By Dipali Banka
One of the main drivers of growth for the Samsonite and American Tourister business, Sudip Ghose, Group Marketing Director, South Asia, Samsonite South Asia Pvt. Ltd., has managed to double the turnover of the company in two years
What is your digital initiative ‘Step out with Harsha’ all about?
In this digital initiative with Harsha Bhogle, we will have a travelogue for a year from wherever Harsha travels for his cricket commentary. He will do a travel-cum-cricket blog for us in the digital space. This is probably the first time that any company has invested in a brand ambassador only for the digital space. We are actually putting in about 10-15 per cent of our overall communication money on the digital medium.
What is behind this initiative? What are you planning to achieve by this?
Cricket in this country is religion and on the internet, it is premium. People who consume cricket on the internet are Samsonite consumers too. So this is a very good way of evolving the consumer and engaging with them. And when we did ‘step out with Harsha’ on a trial basis during the domestic season, within a span of 19 days, we got 1.3 million views. So now we are officially doing it on a much larger scale.
What are your other digital initiatives?
Apart from ‘Step out with Harsha’, we will launch a contest where people would be asked to create a step-out campaign video and send it to us. We are yet to decide on the final prize for the winner, it may be a large sum of money or we may feature the video as our commercial on television. This contest will be on all possible digital channels like YouTube, Facebook, ishare, etc.
What is your overall marketing strategy for Samsonite and American Tourister?
We have a two-flank strategy. Our flagship brand Samsonite operates in the premium consumer segment while American Tourister is for the mid-level consumer. Samsonite is all about emotive connect. A consumer buys Samsonite because he wants Samsonite. We do not talk about functionality or other features for Samsonite. That is why in all our campaigns, we do not talk about any features or strengths of our product. But American Tourister consumers want an assurance from the brand about what they are buying and so there is more rational advertising.
You were doing pretty well in the premium segment, what led you to launch another brand?
With Samsonite, we could have reached only a certain price segment. Being in the premium category, it would be difficult for us to bring the brand down because you cannot stretch a premium brand beyond a certain price point, otherwise your top end starts eroding. That is why we needed a brand that could operate in the mass market which is huge in India.
How much the total market size of this segment, and your share in it?
There is no syndicated study available for the category, but we would have almost 40 per cent share of the organized market which is about Rs 1,600-1,700 crore. Another Rs 1,300 crore would be the unorganized market.
You had introduced a footwear range under Samsonite. What are your plans for it? Do you plan to go for exclusive distribution with this?
Samsonite footwear is currently a very premium range. We will be introducing another mass market product very soon and we are looking at it as a business with high potential as it is to do with travel. We are just not about luggage, we are a travel solutions company.
Can you give more details about this new mass product that you are planning to launch?
I will not be able to share much about the project as it is in the pipeline. But you will see some action on that front by the end of this year.
There were reports of Samsonite planning to launch eyewear too.
We are not launching eyewear in India.
What are your plans with Black Label brand?
Black Label is at the super premium end, for which we are opening stores across the country. It will not be in large numbers and will be specific to high-end malls and hotels. This is in the rarefied category where very few brands play and we would like to be in it.
Many international brands have entered the Indian luggage market and failed. What do you think has kept Samsonite going?
One of the key points about any international market is to understand the psyche of Indian consumers and operate accordingly. Today, Indian consumers are far more discerning than they were earlier and if you expect them to buy a product just because it is a foreign brand, it is a big mistake. You need to localise your product, communication, social media activities, etc., with an international flavour. And that is what we try to do. There are many other products in our kitty, but we do not launch them in India because we know they won’t work here. For American Tourister, we customise products keeping consumers in mind. It is important to keep the essence of brands, yet localise it so that it relates to the Indian consumer.
Competition is increasing. Many fashion and lifestyle brands are extending their product range in luggage and travel. How do you view this?
One of the biggest challenges for the category is that it is very low on consumer involvement. The moment consumers start believing that travel gear adds to their personality, they will start appreciating brands and it will benefit us. More competition will increase awareness about the category. In the last couple of years, both leading players in the category have been advertising heavily and suddenly there is interest among consumers and stakeholders. When other players come in, they will promote their brand and hence promote the category.
How much is your total advertising and marketing spend?
Our above the line marketing activity is in addition of Rs 50 crore. We also invest in our retail operations which are a huge branding platform for us. We spend about Rs 100 crore in terms of upkeep of design, maintaining quality , POS, etc.
You had launched Timberland and Lacoste brands in mid 2006? Do you still have them on your portfolio?
Yes, we were operating Timberland and Lacoste brands but the licensing agreement is over. We were selling these brands till about last year. In place of Timberland we have a brand called Samsonite Red. Like Timberland, Samsonite Red is very young, youthful and fashion-oriented. We plan to target more young consumers with Samsonite Red which is very different from a regular Samsonite or Samsonite Black label.
Do you plan to have separate communication around Samsonite Red?
We are doing only master brand communication for Samsonite. There won’t be separate communication for Samsonite Red but it has a dedicated section in select stores.
You also have a brand for children, Sammies.
Yes, we re-launched the brand. We are relooking at the kids’ segment in a broader sense like American Tourister. You will see some action on that brand by the end of this year. We’ve also launched school bags.
What is your biggest challenge today?
To ensure that both my brands (Samsonite, American Tourister) have a distinct identity in the marketplace and that they are not seen as coming from the same company. We do not want these brands to be seen together because they talk to different people. Second is to grow the understanding and involvement of the category because as the awareness of the category increases, people have no other option but to come to me, as I am the best. I may sound little arrogant but that is how I am.