The iconic brand rolls up its sleeves for a second innings. Opinions vary on its re-launch strategy.

No matter which segment the textile company decides to enter, it would be all about being a leader in that space.

Purvita Chatterjee

“Back in the mid-seventies, Vimal Sarees was an emerging strong brand and the credit of making it so goes to the late Frank Simoes and his team. The account shifted to Mudra in March 1980. Our first instinct as the ‘new agency’ was to change everything that was so carefully built by the previous agency. We wanted to ‘prove’ that we were better. But fortunately for us, and the brand, better sense prevailed. And rather than wiping the slate clean and starting all over again, we carried on with the ‘Only Vimal’ theme for suitings and, ‘A woman expresses herself in many languages. Vimal is one of them’ for sarees. And we all know what a wise decision that turned out to be. We created new frontiers in textile advertising. Besides commanding a considerable presence both in market share and at the awards shows, I have no doubt in my mind that this could not have been achieved without foundations laid down by Frank. Leveraging past strengths was, and still is, a surefire way of catapulting the brand forward.”

_ A.G. Krishnamurthy in his book The Invisible CEO

After a lull of nearly seven years, Vimal is making a comeback and leveraging its past strengths again in the textile market. The iconic brand which made waves in the ’70s and ’80s now has plans of reviving its past glory. This time, however, the textile brand from Reliance Industries has the added advantage of owning retail formats to showcase its re-launched product along with more flagship stores planned across the country. Besides, the company is now ensuring that the brand has something to offer everyone with a segmentation strategy which entails differentiated price points and offerings under sub-brands such as Vimal Red, Vimal White and Vimal Black.

Initially restricting itself to being a menswear brand, Vimal is taking a step forward by entering the ready-to-wear segment by including products such as shirts, trousers, suits and jackets in this range. However, this time, the market has got more cluttered with a spate of brands under the ready-to-wear category.

Pointing to the changed scenario for Vimal today, Anand Parekh, the new President of Reliance Industries’ Textile Division, says, “While on one hand there is heavy competition now, on the other, there is opportunity in terms of increased demand. Now the per capita consumption of the average Indian is greater. One is also catering to a market which is segmented now in terms of prices and offering. However, there are still a few dedicated menswear brands. Today, our direct competitors would be brands such as Park Avenue, Van Heusen, Louis Philippe and Arrow. But these brands have also extended beyond menswear.”

Taking a leap from being a fabric to a ready-to-wear brand is not going to be easy for Vimal after a time lag. According to Vikram Rao, Business Director - Textiles & Apparel, Madura Garments, “Normally fabric and garments brands are kept distinct. There are different connotations for consumers in these two categories. Like Raymond, the fabric brand, has the Park Avenue brand in ready-to-wear, the customer’s perception is usually different for these two segments.”

However, other textile industry veterans do not believe there is a need for separate brands. Darshan Mehta, CEO and Managing Director, Reliance Brands, and formerly of Arvind Mills, says, “Vimal has a recall value and should be extended as a lifestyle brand with a ready-to-wear range. Although it is coming from a fabric background, it can exist as a single brand and would face challenges like any other brand today.”

However, more than the issue of having separate brands, Vimal as a brand should be clear about its latest positioning in the market. As an official from Raymond observes, “A single brand can co-exist in both the segments. In Vimal’s case it is not clear whether the brand is mass or premium and its exact positioning in the ready-to-wear segment. The brand has lost equity and to suddenly make a comeback with a ready-to-wear range is not going to be a credible proposition, especially if it is going to straddle all price points.”

However, Reliance Industries believes it is clear about Vimal’s positioning. As Parekh points out, “The tagline for our consumers is that the brand is innovative and premium but still at a good price. Vimal always meant fashion for everybody. It was never meant for a particular class of people. Today we have made the brand young, contemporary and vibrant looking.”

The sub-branding strategy of Vimal is based on product and pricing to straddle all segments of the menswear segment.

Vimal Red would have popular pricing and would appeal to the widest segment of the menswear market. It would comprise a range of basic formals for everyday wear. Vimal White would stand for a more expensive and trendy range with premium pricing. Vimal Black would be the top-of-the-line sub-brand developed under the expertise of one of Italy’s designers to stand for a super-premium line in the menswear market.

Parekh further elaborates, “The brand to the consumer will still be Vimal and the sub-branding has been done to cater to different needs of consumers. We have segmented the offerings based on the materials, fibres, fabric, finishes, styling and cuts and placed it at different price points.”

Unleashing a new marketing and distribution strategy for Vimal, 24 new flagship stores will get rolled out along with the existing 200 existing franchisee stores. At the same time Reliance will take advantage of its existing formats such as Reliance Mart and Reliance Trendz. “While there are a variety of formats within Reliance Retail, at least two of these will be relevant for Vimal. We have started selling our fabrics at formats such as Reliance Mart and Reliance Trendz. Going forward we may also have a different segment of apparel for these formats depending on the consumer profile,” says Parekh.

In fact, there would be a difference in the kind of offerings Vimal would stock at these retail formats. So while a Reliance Mart (the hypermarket model) would keep Vimal fabrics at the popular price range to cater to the masses, Reliance Trendz (speciality store) would see a mid-priced and more upmarket range.

Growth in retail will help Vimal’s comeback strategy. As Mehta observes, “It is not lack of purchasing power but the ability to distribute that apparel brands lack. However, with new retail formats coming up this should get eased.” Adds Parekh, “Today retail is allowing us greater access to the consumer and there is cost reduction in the overall supply chain. In our case certain layers such as the distributor and agent have become redundant as we have our ready formats such as Reliance Mart and Reliance Trendz.”

With new communication released through its advertising agency, Grey Worldwide, Vimal is going to be all about ‘Dressing up New India’ with the all familiar jingle of ‘Only Vimal’. Devoid of celebrities unlike yesteryear when known faces (like Viv Richards) endorsed the brand, this time the campaign focuses on the changing face of India. Priti Nair, National Creative Director, Grey Worldwide, says, “We have kept the core of the brand intact with ‘Only Vimal’ and at the same time done something new in terms of bringing out the new India through the Vimal campaign.”

Vimal will exploit the advantages of being part of a backward integrated textile company. With a special focus on offering technologically-led products, Vimal would sport a technically and functionally different offering from the rest. As Parekh says, “There are speciality graded wools, polyester fibres and viscose which could be used to leverage the Vimal brand. There is a possibility of collaborations to gain expertise in areas such as fabric, fibre or even the brand, where there could be a co-branding possibility. Our motto is to offer innovative and premium products.”

A foray into women’s Western wear is expected to be the next step. However, the textile major is still mulling reviving a stagnant category like sarees. As Parekh says, “For us the natural extension would be ladies’ Western wear. But as for sarees, we are still studying the market before planning a comeback in this space.”

Industry observers say no matter which segment the textile company decides to enter, it would be all about being a leader in that space. As Biju Dominic, CEO, DMA Branding, who earlier handled the brand at Mudra, observes, “When Reliance decides to do something in the market, it is about becoming the number one player there. As for Vimal, the brand had reached its peak and then was silent for almost a decade. Reliance will ensure that the fire is once again rekindled for its iconic brand.”

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated November 15, 2007)
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