August 2022 | 1292 words | 5-minute read
Over her 16 years at Titan Company Ltd (Titan), Suparna Mitra has been no stranger to change, revelling in — and succeeding at — a range of roles for the fashion and lifestyle giant. That may be why, when her biggest role yet coincided with the onset of an unprecedented global pandemic, she helped achieve a transformative moment for the company.
When Ms Mitra took on her current role as CEO of the Watches and Wearables Division on April 1, 2020, the country was under lockdown. There was anxiety and uncertainty across business and industry, and production was at a standstill. At Titan, however, the leadership used that period constructively, recalls Ms Mitra, spending time connecting with employees across the country, and re-evaluating business practices and processes, some of which had been in commission for 35 years.
In this conversation, Ms Mitra reflects on how ideas that germinated during the pandemic have set the division on its current course, and on the importance of setting and pursuing bold aspirations.
"Smartwatches or wearables and audio accessories (called hearables) are really exploding in the country. Some of these products already existed but the pandemic situation accelerated their adoption because there was a general focus on health and fitness."
Tell us about some of the transformative projects initiated by Titan during the pandemic.
Though we’d been online even before Covid, there was a lot of work to be done to become more digitally savvy. We took on this task of ‘Retail Reimagine’, where we asked ourselves about the purpose of our ‘World of Titan’ stores, and how we could be relevant to the consumer when our stores eventually reopened. So, we rebranded the chain to ‘Titan World’, placing emphasis on modernity, international brands, premiumisation and smartwatches.
There was also focus on becoming omni-enabled. We were already omni-live in about 60 of our stores; by August 2020, we were omni-live across our chain because we had invested ahead of time.
We simultaneously did a lot of work on the manufacturing side and went from ‘Make in India’ to ‘Make much more in India’. With the supply chain across the world getting impacted, we decided to reduce our import content from 49 percent to 20 percent and we are halfway in that journey.
Lastly, there was a transformation of the multi-brand outlet (MBO) channels. MBOs have been our biggest channel since we started working with them in 1987, but several of them also needed to upgrade and modernise. In the last two years, we invested significantly in upgrading them, so they could also attract new-age customers.
What is the brand’s omnichannel approach at this time, given that e-commerce contributed a large percentage of sales during the pandemic?
E-commerce did get a huge fillip during Covid, so much so that in FY21, about 20 percent of our sales came from e-commerce and that has remained steady at about 19 percent.
Even though stores are now open, consumer behaviour has changed fundamentally. The first instinct is to pull out one’s phone and do a quick search, irrespective of where the transaction eventually ends. Customers go through multiple journeys, going online and going offline, and then maybe returning online to get the best price. Then there are some people who need to have the look-and-feel experience and ambience that a brick-and-mortar store offers.
"We have taken an aspiration called 10-18-26, which is Rs 10,000 crore of net uniform consumer price, 18 percent EBIT margin by 2026.”
Digital influence will continue to surge forward, and we are continuing to expand our network in marketplace e-commerce as well as that of our own brand. However, we’re also investing heavily in expanding our stores. Last year, we opened almost 100 new stores and renovated 130, and we’ve seen that this has a lot to offer in terms of customer experience.
From how people are buying to what they’re buying – what are some trends you’ve observed in this space?
We’re realising now that the focus is back on the wrist as real estate because of the explosion of smartwatches; there is an interest in analog watches as well. So premiumisation is a big story for us, as we find that people are willing to pay higher prices as long as there is innovation or design differentiation.
At the premium end, we’ve had some interesting launches in the last two years. For example, the Titan Edge Mechanical is the highest priced non-gold Titan watch at Rs 1.95 lakh. It is one of the slimmest watches, with a mechanical movement created in-house by our engineers, and is doing surprisingly well in the market, even at that price point. It just shows that consumers are hungry for new and differentiated products.
Apart from automatics and mechanicals for analog watches, we are seeing a lot of design differentiations by Fastrack and Sonata, which are being lapped up by customers. Some of the popular trends across these brands are mesh straps, plated colours and cleaner dials.
With reference to smartwatches and wearables, the brand has made considerable investments in R&D and tech. What is the focus market for these products?
Smartwatches or wearables and audio accessories (called hearables) are really exploding in the country. Some of these products already existed but the pandemic situation accelerated their adoption because there was a general focus on health and fitness. As far as audio accessories/hearables are concerned, they were popularised because of work-from-home, study-from-home, etc.
"(Leadership is) about setting a bold, audacious goal and getting people out of a limiting belief about what they may be capable of."
Our game plan is to operate in the white space in the market. At the lower end, with price points under Rs 3,000, we have homegrown Indian brands which are doing well and have captured a lot of volume. And at the very high end, you have premium players like Apple Watch or Samsung. We’ve found that Titan and Fastrack customers are looking for smartwatches in the Rs 3,500 to Rs 15,000 range.
So, we’ve had three launches in the last financial year in that range: Titan Smart at Rs 8,995, Titan Smart Pro at Rs 11,995, and Fastrack Reflex Vox at Rs 4,995. This year, so far, we’ve launched three products, which are part of a slew of 14 products to be launched. These products are split into parity products — which means they are similar to what others may be offering with an improvement in app design or experience — and into products on the R&D side, with differentiated features and functionality, for which technology development is underway right now.
What targets are you gunning for with respect to this wide range of products?
We have announced to our investors and, earlier, to the board that we have taken an aspiration called 10-18-26, which is Rs 10,000 crore of net uniform consumer price, 18 percent EBIT margin by 2026 — which is four years from now. This is a very big target, and it is divided between watches and smartwatches.
How do you approach an aspiration like this as a leader? How do you take your team along on the journey?
It’s about setting a bold, audacious goal and getting people out of a limiting belief about what they may be capable of. A leader needs to work closely with their team on breaking down a goal, looking at the strategy, and empowering people with both confidence and the resources to achieve it.
Lastly, what does success mean to you?
There is a quote by Maya Angelou, wherein she says, “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” I think that sums up success for me too — when you are your most authentic self, and in alignment with the larger world.