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Luggage retailer to re-enter Coimbatore, Bengaluru soon
Home-grown luggage brand Witco – an acronym for West India (Plastic) Trading Co is gearing up for a re-entry into Coimbatore and Bengaluru as it is anticipating its “biggest growth” in the next five years.
Infrastructure hurdles led to Witco’s exit from a prime location in the Garden city four years ago. But having seen the boom and bust periods and survived multi-fold challenges, the 65-year-old brand has reinvented itself – trying out newer display formats to engage with customers. Ten of its stores, including its flagship, are in Chennai while two of them operate in Tiruchy and Kozhikode.
“We have been re-inventing ourselves. Our research has led us to launch a new aisle form of display. This enables the customers to look, feel and decide their choice of product with ease. That is because the innovative format allows them to make a comparison of all the brands including ours and then come to an informed decision,” VP Harris, MD, Witco told DTNEXT in an interaction.
His son Althaf Harris and daughter Amina Harris too have joined the family business. After a four-year stint in the UK, including hands-on retail exposure at the John Lewis department store on Oxford Street, Althaf served as an intern at Samsonite’s global base in London. He now heads the project that seeks to re-launch Witco brand of bags, luggage and accessories.
Amina, with an eye for design, will help Witco expand the ladies’ handbags division – one of its fast-growing categories. Luggage contributes 50 per cent to the company’s turnover, while handbags give it “more visibility.”
“In the casual bag segment, our inhouse brands Fling and Katya have shown a lot of promise,” said Harris, as he explained the rationale of launching three more brands shortly. Katya, Fling, DeeDee, Tandem, Witty and Ethica are the portfolio of home-grown labels which compete with well-established brands such as Caprese, Lavie, Bessel, Pattini and Fasttrack in the handbag segment.
In the luggage and backpack & accessories – its third category of products – Witco joins the rank of international brands such as Samsonite, Delsey and American Tourister. Earlier, Witco was using China for its contract manufacturing but now it is betting on domestic locations.
“We have struck a formula and so, have considerably cut down our dependence on China where the costs are going up and the lead time is increasing. Bengaluru, Nashik and Mumbai have opened up as the climate of business has changed,” Harris said.
Noting that it is evaluating the private equity route to expand its footprints nationally, he said, investors such as Capvest were interested in non-technology ventures. “The dotcom and e-com space have been explored extensively. We find investors are giving traditional businesses weightage as the language of calculating in multiples is changing,” he added.
Plans to relaunch the company’s e-tailer platform are also on the cards. With repeat customers increasingly becoming the influencing factor for “re-ordering” in Witco’s case, the brand has opted to re-invent itself. “Our store and product design are based on this. We have gone from positioning ourselves as a specialty player to a multi-specialty to again be a specialty operator,” Harris said.
Referring to the GST, that gives, in his words, “very little room for adjustment,” he said, the era of the ‘Yes Men’ is over as the biggest experiment (GST) is bound to create more disruption than demonetisation.