The Tatas have come up with yet another winner with their entry into the retailing business: Westside. This chain of exclusive retail stores, now operating in five cities in India, has all the ingredients of success – plush interiors designed for beauty and comfort, an ambience that exudes warmth and caring, and departments that cater to the needs of the entire family. Modeled on the lines of international stores such as Marks & Spencer and Sears, Westside offers customers an international shopping experience.
The latest outlet, which opened in Pune on August 21, 2000, has, like the other Westside stores in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Mumbai, attracted an enthusiastic response from customers. The trendy lifestyle chain now plans to open five to seven new outlets by the end of next year.
Behind the success of this ambitious venture is the poised, elegant and impeccably dressed Simone Tata, chairperson of Trent Ltd, which owns the Westside brand. She brings to the enterprise her many years of experience with Lakme, the Tata company that was hived off in the recent group restructuring.
Excerpts from an interview:
Christabelle Noronha: With e-commerce taking off in a big way, do you think the Indian consumer will still want to physically shop? What shape do you think retailing will take?
Simone Tata: E-commerce or e-tailing, has, according to recentreports in the newspapers, turned out to be a losing proposition worldwide; and I do not see too much hope for e-tailing in India either. The propensity for most Indians is to go shopping. Indians love to shop. I don’t believe that customer confidence can be built over the net. When buying apparel, people would like to feel, see and try on the clothes; this is not possible over the net. (Smiles) Would you buy your clothes over the net?
At Westside, we offer the consumer an international shopping experience not just in terms of ambience but service standards as well. Each of the stores covers an area of 10,000 – 20,000 square feet, stocking apparel, home furnishings, cosmetics, toys and tableware. Other than cosmetics and toys all products are sold under the Westside brand. Ultimately, what drives sales is the complete product experience.
CN: How many retail outlets does Trent have? How many do you plan to have by the end of next year?
ST: We have five Westside stores and intend to have 10-12 by the end of next year. The plan is to set up Westside stores in Calcutta and some city in north India next.
CN: How is Westside different from other retail outlets such as Shoppers Stop or Crossroads?
ST: At Westside we are not retailing any other garment brands. We stock only our own store brands. This means that all the stuff available is made or sourced by Westside itself and therefore the store label ‘Westside’ acts as a product label. Only in a few categories such as cosmetics and toys are brands other than Westside present. Those are categories that complement the Westside range.
We have positioned Westside on the ‘fashion at affordable pricing’ plank. By retailing our own Westside brand we are able to eliminate intermediaries and therefore offer better prices. Westside is unique with its own brand of merchandise, which is trendy and individualistic. We cater to the shopper who values not just the product but the total shopping experience.
To cater to this need, Westside has its team of in-house designers who design exclusively for the store. All merchandise passes the stringent quality standards that befit everything that carries the Tata name. The products at Westside are not just of high quality and reasonably priced but are contemporary and stylish as well.
The stores are divided into many departments -- menswear, womenswear, kidswear, household accessories, gifts, cosmetics, perfumes and other accessories. For women, there are casuals, formals and chic Indian wear. The range has great depth spanning from basic clothing to very trendy wear. Unlike a lot of stores, the range at Westside caters to a wide age group and takes into account differing tastes and requirements. We offer accessories as well, such as handbags, jewellery, scarves and hair accessories.
In menswear, the range goes from formal to casual and sporty. And, pricewise, it extends from the value to the premium segment. Kidswear at Westside is designed to follow international trends; it is uniquely styled, whether you opt for the dressy, smart or casual.
The household section is extremely contemporary. Westside is open on all days of the week.
CN: With a large number of international brands available in the market, why would Westside want to create its own brands?
ST: Most international brands are expensive. Westside felt that there was room for an Indian brand based on international fashion. Another reason was the increasing popularity of readymades, which offer greater convenience, more choice in designs, style and originality.
The most important reason is to make fashionable products available at affordable prices. Everyone is exposed to fashion but not everybody can afford it, so we decided to satisfy the middle class markets’ fashion needs.
CN: How effectively is Westside using information technology? For instance, are you using bar codes and scanners in billing?
ST: We are using IT extensively in every area of our business operation from stock management to making products available to the stores in time. At any point of time we have a total of 20,000 different products in each of our stores and we add approximately a minimum of two new products to each of the sections every month.
CN: What are the challenges you encounter in building a Westside brand?
ST: The challenges have been many. First, to develop sources ofsupply as well as securing the right real estate to anchor our stores. Considering retailing in India is a new business, there are no trained people available, hence we had to put together a meaningful management team.
CN: How do you ensure quality in your merchandise?
ST: We have quality control inspectors at every location. All merchandise has to pass stringent quality standards.
CN: Finally, the Indian consumer is most concerned about getting value for money. How do you address this top-of-the-mind concern?
ST: By offering the right price, ensuring quality and providing the latest styles. By offering our own brand we are able to offer better prices, as we get rid of profit earned by intermediaries. We buy the best fabric available in each product range and we develop our own styles. Our sales pattern has shown that we have a large number of repeat customers. Our customers return to our stores, on an average, once every month.