Changing partners

Over 50 foreign fashion brands have split with their local partners in the past five years. What’s gone wrong?

Illustration by Kishore Das

When the first Debenhams outlet opened in India in October 2007, the British retailer was more than optimistic about the road ahead. Never mind that the store — opened in partnership with Planet Retail at Gurgaon’s Ambience Mall — was nearly 18 months behind schedule. Debenhams’ international director, Francis Mcauley, declared that he would be disappointed if the company did not have 30 stores in India over the next 10 years, by when the Indian operations could be the retailer’s biggest outside the UK, he predicted. Now, six years later, those forecasts are nowhere close to realisation — the department store has just three stores across India, two in the national capital region and one in Mumbai. The brand also has a new partner in Arvind Lifestyle Brands, which bought out Planet Retail’s interest in November 2012. Expectations are rising again, although they are considerably more muted than the last time. “I am confident that within the next five years, we will have around eight Debenhams stores in the five biggest cities,” says a company spokesperson.