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          A Bagful
          Of Style
Luxury megabrand Louis Vuitton, a favourite
with Indian royalty, has put India on its map
         by opening two boutiques.
     Bhakti Chuganee reports on the

            ves Carcelle, chairman and chief    ellery. And it sees value in a growing Indian
            executive of the Paris-headquar-    market.
            tered LVMH fashion group visits         Louis Vuitton is no stranger to India —
            every country where his compa-      the association goes back to the early
ny opens a Louis Vuitton store. He has vis-     decades of the last century. In the early
ited India twice in the past two years — in     1920s princes who ruled several parts of
March 2003, when the luxury brand               India used to have their Louis Vuitton
opened its first Louis Vuitton store in India   trunks made to order. That relationship
at New Delhi's Oberoi Hotel and in              blossomed and gradually the brand grew —
September last year, when the company           it found other faithful customers for prod-
opened its flagship store at Mumbai's Taj       ucts such as handbags and accessories.
Mahal Hotel. Carcelle's visits mean India is    So, when Louis Vuitton actually set up its
an important and growing market for the         own retail presence in India, in 2003, it did
luxury brand.                                   not even need to conduct a study to figure
    Carcelle heads the fashion and leather      out how the Indian market would react to
goods company in the LVMH group, which          it. It already had a database of Louis
has about 50 prestigious brands in cate-        Vuitton clients from India, who would shop
gories such as wines and spirits, perfumes      for the brand on their visits to London,
and cosmetics, watches, jewellery, retail       Paris, Zurich, Hong Kong or Singapore.                                                           ACKNOWLEDGING THE ORIGINS OF A BRAND FAMILIAR TO MAHARAJAS: Yves Carcelle, Chairman & CEO, Louis Vuitton Malletier
and media. Some of the group's top brands           "Louis Vuitton represents, better than      India. But the company treats each of its
include Dom Perignon champagne, Tag             any other brand, the world of travel and        customers as individuals — a tradition it
Heuer watches and Christian Dior per-           beauty. We have always had a relationship       has been used to in India when it made suit-     properties, frequented by those who are        cept for Louis Vuitton stores worldwide,             Louis Vuitton products cost about 30
fumes. The group also owns DFS Group, a         with India — the maharajas were our major       cases for Indian princes for decades. "The       most likely to become its faithful cus-        the interior evokes a sense of luxury and        per cent more in India than they do in
chain of duty-free shopping outlets, head-      customers for special orders. We are hon-       rich here are royalty focused, which is good     tomers. "We choose who can be around           space emphasised by the original four-           Europe partly because New Delhi levies
quartered in San Francisco. LVMH's French       ouring this shared history with a physical      for Louis Vuitton," explains Prasanna            us," quips Bhaskar. Its opening celebrations   metre-high arched ceiling. Leather goods         heavy taxes on luxury goods imports. But
media company, DI group, owns seven             presence in New Delhi and Mumbai. It's a        Bhaskar, retail manager India, LV Trading        were focused and customer-driven. It did       and accessories sit near the entrance while      an important part of the reason is that Louis
newspapers and magazines, a national            way of acknowledging the brand's origins,       Pvt. Ltd., the Indian distributor for Louis      not have a big party but opted for "a pre-     women's shoes and watches are further            Vuitton is a premium brand. The least
radio network, seven Internet sites and an      and I think the company's founders would        Vuitton. Hence it comes as no surprise that      view for select customers".                    inside. The luggage collection sits near a       expensive product at the Louis Vuitton
audio-visual press agency.                      be pleased," says Carcelle. "In terms of        the brand has appointed a royal to present                                                      cosy VIP area, near women's city bags.           store in Mumbai is probably a key chain,
    Louis Vuitton Malletier, the fashion and
leather goods company, which opened its
doors in Paris in 1854, started by making
                                                importance I believe Mumbai or Delhi would
                                                be in the league of European cities such as
                                                Madrid or Brussels."
                                                                                                its social face. That face is Tikka Singh of
                                                                                                the Kapurthala family.
                                                                                                    Louis Vuitton stays very close to its cus-
                                                                                                                                                 L  ess than a year after Louis Vuitton
                                                                                                                                                    opened its first store in India in New
                                                                                                                                                 Delhi, the company considered setting up
                                                                                                                                                                                                    The group is more than happy with its
                                                                                                                                                                                                foray into India. Its business is growing well
                                                                                                                                                                                                and 30 per cent of its sales come from a
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 which carries a price tag of about $110.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 "Our price positioning is not entirely due to
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 high duties," says Bhaskar. "In luxury prod-
trunks and subsequently diversified into            Yet, there are differences. The ambi-       tomers. Bhaskar explains that location is        shop in Mumbai, its second in India and its    new client base. Consequently it will com-       ucts you don't look at the price. India is an
other areas. Today the company makes            ence in a store differs in various places       crucial in deciding where the group will         330th globally. Spread over 170 sq. metres     plement its flagship store in south Mumbai       individualistic market. Customers here
ready-to-wear, shoes, watches and jew-          such as Hong Kong, Singapore, China and         open a retail store. In India it has top hotel   and based on architect Peter Marino's con-     with another in the city's western suburbs.      know the collection; they appreciate the

