VisionPlus talks to Mr. Giovanni Zoppas, the CEO and General Manager of Marcolin and Mr. Shanu Nag, the Chairman and CEO of Astra Lifestyle to get an insight into their brand’s marketing business strategy in terms of online retail, new trends at SILMO, luxury training program and a lot more..
Mr. Giovanni Zoppas, is a consummate manager with vast experience. On the Marcolin team, he assures excellent leadership for a company with immense growth potential.
Mr. Shanu Nag of Astra Lifestyle has totally changed the idea of selling luxury creation- specially eyewear. He’s the brainchild behind the latest efforts by Astra Lifestyle to change the way premium eyewear is handled in the Indian retail.
In Conversation With Giovanni Zoppas
VisionPlus- How has the eyewear industry been treating you in terms of experience, especially when you are not from an eyewear background?
Giovanni Zoppas- Eyewear industry is one of the oldest industries. In a way, it hasn’t changed in the last forever. It means there is scope for improvement in many areas. And the only way to do it, is to change the way things are done.
The kind of approach that I have brought to the industry is basically based on an idea of listening to the final customer. And to the opticians, as we are the wholesalers. Also, listening to the market means having a good and a strong relationship with the brands that we represent.
VP- You have been associated with a couple of brands. How has that worked for you in terms of evolution as a company?
GZ- Association with a brand is something that has to do with the chemistry, I think. You have to love it, because if you don’t, it is very difficult to do something that can impress the final customer. It should represent your capability, the core values of the brand and should be able to transfer these core values from the brand to a category of desired products.
VP- What are the key differentiating elements in Marcolin products for India and the SEA, which we understand are special markets? Does Marcolin have special offerings for these regions?
GZ- We develop an international offering ranging 60-70% of the total offering for brand’s collection. Then we take into consideration, the needs of each market.
If you look at the overall offering for brands like Montblanc and you compare what is offered by Montblanc in India and in the USA, you’ll find that there is 50-60% of common ground and then some difference ratio that are basically based on the request coming from the market.
Nowadays, the development of a brand’s collection is basically made based on geographical areas.
VP- Can you elaborate on the nature and structure of your association with Astra?
GZ- We have our strong belief on the importance of relationships because I cannot pretend to have a partner who is not confident about investing in Marcolin.
As a matter of fact, Mr. Shanu Nag has been working with Marcolin for a long time, he has been to a lot of countries, he has worked with a lot of brands, he knows our approach to business, and that’s the reason behind our long standing relationships.
Shanu Nag (SN)- I’ll call it the relationship without fear. You cannot have a relationship where you’re working on fear. And the best part about working with Marcolin there is no fear.
VP- What are the branding and marketing strategies to help promote marketing brands in India?
GZ- There are many brands today that are managed by Marcolin in India like for example Montblanc, Swarovski, Roberto Cavalli and so many others, but I believe we need to invest in the women’s segment.
We are already doing a great job at the men’s offering and got very good results from it but the women’s segment is exactly where we have to focus. Because 70% of the business industry is made by women consumption.
SN- I think that’s where the numbers are going to come in. Roberto Cavalli and Swarovski can do very well. And also interestingly Tom Ford has very large women following specially in India which is surprising as women do not spend much on expensive eyewear there. It is the Tom Ford Optical which is attracting a bigger number.
VP- Marcolin is known to kind of create trends. So in SILMO what do you think is one of the trends for the next year?
GZ- On the occasion of Silmo 2016, we presented an exclusive preview for the France Country of six Moncler Lunettes branded sunglass models marked by tradition, contemporaneity and technology.
Regarding other technical innovations applied on our eyewear brands, it’s possible to mention the Italian titanium used for realising Montblanc frames which is taken from a unique material block through a precise and very refined manufacturing process in order to provide additional volume to the eyewear (it’s similar to a 3d effect). About Roberto Cavalli Eyewear hand-made craftsmanship manufacturing, similar to those used in the high jewelry industry, has been applied to realize pavé settings on innovative and modern shapes.
VP- You recently tied up with Omega. Please tell us a little bit more about this partnership.
GZ- So there’s a story behind the partnership. I was invited to Dubai by the general manager of Omega, one year ago. And they mentioned an interest to enter the eyewear segment. I told them that it is not easy to penetrate into the market as a new brand. There are a lot of things to develop like samples, collection etc. You need distributors, agents and all.
Because every time you get involved with your brand you have got opportunities but we know that you also run the risk if you do not do the things properly you jeopardise the equity of the brand. So I offered them to visit our head offices, to understand the complex manufacturing of eyewear products.
You have about 60 to 80 different operations to produce a piece of eyewear and that is something not everybody knows. So I suggested that they should have their own boutiques with a specific offering for their own brand to induce demand for the products. So we developed a small collection but effective for the time being.
