Interview with Akhil Jain

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Akhil Jain
Akhil Jain
Executive Director
Madame
Madame

Full Recovery Is At Least A Year Away
The $40 million Ludhiana-headquartered Madame is perhaps among the most successful fast fashion brands in India, having catered to 500,000 unique customers at its almost 500+ exclusive + concessionaire + online stores since its launch. Akhil Jain, executive director, Madame, talks about how the business of Madame as a brand has been affected by covid-19 and the measures it has taken to put business back on track.

What were the footfalls and conversion rate of customers in your stores prior to COVID-19, and what are the figures now?

With covid-19, footfalls did take a colossal hit falling as low as 15 per cent during Unlock 1.0, but there were signs of significant improvements during Unlock 4.0. Customer repeats are minimal. Keeping all sanitization and safety procedures in place, the high street stores in tier-II and tier-III towns have shown quick recovery, while stores in metros and shopping malls are still failing to invite credible footfalls. Overall, we expect the footfalls to stabilise post- Diwali and match 100 per cent only by Q2 next year. Online business has shown a 1.7x improvement as fundamental demand still exists, but due to fear of the coronavirus, more customers are adapting to buying fashion online.

How many stores have closed? Any more closures expected?

Due to commercial non-viability, we had to forgo as many as five stores in the last one quarter. Fortunately, we shall be seeing new stores in same market locations coming up during the third and fourth quarters of this year on a better sustainable model. Also, we had planned 22 new stores pre-covid, but hat projection is now limited to seven for the year, of which one store has already been launched and three more shall be operational very soon. Further operational decision will be impacted depending on the status of footfalls and sales mapping to the revised ABP (annual business plan).

Which of your stores are worst hit and in which city/town?

The stores in metros and tier-I towns are faring the worst. Cities like Delhi, Gurugram and Lucknow are struggling to match the rest of India. Though most of the landlords have come to the rescue of the tenants and shown keen partnership instincts, poor footfalls still haunt stores especially in shopping malls. Airport retailing has taken a severe hit, where the retail is still not entirely operational.

What are the new trends that you are witnessing in shopping habits of people?

The concept of comfort fashion has come to the forefront. During Unlock 1.0, we witnessed a large inclination towards basics-tee, pyjama, loungewear and nightwear categories. With footfalls rising and customers moving back to work, offices and smaller get-togethers, fast fashion demand is coming back on track. We are witnessing a steady rise in the high fashion categories like dresses and formalwear, but it will be the summer of '21 that such categories would bring the justified revenues again. Having a hybrid business model and own manufacturing facility, we were quick to adapt and tweaked the style to have more comfortable attributes seeing the adaptation of the end-consumer. 

Based on consumer preferences, how has your business altered?

Business and operations have been altered with the changing winds. While business survives, what has changed are marketing strategies with the digital game getting a perfect stage to showcase its potential. We, like other major retail brands, are working on an omnichannel marketing to up sales. Till then, we are aiming at a zero-risk model trying to maximise output from our existing infrastructure. This is the perfect time for 'Make in India' and 'Vocal for Local' movements to gather momentum. We also notice some good news coming out of this. We see our carbon footprint reducing significantly with less commercial movement. Business will keep shaping up in new ways until full recovery takes place which we estimate is a good year away as of now.

With people restricting outside travel, ecommerce is gaining more popularity. How are you gearing up to further ensure an omnichannel presence for them?

Technology has been a saviour for most businesses, and I would say a boon for the retail industry. We will be focusing on online sales through our website. Technology has also been helpful in sending catalogues with availability of door deliveries in tier-II and tier-III. WhatsApp has also been a great business tool in these trying times. In small towns and cities, personalised shopping has been manifested through WhatsApp where images of apparel are being sent to the prospective buyer and goods are delivered contactless with payments occurring digitally. We have experienced an 80 per cent jump in sales online through the website. Omnichannel marketing is in the pipeline for Madame and work for it continues. We have also started omnichannel marketing at a few stores to reduce human interaction with digital payments accepted across stores in the country. We are also testing our omnichannel marketing at a dozen stores so that the brand is well prepared as we come closer to the winter season. 

