Archies has been synonymous with gifts and cards that are not only exclusive but also tender emotional connect. In an exclusive chat with Retailer, Vijayant Chhabra, Executive Director, Archies, speaks of their business strategy, success ingredient and future plans.
Retailer: Tell us about Archies’ inception. How it started?
Vijayant Chhabra(VC): Archies is a 31 year old brand. Mr Anil Moolchandani started it from scratch, and within the journey lot of tie ups started. The metamorphosis has been from distributor- dealer channel to independent stores and now to own company stores.
Retailer: How was it in the initial stages? What challenges you faced?
VC: When we started retail way back in 1986- 87, we had our own stores so we did not pay any rent. Since we were a top brand and also the manufacturer, we did not bother about competition. Moreover, we had the advantage of trading company so we could survive.
Retailer: What challenges you see in your business now?
VC: Today, it is very challenging with so many manufacturers. Only brands will survive. Rents are increasing, life is challenging, and retail potential will take shape.
Retailer: What are your products? What are your promotion strategies and plans?
VC: Greeting cards, gifts, soft toys, perfumes, arte facts etc. Currently we are sub branding watches, wall clocks, pens wallet and male accessories, female jewelleries, bags, ginger lemon t shirts.
What’s more, right from greeting card to gifts, one will find imported varieties from well known international companies.
We are low in advertising since we are ploughing in money in extending retail. Our next strategy is to promote the sub brands, or promote gallery as a concept.
Retailer: What is your USP?
VC: Our USP is that our products are exclusive. Our gifts are not mere gifts; they have emotions attached with them. Our gifts have social expression. We are not a volume player, but value. You will not find us on discount sales and this is our USP.
Right from exclusive licenses and gifts in greeting cards and in everything, we are exclusive. Other traders spend money to say they are cheaper. But they are generating volume, they are in trouble.
When mall mania came to India, one wanted to be at every mall, billboard. We booked 300 hundred stores as we realized that 100 stores are not going to work. We did not get back our money and went back to street shops.
Our category is impulse, so this is what works. But mall and high street are both important for us.
Retailer: Tell us about your expansion plans?
VC: Well, pan India, we are opening 35-40 stores per year be it in b town, c town, malls or on high street.
Retailer: What is your understanding on retail? Tell us about your evolution. And present stand.
VC: It’s a myth that there is great money in retail so do not be blind folded. India is a difficult and challenging market. Times have changed, there has been fast progression, malls have come, eateries are blooming, and they are reaching tier 2 and tier 3 cities. There is culture and social change and Archies’ is a part of that change. People have accepted us. In small towns, we are still family store where the whole family comes to shop and we have little competition there unlike in metros. Their number 1 is Archies and number 10 is also Archies. Archies and greeting cards have become synonymous.
Further, 90’s was the peak time, essentially 93-94 when we opened 60 franchisees but then there was a shift. With advent of internet many things changed but instead of taking it negatively we took it in positive light. We thought why not have one destination for Archies. And we started opening our stores in a big way. We started sourcing and gifting in different ways. We were first sourcing locally or from China, who gave them designs but then we gave a different level and tied up with different companies from the world. Kudo, oldest soft toys, Ras, in toys, Kiwi toys, licenses with fisher and Meteor with UK. We are licensing with American greetings and 5 billion dollar gifts. We recently tied with Smiley.
Further, we are tying with Times of India with the understanding that we make and they sell. In between we had also tied with CRY and started daughter’s day.
Retailer: Give us your franchisee number?
VC: We have 350 franchisees but that number is not growing in that big way because for malls you need to book shops earlier, in fact, much in advance. And we book in best malls but there is gap in booking and the shop comes up in 2-3 years.
Retailer: What has been the consumer buying pattern, what people want, what changes have you observed? What is your high selling product, pricing?
VC: The mindset has changed. They are willing to pay for quality. So, we ensure that our products are legal not pirated and of world class quality. The world has started to admire our products. World is recognizing our products in the last 2 years.
Retailer: Any recent tie ups?
VC: Buyers are coming. It is not a one day activity, people are coming to us. Russia is a new market. Modern trade has revolutionized in last three years.
Retailer: What is your promotion and marketing strategy?
VC:We have cut down on advertising, we are investing in shops. Modern trade is the latest category where we are pushing in. Then we have shop-in-shop store in central format, we are pushing our products in different categories. For example, if a shop has a toy category, we are pushing our products there. Landmarks and Odyssey and Will Smith also keep our products.
Retailer: What’s your criterion of a good location?
VC: We look for a place that can give us good placement. It is a good market place, a good mall with eateries and young footfall. We also trust our own experience and exposure in trade for arriving on a location.
Retailer: What about competition?
VC: Fortunately, none could give us that jolt so we challenge ourselves and move ahead. Hallmark and ITC had come in a big way but still couldn’t sustain. So, we remain NO.1.