‘Retail remains a challenge for footwear in India:’ Metro Shoes chairman Rafique Malik

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By Papri Das

Footwear is not only a key factor in fashion and style, but a necessity as well. While some buy shoes based on functionality, for others it’s aesthetic and trends that help them decide. Before the explosion of mall culture in India, an average Indian could name only three to four shoe brands here like Bata, Khadims, Ajanta and Paragon. Buying trends were focused more on functionality and branded shoes as style statement was an alien concept.

However, with the market invasion of bigger international in India, competition for the home grown brands became tougher, and some couldn’t keep their products up to date with the trends. Metro Shoes is one of the few footwear brand that survived the encroachment by adapting itself to the changing trends and demands.

Starting with a single store in Mumbai, Metro Shoes has grown into a huge brand operating in over six different states and now successfully competes with international labels. Exec Lifestyle caught up with the Metro Shoes chairman Rafique Malik to find out how the company stays on top of its game.


How did you reinvent the brand to draw in more consumers?

Metro Shoes has a mass appeal but we are targeting the younger generation with our new campaign – ‘Shoes for a New Race.’ This campaign was created keeping in mind the new generation who lives on the edge. India is a young country; Metro needed to induct the youth into its brand and hence, we re-invented the brand and came up with this new proposition.

However, a 7 - 70 year old can be a customer of Metro and will always find something that will suit their sensibilities. We appeal to the young at heart but never lose track of where we came from and who brought us here. Our loyal customers will always find us willing to service them no matter what their needs.

Do the international shoe labels pose a threat to Metro Shoes?

Foreign shoe brands offer varieties to the customers that are distinctly different to the offering by Metro Shoes. Our strong position as a local brand and our experience of 68 years of operations has given us an instinctive understanding of the Indian consumer and their needs. Currently India has an average consumption of 2.5 pairs per person, which is very low as compared to other countries, which average about six pairs per person. 

Foreign brands will increase the scope of consumption, thereby increasing our opportunity rather than diminishing the same.

What are the ups and down that you witnessed during your tenure as the company’s chairman and which was the most challenging time?

Any business will have ups and downs. What is important is to see is the opportunity in the hard times. We had our biggest growth spurt in 2008 when the entire retail market was depressed as we could take advantage of attractive real estate markets. We haven’t been the fastest growing brand on e-commerce, but other footwear brands have had a severe impact on their offline sales due to online discounts. Retail is an ongoing challenge to keep up with a changing environment. 

What are the new fashion trends in the footwear segment? Are you planning any new product launches keeping that in mind?

Over the last few years, there has been a very distinct migration from formal wear to semi-formal and casual wear. Gen Y breaks all the rules and would rather go to work in a pair of sneakers than wear stiff and formal attire. Hence lifestyle and sporty footwear is a growing category. Digital prints in footwear is also an upcoming trend.

Has e-commerce and e retail sites affected your sales?

Customers have been shopping online but at the cost of deep discounting. We have been very cautious not to get caught up in the madness of sale after sale, thereby diminishing our brand equity. E-commerce is generating revenue for us through our own portal, www.metroshoes.net as well as other online platforms. We are using the online channel more as a seamless interaction of our brand with our consumers.

How is the e-commerce portal faring?

Metro is growing its e-commerce business aggressively. Currently we retail on our own website www.metroshoes.net as well as Myntra, Flipkart, Amazon, Jabong and Snapdeal. Soon we will also be active on Paytm & Tata portal. Sales are currently growing at 100 per cent over the same period last year. Engagement on Facebook & other social media portals has also grown significantly. 

When it comes to fashion in shoes, what is your take?

Men’s footwear has seen a lot of focus on unusual leather finishes such as burnished or distressed leathers. Brogues in various colours, desert boots, and monkstraps are making a comeback. Colours, especially tan and oxblood are growing more popular with men. Velvet covered smoking shoes are also a new trend.

Women’s wear has seen a very unusual silhouette emerge in the flat form. This is a platform heel that has no curvature. It is slightly more attention grabbing and chunky that most silhouettes seen thus far. Women are also showing an increasing acceptance of buying premium footwear. Where pricing of women’s shoes once had Rs 3000 as a glass ceiling, today women are buying shoes up to Rs 6000 - 8000, if they see commensurate value in the comfort and quality of the product. In terms of colour, dark autumn colours such as marsala and navy blue are doing well this season and nude is the colour that is showing the fastest growth in formal wear.

There was a recent announcement on Metro Shoes tying up with Crocs. How will this collaboration impact Metro Shoes?

India offers significant untapped potential for the Crocs brand, and we see a huge opportunity for growth. We see strong brand awareness, increasing demand for Crocs products, and the desire for consumers to engage with the Crocs brand more deeply. We look forward to connecting with these customers and providing them access to the exciting new Crocs collection.

We would focus on creating the awareness of the salient features of the brand and its exciting portfolio of shoes. Crocs have a fun and casual brand appeal which we will capitalise on.

Where and by when will these Crocs outlets be launched? How much is the company investing in it?

Metro Shoes will be opening 30 stores in the first year and take the tally to 100 stores in the next three years. We opened our first EBOs at the Saharaganj Mall in Lucknow, Elante Mall Chandigarh and Viviana Mall, Thane in August. Initially, the major metro cities would provide the biggest market for the brand, however, there are several Tier II and Tier III cities, which have a brand conscious mindset and are looking for casual and comfortable footwear.

Metro Shoes will be investing Rs 40 crores over the next three years in opening the stores.

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