Founded in 1774, German shoemaker Birkenstock celebrates its 250th anniversary in 2024 and remains a well-loved brand. Having seen a global renaissance in recent years, Birkenstock has cemented its cachet in the world of fashion through collaborations with the likes of Manolo Blahnik, Dior, Rick Owens, and Staud.
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As the brand continues its regional expansion, Retail in Asia speaks with Birkenstock India’s managing director Vinay Bansal ahead of his panel discussion at the upcoming eTail Asia event.
RiA: Birkenstock entered India in 2019. How have customers received the brand?
Vinay Bansal: Our customers have welcomed Birkenstock in India with great enthusiasm. Being a global lifestyle brand with a heritage in iconic footwear, Birkenstock saw an initial admiration from people who had already interacted with the brand outside India. Over the past couple of years, with increasing awareness about brand’s legacy and its focus on quality, functionality, and customer service, we have experienced acceptance and appreciation validated by an exponential year-on-year growth in revenue.
RiA: What challenges and opportunities have you experienced these last few years?
Bansal: One of the first challenges that we encountered was the onset of Covid-19 in India just three months into Birkenstock’s entry. The brand converted that situation to an opportunity by shifting focus to online sale channels. We directed our efforts towards strengthening our online infrastructure and visibility, which has resulted in a stronger customer base over the years.
The current challenge that we face in India is lack of premium multi-brand stores, an established concept in international markets. There is a dire need of such setups in India that add to the exclusivity of the premium brands.
Another major challenge that we regularly face is limited premium retail locations in malls and on high streets. Being a 250-year-old iconic footwear brand, Birkenstock is determined to provide a 360-degree experience to its customers, the first step to which is a premium store location.
RiA: What growth opportunities do you foresee for Birkenstock in India?
Bansal: Customers these days have access to international brands and have an inclination towards them. The interest is also shifting to products that are sustainable, long-lasting and of premium quality. With these shifts in purchasing behavior, we foresee huge demand and growth opportunities for Birkenstock in India.
To leverage the expected growth, we are working on expanding our retail footprint in metros and tier 1 cities, with south India being the focus market.
In our endeavour to constantly improve our online business, we will continue to invest in IT solutions to strengthen our UI/UX and backend capabilities with respect to supply chain and operations, that will foster our growth in direct-to-consumer and partner with marketplaces to increase our brand reach. The aim is to provide a seamless brand experience to our customers across all channels.
RiA: Can you share any expansion plans for 2023?
Bansal: Birkenstock has received a very warm welcome in India, which in turn has fueled our expansion plans. We aim to expand our retail footprint in the top 10 cities in India. While the expansion plans are robust, we will continue to adhere to our strategy for the choice of location.
RiA: Please give us a sneak peek of what you plan to cover at the eTail Asia Summit.
Bansal: I will mostly talk about the reality and relevance of omnichannel business strategy in the Indian retail sector. This might also include insights on pros and cons of the strategy and the overall learnings.
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RiA: What are some of the key topics which you are keen to listen to during eTail Asia?
Bansal: I am looking forward to hearing views on opportunities that the new world of unified commerce has to offer. Also excited to know more about the digital and technical innovations, which might gradually impact our ways of doing business. Top professionals and industry leaders from Asia’s best brands are coming together as speakers and panellists for eTail Asia this year. The discussions on this platform will focus on finding solutions to challenges and explore new opportunities for the retail sector. Overall, it will be a great learning and networking experience.