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Youth Inc.

The inside story
Young men swear by its design and comfort factor — and here we thought Jockey’s appeal lay in the red waistbands

Team Outlook Business

Let’s face it. The Indian mom typically picks up innerwear for her brood except, nowadays, she gets specific instructions on what to get. Take Jockey, for example. The company says independent research shows that ‘spontaneous awareness’ about the brand is highest among those in their late teens and early 20s — the proportion of regular Jockey buyers (moms are just the shoppers) is also highest in this set. So is its brand appeal. Young Indians identified the brand as ‘international’, ‘contemporary’ and ‘trendy’, and even see it as ‘a status symbol’. 

Naturally, Sunder ‘Ashok’ Genomal, the 57-year-old managing director of Page Industries, the master franchisee for Jockey in India and several markets in South and West Asia, doesn’t have to think twice before identifying the core target consumer for Jockey in India: “Largely, children born during the economic liberalisation era of the 1990s.” He should know. The brand itself has been in India for 18 years now. The Genomal family, though, has been the brand’s master franchisee in the Philippines for over 40 years.

Matching the upward mobility of young Indians, Jockey is positioned at the premium end of the ₹16,500-crore innerwear market in India with its products priced on average at around ₹275. Competitors in this segment include international brands such as Levi’s, United Colors of Benetton and Tommy Hilfiger, as well as the premium range of home-grown brands like Rupa, Lux and VIP. And though Bollywood stars may endorse some of its competitors, Jockey has stuck to its knitting — building an emotional connection with carefree youngsters. 

Jockey’s in-your-face advertising showcases free-spirited young people, celebrating life and having fun. Its 2009 ‘Just Jockeying’ campaign, tailor-made for the Indian market but executed with an international look and feel, was taken afterward to 10 other markets globally. The brand’s latest ‘Jockey or Nothing’ promos take its playful and uninhibited theme further. “It reflects the attitude of today’s youth,” says Anitha Krishnan, vice-president, Contract Advertising, the agency behind the campaign. 

The philosophy has paid off handsomely. Net sales of the Bengaluru-based company touched ₹683 crore in FY12, up 39% from the previous year. Net profit stood at ₹90 crore, which was 54% higher than the year before, and sales have been growing at over 30% annually for the last three years.  

Cool products, hot sales

For Mumbai-based Vineet Singh, 26, who works in a multinational bank, comfort and colour are the most important reasons for picking up a Jockey. “They last longer than most local brands,” says Singh. The average Jockey buyer picks up five or six pieces on each visit. About 50% of the buying is in popular colours — black, white and mélange gray — while the rest of the demand is split between ‘fashionable’ colours that are refreshed seasonally.

Product innovation is yet another reason for the brand’s immense popularity among the young. “Every three months, we update our existing product portfolio,” says Genomal. “Last year, 24 new styles were introduced.” The company has a 16-member team with an average age of 26, headed by Genomal’s 28-year-old son Shamir. The team keeps its ear to the ground, taking feedback from both local retailers and the 120-strong global Jockey network, which shares trends and best practices across different markets.

For instance, it was consumer feedback that led to the increase in the size of the Jockey logo, and a more prominent display of it on the elastic. “Youngsters take pride in showing off the brand they are wearing,” says Genomal. An India-specific innovation was the use of red elastic in innerwear — an idea that went on to be picked up in other global markets, and even led to introduction of a whole range with red elastic. 

Apart from 71 exclusive Jockey lifestyle boutique outlets, the brand is stocked at 19,000 multi brand retail stores, which gives it access to 1,200 cities and towns across the country. Says Harminder Sahni, MD, Wazir Advisors, a consultancy firm that specialises in the textile and garments industry, “It has first built the distribution network and only then, over the past five years, stepped up advertising and marketing spends.” Currently, around 40% of sales come from tier 2 and 3 towns and cities like Salem, Hubli, Indore, Palakkad, Raipur, Agra, Allahabad, Bhatinda, Nadiad, Siliguri and Kota. But adman Piyush Pandey notes that Jockey’s communication strategy has a Western bias. “It may need to broadbase the communication to appeal to a wider range of youngsters in smaller towns and cities,” he adds. 

Market share has also grown with the introduction of new categories like innerwear for women and children, sportswear and swimwear. Genomal likes to call 6- to 12-year-old kids “the youth of tomorrow”. However, sceptics feel Jockey will have to work harder at cracking the women’s innerwear segment, which accounts for almost 60% of the total innerwear market, but only 20% of the brand’s sales in India. 

There has been a renewed thrust over the last two-three years to garner a bigger share of this ₹10,000-crore market. Currently, there are more styles on offer in women’s innerwear (66) than in men’s wear (56). Apart from broadening the range of women’s wear, there is a concerted effort to engage with young working women through a dedicated microsite on Jockey India’s homepage, which showcases the available products and guides users on size and style. There are plans to make the microsite interactive as this consumer segment is considered picky about what they wear. Come July, Page will also launch iconic swimwear brand Speedo in India, with a special focus on the women’s segment. This is expected to give a fillip to overall sales for women’s wear.

Genomal says his annual marketing and ad spends are as high as 6% of sales. He also wants to step up Jockey India’s online and social media presence in 2012. Last year, the Jockey India website went through a facelift even as the brand made its Facebook and Twitter debut. Already, new launches and promos are announced and followed on Facebook and Twitter, and consequently traffic has started flowing from these social media platforms to the corporate website. 

“Especially in the last four or five years, Jockey has managed to break away from the clutter with a clever mix of aggressive advertising and a robust distribution reach,” observes Sahni. “The gambit of going after modern youth has clearly worked for the brand.” 

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