 36                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        37


                                                                                 THE ADVISER to Louis Vuitton in India, Tikka Singh, has
                                                                                 grown up with a lot of baggage… of the Louis Vuitton
                                                                                 kind. It all started when his great grandfather, Maharaja
                                                                                 Jagjit Singh of Kapurthala, began to buy Louis Vuitton
                                                                                 trunks in 1880. In the late nineteenth century, the age of
                                                                                 the steamship, Maharaja Jagjit Singh ordered 54 Louis
                                                                                 Vuitton trunks, each painted with his name, initials and
                                                                                     Other Indian princes liked Louis Vuitton's style, as well.
                                                                                 The Maharaja of Kashmir, the Maharaja of Jodhpur and the
                                                                                 Maharaja of Baroda also placed their orders. Vuitton's
                                                                                 orders from Indian princes outnumbered those from else-
                                                                                 where in the world.
                                                                                     When Vuitton visited India on business, he cultivated
                                                                                 many royal families. "This is where the luxury business
                                                                                 took off," explains Singh. "It was a golden era for Vuitton,
                                                                                 who bagged big orders. But now, with the era of the
                                                                                 Maharajas a thing of the past, the corporate tycoon and
                                                                                 Bollywood stars have become Louis Vuitton clients. The
                                                                                 economy is booming, so they have come at the right time.
                                                                                 The customer base is developing. There is a huge potential
                                                                                 for India."
                                                                                     He himself has used Louis Vuitton baggage all his life,
                                                                                 suitcases now, though. He has had them painted with his
                                                                                 great grandfather's colours and his initials. And he uses
                                                                                 the same key that unlocked his great grandfather's trunks.
                                                                                 "The thing with Vuitton is that you can have hundreds of
                                                                                 suitcases and use only one key," he says.
  A ROYAL IN THE COMPANY: Tikka Singh is Louis Vuitton’s social face in India

colours of the season." They also have the      HR practices and training programmes are               Even though some Bollywood stars are
money to pay for those colours.                 standardised," says Bhaskar. "However we           Louis Vuitton customers the group has
      Consequently the group focuses on         do focus on cultural training to induct our        never had a celebrity endorse it. It has
direct marketing. It holds personal previews    team into the world of Louis Vuitton."             always opted for global advertising cam-
so that it can understand a customer's                                                             paigns and communication. "It's impor-
needs and designs baggage to fulfil specif-
ic needs. India and the Middle East are two
of its larger markets for made-to-order
                                                T   he group is very particular about its
                                                    customers — finding new ones and
                                                retaining them. It started a small store in a
                                                                                                   tant for a customer that we should never
                                                                                                   have a local brand ambassador," explains
                                                                                                   Bhaskar. "We have models for a brand
trunks, with special models being con-          luxury hotel, the Grand Hotel Park, in the         but we don't believe in celebrity endorse-
structed as part of wedding trousseaux.         Swiss Alps resort town of Gstaad. The              ment because people come for the
    One of the challenges the group faces in    store is meant to cater to the hotel's guests      brand."
India is to get the right personnel to cater    and visitors, who include European royalty             However, in India it does not have an
to its affluent clientele. Louis Vuitton aims   and Hollywood stars. Using a similar princi-       exchange policy, which allows a client to
to collaborate with business schools to         ple, Louis Vuitton would like to set up a          exchange a product at any Louis Vuitton
recruit its managerial staff. The group has     store in a luxury hotel in north Mumbai,           store in the world. "This is because our
been training its staff to understand and       where a sizeable chunk of its target cus-          focus was not to come to make money,
assimilate the Louis Vuitton culture. As        tomers — notably Bollywood stars — is to           but to create awareness," says Bhaskar.
part of the training, an employee must live     be found. "Visibility for the brand in such a      It can see growth for itself in India and is
the life of its customer for seven days so      locality would be beneficial for us," says         digging in for the long term. For compa-
that he or she can understand the buyer         Bhaskar.                                           nies that plan to enter the Indian market,
better. That means a trip to Paris and seven                                                       Bhaskar has a word of advice: "You need
days of utter luxury and all the insight it       On the Web                                       a lot of time commitment," she says. "If
brings. In India the company has had to           The Louis Vuitton website is                     you have a focused plan, it shouldn't
localise its human resources policies. "Our                             be difficult."