THE SHOE MASTER
By: Sapna Nair-Purohit Dated: May 01, 2014
For generations shoes meant Bata. The familiar red logo rendered in cursive style has left a deep brand footprint in a significantly competitive footwear market. There are few international brands that enjoy the kind of equity and popularity that Bata does. Bata, also known as Bata Shoe Organisation, is a family owned global footwear and fashion accessory manufacturer and retailer headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland. Here’s how Bata became a household brand in India and still retains an admirable market share.
The shoe company was founded in 1894 by the Bata family in Zlin (the Czech Republic), who had been cobblers for generations. In time, they became shoemakers to the world. Today, the company serves some 1 million customers each day, has more than 30,000 employees, 5,000 international retail stores, and a presence in over 70 countries.
1931: BATA SETS FOOT IN INDIA
The company was incorporated in 1931 as Bata Shoe Company in Konnagar, West Bengal, to be subsequently shifted to Batanagar. In fact, Batanagar was the first manufacturing facility in the Indian shoe industry to receive the prestigious ISO 9001 certification. The company went public in 1973 and changed its name to Bata India.
THE REIGN OF BATA
Bata successfully positioned itself as a one-stop family store for all footwear related products. More importantly, as an Indian brand. Bata, in a sense, pioneered the retail revolution at the time; it became India’s earliest retail store. There was a Bata store accessible to every family, even to those living in a remote village in Gangtok.
Traditionally, Bata catered to the middle-class. Be it men, women or children, Bata appealed to all. Families would go together to buy footwear for everyone. Shoes for school, monsoon or comfort wear for elders, Bata was the preferred choice.
There are two things that helped Bata reign supreme over several decades, say marketing experts — affordability and durability.
The famous Bata pricing tactic was interesting, turning many customers into staunch loyalists. So a shoe would always cost Rs. 99 or Rs. 199 or Rs. 499 and so on, a rupee short of the psychological barrier of the 100 or 200 or 500 mark! Bata pioneered this psychological pricing strategy in India nearly four decades ago. Today, “Bata Pricing” is the label given to any similar pricing strategy adopted by other brands.
Customers also swore by the quality of Bata products. Its longevity and durability have ensured the brand a substantial following. Harish Bijoor, brand expert and CEO of Harish Bijoor Consults, says, “Rugged footwear for the rugged Indian, Bata understands the psyche of the Indian consumer very well.” Bijoor attributes Bata’s success story to its research-centric and consumer-centric approach.
Till the 1980s, Bata enjoyed near-monopoly in the organised footwear market as a brand that catered to the entire family. Then, several other brands arrived in the market, with brands such as Liberty and Action Shoes coming to the fore.
Customers also swore by the quality of Bata products. Its longevity and durability have ensured the brand a substantial following. Harish Bijoor, brand expert and CEO of Harish Bijoor Consults, says, “Rugged footwear for the rugged Indian, Bata understands the psyche of the Indian consumer very well...”
Bata launched new brands, such as Marie Claire, Power, and North Star, adding to its existing range of Sandak, Batalite, and Sunshine footwear. Such was the monopoly and supremacy of Bata at the time that many international footwear and sports brands tied up with Bata to test the waters in India. In the late 1980s, Bata reached an agreement with Adidas to manufacture and market its products (foot wear and sportswear) in India. Around the same time, Bata was also looking after sales for Hush Puppies, a premium shoe brand. Later in 2001, Reebok too announced its retail partnership for sale of Reebok and Rockport footwear in Bata outlets.
Over the years, many other popular international and Indian brands, such as Metro Shoes, Catwalk, Red Tape, Woodland, Reliance Footprint, and Converse joined the booming footwear industry in India.
LACK OF IMAGERY
Bata wasn’t known as an aggressive marketer but as a champion manufacturer who successfully identified market demands. Apart from print ads to announce a sales scheme or the arrival of a new range, Bata wasn’t spending big on advertising. The company banked heavily on its wide and ever expanding retail presence to advertise itself.
Sometime around the year 2000, Bata roped in Bollywood actor Rani Mukherjee to endorse its Sundrop range of women’s footwear. This was also the time when the company decided that it was time to reposition itself in the market that was now swarming with many other labels. Bata wanted to move away from its manufacturing-oriented company tag and sought to be known as an affordable, market-driven, fashionable lifestyle brand.
This repositioning exercise included making Bata stores look more contemporary and trendy as well as deepening its presence in high footfall areas such as malls. All its new stores are based on the new large format and are spread across the metros and Tier I and II cities. Bata India has introduced concepts, such as ‘Flagship’, ‘City’, ‘Family’ and ‘Bazaar’ stores to cater to different segments of consumers.
The company has diversified into accessories with handbags and had earlier launched a designer footwear range for the masses under the label, ‘Malini Ramani for Bata’. In its catalogue today are products that include scarves, belts, and sunglasses, and a wide variety of footwear, such as boat shoes, oxfords, dress boots, loafers, brogues, and derby shoes for men, and clogs, mules, sandals, wedges, pumps, and peep toes for women.
However, there was yet no clear brand imagery that Bata enjoyed, apart from being known as ‘affordable’.
In today’s market, owing to stiff competition from local as well as international brands, Bata will have to work towards higher visibility. According to Jagdeep Kapoor of Samsika Marketing Consultants, for Bata, now the priority should be marketing and advertising. “Availability and affordability have made Bata one of the most sought after brands, but now it needs to be re-positioned with a sharp focus on changing perception, especially if it wants to widen its appeal,” he states.
The game is not lost for Bata. In a bid to reinvent itself, Bata has partnered with DDB Mudra. One of the key areas that the agency will focus on is the brand’s ‘imagery’. Vandana Das, who is President of the DDB Mudra Group, says: “Despite being a household brand and having such a strong distribution network, Bata does not have a distinct brand imagery, which is why it’s difficult to attract the youth.”
The campaign, ‘Where Life Meets Style’, launched mid-March, marks the brand’s presence on multiple media after a long time. The campaign is aimed at portraying Bata as a contemporary, stylish, trendy-yet-accessible brand with its Spring Summer collection. The TVC depicts real-life scenarios such as kids at a birthday party, a boy passing a chit with his foot during an exam, youngsters on an adventure, and a woman on a swing — all accompanied by a catchy jingle.
“The new campaign will reach a much wider target audience through the 360 degree integration starting from the uniquely shot waist down TVC, to focus on the stylish and trendy shoes, which will really be a pleasant surprise for viewers, leading to ATL and BTL activations across the country,” Sumit Kumar, Vice President and Head of Marketing and Customer Service, Bata India.
Among other efforts, the company has recently opened a global concept store in Saket, New Delhi. The store is high on aesthetics and décor, designed to global formats. Bata has over 1,100 retail outlets in 500 cities in India and further expansion, Kumar says, is in full swing.