing an unmatched product strategy, devising an enviable business plan and taking up the task of being a ‘mentor’ to its suppliers; Metro shoes managed to cut across all the roadblocks. On the product strategy followed at Metro, Malik shares “Among other things, India’s diversity is also mirrored in its footwear fashion. Metro Shoes realizes that only those organizations that take advantage of this diversity truly prosper in this industry. Merchandise customization as per regional sensitivities hence has been the primary basis of our product strategy.”
At Metro Shoes, the business model is developed around one reality – “Most Indians make better entrepreneurs than employees”. Hence, Metro Shoes follows a Performance Linked Business Model that is applied to both its internal as well as external stakeholders. Realizing the need of sharpening the roots itself, the brand took upon its shoulder the task of mentoring the suppliers. Elaborating on the inclusive growth strategy, Malik says, “The Footwear Supply Industry being plagued by the shortcomings of investments and information requires strong direction and support. Metro Shoes has voluntarily taken up the role of a mentor for its suppliers providing them financial, technical and business intelligence assistance. This has ensured growth of vendors parallel to the growth of Metro Shoes.”
Malik takes pride in talking about his internal IT team stating, “We are very fortunate to have one of the best internal IT teams not only in the footwear but in the Indian Retail Industry. We were one of the first organizations in our league to computerize all stores. This feat seams significant against the fact that most of our store staff were technically illiterate and hence the systems needed to simple yet provide the necessary information to manage their stores. Considering these limitations, we could not find a single product in the market that could fit our requirements. Hence, our internal team developed a unique 3 click system that ensured all required reports were just 3-click away. Recently we also developed a Vendor Management Portal that provide our vendors with easy access to information about their products, sales, inventory and sell through as of last Sunday. This enables them to manage their inventory effectively.”
The Evolution of the Indian Customer
With an experience of being in the market for more than 6 decades, Malik confidently says that today the Indian customer is more fashion conscious than before. Sharing details he says, “We have seen Shoe industry grow for last 60 years. The priorities have changed from price range to quality to design and now to fashion trends. However in the last few years Indians have gone through a dramatic transformation in lifestyle by moving from traditional spending of food, groceries and clothing to lifestyle categories that deliver better quality and taste. In the next decade we see a shift in consumer preference towards more casual, clearer and younger style. This would be a result of increasing global travel coupled with increased media penetration that has led to heightened awareness of international trends and lifestyles among domestic consumers.”
Commenting on the Indian consumer being value conscious rather than price-conscious, Malik says, “Indian consumers are definitely value conscious. Currently both the value segment as well as the luxury segment is booming, while this may seem like a paradox the truth is that at every price point the customer is more concerned with value derived whether it is a 99 pair of chappal or Rs. 50,000 Diamonte Collection Boot, customers will only buy it when their perceived value matches its price.”
Mode of Operation
Though the brand is strong on its expansion plans, it must be noted that inspite of crossing the hundred mark, they still not ready to toy with the idea of expansion though the franchise route. Says Malik, “We are a strong believer in expansions that does not dilute the organization’s core principles and belief that our internal staff are the best custodians of the same. Hence, we have not ventured into the franchise model as yet. We currently operate on an investor model, whereby our expansion is funded by individual’s who invest in locations and/or fixtures and enjoy a percentage of revenue for the same. The company manages everything from staff, stocks, marketing, operations etc.” Understanding the importance of a good customer service, the brand introduced a loyalty programme – The Shoe Shoppe where the loyal customers of the brand are rewarded with a high percentage point amounting to 4 per cent as against the market standard which is about 2 per cent.
Differentiating itself from its competitors, Metro Shoes have adopted 3 pronged approach to its business – Product customization, fostering entrepreneurship skills amongst its staff and dedication to customer service. Citing the expertise in design, Malik proudly says, “Our expertise lies in sourcing products and retailing hence our focus is in scouting for best possible footwear across India, Brazil, China and Italy and then retailing them in the best ambiance. However, we work closely with our vendors to ensure that products are brought in as per trends and that they uphold the quality that Metro Shoes is famous for. Metro Shoes can be credited for mentoring many vendors and upgrading their pair capacity from 50 pairs per week to 2000 pairs per week.”
Talking about their most recent marketing campaigns where the brand roped in celebrity couple Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor, Malik justifies the move stating, “It is not crucial to have a celebrity face. However, it is important that there should be a good synergy between the brand and its ambassadors in terms of shared principles and values. Metro Shoes, we were looking reinforc our image as National Fashion Brand for both Men and Women. Saif with his classic fashion and Kareena the trendsetter perfectly fit our brand attributes.”
The brand has ambitious expansion plans to more than double their network to crores Says Malik, “Our major thrust would continue to be Tier II & Tier III cities as well as value format MSL – More Shoes for Less.”
Sharing quick do’s and don’t a retailer in India needs to keep in mind, Malik shares –
1. Customer Orientation: You may think that this is such a fundamental fact but as organizations expand they forget this golden rule that eventually drives customers away.
2. Retail is in Details: Hence companies should invest in information systems and keep a close watch on the numbers. However, organizations need to also move a step ahead and be constantly grounded regards to the qualitative realities of the market.
3. Vendor Relationship: Companies should look at developing a win-win situation with their vendors. Since, we operate in an eco system and can scale higher only if we a have supportive network system.
Chronology of Events
A lone footwear store was launched in Mumbai catering to the fashion needs of bollywood stars, models and the upper middle class. Like all footwear stores at that time, the store got its name from a famous theatre – ‘Metro’
- October: Metro Shoes starts its expansion spree with its first store out of Mumbai at Surat.
- August: With a vision of catering to the ever increasing population of the youth, Mochi – The Shoe Shoppe, a lifestyle footwear store catering to fashion conscious Indians was introduced.
- April: Metro Shoes launches its 25th store
- April: Metro Shoes announces strategic alliances with Top Brands like Florsheim, Lee Cooper, Levis, I.D and Red Tape.
- November: Metro Shoes associates with Designers Manish Malhotra, Rohit Bal and Rina Shah to launch Signature by Metro
- March: The beginning of retail boom and availability of retail infrastructure enables Metro Shoes to open its 50th store.
- April: Metro Shoes launches its 75th store.
- April: Metro Shoes Limited partners with Millenium Marketing to form a JV called MetMill. MetMill operates Shop-In-Shop brands Lemon, Pepper and I-walk available across Shopper Stop, Pantaloons and Big Bazaar
- October: Metro Shoes becomes India’s first footwear retailer to launch an e-commerce site www.metroshoes.net
Metro Shoes forays into the value segment with the launch of MSL Footwear – More Shoes for Less.
- January: Metro Shoes becomes India’s first fashion footwear retailer to reach 100 store mark
- March: Metro Shoes Limited ties with up D Mart to retail its brand ‘MSL – More Shoes for Less’ in its stores
- September: Encouraged by its success in D Mart, Metro Shoes launched ‘MSL – More Shoes for Less’ in Spencers