Brands that don't do their homework are sure to fail

COMMENT

Brands that don't do their homework are sure to fail

Everyone’s heard the old conker about the NRI sending his dead mother home to be cremated in her ancestral village. The body is a snug fit in the coffin, a letter on the top addressed to her brothers and sisters explains that she wears seven Adidas T-shirts, a Swiss watch, a complete set of wedding jewellery, six pairs of socks and three pairs of Reebok shoes. Under her body lie stacks of Toblerone and Ferrero Rocher chocolates, packets of dry fruit, cans of cheese and other similar treasures.

Time was when that wasn’t so very far from the truth; we Indians were so deprived of phoren cheez we’d stampede to get our hands on imported goods any which way we could.

Thanks but no thanks

Narasimha Rao may be much reviled today, with morchas protesting that flyovers are being named after him, but together with Manmohan Singh, he is responsible for our new snootiness: we aren’t happy with any old throwaway sample-size perfume vials, we know exactly which brands we want and in what packaging. And if we need them from overseas at all, it’s now more about a particular product variation that isn’t available in the Indian market or cannot be bought over the internet — or it’s something that makes chachi happy to buy for us.

Those of us who came of age, tuning in to MTV in the heady post-liberalisation years, have travelled abroad without needing to ask the Reserve Bank to sanction the requisite $2000; we’ve bought our own Mozart chocolates; we’ve weighed the pros and cons of buying Nike trainers in New York before deciding the Racecourse Road store was far more convenient; we’ve been there, done that, worn the T-shirt.

It is this newfound security in ourselves and our refusal to accept anything thrown our way that has global brands re-examining their India strategies. All year we’ve heard stories of top international labels either pulling out of the country or putting the brakes on once unrestrained nationwide expansion plans.

The classic excuse, of course, is the global recession. Even luxury goods companies don’t have unlimited investment funds at their disposal at a time when aggregate revenue streams are narrowing and returns on investment diminishing.

Then there are those who didn’t do their research properly. Middle-class shoppers in India simply don’t have the same disposable incomes as those in more developed countries — but many decision makers chose to believe there were enough buyers to reap benefits. It’s the same sort of arrogant self-belief that brought about the global credit crisis in the first place.

Those blaming India’s hefty 40 per cent import duties are equally negligent — call me naïve, but it’s simply the cost of doing business in India and that’s what feasibility studies are for.

Get real or perish!

Those self-same feasibility studies should also have alerted anyone looking to set up shop in India that our tastes and preferences aren’t the same as those of the European or Middle Eastern customer. To believe that large swathes of the globe have homogeneous likes and dislikes is to believe your class teacher will believe that the dog ate your homework.

We’re a nation used to the neighbourhood darzi turning out made-to-measure clothes, so why pay twice as much for off-the-rack garments cut to narrow-hipped European specifications? Those international brands which aren’t willing to localise their products are having and will continue to have a tough time meeting their targets here.

That’s why Cartier thrives while Marks and Spencer needs to go slow. The former’s haute jewels speak to our bling-loving souls, the latter’s yawn-inducing garments don’t and really shouldn’t be allowed outside dreary old Britain.

In many cases, the products these multinationals brought to India sadly just weren’t good enough — we may be a poor country, but we know what we like and we certainly aren’t going to spend our hard-earned cash on something that carries the right label but doesn’t fit our international Indian mindset.

To top it all, India is a nation of incredible diversity, and although Bollywood has been a great unifier, we still celebrate each other’s differences as much as we evaluate our similarities. Don’t believe me? The next time you’re visiting Dubai, look at the Indians there: Kannadigas speak a different language and eat different food from Keralites (and there are restaurants to cater to both communities), and yet, both are rightfully considered part of the same stock with the same ethics, values and beliefs.

Raj Kapoor’s cheesy old lyric from Shri 420 — Mera juta hai japani, Yeh patloon englishtani, Sar pe lal topi roosi, Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani — holds absolutely true even today, two decades after the first influx of global brands started streaming into the neighbourhood kirana shop, killing off the smuggled in, two-sizes-too-big Reebok shoes and Adidas T-shirts and allowing homegrown labels to thrive.

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