When Page Industries was established to bring American underwear and loungewear brand Jockey to India, the Bangalore-based company changed the face of underwear retailing in the country, according to its CEO and Executive Director VS Ganesh. “We rewrote the rules on how to play the game,” he tells The CEO Magazine.
Back then, underwear was an item of clothing that was rarely on the consumer radar, so investing in a premium brand such as Jockey was seen as a risky move. “People thought we were crazy,” recalls VS. It was the mid-1990s, an era when showcasing underwear next to traditional apparel was “unthinkable”.
So there was no precedent to follow in terms of in-store advertising or display. “In those days, it was very common for stock to be piled up in the storeroom or sold under the counter,” he explains.
“There were also limited design and colour options.” However, the strategy paid off with Jockey quickly becoming the go-to name in the country. “From day one, we have worked like a fast-moving consumer goods company instead of an apparel brand,” he points out. Attractive product displays and packaging followed, along with lifestyle-focused advertising and marketing campaigns.
“We brought innerwear out of the closet.” It was a play that positioned the company as a market leader, a place it still holds. “Since then, our competition has been playing catch-up,” VS insists. Along with its arrangement to manufacture, distribute and market the brand in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, the UAE, Oman and Qatar, now Page Industries is also the Indian licensee for Speedo.
As with Jockey, the swimwear label has become the point of reference in the market for comfort, quality, style and value. “It’s been a lot of hard work, especially on behalf of my predecessors, who have laid such a strong foundation.” Executive Director since 2014, VS was appointed CEO in mid-2021, attracted to the new role by the company’s category-leading standing. “We are the fastest-growing apparel brand in India,” he says.
Page Industries has long been the poster boy of Jockey licensees. In 2018, according to India’s The Economic Times, the company performed best out of the brand’s 45 global licensees. Its licence agreement has been extended with the brand until 2040.
But there’s still room for improvement. Page Industries now has around 18 per cent penetration in the men’s innerwear category but with robust product development, sales and marketing supported by a strong distribution network and supply chain, VS firmly believes the sky is the limit.
“I feel like we are still on the runway preparing to take off and fly to new heights.” On track to reach a target of US$1 billion in revenue by 2026, VS and his team are now working on an ambitious expansion plan.
“We have been making investments in our manufacturing capabilities in the states of Karnataka and Odisha,” he explains. “We are also working on enhancing and improving our distribution network and retail footprint, including opening more doors in the rural market.”
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Page Industries has continued to roll out new bricks-and-mortar addresses and today has more than 1,000 exclusive brand outlets, a retail network that is close to 100,000 strong, 4,634 distributors and a presence in nearly 3,000 cities and towns. Ecommerce is also booming, with its online business growing threefold during the pandemic and poised for even further growth.
“We are very well positioned,” VS smiles. With an agility that allows it to adapt to fast-changing consumer behaviour and buying patterns, the company has been able to navigate the challenges of the past 18 months as an unexpected silver lining of the pandemic appeared in the form of the rise of the athleisure category. This hybrid of streetwear and gymwear saw a surge in popularity as the transition to home working during lockdowns created a new remote working uniform.
“Our product has been so well-received by the market, beyond our expectations,” he admits. “We are working very hard on the supply chain side of the business to meet the growing demand.” While COVID-19 has been accompanied by a flood of business-speak about solidarity, VS insists that Page Industries has been practising such maxims since its foundation.
“We have always been in it together,” he stresses, revealing that the company has a culture that relieves business leaders of the fear of failure. “If something goes wrong, then we have collectively gone wrong because we all participated, and we will help each other.
“We work differently. We are blessed with a strong and talented team, and ours is a performance-enabling environment. We have a consensus on how to both build and achieve our targets. Once this is reached, irrespective of the department, we collaborate on how to execute it.” VS believes his primary responsibility in the CEO role is to provide inspiration.
“My team looks to me as a leader to encourage and motivate them to complete their work, and this is how we can instil pride in each and every one of our employees,” he reflects. As the company collectively builds the blocks that will see it achieve its billion-dollar revenue target, VS is focusing on his next big task: “developing others and continuing the culture of talent over title”.
“What this means is that Page always respects talent, irrespective of the title,” he explains. “Hierarchy is only for responsibilities.” His key task is to continue to nurture an environment where people can bounce ideas off each other, creating a repository of knowledge that can be accessed at any time. “Coupled with our passion for excellence, this is a moving journey. What got us here will not get us there.”
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