Ahead of the Tata Mumbai Marathon, Storyboard18 caught up with Yasuhito Hirota, the president and CEO of sportwear major ASICS Corp, and the company's India MD Rajat Khurana. ASICS is the Official Sports Goods partner of the event and both Hirota and Khurana will be on ground running the race on the weekend. In an interview with Storyboard18, they talk about the plans for the India market and how ASICS which has been a late entrant into the sportswear market in the country has been able to carve its niche.
ASICS has been associated with the Mumbai Marathon for a long time now. Why is this property so crucial for the brand?
Hirota: Running category for us as a brand has always been a core focus. We have been associated with the Tata Mumbai Marathon for over a decade now, primarily reflecting our commitment to running as a sport. In the last few years, ASICS has been on a mission to inspire people to experience the uplifting impact of movement and achieve a ‘Sound Mind in a Sound Body.’ This is where ASICS’ and the iconic Tata Mumbai Marathon’s synergies match! Our long-standing partnership with Tata Mumbai Marathon aims to build a stronger sporting culture and promote the positive, uplifting power of sport.
Tell us about ASICS’ journey in India so far. What has worked for the Indian market?
Khurana: Our journey in India has been positive and rewarding. We entered India in 2015 through a subsidiary and as of today have 83 retail mono-brand stores operated by the franchisees. Out of which, 81 stores are in India & 2 stores are in Sri Lanka. When we entered India, our goal was to use sporting technology to offer the best brand offering to the Indian consumer, and I believe that our products which are made in line with Japanese high quality, technology and innovation.
What is the overall growth vision for the India market?
Hirota: India is an important market for ASICS and we are committed to contributing to the economy. India is one of the top markets the brand is focusing on globally and is looking at expanding its presence in the market -substantially because as a market, India is diverse, and each day we are learning more and more about the Indian customer. It is the world's fifth-largest global destination in the retail space and the industry is expected to reach $2 trillion by 2032. We see a huge potential in the market given the consumer now being focused on health and fitness.
Overall, globally, how was the company’s performance last year and what is your outlook for 2023?
Hirota: The response last year was encouraging. Consumers picked up products that are functional, long-lasting, infused with technology and innovation and also help them achieve their goals. Running is a big segment for our business and we have also seen a lot of Indians take up the sport - since the pandemic and the trend continued even last year seeing an uptick in running category. From a business perspective, we added 12 new stores last year. In 2023, we will continue to deliver the Japanese high standards of technology and design across all our products. We will also work towards opening 22 new stores in FY-23. On the digital front, we are expecting around 50 per cent of the business to come from digital mediums in the next 3 years.
Tell us about the evolving consumer behavior and new trends in the sports and athleisure segment. How is the company adjusting to these trends?
Khurana: Consumers in India and globally want to invest in products that are functional, long-lasting, infused with technology and innovation. Indian consumers value health and well-being and that is what is driving the change in consumption. They want to achieve a Sound Mind in a Sound Body – which is also our core philosophy and what we work towards every day. Running is a big segment of our business and we have also seen a lot of Indians take up the sport. Globally, ASICS is focused on track and field, tennis and indoor sports. Each region has a character. For example, in India, it’s cricket and wrestling. We focus on those fields, besides growing tennis and table tennis.
How have Sports sponsorships worked for the brand?
Khurana: ASICS partners with sports events around the world to reach out to the maximum audience, educate them about our latest offerings and propagate the positive and uplifting impact of the movement. In India, we are at the forefront to promote running, we have a long-standing association with Procam International and have been associated with them for their iconic events - Tata Mumbai Marathon and TCSW10K run Bengaluru apart from having successful 'ASICS Running Club' in major cities in India. The events like these help us build a stronger sporting culture and promote the positive, uplifting power of sports.
Globally, you are lapping up new sponsorships. Are there more to follow?
Hirota: Absolutely. However, we will be focusing on running primarily, given that is the core of our business.
How are the global geopolitical and economic uncertainties affecting the big plans you have for the brand?
Hirota: We are assessing risks and challenges that may be a result of geopolitical and economic uncertainty. As a company, we are also working with our partners to identify target key growth opportunities and respond more effectively to risks - this includes operations, manufacturers and supply chain.
And, how are these concerns impacting the plans for the India market?
Khurana: As Hirota-San mentioned, as a team we are assessing risks. Our teams across are working together and identifying opportunities and strategies that can manage any foreseeable concerns. We are also working on innovative digital marketing strategies that will help us track and tap into changing consumer trends and behavior. Also, most importantly, we are working on how we communicate with our consumers. Sustainability here plays a big role and we want to ensure that our consumers are aware that sustainability is at the heart of ASICS.