Interview with Amanpreet Dhaliwal | Chief Product Officer | s.Oliver

First published in M+V India Insight in September 2013

M+V: You have lived and worked in Germany for more than 10 years. So you know both business environments very well, what are the biggest differences?

Amanpreet Dhaliwal (A.D.): One of the major differences is the work culture; we are talking about two extremes. The German work culture is partly over-organized and implementation is often a long drawn out process whereas work in India goes according to the motto “first do and then think”. Working in India is about working in a “VUCA” environment – Volatile-Uncertain-Complex-Ambiguous: a term which is gaining popularity and explains the challenges of working in everyday India. To implement the German process-orientation teamed with the Indian flexibility is my organizational target for India.

M+V: The size of India makes it difficult to find the right place to start a business. Where did s.Oliver start and what was the reason for this decision?

A.D.:  In 2007, s.Oliver started with all Tier-1 cities in India as our target group is located in metropolitan cities. With a revised joint venture, a phase of consolidation was initiated in 2012 and unprofitable locations were closed.

A mistake of the past was a uniform product strategy pan India. At the moment, we are focused on the north of India as the seasonality allows us to use a variety of products given by our designers. With this experience in mind, we will reestablish our presence in the Tier-1 cities and expand further to strategic locations in Tier-2 cities in the short to medium-term.

M+V: What have been the incentives for s.Oliver to depart from familiar paths and enter the Indian market with the on-site production?

A.D.: We have not departed from the familiar path rather we are constantly in the process of fine-tuning it and adapting it as best as possible to meet the challenges that India poses. We started the first retail joint venture in 2007 while the production has been based here since the inception of the brand in 1969 and today s.Oliver globally buys merchandise worth 70 mio euros in a year from Indian manufacturers. The reason for the production is largely cost and feasibility driven and the facilities in Asian countries are attuned to servicing 12-collections brands such as s.Oliver.

To enter the Indian market with our retail operations is part of our global expansion strategy. After Europe and Russia, India as a fast growing economy, with a widening middle class, was our target market in Asia.

M+V: Do you sell the same collections all over the world?

A.D.:  Around 70% of the collection sold in India is designed for the entire s.Oliver group. The first step is to choose the collection for India out of a range of proposed garments. This is our first filter to consider the specific circumstances in India. The color palette designed for European tastes may not always work for India. European summers have a lot of white and black is found all year round in the collection. But we cannot buy so much into these colors as white is difficult to handle in India and black is not an all-round favorite. Indian conditions demand a more colourful palette. However, I also need to instruct partial adaptations for the 70%. For example: Most of my orders for men’s shirts and denims are changed to a slim fit, while keeping all other details, as the men’s physique in Europe and India differs.

30% of our collection is exclusively designed and manufactured on our request to meet the local demand. Our success is highly dependent on local adaption to special customer needs.

M+V: Is the pricing in India the same as in Europe?

A.D.:  The pricing in India and Europe for the same garment is equal based on a fixed currency rate. But, because of the high price sensitivity, we have introduced more price points in India. A difference of 200 INR affects the purchase decision and this is what we have to consider in our price policy.

M+V: 20 points of sales existed in 2012 in India and the target is an increase up to 200 POS by 2016. Where do you stand right now and is the target still realistic?

A.D.:  Yes, 200 POS by 2016 is still our vision. To be precise, we want to achieve a number of 50 Exclusive Brand Outlets and 150 Shop-in-Shops. Our current presence includes five EBOs and six shop-in-shops in multi-brand outlets. The opening of six additional EBOs until spring 2014 is planned. The major problem is to find reliable, local business partners for manufacturing and implementation of our store concepts. The interpretation of cost and quality are different here in India and it is a lot of detailed work, involving transfer of knowledge and training to ensure that we are able to locally replicate our designs. However, I am confident of finding a solution soon as we have started the process of enabling production of locally manufactured store-concepts with a target of achieving at least 80% of the desired quality level.

M+V: Where do you see s.Oliver India in 5-10 years?

A.D.:  I see s.Oliver in the future as one of the best performing brands in India. We are investing a lot of efforts into perfecting the work environment for our employees and the shopping experience for our customers. We want to inculcate the culture of best training, the best merchandise offer and the best customer support. These are the key areas for sustainable success at each POS in India and for carrying forward the legacy of REAL FASHION FOR REAL PEOPLE that defines s.Oliver since 1969.

Thank you Ms. Dhaliwal for this interview!