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Benzer fashions a new strategy

Gouri Shukla | October 10, 2003

Since 1982, Benzer, the designer wear store located at Breach Candy -- the affluent south Mumbai suburb, has earned the distinction of being an elitist shopping destination for non-resident Indians.

And for those who can fork out a premium for exclusive designer wear. But now the management of the Rs 28-crore (Rs 280 million) Benzer store, is sewing a new strategy to extend the brand and drive growth.

For the purpose, it has inked a deal with the famous Bollywood designer Rocky S to create a new fashion statement. Rocky S will be the exclusive creative and design consultant to Benzer.

That's not all. The designer's haute couture and exclusive ethnic and bridalwear will be housed at Boulevard Benzer, a chain of haute couture designer wear stores.

The first Boulevard Benzer store will be located at Khar in the Mumbai suburb. The company plans to open two more Boulevard Benzer outlets -- one each in Delhi and south Mumbai.

Besides, Benzer also has plans to address the pret segment with stand-alone stores called Rocky S Jeans. These stores will house the designer's casual chic fashion label.

So far, Benzer outfits were created by a team of in-house designers and the company followed the single-store concept.

Says Hemang Salva, managing director, Benzer -- the man behind the changing face of Benzer, "We believe in changing with the times. Expansion is just a natural progression."

But how does he view the strategy to tie-up with a Bollywood fashion designer who also retails through his own chain of stores?

Explains Salva, "Given that Benzer already competes with exclusive designer labels, we wanted to accentuate the 'exclusive designer-wear' element through Boulevard."

And a high-profile designer tag like Rocky S will definitely boost Benzer's transition into a fashionwear brand, he feels.

Competition from rival designer stores may have also pushed Benzer into expediting a tie-up with a known designer label.

Among the early birds to have realised that the market for haute couture needed to be addressed differently, was Sheetal design house.

Sheetal signed up designer Hemant Trivedi in the late 90s to launch an exclusive hi-fashionwear store called Sheetal Design Studio.

More recently, even large format retail stores like Shoppers' Stop and Pantaloons have started stocking haute couture designs.

Clearly, Benzer's new strategy is focussing beyond the NRI market to cater to the growing domestic market for designer labels. However, even at Benzer Boulevard the company is trying to target different consumer segments.

At the new store, "exclusive" clothing comes at a premium -- the prices are upwards of Rs 7,000 for ethnic wear. However, the Rocky S Jeans label will offer casualwear at a relatively modest price ranging between Rs 800 and Rs 3,500.

Salva is also looking at franchisee-led expansion of Benzer Boulevard. As far as profitability is concerned, he expects the stores to break even in around two years time.

Salva admits that the need for expansion and restructuring Benzer operations was felt in early 2001, when the fashionwear segment was heating up.

And within fashionwear, pret was growing at a rapid 40 per cent which was more than haute couture or even mass market ready-to-wear brands growing at around 30 per cent a year.

Little surprise then that the company eyed the fashionwear segment keenly in 2001. Says retail expert Gibson Vedmani, "Streamlining was necessary as Benzer needed to break its ethnic designer wear association to become a focused fashionwear brand."

Besides, it had the perception of being a mass-merchandise fashion house, thanks to the high density of merchandise, clubbed under one roof. With new brand extensions though, Salva hopes to change the Benzer image.

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