Feature

Changing with the times

Pantaloons' new owners are keen to move up the value chain and set up more stores. Will the aggressive bet pay off?

Photographs by Soumik Kar

On days when he’s looking for some inspiration, Shital Mehta steps out of his narrow office space on the seventh floor of a tower in downtown Mumbai and out onto the shop floor. On the balmy Friday afternoon when we met the forty-two-year-old CEO of retail apparel firm Pantaloons to discuss the company’s growth strategies, Mehta decided to make the trek uptown to its High Street Phoenix mall outlet, which was hosting a weekly event for the brand.

With Bollywood music booming over the speakers, excited shoppers posing with mannequins and nearly 50,000 sq ft of branded merchandise such as apparel, perfume and sunglasses, the outlet was making the most of its location at the rejuvenated mill district of the city. Clearly, Pantaloons — which counts Lifestyle and Shoppers Stop as neighbours in the ₹499 to ₹6,000 category at this mall — is slowly trying to erase its creator’s stamp to make a definite statement in the market: “We are here to make a difference, to carve out a distinct identity by positioning our brands somewhere between the premium and mass categories,” says Mehta, an engineering graduate and a native of Gujarat, who entered the retail fashion industry in 2000 when he joined Madura Lifestyle. 

As it happens, some of these transformations are visible in Pantaloons’ new stores across India. There are, for instance, several exclusive brands in its kitty, Louis Philippe, Van Heusen, Allen Solly, Peter England to the fairly recent The Collective. The chain has changed its tagline from ‘Fresh Fashion’ to ‘In Love with Fashion’, rolling out a new campaign across the digital and print media and outdoor advertising to upgrade the brand’s imagery. And the results are quite evident — according to Mehta, the High Street Phoenix store alone has seen a 15% sales growth for Q1FY15 and a ₹10-crore increase in sales since the rollout of the brand’s new identity last December.

Though there is enough scope for growth — apparel accounts for just 8% ($40 billion) of the Indian retail market — competition is rife with Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle and Westside and others vying for supremacy. All these retail majors face some key challenges — the heterogeneity of the market, evolving customer needs, and rising real estate rentals. With this diverse retail landscape abuzz with players in high fashi

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