Woodland aims to increase awareness on adventure footwear and Harkirat Singh, its managing director, urges more companies to enter this segment to promote it in India
Woodland started operations in Quebec over twenty five years ago by manufacturing outdoor boots for the Canadian market. When it started getting competition from the Chinese manufacturers, the company started looking for other markets and entered India in 1992. During that period, there were retailers like Bata and Carona who were manufacturing standard products and not specialised products. So Woodland filled this vacuum in the Indian market with its adventure products. “We targeted the youth and we got a good response. They started wearing our shoes not just because of the functionality but because of the designs that we offered them,” says Harkirat Singh, managing director, Woodland.
Today, Woodland has gained international recognition as one of the world’s leading manufacturers of extreme weather outdoor gear and outer wear. With presence in more than 40 countries globally, Woodland offers footwear, performance apparel and outdoor gear. Its products are available through its wide network of over 400 exclusive stores and 4,000 plus multi-brand outlets across the country apart from its international presence.
Operating in an unorganised market
The early days were not easy for Woodland as the market was highly unorganised. Having been used to organised markets like Canada and Europe, where the company used to partner with retailers and distributors and its payments were safe, it had to sell through distributors in India who had a long credit period. It later started opening branded stores which were quite new to the market. The retail boom in early 2000 augured well for Woodland with mid-sized cities showing good demand for its products. “There were other brands which came in to complement ours, like Benetton and Levi,” says Singh.
There is an increasing number of youth who are entering adventure sports. But Singh’s woe is that Woodland is the only player in the adventure footwear market and wishes that more companies will enter this segment so that they can jointly grow the market.
Woodland stepped up its marketing budget during the late 90s as it started advertising on television then. Over a period of time, the company managed to establish its brand and now has a strong connect with its customers. Not just that, it is particular about materials it uses and its adoption of technology. Woodland is a pro-planet company with initiatives starting from procuring and treating raw material (leather chemicals and processes) to the way it makes its products. “Normally a tannery is the most pollution causing industry. We treat all our leathers, make them non-toxic, use solar energy and machinery which consumes less energy,” says Singh.
Evolving the Indian market
Initially, the company’s focus was on metros and gradually, it started entering smaller towns. While the brand awareness was not much then, the market in smaller towns has developed well now. “Stores in Kolahpur, Patiala and Banaras are doing very well now. Customer habits of buying a branded product has evolved,” says Singh. Commenting about the proliferation of malls, he says, “The initial response from the malls was not very good as people were not used to buying there. They were just coming to watch movies and eating out but not purchasing. But, after six or seven years, we see that business at these locations has increased.”
Just like how Woodland specialises in outdoor and adventure product, the segment of sports wear has grown due to certain prominent brands like Nike, Reebok and Adidas. “They constitute the main branded footwear market as people buy it for sports and performance,” he says. The formal shoe market is also growing well. Internationally, the adventure footwear segment is big. “For example, in Canada or Europe, there are specialised outdoor stores where you can get everything, shoes, equipment, apparel, etc necessary for every activity. You will have the whole gear available,” says Singh while adding that in India, the market is not big but segmented.
Increasing its customer-base
The adventure category is not yet very big in India and Singh wants to be instrumental in creating this market. There is an increasing number of youth who are entering adventure sports. But his woe is that Woodland is the only player in the adventure footwear market and wishes that more companies will enter this segment so that they can jointly grow the market. “Currently, direct competition is from other categories like sports and semi-formal categories. Normally, a person who does not know about adventure products ends up buying a sports shoe,” says Singh.
To increase awareness, Woodland directly reaches out to its target group in schools and colleges through music shows and similar events. “We also create an adventure zone where we involve them in adventure activities in a small way,” says Singh. The company has an ambassador programme where it identifies people who have done something extraordinary in the field of adventure and writes about them on its social media platform. For instance, last year, the company spoke to a girl who climbed Mt. Everest for the first time.
Woodland, however, realises that its customer-base is youth and they form a dynamic market. And it needs to keep pace with their dynamism. “Ten years back we had a lot of advertising on television and print. Today, we see the need to switch to the digital medium,” states Singh. However, it aims to advertise on print, electronic and digital media, one in tandem with the other.
Looking at the future
While the company has its distributors in different countries, India will definitely remain its major market. It distributes its products in the Middle East and is entering the South African region. Woodland products are also available in Hong Kong and will be soon available in China. The company also has a presence in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Once things take shape, the company may consider opening exclusive stores in the Middle East, Hong Kong and China.
Currently, 20 per cent of its total turnover is from the export market. For the last few years, Woodland has been growing at 20 per cent to 25 per cent and it expects to maintain this growth over the next few years. While the company is entering various countries, it is in no hurry. It wants to develop these markets properly where it can market its products as a premium brand. Woodland wants to ensure that its brand ethos – adventure and pro-planet is taken home by the youth of the world.
Founder: Harkirat Singh
Year: Entered India in 1992
Stores: 400 exclusive stores
Turnover: Growth of 20 per cent to 25 per cent in the next five years
Increase awareness about adventure footwear
Enter South African region and China
May open stores in Middle East, Hong Kong and China