Liberty footwear has come a long way since its first shop in 1964, which made customised footwear. With Bata being the inspiration for getting into the footwear business, Liberty, the home grown brand, started exports during that time. Till 1982, it was the only brand that was competing with international giants such as Bata and set up its first factory for domestic markets. At that time Liberty was conceived as a premium footwear brand, which claims it was more expensive than Bata, Reebok and Adidas that had just entered the Indian market. But slowly, the brand lost its steam amidst competition coming from global players who maintained their foothold in the market; as a result of which, sales started dipping. Somewhere the brand lost its premium appeal in the mind of the consumer. Hence, it was time for a makeover.
Out of step
Anupam Bansal, Executive Director, Liberty, says that in 2004 the whole change happened. As the economy opened up and the consumerism went through a change and Liberty became dated. The electronic medium became a big thing and the well-thought out of entry of many international brands led to a fall in the company’s sales. He adds that new things created an excitement and Indians have a mentality where they find imported things better. “Therefore, from 2000 to 2010 we were trying to re-structure the whole positioning.”
Though the pricing strategy remained the same, consumers started perceiving the brand as an affordable one. Explaining the reason for the changing perception, Bansal explains that Liberty footwear did not become cheaper but the inception of more expensive brands automatically made Liberty seem as a mid level brand. Hence, opposite to the demand of imported and fashionable products, Liberty was seen as a value for money brand.
Getting a toe-hold
Since the graduated consumer had higher disposable income in 2010, Liberty studied the market behaviour and worked on repackaging the whole brand. The brand reoriented everything to cater to this audience and get into this space. The strategies included up-gradation of retail stores and shaking up product development to cater to the younger audience. Liberty also changed its supply chain management, became tech savvy and put up a centralised ware house where products get replenished within a week. To further make the brand contemporary, Liberty signed up Hrithik Roshan as its brand ambassador.
As far as adding a popular face to the brand is concerned, Bansal thinks that such initiatives play an image changing role. “The actor has added to the imagery and youthfulness of the brand. He is a non controversial star with a family appeal,” adds Bansal. Overall, these initiatives have resulted in a 20 per cent growth in sales figures of the brand.
Moving to the middle
The brand has positioned itself as the one that gives quality products at a mid-premium price. The TG that Liberty is currently serving is between 30-35 years of age, but it wants to bring young consumers in its fold and thus, trying to get the age bracket down to 25-35 years. Localisation for TG is also an important factor for the brand also. According to Liberty the penetration into tier one, two and three require changes in products, range and prices.
Liberty claims that the major sales happen in tier one cities but a large chunk is also owned by the tier two and three town also. Bansal says that a lot of Indian brands get consumed by value conscious consumers. Liberty keeps its core focus on the middle class consumer and not really to go on the premium. “We still want the mid level pyramid to be with us. We want the rural segment and also the mid level. Focus is the mid segment and middle class, which is the core TG from an economic point of view.” Experts feel that because of the emergence of brands with a younger and lifestyle appeal and hence, high pricing strategy, led players like Bata and Liberty to shift focus to the more aspirational middle class consumer looking for quality with affordability.
Furthering the connect with its TG; Liberty will manufacture a Hrithik signature brand where it creates an opportunity for the middle class to consume the luxury product but not for a very premium price.
According to him, 85 per cent of the market is still unorganised and the consumer has started understanding the difference between branded and non-branded footwear. “The value of the Indian shoe market is around Rs 15-20,000 crore where 80-85 per cent is unorganised. Liberty shares approximately 10 per cent in the organised sector,” says Bansal.
Even though there are a slew of global competitors like Adidas, Reebok and Puma, Liberty’s main competitor still happens to be Bata. This is because the company thinks they are the only two brands that cater to the needs of the entire family. Bata recorded a growth in its net profit by 29 per cent at Rs 526.52 crore as against Rs 409.89 crore in the same period last year in the second quarter. The sales of the company grew by 18 per cent at Rs 5108.47 crore as against Rs 4345.09 crore in the same period last year’s second quarter (data as reported on Bata’s website). Whereas according to Liberty’s website, the current annual turnover is exceeding Rs 600 crore.
Commenting on competition, Bansal says, “We also start at a low price. Our focus is more on high quality and premium footwear than Bata, which has a merchandise mix of lower value products. Hence, their average selling price goes down. Otherwise, we are similarly priced to Bata.”
The company is also trying to create an aspirational appeal to its offerings as Bansal shares, “Anybody who comes to my store says that we are a well priced product. People will still take the brand as aspirational because it is a branded product, not because it is cheap.”
Calling out to the customer
With an expenditure of about Rs 15 to 20 crore on its marketing activities, Bansal says that the communication is at two levels; from a mass communication ATL point and from the retail point which is like BTL.
Liberty associates with Miss India and Fashion Weeks as part of its on-ground activities and makes 2,000 new styles every season. “We do ten different brands targeted to different segments and have new launches every month. Product is the main thing that connects people to the brand, ATL and BTL is for footfall.” With two major campaigns, summer and winter, Liberty is planning a new campaign for ATL soon. The brand claims that it is fully connected to most key mediums in the digital front with an online store and a special Hrithik zone also. “There is a digital campaign on the cards but we are still trying to figure out the digital front,” says Bansal.