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NEW DELHI : Homegrown retailer Metro Brands Ltd, which owns the Metro, Walkway and Mochi brands, and sells foreign labels such as Crocs, Fitflop and Skechers in India plans to open 200 new stores in FY23. In an interview, Alisha Malik, Metro’s president for e-commerce and marketing, spoke about the lessons learnt from foreign brands, sustainable growth in online channels and its plans to expand to 300 cities from the current 170-180 cities. Edited excerpts:

How has your experience been with American brands like Crocs and Skechers in India?

Metro, Mochi and Walkway are own brands so the entire gamut, including products, stores and marketing strategy rests with us. For Crocs, we’re their national retail partner and run majority of their offline stores. That count is at about 140, but we’re opening around four stores a week, so it keeps changing. However, with Fitflop, UK’s premium open footwear brand, we run exclusive outlets, offline and online (channels), and even distribution. So, we may even supply Fitflop to a competitor. Globally, it’s kind of considered a women’s brand. In India, the male stronghold is a bit stronger because it’s favoured by one or two South Indian actors.

For Skechers, we are not managing any operation, but we are pretty much their largest pan-India partner. So, it’s a strategic relationship, but there’s no contractual obligation. We also got a quirky Canadian brand called Biion. We’ve partnered with them to launch in about 25 of our multi-brand outlets to see brand acceptance and customer response before deciding how to evolve the partnership. There are a few others we’re in talks with.

How does Metro Brands benefit from these relationships?

We feel that because of our operational excellence, we can provide a great platform to brands as we have an online and offline presence and a pan-India distribution. We can really help brands scale and grow. For us, there are lots of learnings from international teams in ways they communicate, promote products, the way they do development. It brings a different dimension to our team. In addition, it’s obviously a great lever for growth as we ensure that when we enter into these partnerships, it makes sense for us at the bottomline level. We don’t like keeping all the eggs in one basket. We are keeping the customer at the forefront of all our decision making.

Which brands are witnessing a revival in demand?

Demand is back across categories--casual, ethnic; the athleisure market was already trending and continues its growth momentum; formals are back as people return to office. We opened 20 stores in the first quarter and are on the runway to open about 200 stores in this financial year.

Where will you be opening your new stores?

It depends according to the brand. So Metro and Mochi are very penetrated in the metros, but new malls are coming up in these cities and we see good opportunity. We have mapped out 300 cities for expansion. We’re currently at about 170 to 180.

How do you map consumer preferences across locations?

India is a diverse country. Within a city like Mumbai itself, Colaba’s range will be different from Dadar’s, which may have a slightly different range from Linking Road because the customers are different. So, while we may tweak the range, we’ve automated a lot of our replenishment systems and products. We do a first placement and then, as that store sells, there’s machine learning that kicks in and recommends products that are doing well in that region to be added to that store.

It’s a bit of art and science. For example, in Punjab, you’ll see far more colours than you’ll see, say, in Chennai. You’d find higher heels in Mumbai, than, say, in Hyderabad. When we moved into the Northeast, sizes were completely different. Having said that, with the rise of social media and access to Western fashion, a lot of the product range has become common across the country. But we will never lose the regional flavour because we know that when it is time for Durga Puja, you need those platform heels for women in Kolkata and colourful chappals for men.

As shoppers returned to stores, how much of your sales are online?

We ended at about 7.6% because offline really took off in the first quarter. If you look at the December quarter, it was at 10-11%. Having said that, the growth momentum has stayed. It’s not like I’m seeing a dip in my online growth rate. It’s just that offline is expanding and taking off as well.

Are Crocs or Fitflop imported or manufactured here?

A majority are imports. We have no say in manufacturing. I think there are discussions for making their products in India. For our brands, about 95% of our production is in India. With a 200-plus vendor base, our aim is to be agile and flexible.

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