Companies

Threads of change

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on December 06, 2020

Sundeep Chugh

Sundeep Chugh, CEO and MD, on how Benetton is knitting a post-Covid-19 recovery plan

When Sundeep Chugh had just qualified as a Chartered Accountant one of his first tasks was to audit a Benetton store in New Delhi’s South Extension. “I remember being really impressed by the vibrant brand imagery and the product assortment,” exclaims Chugh. Little did he imagine he would one day be heading the India operations of the popular Italian apparel brand.

The Bhopal-born, Delhi educated Chugh traversed a path through cement (Birla White), consumer durables (LG) and footwear (Adidas) before arriving at Benetton as its commercial director in 2011. He was promoted as CEO and MD in January 2016. At that time, Benetton was a bit at the crossroads. Globally it was being edged out by the likes of fast fashion brands like Zara, but in India it was still clicking and, so, had made it one of the key focus markets for the company. The pandemic caught Benetton at a time when the brand was re-orienting itself to take a big aggressive leap here. Explains Chugh, “The market was no longer what it used to be, there was a lot of competition, online had become very big. Every year, we were finding 40-50 brands coming in. So we were introspecting, and assessing ourselves with questions like what do we do about our positioning... about women’s wear and so on.”

Benetton decided not to dilute its prices but stay true to its premium image. Also it decided to go all out to display its full wares. “A year ago at [Delhi mall] Select Citywalk we were a 900 sq ft adult store and 650 sq ft kids store. Now it is a 4,800 sq ft store offering a very premium elevated brand experience,” says Chugh

But with the pandemic making consumers go digital would the LFS (large format store) strategy work? In March this year, online was contributing 20 per cent of Benetton’s sales. “We did witness a spike in contribution from online sales during the pandemic,” admits Chugh. “That said, we will continue to be a brick-and-mortar focused brand, given our wide presence (over 900 doors) across the country,” he says.

Where the company is going more digital is in procurement. “We have a very successful buying and order campaign running with technology integration, enabling a very close preview of products online, ordering process, coupled with sending swatch-cards physically to partners, to address the touch-and-feel aspect,” he says.

As for stitching a post-Covid-19 recovery strategy, Chugh says they were busy during lockdown doing just that. A lot of reskilling of staff happened. “The industry is bouncing back and so are we with a structured roadmap in place. Business has revived in most parts of the country. Almost 40 per cent of the business, in fact, is above pre-Covid levels, helping us stay ahead across key segments.”

Besides, the company will be introducing its own online channel in the near future, he says, to leverage an omni-channel strategy.

China and the consumer

Ask Chugh if the anti-China sentiment in India has affected the company in any way, and he replies that the company has a multi-channel sourcing and manufacturing process, hence didn’t face any impact.

What about changes in buying behaviour? Is WFH (work from home) fashion a segment of its own? “There has been a spike in both comfort wear and sportswear. The former is primarily because of the work from home module that demands extreme comfort and, at the same time, style and sharpness to tend to video calls. Besides, the growing concern around health and fitness resulted in an elevated demand for active wear and we foresee this to continue.”

When the lockdown was lifted, he says, there was a spike in kids’ wear but now all the categories have picked up substantially. Denims, which were slow starters, have become one of the best sellers in the past few months. “We have already increased our offering in lounge knit denims at higher price points.” With evolving consumer demands, the journey on product diversification will continue,” he concludes on a note of optimism.

Published on December 07, 2020

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