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India a market with long-term potential, says Coach CEO

Economic Times:  August 11, 2016

New Delhi: Ian Bickley is president, international group for Coach, the leatherware and handbags brand that made its India foray this month with a store launch in Mumbai. Since returning to New York from Japan in 2006 where he was president of Coach, Japan, Bickley has been focused on strengthening Coach's international leadership team and building the foundation for Coach's direct business operations in Asia completing the buybacks of Coach retail businesses in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Malaysia.

In an exclusive interview to ET, Bickley talks about the brand's India entry this month through a partnership with Genesis Luxury and how he sees India as a market with long term potential, the global restructuring underway at the 75 year old accessible luxury brand amidst competitive pressure, and its foray into markets like Russia and South Africa this year besides India. Edited excerpts:

Why did it take so long to launch the brand here?

There are two reasons. Firstly as a brand we have been going through a significant transformation over the last three years. We didn't feel ready to come into the market until we had clarity on that direction in which we were headed. We didn't feel the market was ready.

When I came here last summer, I visited several cities and top shopping malls and based on the traffic in the malls I felt a much stronger engagement with the local consumers compared to my previous visits. I was reassured by the evolution of the market and the performance of the brands and felt there was an appetite for our products. Genesis has a strong track record of launching luxury brands in the market so things moved quite quickly in terms of developing the partnership with them.

Please provide more details on the brand restructuring. How has that panned out?

Having experienced very significant growth during the last decade from 2000-2010, we developed the accessible luxury market for accessories. At the same time our success drew a lot of competition and new entrants. While the market and category was growing significantly, we were coming under stronger competitive pressure and had to put the focus on innovating our products to stay sharp and differentiated. We did a lot of soul searching as a leadership team under our new CEO Victor Luis. We stepped back and said in this new environment how will Coach differentiate itself from its competitors, how can we build a sustainable roadmap and strong top and bottom line. We felt we needed to build a much stronger fashion credibility and a stronger emotional connect.

Through each element, our stores or marketing, we developed a game plan on building on those dimensions. In 2013 we appointed Stuart Vevers as our creative director who has worked for several European luxury brands. Under him we started doing runway shows. Stuart focused on strengthening our products, bringing more fashion into our handbags and accessories and elevating the brand. We amplified our presence on social media and worked with key influencers. We worked on creating a whole new store concept called modern luxury which feels more residential and intimate. We have been renovating our stores globally and have invested significant capex in that.

We have shot a series of new fashion campaigns that have really helped reinforce what Stuart has been doing with the products. We have added a special craftsmanship bar at our stores for special monogramming services, leather care and repair. The changes have been well received and we have been getting a lot of positive feedback from the trade.

How do you see your presence evolving here over time?

We are incredibly careful in terms of who we select as partners as you're trusting a third party for your brand who needs to be an excellent custodian. Our partnership with Genesis is a long term relationship. After Mumbai we would like to be in Delhi. We would like to build a leadership position in accessible luxury here just like our global positioning. The opening price points for bags would be under Rs 30,000 but we also have great products over Rs 50,000.

Besides India, we are looking at expanding to markets like Russia, South Africa and Turkey this year. There are many affluent customers here and we know from our business how Indians actively buy our products in markets like Singapore and Dubai. India is a market with long term potential.

Disclaimer: This information has been collected through secondary research and IBEF is not responsible for any errors in the same.