PUMA's India business has managed to outshine established brands like Adidas and Nike but the COVID-19 outbreak has come as a rude shock. Its India head, however, believes sticking to the ethos of a sportsperson will help the company navigate this tumultuous phase.
For Abhishek Ganguly, General Manager - PUMA India and Southeast Asia, the COVID-19 outbreak may turn out to be the biggest dampener in his professional life. After leading PUMA to the numero uno position in the Indian sportswear market, he had marked 2020 as the year the brand would strengthen its leadership position.
But alas, COVID-19 wrecked his plans.
In an interview with Moneycontrol, Ganguly said the crisis will force organisations to reassess their age-old philosophies and adopt a more humane approach.
Q: How do you see the COVID-19 impact play on the company's strategy for going forward?
A: We have had a great run in the Indian market. Despite being the last entrant, we came from behind to become the No.1 brand. PUMA is a global brand with great global products and associations while also being extremely relevant in the local market from our merchandise assortments to our choice of ambassadors and our operations. We had an amazing 2019 where our sales grew by 23% and we were all slated for an ambitious 2020.
Like for everyone else in the world, COVID came as a big setback. We had to shut down our offline and online channels for almost two months and now we also realize that we have a completely new business world to operate in. We are focusing on minimising the impact on our business and us as a company. We have a firm belief that we will emerge stronger from the crisis. We are following all changing customer trends and adopting new ways of doing business which enhances customer convenience.
We are focusing a lot on health & safety in our retail stores and have been putting in a lot of might behind our e-commerce business. Using technology in our supply chain and our consumer engagement is helping us come up with incisive solutions. We will continue to integrate our offline, online and social media channels to give our consumers the choice of product discovery, trial, purchase and engagement. By next year, we hope to bounce back. Till then, it is all about sustenance, strength, togetherness and positivity.
Q2. What kind of a hit in sales are you expecting to take due to COVID-19?
A: Initial days of reopening stores had sales more than our expectation and footfalls are also growing steadily. Traffic has doubled over the last few weeks across both offline and online channels. Our e-commerce business is ramping up very fast and since reopening we are growing 60% over last year in a similar period. There are clear signs of recovery. From our category’s perspective, over the last three months, many people have taken to fitness more than ever before, realizing the importance in building immunity. There is demand for fitness and training merchandise because of this.
Also, with Work from Home becoming a norm, athletic leisurewear has strong demand. I feel sportswear and athleisure would be one of the categories which would have a quick revival. The trend is currently upwards and is a good reflection of how things will shape up when things open up and normalcy resumes.
Q: How big a blow is COVID-19 for the Indian sports ecosystem?
A: Sports economy in India is a 20-billion-dollar industry and 2020 was supposed to be a big year with Olympics, Euro Cup and T20 World Cup among other leagues scheduled. With the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, the business of sports has of course taken a major hit like many other industries. Experts believe the industry may have lost more than 5 billion dollars over the last few months. Whether its sporting leagues or even our neighbourhood sports arenas, the industry has come to a grinding halt. I terribly miss the thrill of watching a live sport in the stadium or on television.
However, I firmly believe that there cannot be a world without sports. The resumption would happen with spectator-less sporting events. It would not be the same as a stadium packed environment. But, this will get all sports fans the opportunity to watch live sports and give them moments of cheer. Having missed it for a long time, when things return to normalcy, people would play and watch more sports than ever before. We have a firm belief that the overall sports industry will have a strong fillip post the pandemic. Over the years, sports has been most resilient to global crises.
Q: Do you think Indian brands/companies could have had a better plan to combat this problematic phase and what lessons have you learnt from this crisis?
A: The crisis came as a bolt from the blue for everyone. So, nobody could have expected this. What it has shown business is that one needs to be nimble, quick and flexible to react to crisis. It has also shown the importance of cash management, and some of the right financial parameters for running businesses. Companies which have a structure that allows them to quickly react to the crisis are emerging stronger during the pandemic. Compassion and empathy are extremely essential, and it is a kind of leadership currency that will be important for the future. Leaders are responsible for my employees and their families and my utmost priority is to keep them going. We need to look for purpose beyond commerciality in business.
Q: Your brand's association with Bengaluru FC has become a great hit. What impact will COVID-19 have on future tie-ups with domestic sports teams/athletes?
A: Sports is in our DNA and we will always be committed to furthering the sports ecosystem in India. We will continue to stay invested in India with all sports, teams and assets we are associated with. We believe sports will come around when the world settles down and we definitely value the relationships we have. It has really helped our brand and business in India. We see no reason why that should change.Follow our coverage of the coronavirus crisis here