Home World Business Indian shoemaker Woodland plans grand global expansion

Indian shoemaker Woodland plans grand global expansion

After nearly a two-decade hiatus, Harkirat Singh, the managing director of Woodland, is plotting to return to the market in Canada, a country he exited after competition from China made his business unviable.

In his sights are also Russia, South East Asia, Africa, Australia and South America, among other regions. “With our kind of shoes, we have an edge in international markets. We know our products so well,” says Singh. But knowing the product isn’t enough to succeed in international markets, and Singh, the third generation of the family to run the business, knows that only too well.

Woodland, which is best known for its outdoor shoes, started as a manufacturer of winter boots in Canada with a factory in Quebec. The company sourced leather and other raw materials from all over the world, including from its tannery in Amritsar. From its factory in Canada, it exported boots to Europe and other parts of the world, building up scale in the 1990s. Then came the inexpensive Chinese goods. Its export shrank and the business became unviable, forcing it to retreat from Canada and shift base to India in early 2000.

For much of the past decade, has focused on building its business in India and creating a niche for itself in outdoor shoes. In the last five years, it has nearly doubled its revenue from Rs 750 crore to Rs 1,350 crore today. 

“In India we are growing at 15-20 per cent annually and we are pretty much on a stable footing; we have 600 company-owned stores and we are opening new stores each year. Given our strong foothold in India, it is the right time for us to look for the next phase of growth overseas,” says Singh.

China is one market he is betting big on. Although a manufacturing hub itself, what gives the confidence to enter the market is the lack of competing brands in the region. While there are many makers of synthetic shoes, few make the kind of outdoor leather shoes that does.

“Europe and Canada are saturated, but there are markets such as China, Saudi Arabia, North Africa and South Korea where we feel we can build a sizable market,” says Singh.

is adopting a piecemeal strategy instead of making investments in setting up plants at the outset in these markets. Initially, it is partnering with distributors and retailers overseas and looking to export shoes from its plants in India, which are currently operating at half their capacity.

Last month, tied up with one of China’s biggest retailers, Aokang International, to sell its products through its stores.

A similar plan is in the works for Russia and Canada too. While in China it is targeting the fashion conscious buyers who are eager to upgrade their wardrobe with some outdoorsy gear, in Russia and Canada it is aiming to the tap the strong demand for winter boots, jackets and gloves, besides hiking and trekking gear, primarily from women.

The company, though, will look to set up plants overseas in due course. “Unless we have own manufacturing facility, it is not possible to really scale up the business,” says Singh. “We don’t intend to send products always from India. It takes a lot of time to ship; the transit time alone is a month and a half.”

In China, where consumers are given to fast fashion, shipment delays could be a huge problem and the company will need to move fast on starting local operations. Singh is encouraged by the initial demand from China, although at 30,000 pairs, it is way below than the four to five million shoes that it sells annually in India. 

The India business accounts for 80 per cent of sales, but in five years, the company hopes to achieve a 60:40 ratio between India and overseas. Diversification of its product range will be crucial to attaining this target.

From shoes, the company has expanded into apparel, which comprises 40 per cent of the total turnover, sunglasses and watches, among other things. In the offing are a bigger line of apparel, equipment for water sports and mountain bikes. Initially, the bikes will be imported from Taiwan.

There is also going to be a sharper focus on women’s and clothing. “In India, women’s contributes 30-35 per cent to sales, but there is potential to make it 50:50.”




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