Is Madame accelerating further adoption of technology across its supply chain leading up to points of sale?

Yes, as I mentioned, technology has come to the rescue of businesses. We are now using social media tools to reach targeted sales conversions. We are sending product catalogues to old and new customers and even making sure the goods are delivered to their doorsteps in smaller towns and cities. And, this has really helped the business. It has added a certain sense of personalisation which a lot of clients like and in fact this has resulted in increased sales for us as a brand.

Work at the shop floor has also been affected because of the norms of social distancing. What steps are being taken to train shop floor personnel for this?

Our employees have been given the basic and standardised delivery of the hygiene protocols to be followed day in and out. We have educated them about the sanitisation of the entire store, sanitisation of trial rooms after each use, steam ironing and product isolation after a product has been touched or tried in the trial room. We are doing a two-way sanitisation process where we are also observing customer behaviour in-store and their feedback with our sanitization process. In doing so we are learning new ways and things that need to be sanitized based on customer behaviours. An app-based learning mechanism has been implemented to ensure that the staff is well-informed and is well-equipped to serve the customer.

What new innovations have you come up with or likely to come up with to meet the demands of a covid-hit world?

Fashion is all about innovation and adaptation. The product range is always getting tweaked owing to changes in consumer preferences. Use of technology in operations and retailing is being explored aggressively. With omnichannel marketing, we are aiming to reach 100 per cent of our customers whereby they can order online and pick up from a neighbourhood store. Work from home / remote operations that were only limited to software companies have become a routine practice with companies like ours. Even the employees feel quite relaxed and safe once the organisation has adapted to this concept. Nevertheless, man is a social animal and I feel web conferences will soon give way to board room discussions again.

By when are you expecting the revival process to commence in India?

As a pandemic is once-a-century affair, nothing can be projected thoroughly. As per our industry, quarter two of next year seems to be apt to expect a 100 per cent revival. As transactions and resource movements have been limited, a lot of emphasis is being put to drastically improve back-end operations and HR processes.

How would you describe the market for fashion wear in India after many decades in this industry? What is the annual growth rate in this niche?

The fashion wear space in India has rarely seen slumps. It has maintained its buoyancy in a market otherwise ridden with economic ups and downs. Owing to the large population, the fashion apparel industry in India can rely on the growth of the fashion-conscious consumer who has more disposable income for purchasing branded clothing and accessories. The fashion wear market in India is expected to be worth $53.7 billion in 2020, making it the sixth largest globally, according to the fourth annual State of Fashion report by Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company. 

At present, what is your loyal customer base? At what rate is this growing?

Madame, as a fashion brand in India, has sustained its market and niche. The two main reasons for this is the loyal customer base that has been the strength behind the brand and the consistency and hard work that the brand has put in to compete with international and domestic brands for market share. Every year, we attend to 500,000 unique customers at the stores and service 50,000 online. We are positioned as an international brand in the Indian market. Most people don't know yet that we are a Ludhiana-based company. We sell around 11 lakh pieces a year at our exclusive stores. 

Customer loyalty supports us. We keep up with global fashion trends with seasonal collections at affordable rates. Initially, we had a small market for westernwear in India; today we have expanded beyond our expectations. We have old customers who still buy from us; so, we have maintained our loyalty and trust in them. 

What is the USP of the fashion wear products retailed by Madame?

Madame has an amazing brand positioning in the domestic market. In order to control and maintain this position we have infused global trends and fashion from around the globe into our collections. We are more or less a one-stop solution for all luxury apparel, shoes, sunglasses, handbags and jewellery. I don't think we have any Indian brand that sells numerous categories under its single brand entity. Plus, we are an affordable fast fashion company that suits each pocket size and are well placed in the mid-premium category. 
This article was first published in the December 2020 edition of the print magazine.
Published on: 12/02/2021

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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