With sports retail taking off from all corners, specialised footwear has started making its presence felt in this rapidly growing segment. Sharath Raju, Founder, High Line Retail, and Certified Coach for Barefoot Technique, highlights the strengths of specialty footwear and analyses the Indian market.
Aadeetya Sriram (AS): With High Line Retail, you are catering to an aspirational customer base. How exactly is this segment, which is in its infant stage, doing in the country?
Sharath Raju (SR): High Line Retail is a distributor bringing to the country niche products in sports and lifestyle wear. The Indian consumer has always been smart, and with the advent of the Internet and global travel, he is aware and up-to-date on developments across the globe. Today, the Indian consumer’s international travel entails understanding the culture and sightseeing more than shopping, as compared to earlier times, when the Indian consumer travelled overseas, one of the main highlights was shopping. This has changed over the years as international brands are now available in the country, which are competitively priced or at times, may even cost lesser than the dollar pricing.
AS: Which brands in this category are you associated with? Which brand would you recommend as the top player in the country?
SR: High Line Retail has started the barefoot revolution in the country and has got in the British brand VIVOBAREFOOT to India. Currently, VIVOBAREFOOT is the only barefoot shoe brand available in the country. VIVOBAREFOOT brings to the market ‘barefoot’ shoes for men, women and children. The shoes come in various categories – from lifestyle wear, sports and casual wear to formal wear.
AS: Which is the high-selling region for this segment in the country?
SR: We started selling VIVOBAREFOOT via our retail stores since November 2011 and have seen a quick adoption and are pretty confident to see it grow. Our online business is seeing shoppers coming from mostly the north, west and south of the country. High Line Retail is looking for retailers across the country to introduce VIVOBAREFOOT to the customers. All retailers who showcase and sell VIVOBAREFOOT are given a session on product training by our team so that the sales person is well equipped with information on Barefoot lifestyle and its advantages, which they can transfer to their end customer.
VIVOBAREFOOT is available at SportsXS (Bangalore and Ahmedabad), Decathlon (Bangalore), Snap Fitness Gyms across the country, Selection Sports (Mumbai) and Adventure 18 Store (Delhi). The shoes can also be bought online from www.playgroundonline.com; www.runnersforlife.com; www.highline.in. VIVOBAREFOOT will be available at stores in Hyderabad and Chennai from February.
AS: What was the idea behind starting High Line Retail? How essential is it to make the products of highest quality available to the customer?
SR: After getting my MBA from Cardiff University, UK, I came back to India and started my career in the IT industry. I worked in Sales and Marketing positions with Hewlett Packard and IBM. Sports and fitness have always been a part of my DNA, so when Decathlon opened in Bangalore, I got the opportunity to be a part of the Sports & Lifestyle industry. At Decathlon, I was responsible for the B-Twin cycling brand. During my stint at Decathlon, I got introduced to the book ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall, where he talked about Barefoot Lifestyle. Early in 2011, I adopted the lifestyle and saw the change it brought in me. I decided to pursue it and go for Barefoot Technique training. During that process, I was convinced that I should bring this lifestyle to India and the birth of High Line Retail happened in July last year.
It is important for us to get the best in terms of value, design and use for the consumers in the country. You will hear from us shortly on the other brands we are going to introduce to the national market.
AS: Could you specify the sort of product gears we are talking about with reference to this segment?
SR: VIVOBAREFOOT, the first barefoot shoe with a patented, ultra thin puncture resistant sole, is now available in India via High Line Retail, a niche sports and lifestyle distribution company. VIVOBAREFOOT shoes are designed especially for the users of any sports activity. VIVOBAREFOOT has high performance, lifestyle, off-road and trail running shoes for men, women and children.
Barefoot living helps one avoid the foot injuries and ailments associated with wearing conventional footwear. Our body is used to various movements like sitting down, standing up, picking up objects, throwing, catching, jumping, skipping and running. The reason we can make all these movements without thinking (or falling over) is because of something called ‘proprioception’, which means the body’s sense of its own position, balance and movement. Proprioception provides us with ‘body awareness’ and is commonly referred to as the “sixth sense”. A large percentage (about 70 per cent) of these receptors is in our feet; they’re the parts of our body most in contact with the ground. If we reduce the sensory feedback from our feet by wearing thick, shock-absorbing soles then the brain has less information to work with, reducing the quality of the movement pattern produced.
AS: Do you intend to start your own retail outlets in the near future?
SR: High Line Retail does have its own online retail – www.highline.in. Currently, we have no plans to have a brick and mortar store and will like to work with retailers across the country.
AS: The potential luxury/aspirational consumer base is encouraging. How do you see this panning out?
SR: We are, in fact, targeting a ‘sense with style’ approach to tap into the aspirational consumer base. We are noticing that the technicality of a product sometimes supersedes the styling and functionality, which causes imbalance with the brand’s intent and consumer’s perception.
We wish to strike a balance by working with the best brands and providing an efficient connect with the user’s choice and the range offer. For example, the Ultra is the world’s lightest shoe with a removable inner sole, but the styling is so well done and the colour so attractive that it appeals even to the leisure user. The shoes are value for money and our brands for athletic and lifestyle upgrades efficiently tap into the consumer base. High Line Retail focuses on achieving the highest standards of customer satisfaction. The opportunities to add value far outweighs the challenges we see to establish niche and popular concepts in the Indian market.