The intention was to forewarn. ‘The shoe will pinch’ is how Abhishek Ganguly’s colleagues and friends reacted when they bought to know that the regional manager is quitting Reebok. After a 3-yr stint, Ganguly was established to be part of rival Puma as director of profits and marketing in November 2005. The worry was legitimate. Puma, which was the final amid the massive international sportswear makers to enter India in 2005, shut the 1st year with a puny revenue of Rs 22 crore. Evaluate this with the huge boys: Nike posted FY06 product sales of Rs 99 crore Adidas was sitting very with Rs 186 crore and Reebok was on the best of the heap with a staggering Rs 354 crore.
‘Who appreciates Puma’ was how Ganguly’s bosses mocked and pricked the enthusiasm of their soldier who was about to snap the buckles and place on new marching footwear. The cockiness of the largest model permeated into the conduct of the top bosses. “There was a lot of doubt, which could have led to self-doubt,” recollects Ganguly. The concerns requested, nevertheless, had major merit. Was there room for just one extra athletics brand name in India? Did Puma really stand a likelihood in its battle versus the huge boys? Immediately after all, Puma’s underdog standing in India was a grim fact.
Ganguly’s intention was to keep firm. The new recruit experienced lived a everyday living of the underdog, and a collection of déjà vu moments only made him extra dogmatic.
Five years ago, in 2000, when Ganguly built it to IIM-Lucknow, the maths grad from Bhagalpur College in Bihar encountered a single these ‘who are you’ second. “What is TNB college”, some of his batch mates took a dig, alluding to the institution from wherever Ganguly graduated. Later on on, when he stepped into the professional entire world, he realised that he did not have the ‘ABC’ of management on his resume. IIM-Lucknow was perceived to be fourth on the pecking buy of IIMs—Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Calcutta were being the leading three.
Back again in early 2019, Puma sprinted forward of Adidas. It posted a profits of Rs 1,157 crore in 2018—Adidas’ corresponding amount for FY18 was Rs 1,132 crore—and grew to become the greatest in India. The efficiency however couldn’t encourage detractors. “Looks like a one-time bump,’ and ‘the gap is not much’ ended up some of the again-handed compliments. Ganguly stayed mum. He stored jogging.
Quickly ahead to March 2022. Puma has clocked Rs 2,044 crore in earnings in FY21 as towards Rs 1,215 crore in FY20, building it the to start with multinational sportswear and trend manufacturer to enter into the Rs 2,000-crore club in India (see box). What, though, is most attention-grabbing is the big leap over its rivals. Puma is now even larger than Adidas, Reebok, and Nike put together. The underdog is now the top puppy.
Ganguly reckons the underdog tag stoked hearth in his stomach. It created him perpetually hungry, and relentless. “It has genuinely labored in my existence,” he states. “I realized other individuals had far more methods, but I had to maximise what I had,” he provides.
In the meantime, in March 2020, Puma uncovered alone in a odd scenario. January was the best the corporation had observed in India. Two months later on, the country went less than the first spell of lockdown. The obstacle was grave. With damaging and unsure enterprise environment, a pessimistic outlook on the job front, and hyper subdued consumer sentiment, companies and brands went inside their shell. Every person started out cutting cost, halting expenditure and suspending operations. “For the initially time in our background in India, sales dropped,” claims Ganguly. The business shut 2020 at Rs 1,215 crore, as towards Rs 1,413-crore income that it clocked in 2019. Human instinct would have meant performing exercises far more warning, Puma resorted to animal intuition.
It went for the eliminate. Puma sniffed an opportunity as operate-from-household and on the net courses made enormous demand for athleisure wear. Even though, in 2018, clothing manufactured up just 32 per cent of Puma’s gross sales, it touched just about 40 per cent in 2021. What also helped was the lead the manufacturer experienced on the electronic curve. While, in 2018, most fashion and sportswear models struggled to get their on-line act together and continued to keep mostly offline, Puma experienced previously produced heady gains as 19 % arrived from on the net sales. In two many years, the numbers virtually doubled to 36 percent, and touched 43 p.c in 2021.
