Siraj Bolar, Editor-in-Chief of VisionPlus Magazine in conversation with Ketan Parikh, Managing Director at Sterling Meta Plast India Pvt Ltd and Connie Lai, Managing Director, Asia-Pacific Region Marchon
Sterling recently concluded its ‘Triple Dream’ offer that was focused on adding a certain degree of fun to the business. The unique offer gave opticians a chance to participate in a group vacation that was completely paid for by Sterling. The first group of top twenty partners was taken to Las Vegas and last one was taken to the grand Anantara Resort in Dubai.
Elaborating on the concept of the group vacation, Sterling said that the event was focused on familiarising the opticians with the brand’s partnership with Marchon and how it is going to help them do business in a better way. Among those present at the occasion were Ketan Parikh, Managing Director, Sterling Meta Plast India Pvt Ltd, Connie Lai, Asia-Pacific Region Marchon and Stephen Yim, VP Finance and Options, Marchon Eyewear, Asia-Pacific. In conversation with Siraj Bolar, they share details about the association and how it is expected to contribute to the betterment of the Indian optical trade community.
Siraj Bolar (SB): Hi Connie. Given your diverse work profile in the past, how has your experience of working for the eyewear industry been?
Connie: It has been very interesting, so far. To an extent, I would say that these products are similar to the lifestyle products I used to work for in the past. However, eyewear is more vibrant because it talks about much more. It’s a fashion accessory that serves the purpose of protecting the eyes.
SB : Hi Ketan..Prior to your association with Marchon, you have been known as the ‘flamboyant don’ of the Indian Eyewear industry… Will the industry continue to still see you like that ?
Ketan: The flamboyance will surely continue just like it was before. Luckily Sterling and Marchon share the same philosophy and the market can surely look forward to more interesting campaigns. Since we both believe in exciting campaigns, inherent flair that was the style earlier will continue to be seen even with our partnership.
SB : How different would you say the Indian market is when compared to the international landscape?
Connie: Indian market is big. It is surely one of the fastest growing markets with a lot of new developments happening at a frantic pace. I believe the growth in India is higher than most of its Asian counterparts. Also, the evolving demands of the young population in India make the market even more interesting.
SB : Recently there was news that Lenskart turnover has exceeded that of Luxottica. What is your opinion on online retailing in view of this information?
Connie: I think online market is growing. We have brands like Flipkart and Amazon selling eyewear products. We also have brands like Lenskart that have successfully made inroads into the eyewear segment. When I speak with major international companies, I believe they share my sentiment that online retailing will continue to grow stronger in the future, contributing a percentage of the total business revenue but there is no fear of the market being dominated.
SB: What, according to you, are the key differentiating elements for Marchon products in the Indian markets?
Connie: The biggest differentiating element is that we have all the popular brands in our kitty. Another highlight for Indian consumers is that we have various designs. In fact, Indian customers’ desire to invest in new designs is more than their counterparts in other parts of the world. At Marchon, we use this trait to add the much needed differentiating elements to our product portfolio.
Here again, while we avoid tampering with the intrinsic DNA of the brand reflected in the design, we are working on creating more designs specifically for the Indian market. Every season, we focus on understanding the diverse demands of the markets and accordingly introduce more relevant designs for the Indian consumer.
Ketan: To add to this, I would like to quote an example. For instance, while plastic is the trend globally, more than 30 percent Indian consumers rely on rimless frames. Partnering with Marchon allows us to meet such specific demands of the market, of course in association with the individual brands. So, for instance, while we don’t change the Calvin Klein designs totally, we will of course add a rimless frame to make the designs more suited to the Indian markets. We have already begun the implementation of this strategy and are seeing success as well.
SB: Can you elaborate on the nature and the structure of this association?
Ketan: We are happy to announce we have a strong joint venture with one of the largest eyewear brands and companies in the world. Our association is almost equal in terms of working of the company. At this point of time, we look to work as a team to develop the brands under our portfolio. Even Marchon is happy with the way things are shaping up and we are looking at a long term association in the coming years.
Stephen:Now we are interacting daily. This association will allow us to cater to Indian markets in a better way. Since we are a part of a family now, we are able to undertake more projects that was previously not possible.
SB: What new branding and marketing strategies will be implemented to promote Marchon in India?
Connie: We are doing a lot of work at the training level with our team here. The idea is to ensure that the brand image in the mind of the optician is positive. When compared at the grassroot level, the strategies are very similar to what we do globally but of course we try to induce as much customisation as possible for each market.
SB: Scott, Sprint, Spencer, etc…have been your babies… how does it feel to share them with a new parent?
Ketan: Now we are in a situation when our products are available across leading stores. This ensures that we have a strong presence. We are already working on our plans to improve the visibility of our brands and increase awareness regarding the options that we offer. An aggressive marketing plan is in the pipeline. In fact, even Marchon is excited about making Scott one of the popular brands in the country. Basically, we are going to catch up with our competitors as the year progresses.
As for the other brands that we handle, we are implementing newer methods of marketing to maximise consumer engagement. For instance, recently, for the first time in the history of the Indian optical trade, we launched Calvin Klein on bus shelters. This is something that you can only see in places like Paris and Milan. We are trying to innovate for other brands as well, to amplify their visibility.
SB : This must be a unique association and maybe the first time where a company owned by Marchon also markets Marcolin brands. How are you managing this?
Ketan: Sterling has licenses directly from the licensors. Even in case of Marcolin, we have the license for some of the luxury brands and a recent addition to our portfolio is the partnership with Marchon. So far, we have managed all our associations really well and are confident to continue smoothly in the future as well.
Stephen: I believe, this association gives us a chance to learn from each other. We share our corporate practice with the Sterling team and then it is up to them to adapt what suits their way of working.
SB: Given your extensive product portfolio in India in fashion and luxury segments, which segment, according to you, holds the potential of emerging as the top performer in the coming years?
Ketan: What we were previously missing in our portfolio, was a premium woman’s brand. Recently, we have introduced Bebe into our portfolio. Affordably priced, we are confident that these new brands will soon emerge as the top performers for us. We have also added Nautica to our portfolio which is another contender for the top league. I would say that India being a mass market, the home brands by Sterling will also continue to grow stronger. Frankly, I would say, premium brands and home brands is where I see the growth happening in the coming years. Luxury, I believe, is a small contributor, because a lot of the consumers in this category, end up buying overseas.
Connie: Adding to what Ketan said, with regards to the Indian markets, I truly believe that the time to grow and expand your presence is now. When we added Bebe and Nautica to our portfolio, we had an extensive discussion with the Sterling team to ensure that the products are rightly priced in order to be accepted by the Indian consumer. We truly believe that the premium brands business is set to grow in the coming months.
SB: What are the initiatives that the Indian opticians should look forward to with Sterling and Marchon announcing their partnership to the market?
Ketan: To be honest, most of our customers are already aware of the existence of this partnership. First thing that the Indian opticians should accept is that they are talking to a corporate and we are here to help them grow. They have to understand we are good partners for opticians and it is the mutual support that will help the brand grow.
SB: Any message for our readers…
Connie: We are here to do business but our motive is also to ensure that the customers are satisfied with the products and are able to grow their business.
Ketan: Adding to what Connie said, we want to be a part of the optician’s family. The idea is to convey to them that we are strong partners. We want to help them grow their business and at the same time, both Marchon and Sterling are always willing to support charity initiatives.