25 Mar Looking Behind the Label
Global Opportunity 2015 | Marks & Spencer
As part of Marks and Spencer’s global strategy to ensure a greater brand accessibility to more customers around the world Venu Nair, Managing Director of their Indian operations, talks to Global Opportunity about M&S’s position within India, the consumer dynamics shared between the UK and India and the importance of corporate responsibility while operating in the world’s largest democracy
In 2001 Marks and Spencer began its foray into India with its first store initially operating as a franchise business.
“In April 2008 we signed a Joint Venture with Reliance Retail to capitalise on the growth opportunities in the Indian Market- the joint venture partnership has helped us transform our position in the market and expand our store presence rapidly. Reliance Retail has strengths in property, logistics and experience of operating in the India market,” says Venu Nair.
Indeed India represents a unique opportunity for M&S in term s of demographic and economic strength.
“India is experiencing tremendous growth and has a young population that aspires to live better and look their best. A brand like M&S has immense potential to be part of the Indian lifestyle with it’s outstanding quality, its innovations and the wide offering across price points for the complete family.”
Additionally the role of the UKIBC in aiding and developing the Marks and Spencer brand within India has also been critical to it’s strong commercial presence and subsequent success.
“The UKIBC convention is a prestigious platform that enables dialogue between the UK-India businesses, giving them the opportunity to share their learnings, discuss concerns and share success.
As members of the UKIBC for the last two years it has helped us access various stakeholders and connect with a number of our customers, who are also members of the UKIBC.”
With India universally noted as a crucial commercial market, Mr Nair has acknowledged the importance of M&S’s membership within the UKIBC. “Marks & Spencer is an iconic British fashion brand and India is one of our priority markets, so we are keen to work together with out other British businesses to grow in the market.”
With brand recognition generally considered stronger in South Asian markets as demand for quality heritage rises, Cool Britannia enjoys large success in retail. According to Mr Nair, “M&S has built a unique position in India as a quality, British fashion brand.
As one of the largest international retailers in India with over 600,000 sq ft of selling space across 18 cities, customers recognise that quality and style are art the heart of our clothing offer.”
An expectation of British excellence in manufacture has ensured a brand loyalty that M&S has traditionally enjoyed within the UK.
“Our commitment to deliver the M&S difference that customers expect and to exceed their expectations on fabric, fit and finish has kept customers coming to us consistently. Our on trend styles that incorporate out best innovations such as machines-washable suits, and Drop-a-Size Dresses among others have helped up build a loyal customer base.”
Moreover the challenge of translating Mr Nair’s desire to build a brand synonymous with quality and style within the Indian market has proved minimal. “Wherever we trade we find that our customers look for quality and style.
Indian’s travel across the globe and have access to latest fashion trends, so our British style works very well with out Indian customers.”
Localising these offerings is also an important issue. “We have edited our offer to cater for the needs of our customers in India.
Over 60% of our offering is sourced locally which ensures out pricing is competitive and helps us to ‘stretch the seasons’ to sell linen all year round in hotter Indian cities such as Chennai, Hyderabad and Mumbai, whilst selling knitwear and coats in colder cities of North India in the winter.”
The sales figures reflect the cultural dynamic. “Colour is really important to Indian customers, which is why we sell four times as many colours of polo shirts and twice as many colours of linen shirts as compared to the UK.”
Large companies that operate within India are also expected to engage positively within the local community. “We believe it is extremely important for all businesses, whether small or large to adopt ethical practices to mitigate their impact on the environment and the society.”
Mr Nair has translated this into tangible action. “Launched in 2007, Plan A is our ethical and environmental programme to help protect the planet by sourcing responsibly, reducing waste and helping communities.
Having achieved our major aim of making our owned businesses carbon neutral, we’ve not introduced Plan A 2020 with the ultimate goal of becoming the world’s most sustainable major retailer.”
Mr Nair feels confident for the future. “India is a priority market for M&S and we are focused on growing our store presence in India. We have opened 12 new stores in 2014/15 and will continue to grow our presence across Tier I & II cities in the country in 2015/16”.