Curiously, Puma’s aggressive offline participate in gave momentum to online sales. The German manufacturer stored on expanding offline footprint in the country. From 360 retailers in 2020, the rely jumped to 411 in 2021. While merchants were being using orders on WhatsApp and delivering to the people, Puma rolled out experiential stores with F1 simulator, personalisation counter—get identify, variety, and layout embroidered or printed in 30 minutes—and launched constrained-edition items.
There was also something—an experiment—which restrained Puma from remaining defensive in its method. The manufacturer introduced ‘Puma on the Shift,’ a customer outreach programme whereby it set up pop-up merchants at household societies across the region. “It improved the trajectory of our offline retail business enterprise,” contends Ganguly. “It instructed us we really should be additional ambitious about our organization,” he adds.
What also aided Puma’s dash was its transfer to hold the internet marketing and promoting faucet operating in entire movement. It doubled down on its collaboration with Virat Kohli for his brand One8, which it started off in 2018, made a decision to sponsor soccer by having crew sponsorship of Mumbai Town Football Club in ISL in 2020, and stitched yet another athleisure collaboration with cricketer KL Rahul and rolled out 1DER. A further bold move was to spouse Royal Challengers Bangalore past yr, which made its initial sporting activities MNC sportswear manufacturer to join the IPL bandwagon soon after 5 decades.
Ganguly points out the mentality and the aggressive participate in. When the ball swings and the problems are overcast, a person need to adapt and nevertheless search for scoring. “Covid was a lot more than a swinging ball. It was a curved ball,” he states, adding that the brand name nevertheless essential to score. “Those who participate in for draw really don’t acquire,” he states.
Puma’s significant wins in India, reckon retail gurus, can be defined by a bunch of aspects. 1st is the underdog tag. “It didn’t have anything at all to reduce of panic in India when it started off,” suggests Ankur Bisen, senior vice president (retail & buyer solutions division), at consulting agency Technopak. The international bitter rivalry of the siblings—Puma as opposed to Adidas—was not enjoying out in India. Second, a expanding Indian market, climbing aspiration of customers and ballooning income meant that the demand for worldwide brand names was not heading to die. Puma produced the most of it. 3rd, it learnt from the blunders of Adidas and Nike. Although the previous was grappling with the Reebok fiasco, the latter struggled with its franchisee companions. “Puma noticed, focused on on the web, and performed a sensible offline retail match,” he says. Fourth, the manufacturer partnership it stitched with top cricketers paid out off. When One8 clocked a meaty Rs 175 crore very last calendar year, 1DER did Rs 40 crore.
What also served, underline manufacturer gurus, was a relentlessly intense tactic. Harish Bijoor, who runs an eponymous brand name consulting agency, clarifies. There are brands with image, and then there are all those who have image as perfectly as profits. “On the initial count, Nike did exceedingly well,” he suggests. Puma, while, falls underneath the next bucket. “It lived up to its identify and billing,” he provides. Whilst the past-mover advantage assisted, remaining electronic indigenous came as a major blessing.
To a sure extent, the weak point of the rivals much too arrived handy. Even though India more and more turned into a blind spot for other worldwide sportswear makers, Puma observed the discipline extensive open up. “For all international gamers, India under no circumstances had a problem on need entrance,” says Bisen. If other makes unsuccessful or struggled, it was largely due to a disconnect in global and India methods and management blunders. A person of the top models kept flirting concerning a powerful world wide government and a tiny-recognized Indian administration. And those who bought their act appropriate, built most of the problem. Search at Skechers, which is now the 3rd-major sportswear brand in India (see box). “Puma ticked all packing containers,” he says.
But can the disruptor get disrupted? Can Skechers pose a obstacle to Puma? Bisen reckons that the fight could come from two established of contenders. First, a new bunch of dwelling-grown D2C brands, and the second is from the likes of Skechers.
Ganguly, for his component, is informed of the menace. “We are not complacent,” he claims. If Puma can dethrone the incumbents, then it could facial area rigid battle, way too. What, even though, he is banking on to tide about likely worries is an unsaturated Indian sector, and an animal intuition. “Rs 2,000 crore signifies nothing at all if we really do not continue to be nimble, agile and intense,” he claims. The Huge Cat is even now hungry and on the transfer.
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