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For brands like us, the future is digital: Amol Dhillon, VP, strategy & planning, Woodland

Amol DhillonWoodland has come a long way, from creating its own niche market as an outdoor adventure product company to its current expansion to outdoor gears and personal care products. The Canada-headquartered, 21-year-old brand now has 500 exclusive stores and 500 in-store set ups in India. Woodland clocked a turnover of Rs 850 crore last year, out of which 20 per cent was from exports. This year, it is expected to cross Rs 1100 crore in revenues. 

afaqs! spoke to Amol Dhillon, vice-president, strategy and planning at Woodlands to know more about the brand’s journey and expansion plans in India.

Q. Woodland is a brand focused on adventure and outdoor. Was creating a market for the product an expensive proposition when it was launched in India?

Around 1991-92, the Indian market was opening up. We saw a gap in the adventure category in India, and a lot of disconnect between the pricing of shoes in India and the West. We had to start from scratch. 

In the first five years, a lot of money was pumped in to build the brand as well as awareness and create a strong distribution system. Over a period of time, when you open your own exclusive store, the brand will make an impression. There was no doubt in our mind that the category would grow big. 

We positioned the brand for the age group of 18-24 years, who would be more open and rebellious by nature, and have always been consistent in our positioning and communication. Despite our footwear being priced two to three times more than other shoe brands in the Indian market, we have done well. Woodland’s products are really made to last and that’s our USP. Our revenue has seen huge incremental growth of 25-30 per cent year on year.

Q. How did you tackle the price conscious mindset, especially when you ventured into the Tier 3 and 4 cities and towns?

Till 2000, we had a strong presence in major metros and mini metros. But then, we noticed a shift in geographical locations. It was a time when a lot of malls started coming up across the country. The purchasing power in smaller towns was increasing, too. While our stores are evenly concentrated in Mumbai and Delhi, growth had to come from Tier 3 and 4 towns. 

While it was risky, we entered Tier 3 and 4 towns as other brands were also entering them. Other brands, targeting similar consumers, support and compliment your brand and create retention in youth. The buying pattern has also changed. Today, the youth are brand conscious and want to buy branded products. They are not price sensitive.

Q. Your communication has a western flavour. Since you have presence in smaller towns/cities (which have 30 per cent of Woodland stores), does the communication strategy change there?

Our communication has consistently followed the international campaign. We have never customised it to local language. 

Considering outdoor is still at a nascent stage in India, we are trying to build communities around outdoor/adventure sports and create real life ambassadors in them. These are the faces we are trying to bring in. Although we understand that celebrities bring in glamour and attention to a brand, we are a serious adventure company and prefer not to dilute our brand equity. We want real, genuine people to endorse our brands. We might eventually extend this to print and television commercials. However, we are open to film product promotions, if they help our brand. We are also participating in a lot of rock and music shows such as Sunburn and NH7 festival.

Q. There are many big and established brands in personal care categories. How do you propose to break into this category and differentiate yourself?

We initially offered leather jackets at our stores. By 1996, we got full-fledged into apparel. We then found there was a need for cargo pants, which was more functional. We are now providing personal care products and outdoor gear like solar-charged backpacks and outdoor cameras. 
We believe these categories are a natural fit for the brand. We are not looking at huge revenues from these categories but the intention is to make them available under one roof.

Q. Will shoes continue to occupy the centre stage in Woodland outlets?

Yes. Seventy per cent of our revenues come from footwear. While the other products’ range will compliment the brand, the focus will continue to be footwear and accessories.

Q. How has Woodland equipped itself to engage its target group in the digital media?

In 2008, we felt the need to get into the digital space. It was picking up in the West. We started with our Facebook page. Today, we are present across social media platforms including Pinterest and Foursquare, among others. Our Facebook page boasts of over 2.5 million fans and is the 8th highest engaged Facebook page. We also have a personalised YouTube channel, where we invite people to upload their adventure videos. This helps us engage with the relevant audience.

For brands like us, the future is digital. We sponsor many outdoor activities and expeditions and ask adventure enthusiasts to blog about their experiences. People are glued to these stories, as they not only help them but inspire them. We get feedbacks to increase the frequency of these blogs.

We have a mountain of content which we get from our divisions, R&D studios, customers and adventure enthusiasts, and a lot of these stories are weaved around the brand.

(This interview was published in afaqs! on June 27, 2013)

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