In Conversation with Rahul Vira

CEO, Skechers South Asia
Thursday, 10 Aug 2017
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Rahul Vira is the CEO OF Skechers South Asia since April 2015. He has 18 years of experience working with high-paced organizations across Lifestyle, Luxury and Online industry in India and Middle East. Rahul started his career with India\'s leading retail chain working across various functions of buying and merchandising, marketing and operations. He has also worked in the Middle East with an American chain. During the first round of internet action globally Rahul joined India\'s leading media house in their internet division setting up e-commerce. This was one of first few online shopping activities in India. Rahul further moved to working with leading jewellery brand of India in the leadership role.
About
Rahul Vira is the CEO OF Skechers South Asia since April 2015. He has 18 years of experience working with high-paced organizations across Lifestyle, Luxury and Online industry in India and Middle East. Rahul started his career with India's leading retail chain working across various functions of buying and merchandising, marketing and operations. He has also worked in the Middle East with an American chain. During the first round of internet action globally Rahul joined India's leading media house in their internet division setting up e-commerce. This was one of first few online shopping activities in India. Rahul further moved to working with leading jewellery brand of India in the leadership role.

How important is celebrity association for brands? How does it work as a strategy?

Skechers, as a brand, is associated with celebrities because the customers that we are targeting, they normally look up to these celebrities for their fashion quotient, fitness quotient. It is, therefore, vital for us as a brand to connect with well-known personalities who can fit into – and with – our brand. For celebrity endorsement to work effectively as a strategy, brands should consider two points – one, who is the brand connecting with, i.e., who is the target customer, and whether a celebrity is even vital for her to see the potential of the brand; two, how is the brand taking celebrities and make them a part of the brand’s system. These are two critical points no brand should miss if it wants celebrity endorsement to work as a strategy for the brand’s growth.

At what point should brands opt for celebrity endorsement as a strategy for growth?

For celebrity endorsement to work as a definite strategy, it depends on what stage the brand is at, what is the incentive of the brand. Globally, Skechers has been associated with celebrities. The brand has used the strategy effectively, tying up with successful people from the world of fitness, fashion and sports. The formula has worked for us, given us traction in markets all over the world. That said, we have done it with a lot of care and effectiveness.

What should brands do correctly in the process of rolling out celebrity endorsement as a marketing strategy?

For brands to deploy celebrity endorsement as a marketing tool, they need to be clear in identifying the celebrity that works for the brand. You need to have the right fit in terms of the person who endorses your brand. The celebrity, in turn, has to believe in the brand. If the personality doesn’t identify with the product, the disconnect shows, and that’s not good. The brand’s communication with the celebrity is important.
In the case of our brand, we are using both, celebrity endorsement and digital media to communicate the message of fitness to our consumers.

What are the consumer behavioural trends that Skechers is seeing in India? How is the brand building products based on these trends?

Fitness is a global phenomenon. Skechers is continually tracking global trends and based on our findings we create our products. Each and every person wants to be fit today. People are finding holistic ways and various approaches to be fit. Media is a big influencer too – people are seeking information on fitness, connecting with the message of staying healthy, finding fitness relevant.

One of our key findings was that for a majority of people, running, jogging, and taking brisk walks is becoming important. Walking, for example, is what is recommended by experts and we have an entire line of products focused on just walking. Doctors all over the world recommend 20-minute walks, and we have created special products just for walking. Our line, GoWalk, for instance, was a result of those findings. We created the line successfully by understanding the trend.

Do strategies change for developing markets like India? Are products launched, for example, a little later in developing markets compared to the developed ones?

Indian consumers are aware globally and already part of the global trends. For many years, we were getting products much later than the global launch but now, with technology making global trends so much more easily available, Indian consumer wouldn’t want to wait longer for products. Brands need to be quick to understand the needs of consumers and reach out to them. It is wrong for brands to think that strategies for rolling out products can be different for different markets. What gets launched globally should get simultaneously launched in India.

How important is the role of agencies to drive the communication of a brand to consumers?

Agencies are an extended arm of brands and together they have the sole purpose of growing the brand, ensuring that it reaches out to the target consumer. Agencies have to continue innovating towards the plan that brands chalk out. They are an integral part of the brand’s growth strategy.

In terms of digital media, how important is the platform?

If any brand isn’t doing digital media, it means there is a huge problem with the brand. For brands to connect with the consumer, digital media is vital. Most of the digital media is consumed on our phones. So, the way we look at it, much of digital content is getting consumed continuously. Not focusing on digital media for communicating with the consumer is detrimental for the brand in the long run.

In our case, for our line of GoWalk products, we wanted to drive the point of ‘walking being a sport, not just walking’. We created a hashtag for it and started communicating with our consumers on social media. We were on the top of the Twitter handle in ‘trending’. We took the simple exercise of walking and created innovative content and communication around that, created an entire product line around it. We identified a simple behavioural trend of our consumers and then created everything around it on the digital platform.

How does one track the success of digital in terms of sales? Shouldn’t companies do that?

Yes, the simplest yardstick of a successful campaign is to look at sales because it allows you to understand how effectively you are communicating with brands. However, it’s not easy. That said, you need to find out how many consumers are engaging online and whether you are seeing increasing walk-ins in the stores. Your communication strategy, especially digital, may not translate into sales all the time but it creates the awareness and the excitement for the consumer. There’s also content, relevant to the growth of the brand that you get from digital. Everything that you do does not necessarily have to be measured only by the yardstick of sales.

How are marketing and growth strategies planned in Skechers?

We work six to eight months in advance for any of the marketing initiatives. There are various stakeholders and we all get together on that – sales, marketing, customer service, front line, etc, all key members work together. We ask the fundamental question, ‘what is the consumer asking for’ and then the knowledge of give and take happens. We understand what is happening in the market, the changes that are happening in consumer trends. It’s a complete recipe of success that we look at through these intensive discussions...

How relevant are emerging markets like India? What are the Indian consumers’ trends?

The way we are growing in India, it is a testament of what we are doing. The consumers love our products. Whatever products are rolled out in the market, the most important thing that our consumer is looking for is ‘comfort’. We are committed, reaching out to our TG with passion. I think, being active on social media has allowed us to create a buzz and grow.

How else is social media allowing Skechers to evolve?

I’ll be honest. We do get consumers who are sometimes unhappy with our products. And if they are not happy, they will use social media to reach out to us. Skechers has a simple philosophy – ‘if the consumer is reaching out to you, then there is genuine concern.’ From products to services, consumers are showing us ways to improve. It is our duty, therefore, to address the issues and reach out. Consumers sometimes tell us that their shoes don’t fit well or that they have washed them incorrectly. If need be, we replace the shoes. Brands should listen to consumers. They need to understand that if consumers are taking the time out, the energy to reach out to you, then you have to address those concerns.

How do you unwind?

When you love what you do, you don’t need to unwind. But yes, there are times when you want to take a step back. I never feel tired or the need to take a break but when I do, I choose to step out for dinner with friends.

On a lighter note, how many pairs of skechers do you own?

I don’t have space in my wardrobe – I own so many Skechers. I guarantee you, if you have a pair, too, you won’t search for any other brand. 

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