Buy into the luxury market

Last Updated 15 September 2010, 10:16 IST

India has, over the last ten years, turned into a hotspot for luxury brands. Indians now have the option of choosing between an Indian face wash and one that’s created in Paris without having to travel thousands of kilometres across the oceans.

Thanks to product attributes such as exclusivity, precision, high quality, and mainly, premium pricing, luxury brands have managed to convince even the not-so-compulsive shopper to indulge in a little luxury. These product attributes give the consumers the satisfaction of not only owning expensive items but enjoying added benefits like esteem and a sense of a high status that reminds them and the others that they belong to an exclusive group of only a select few.

From premium brands like Ralph Lauren and Rolex watches to Gucci perfumes and Georgio Armani suits, Indian buyers have been quick to pick up on global brand value, leading to more than a hundred brands setting up shop in India. Jobs in this industry have never seemed more attractive.

But what makes this industry stand apart from retail selling? Arindam Nath, Consultant Partner, Planman Services, says: “Luxury brand selling requires more of customer service than direct selling. It is akin to the hotel/ service industry than to retail selling. The industry would never bet its money on market trends. It survives on customer loyalty and dispensable incomes only.”

Store manager, the anchor

Managing a luxury brand is no easy task as it involves the coming together of skilled professionals with expertise in marketing, sales, product design, business management, brand building and more.

All luxury stores have a store manager, who oversees the proceedings within the store. Store managers are in charge of store sales operations, store communication, internal work flows and processes, retail operations and delivery of commercial targets.

They are assisted by sales advisors, who interact with customers. “At Lancôme, we also have specialists called skin experts and make-up experts who provide value-added advice to our customers,” says Kiran Singh, Business Head, Lancôme Paris.

An understanding of the luxury category, keenness to understand and serve customers, a pleasant personality and good communication skills are a must if you wish to join the luxury brands market.  Most brands have clear hiring guidelines in terms of desired traits and demonstratable skills of a potential candidate.

People are usually hired from within the category or related categories which may have some transferable skills like airlines.

‘Be a brand ambassador’

Once you make an entry into a premium brand house, you automatically turn into an ambassador for the brand — a golden rule with most luxury houses. As an ambassador of the brand, professionals have to gain full knowledge of what the brand represents and this where most individuals fall short, say industry experts.

“Staying abreast of international skin and make-up trends, and possessing category knowledge and expertise in handling evolved customers are essential skills. Such skills are most often very hard to find among youngsters,” says Kiran.

“Competition within brands belonging to the same segment is high, which is one of the major challenges. Providing the after-sale service is another. We should always update ourselves and be prepared to serve even the fussiest of customers,” says Prithviraj Bagrecha, who owns a luxury watches store in Bangalore called Rodeo Drive.

Responsibilities and remuneration

Each brand brings with it its own unique set of requirements. For example, the German brand Audi would require engineers with a specialisation in marketing and automobile engineering, while Swiss watch makers Longines would require those with a degree in fashion and a specialisation in marketing.

Due to such super specialisation within the industry, luxury brands invest heavily on training freshers. The training sessions focus on teaching product skills, selling techniques and grooming.

This is typically followed by an induction programme. “On joining, employees are shown a clear career path which tells them how their career can progress. Beauty advisors can become skin or make-up experts, store/counter managers, supervisors for a cluster of stores or even  business development managers, provided they prove themselves,” says Kiran.

Starting salaries range between Rs 20,000 and 60,000 depending on the level of expertise, seniority and responsibilities. Salaries within the support functions don’t vary within the industry, say industry watchers.

The road ahead

Luxury brands are performing very well in India for two main reasons:
*The number of disposable incomes in India are increasing at a very rapid pace and luxury markets in other parts of the world are saturating. Hence India is one of the few places where they can make profits. nFashion style statements and aesthetics of a brand are also becoming relevant to Indian customers.

(Published 15 September 2010, 10:16 IST)

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