When Virender Sehwag bats, you never know what’s coming. He could score a thrilling triple century, or he could play a rash shot at the worst time and get out cheaply. That uncertain thrill-a-minute batting style gathered him fans worldwide, and a glittering career. He never compromised on his batting, you could say.
Uncompromised is also the mantra behind is new venture, VS, which has launched sports equipment and ath-leisure wear. The direct-to-consumer brand is playing in a competitive market with established leaders, but Sehwag says competition doesn’t bother him. For someone who was among the very few to play long for India- out of a billion people, perhaps he views competition differently by default.
In an interview with Moneycontrol, Sehwag and his business partner Jaimin Gupta talk about the business opportunity, undercutting big multinational sportswear companies and why his fan following will help him. Edited excerpts
Q: What is your thesis behind starting your own brand?
Sehwag: So I went to a shop four-five years ago and took my kids to buy stuff for them. I found them so expensive for kids. So I thought I should start my own brand and clothing range where I can provide the best and honest price but with the best quality. At VS by Sehwag, we don’t compromise. We are focusing on quality, and when you buy the clothes you will see that quality is comparable to international brands. Our target is five million customer base in the next three-four years and making 100 million is not difficult, and with the fan following I have. I hope to achieve the target sooner than that.
Q: How do you plan to do this? Are you going to manufacture it yourself or will you outsource it to someone?
Sehwag: We have gone to the same suppliers who manufacture for international brands. They are the same ones who will make it for us. I am not launching too many products, only 30-35 products in different colours and combinations. Quality is the focus
Q: Is there a certain age group you are focusing on for sportswear?
Even your grandfather can wear it. I am not focusing on only teenagers. I have a fan following from young to even old people so I have no target customer. You can wear my brand’s clothes and exercise or do yoga or even go for a walk. The quality is such that we don't compromise on anything, if you want you can wear it to workout, to walk, to train or even wear it at home it's comfortable.
When you talk about core sporting equipment, there are a few brands, but when you talk about yoga clothing or shorts, there are a lot of brands- local, online-only, celebrity endorsed, etc. How will you deal with competition?
You go to any field, there is competition. If you are playing in the Indian team, and you are a middle order batsman, then competition of trying to make more runs than the previous batsman. Competition is everywhere, it's good for the market, it's good for the people and for personal growth. I am focusing on quality,so if my quality is good, I don’t think I should worry about my competitors. If a consumer likes the quality of the clothes, they will buy it again and again.
Q: Will your online sales be through Flipkart, Amazon? Because a lot of people are going Direct to Consumer (D2C) by selling it directly from their website?
Jaimin Gupta: Currently we are looking at VS as a D2C brand, we are going to launch directly on the website vsshop.in and in the future we will launch with partners.
Sehwag: It's also important that wherever you go, the brand has to be there. There are a lot of people who don’t know about vsshop.in but if they see the VS brand somewhere else they will buy it. So wherever people go if they see the VS brand they will see the difference between the quality of the clothes and they will also see the major price difference. So that is our target. Customers don't need to worry about the quality of the product and if they don't like the product, they can return it in four days.
Q: Big companies sell their products at a high price and have high profit margins. So do you think you can manage the quality and keep the profit margin?
Sehwag: It will depend on the people. The more people are interested, the more the profit margin increases. My aim is to provide the best quality for the best price, so if the numbers come in the profit will follow. And what we are trying to achieve is when we open our offline stores, our franchise partners also get profit. The company can run with profits, but by the end of the day, we need to do something for our partners, franchise owners and distributors too.
Q: How much are you investing in the venture?
Sehwag: I can’t give you a number, but it depends on what numbers we see after we establish the brand. As of now we cannot afford a big marketing campaign on TV or in the front page of newspapers. Once our brand is established enough we may attract investors too, and we may use the money for marketing.
Q: The problem of expensive ath-leisure clothes and sports equipment is a global one. Will you consider going global?
Sehwag: We are targeting the global market because anything sold online can be bought anywhere in the world. My fan following is not only in India but also in England, South Africa, America, Europe and Australia so they can buy it from there also. The price and quality I give is not available anywhere else.
Q: What if global customers are not interested?
Well, that’s their loss.
Q: Your suppliers are big brand suppliers, who supply for Reebok, Adidas, Nike etc?
We targeted the companies that work for these brands as we knew that they are aware of the workings of distribution and logistics. People will not want suppliers who aren't experienced. So if the opportunity is lost once, we will not get it back. It’s like, if you don’t like the food in a restaurant the first time, you won't go back to it right?
Q: What is your biggest challenge?
Awareness. We have to make sure that consumers in the smallest of villages and largest of cities are aware of the brand. Right now you are interviewing me. Hopefully that will create some awareness.
Q: What is your and Jaimin’s role in this venture? in the brand?
Jaimin is the partner, he has a background in textiles so he will look after everything. I will approve whatever comes in. I will take the call on any new information that comes through. I wont say I am not completely involved. I am not a fashion icon and I don't want to involve myself with fashion. You can expect quality with the certain fabrics that the VS brand has.
I am very clear that I want to be involved in sportswear so that I can check on the quality of my product.
Jaimin: The vision and policy of VS is taken care of by Viru sir, I will only be implementing. Everything is under Viru sir’s guidance.
Q: Do you think the market is big enough with so many players already there?
Once people buy from my brand I am sure they will return to buy more. I use my own clothes for my daily activities like travelling, walking, training, and I even wear it around the house. It's not easy to satisfy me. I wear my own brand, so satisfying customers is a different feeling. We know a lot of money will be spent on marketing, and so we are relying on word-of-mouth marketing for now and in the future, I might branch out to major marketing by taking the help of investors.
Q: Who will be your investors? Private equity?
It can be private equity, it can be personal investment, it could be you too. If you like to invest any amount I will take it. I would prefer family and friends to invest first. If any of them are ready to invest then I will gladly accept.