Going two steps back, define Liberty, the brand. What does it stand for?
Anupam Bansal (AB): The current positioning of the brand says ‘Fashion is comfort’. This shows that the brand stands for giving the most appropriate fashion with maximum comfort. Liberty Shoes is an Indian brand offering the widest range of products under 11 sub-brands and it is a complete family brand which takes care of both the genders as well as all age groups; and all modes from sports, casuals, semi-formals and formals.
What are the 11 sub-brands under Liberty? Who is the TG for each? While Liberty as a brand is well known, we haven’t seen much of the sub-brands, except may be Force 10 and Senorita. Have/will they been promoted independently?
AB: You can buy a Liberty from Rs 99 onwards to Rs 6999. Our most expensive products are the Fortune Signature collection. Footfun and Prefect are the brands that cater to children. Footfun is the fun brand for children, while Prefect is the brand which caters to their school needs. For the women’s segment we have two brands – Senorita, which is for fashion and TipTopp which is for comfort.
In the men’s category we have four brands. Fortune takes care of formal wear. Windsor addresses semi-formal needs. Coolers contains of sandals and slippers and Force10 takes care of sports shoes. We further have Gliders, which is our brand for the youth and is available for men and women. In addition to these, we have two special brands Warrior and Freedom. Warrior is the leather offering, which provides industrial safety while Freedom is the non- leather, gum boots brand.
We have multiple brands because there is a lot of seasonality. The multiple brands have different target markets and for them we have different advertising campaigns. The current season is more viable for winter-centric products.
With respect to advertising, we are advertising in magazines and newspapers for our new range of Gliders. In magazines which target women, we are advertising Senorita and Footfun currently. In magazines that target the 25-plus female, we are advertising TipTopp now. So, we advertise depending on the period. All brands are advertised but exposure levels change depending on the season. Warrior is also advertised in the relevant medium like auto magazines.
How big is each segment for Liberty? Which are the fastest growing?
AB: As far as value is concerned, Force10 and Fortune are the top growing brands for us. In terms of sheer number of pairs, our kids brands grow at the highest pace.
When did Hrithik Roshan get signed on? Are there other celebrities Liberty has engaged in the past? What was the idea behind roping in Hrithik Roshan as brand ambassador?
AB: Hrithik Roshan was signed on as brand ambassador last year. We used him in print campaigns last year. This year, we came up with a new TVC through which we aimed to be very vibrant with the jingle and shot the ad ‘Fashion is comfort’.
Hrithik Roshan is a very non-controversial fashion icon who connects with men, women and children. That is exactly how Liberty wants to reach out to everybody. We also wanted to get the fashion quotient of the brand up, and that’s why we have roped in Roshan.
Prior to the appointment, we did not have a brand ambassador as such, but we engaged 20 to 25 fashion models. A large chunk of them were recognisable and the list of models included Sushma Reddy and Carol Gracias.
How big is seasonality for the category? Do a large chunk of purchases happen during school / festive seasons?
AB: According to me there is no season where people stop buying shoes or start buying shoes. In the summers, our brand Coolers takes the lead. In the winter we see more of closed shoes selling. The product mix changes and in some cases, the brand mix changes, but the overall sales don’t change much. There is a slight variation; winter (splitting the year into two) contributes about 60 per cent of our sales, while the other six months contribute the rest. That is more also because the average selling price of closed shoes is higher than slippers or sandals which sell in the summer.
Diwali is an important festival and there are certain purchases made during the time. But footwear purchase is more triggered during the wedding season, which comes after Diwali. I see the wedding season as a better driver of growth compared to Diwali.
When did Liberty take to e-commerce? What’s been the response? Which are the other sites selling Liberty shoes?
AB: We started Libertyshoesonline.com about three months ago. The response has been fair, because I feel it is still a very nascent business and our model is not very offer-centric. Our model is more convenience-centric because Liberty has a very large range of products to offer the consumer. Any store will not have all the products to offer the consumer. So, we get a huge window for our online store which ensures availability of our complete range with all sizes as it’s connected directly to our warehouse.
We also sell on other e-commerce sites like Myntra.com and most of the other major sites.
How many retail outlets does the brand have? How is this growing?
AB: We currently have 400 retail outlets and are present in 5000 multi-brand outlets. We are looking at growth from both sides and we are adding 50 to 100 retail stores every year. We add about 20 to 25 per cent multi-brand stores in a year.
How big do you evaluate the size of the organised/ branded footwear market in India? What would be Liberty’s share within this?
AB: The total footwear market ranges between Rs 15,000 to 20,000 crores in India. Of which, I reckon 80 per cent is still unorganised and 20 per cent is branded. Liberty’s share is difficult to estimate but it should be about five per cent in the organised sector.
What are the challenges the brand faces? Has the entry of foreign brands been a challenge? With heavy discounting, the price points of some foreign sports shoe brands becomes comparable?
AB: The biggest challenge is our competition from unbranded shoes. They have a 30 to 40 per cent price advantage and since they don’t sell at an MRP, multi-brand stores prefer selling non-branded shoes as they look at the customer and quote the price.
India is a growing country, but the footwear penetration is low, the average purchase per consumer is low, and it has the potential to grow. The consumer is becoming a lot more aware, with a growing fashion sense. They see footwear moving from a need to fashion and the category is increasing because they are looking at multiple products for different uses. I see the next 20 to 25 years to be exciting in the space.
The entry of some foreign brands is an advantage. This creates a branded footwear category within the industry and because Liberty is quite fairly priced, the moment the consumer shifts to the branded segment, he finds Liberty quite economical. People have moved to Liberty because they find the other brands quite expensive.
The brand had looked to target the youth in 2010. What was the target audience profile prior to that? How successful has that attempt to woo youth been?
AB: Liberty’s target audience was each and every customer earlier. We are over 25 years old as a brand, and therefore are connected more to the 25-plus category compared to the pure youth. But, India is a youthful country currently, so we started targeting more of the youth and changed the product profile which is more youth-centric.
Liberty has associated itself with properties like Miss India. How have such associations worked?
AB: We have been associated with Miss India for almost six years. We were sponsors of the first six Fashion Weeks in India. We associated with the Miss World pageant when it was organised by Amitabh Bachchan. We have associated with the largest events in fashion and these activities have done good to the brand and we continue associating with such mega events.
Which creative and media agency handles Liberty?
AB: Currently we are working with Page (creative) and the media buying agency is Prachar.
What is the marketing spend of the brand? How much goes into advertising?
AB: The total marketing budget for the year is Rs 15 to 20 crores. About 70 per cent of it goes into advertising.
Within the media budget, what is the split between print, TV, online, etc.?
AB: Digital isn’t a platform we use currently but we are looking to get our website more attuned to digital marketing. We should start investing in the medium soon. Right now, we spend 70 per cent of our budgets on television and the rest in print. This has changed this year as we were earlier spending almost 100 per cent in print.
How big is India as a market for Liberty? Which are the other large export markets for the brand?
AB: We have two parts to our exports. One of them is all the neighbouring and diaspora countries like Dubai, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh where we have our branded stores. We also sell to developed economies like Europe and America where people use our manufacturing facilities to buy from us and sell under their brands. India contributes to about 75 per cent of our sales and exports count for the rest.
Moving from shoes, do you see brand Liberty entering other categories? Which would they be?
AB: We have shoes and accessories. In accessories we have three parts: Shoesmile which includes all polishes and cleaners. Further, we have socks. Our accessories range includes bags, laptop bags, wallets, belts and ladies bags. We are adding new accessories currently and the latest product we are planning to launch is ‘perfumed socks’. This is an area in which people have concerns and we want to address that.