And then we made a special release for the RIO Olympic games. We also plan to introduce new brands in new models in the next months.
VisionPlus talks to Mr. Shanu Nag
VisionPlus to Mr. Shanu Nag– You had a long standing relationship with the brands right from earlier days. So how does it feel to be in India in a more direct and personal sort of a way?
Mr. Shanu Nag– Well, it hasn’t been very much different really. Astra operations is just about three years old. And since not many have forayed into the eyewear industry in India from a professional background I see it as a huge challenge and a great opportunity.
VP– So what can the Indian Optical Trade look forward to from this Association?
SN– Proficient approach and implementing the best practices – not inspired from the optical industry only . There are many successful and effective non optical practices which our trade must imbibe. Expectations of consumers is high, anticipations from Astra is tall and the opticians are continuously seeking value adds. We endeavor to walk a different path – and this has caused disruptions and woken up many operators from their slumber.
For example, I employ professionals not limited to the optical trade as they come with a baggage of the past & empower and expose them to global proceedings. We invest abnormal sums in brand visibility including partaking in upscale events, till recently Astra extended a totally complimentary after sales service, we advise retailers on their store designs and locations and so on. We believe that discounts destroys legitimacy – unlike most others.
Unfortunately, we know there is no competitive advantage that will last forever. So we strive to remain innovative and dissimilar.
VP– How do you plan to educate opticians on selling luxury products to high-end customer?
SN– At Astra, our 5 level training modules is essentially to educate the opticians on how to expediently manage high-end customers, ways to showcase luxury creations, the importance of storytelling, essentials to become a good raconteur, attire, body language, hygiene, smell of the place and so on.
VP– So what’s your take on Marcolin’s collection at SILMO? Like you said there are no new trends, what’s unique or special that’s for India this year?
SN– Tom Ford, it is still to be discovered entirely in India while it is flourishing in the hinter countries. I find Tom Ford very interesting because every model has very interesting twists and kinks but still recognizable. Like Mr. Zoppas mentioned, it’s not just the logo or the shape which is iconic.
New lenses, interesting shapes and new colours make great selling stories. Also, Montblanc is looking younger, different, refreshing and exciting.
VP– Out of all the various brands in Marcolin portfolio, which do you expect to be big? Like Tom Ford maybe?
SN– Over time I think it’s the women’s collections that will excel. And yes, the women’s collection in Tom Ford is also looking extremely exciting. The men’s segment is getting a more cluttered with many a niche brands that surface like the migratory birds. They come seasonally, create some commotions, are unable to sustain the momentum and they vanish over time.
Swarovski is getting stronger in India – more visible and desirable.
Yes, Tom Ford will be the unrestrained forerunner for long – closely followed by Montblanc – the timeless favorite of many.
VP– What is your take on the growing prominence of online retailing on the Indian trade?
SN– Online business is for keeps – and already effective with the entry level brands. Online purchases for the luxury brands is still far-fetched in India. I ordered one popular brand online just to experience and experiment. It was delivered from a mysterious source, without the comfort of any warranty, packed in a nondescript card box and left outside my front door. I remain doubtful whether it is a counterfeit, look alike or a recycled piece and there is no way I can vouch on its legitimacy.
Luxury customers enjoy the buying process and the environment, seek larger options, appreciate expert advice from the optician without the fear on the authenticity of the product. I believe the buying process of luxury is a bit of a celebration and must be a joyful experience.
Some customers do visit online sites to compare prices and to be updated before they step into a store of their liking.
So from just being a dispenser of eyewear the optician is now being constrained to learn more about the brand.
VP– Most opticians are very scared of online retailing. But it is interesting to know that online has a positive side. Do you feel it kind of informs a customer?
SN– The optician must change, offer exceptional service, deliver educated guidance, extend the comfort of being a trustworthy seller, provide an environment that encourages clients to enjoy the process of buying, employ affable sales staff and so on.
If they do not change, then they surely have reasons to be ‘scared’ and be left out – not only to online portals but also the next door optician who has moved up with the times.
VP– So are you planning something like that?
SN– The answer is not a no. It will happen with diffusion brands. It could be a hybrid model that involves the optician also. It could be outlets that will be classified as trustworthy online partners and so on. Selling spectacles is a clinical business and it needs human touch of a friendly & expert optician – a must inclusion in the selling process.
VP– While buying Tom Ford, how come an online retailer does not give warranty but the optician does?
SN– Because all Tom Ford outlets necessarily have to be pre-approved and listed. Only authorized resellers have the mandate to validate the warranty card
No online operator has been authorized as a reseller for Tom Ford – globally I presume – except the legal Tom Ford website. Hence any warranties offered by them are unenforceable and illegal.