Adidas India has cracked sportswear code, says GM Neelendra Singh

Adidas' India general manager Neelendra Singh.
Adidas' India general manager Neelendra Singh.

Summary

  • Adidas is putting a strategic focus on key segments such as running, cricket and the lifestyle brand Adidas Originals to amplify its market presence in the country, said Neelendra Singh, general manager for the India market

NEW DELHI : The Indian arm of German sportswear giant Adidas is putting a strategic focus on key segments such as running, cricket and the lifestyle brand Adidas Originals to amplify its market presence in the country, Neelendra Singh general manager for the India market, said in an interview.

For instance, it sold over half a million Indian team jerseys during the recent ODI World Cup on the back of its partnership with the BCCI as the official kit sponsor of the Indian cricket team. Adidas has a network of over 350 franchise stores and 75 company-owned stores in India. Edited experts:

Has your partnership with the BCCI helped business on-ground?

We’ve been courting the opportunity for some time to be able to be a part of the cricket narrative. Then, early this year, we got the opportunity to work with BCCI to be the kit sponsor—it goes on for the next five years. It covers men, women and under-19; it covers the playing kit, travel kit, training kit etc. The other interesting part of the journey has been to create a performance product that also looks good on athletes. The third part was to monetize the opportunity to make sure we create a jersey culture while celebrating the game, the product and the fan. The 999 pricing for the fan jersey was probably one of our biggest masterstrokes i.e., to get the pricing right. The players’ jersey, the most authentic product, was priced at 4,999; the authentic jersey has a replica jersey which we priced at 2999. Under that, we have a fan jersey at 999. The thesis was to make it affordable and accessible so that every Indian gets to wear it. We collectively sold more than half a million jerseys—there is no comparison (to this number); we touched that mark in early November. We were able to experiment with last-mile deliveries by selling them on Blinkit and Zepto.

What are the top three focus areas for Adidas in India over the next three to four years?

As India participates in more fitness, running will come first. I see running as a big lever to drive the sports cred for our brand. Both product innovation and the adoption of a fitness lifestyle will help running grow much faster in India. Adidas Originals is interesting. As India adopts more fashion, I guess Originals has a leg. Then I would say—cricket, we’ve just got started in cricket.

Globally how does Adidas view India on investments?

Global is very interested, they clearly feel that India is the market of the future. It’s one of our fastest-growing markets globally. We’ve also been able to bring more investments into India apart from the subsidiary. We set up a global tech hub in India—we have about 1,000 plus engineers in Gurgaon; we also have a back office in Chennai. We have a sourcing capability in India as well. So India is now home to a subsidiary, a sourcing hub, a tech hub, and a back-office operation. We’ll keep investing in India and bring unlocks like a technology stack, e-commerce, investments to open new stores, and bring new product lines.

There’s speculation on an association with Bata...

No, nothing is happening.

Does Adidas need a local partner?

We have a very large distribution through our own retail stores, e-commerce, franchise stores, and digital partners like Myntra, Flipkart, and Amazon. We have a bunch of wholesale partners like Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, Metro Shoes etc. I don’t think a brand like Adidas needs more distribution to penetrate into India. I think we’re very well penetrated. Physical distribution is not as interesting because we can reach that distribution ourselves and through our franchise partners. When we partner with say Metro Brands they bring new consumer sets to us.

They may be co-located with some of our franchise stores or in a mall where we have a flagship, but given how large India is, new distribution brings new consumers to us.

Marketplace management is far more important and expanding market share is far more critical than expanding into new distribution just for the sake of physical reach.

The government of India has mandated a BIS licence for various types of footwear products as part of Quality Control Orders. Does this transition impact the availability of products in the market?

First of all, we understand why this is happening. As a responsible global brand in India, we are working in lockstep with the government. The local factories are all licensed already, so they have received the certificates etc and we are in the process of working with our global factories to get them the license. As far as we are concerned at this point in time, there’s no impact. It helps the industry raise the quality standard of the footwear products available to the Indian consumer. Incrementally, as global factories get the licenses we will be importing as before.

As people resume normal lives, has athleisure as a trend plateaued?

There was a post-COVID surge (for athleisure); everybody disowned anything formal and there was a huge move towards functionality and comfortable clothes. I think the trend is not going away anywhere. A lot of this will be driven by young consumers, fashion cycles and product innovation from our side as well.

Is Adidas Originals a big business for the company in India?

It’s getting bigger. Originals is sports-inspired fashion. Globally, we drive the relevance of that product by ensuring the brand stays young and fashionable through a host of global partnerships. In India, we work with Ranveer Singh extensively. There’s been a shift pre and post covid, we’ve been expanding the exclusive distribution of Original ourselves by opening stand-alone company-owned stores.

Currently, the fashion speciality channel is not a big deal in India but it is becoming bigger with players such as VegNonVeg, Superkicks, and Extra Butter. As these partners expand, they will also help us distribute this product wide and deep.

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