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Home > Business > Special

Titan's Fastrack on comeback trail

Rituparna Chatterjee | December 01, 2005

It's one of those meetings where the host shows up late. You want to look down at your watch -- again -- but choose to look around, instead. If you want to know what time it is, you couldn't have chosen a better spot -- a showroom of watchmaker Titan.

Vying for attention between the usual array of dignified, restrained steel and gold watches is an eye-catching display of trendy, young time pieces. The riot of colours belongs to Titan's youth brand, Fastrack, and it's been carefully crafted to draw all eyes to it.

Fastrack needs the attention: it's making a comeback after a two-year, self-imposed silent period.

In the past five months, Titan has released two television commercials for Fastrack, the first in 18 months, and is planning extensive activities at college functions and other youth-centric activities.

"We're relaunching Fastrack as India's first youth-oriented watch brand," says Bijou Kurien, chief operating officer, Titan Industries, when he finally arrives at the showroom.

But Fastrack was always for the youth. When the brand was launched in 1998, it was positioned as "Cool watches from Titan".

"Fastrack was to counter Timex, which had just walked out of the Titan family," says an industry watcher. The brand did well, initially. Its turnover crossed Rs 15 crore (Rs 150 million) in the first year itself, and had grown to Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million) by 2001-02.

Then time seemed to stand still. Sales were stagnating and it didn't look as if Fastrack would breach the Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million) barrier.

Titan swung into action quickly, repositioning the brand along the lines of another Bangalore-based company, Madura Garments. Like Allen Solly's Friday Dressing apparel range, Fastrack was slotted as a mix of formal and casual, aimed at executives in the 22 to 25-year age group.

The ageing of the target customer was important; Fastrack had previously positioned itself as a college goer's watch; but students -- at least, back then -- weren't known for their high disposable incomes, unlike young executives.

The repositioning didn't help: by 2003-04, sales had dropped to Rs 23 crore (Rs 230 million). "We were constantly refreshing our designs, but our sales were stagnant," recalls Kurien. The trouble lay with the price. At the time, Fastrack watches cost between Rs 1,200 and Rs 2,700, which didn't encourage too many repeat purchases.

"The focus began shifting away from watches. The brand was instead extended into sunglasses, with the launch of Fastrack Eye Gear in June 2004. Here, Titan was following the strategies of big watch companies like Swatch and Seiko, who have branched out into personal accessories as well.

"The brand extension was a carefully thought-out exercise, based on in-house research by Titan. The findings of the research? Cellphones, deodorants, sports shoes, sunglasses and handbags were most popular accessories for youngsters.

While mobiles, fragrances and footwear seemed too unconnected with Titan's core competence, handbags were an expensive proposition, involving the need for several collections every year.

Eyewear, then, seemed the most logical brand extension. "Fastrack is addressing the same consumer for both watches and sunglasses because both products are about style and not function, whereas something like a handbag is both functional and stylish," says Harminder P Sahni, principal and associate director, retail and annuities practice, KSA

There was another reason, too. The eyewear market in India at the time was skewed. While the top-end was dominated by designer originals and upscale brands such as Ray-Ban, with prices starting at a steep Rs 2,000, the grey market was characterised by shoddy rip-offs that could be had for as little as Rs 200.

An obvious gap existed in the market, and Fastrack decided to fill it, launching its branded sunglasses at a middle price level: Rs 695- 1,895 a pair. "We want to give young people a fashionable product of good quality that is yet affordable," says Kurien.

If the numbers provided by Titan Industries are an indicator, the extension has helped. In the last fiscal, Fastrack's combined turnover was Rs 36 crore (Rs 360 million): Rs 23 crore (Rs 230 million) from watches and Rs 13 crore (Rs 130 million) from sunglasses.

This brand is confident of hitting Rs 75 crore (Rs 750 million) this year, with sunglasses expected to fetch Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million) and watch sales accounting for Rs 50 crore (Rs 500 million).

While successful in its own right, the brand extension has also helped the cause of the mother brand, helping Fastrack gain more visibility and creating more distribution options.

At present Fastrack watches sells only through the Titan retail outlets. But company executives say that the time pieces will soon follow the eyewear into retail channels like Music World -- not a conventional retail outlet for watches.

Meanwhile, the watches themselves have gone in for a makeover. Earlier, Fastrack was known for its steely look, emphasising that it was sturdy and long-lasting.

But the company's research shows that young consumers -- as disposable incomes in the hands of the young increases, Fastrack is again positioning itself as a college goer's brand -- have other things on their minds, like plastic and bright colours.

"Customers are more conscious about the look, rather than the material of the watch," Kurien says. So the new Fastrack watches are made of plastic, steel or a combination of both.

The new avatar also aims for a larger share of the Rs 2,800 crore (Rs 28 billion) watch market (source: KSA). Working on the premise that more than half of the watch market (53 per cent, to be exact) is in the Rs 501-2,500 price band, Fastrack has downgraded its price points from Rs 1,200-1,700 to Rs 500-2,000.

Thanks to the foray into eyewear, the watch manufacturer already knows that that is a strategy that works.

Titan's also earmarked Rs 8 crore (Rs 80 million) for Fastrack's advertising. The recent campaigns are aimed at students in the 16- to 22-year age group, belonging to SEC A and B, in the top 30 towns. The communication promotes the idea that owning several watches is acceptable, if not required behaviour.

"Fastrack's biggest competition is the mindset 'I don't need another watch' and changing it to 'Hey, I must have another watch'. That's what the campaign does," says Vikram Satyanath, vice president, Lowe, the ad agency that's created the Fastrack campaigns.

Adds Kurien, "The idea is to rid people of the guilt they feel while indulging themselves." So Fastrack introduced MTV Masala watches, priced at just Rs 500, to fit the bill.

Marketing for the Masala series includes sponsorships of college festivals, youth events, contests and co-branded products and promotions.

The Rs 500 sticker makes it easy for youngsters to switch to a more trendy watch in a few months' time, without accompanying guilt.

Still, Fastrack's strategy has its pitfalls. Consumers may not want to own several watches of the same brand or even of the same price band.

Increased disposable income also means that international brands such as Esprit and Swatch are now within arm's-reach.

"Fastrack is doing everything right, but remember, many youngsters today don't want watches," points out KSA's Sahni. "After all, when everything is becoming miniature, why would someone want a heavy watch around their wrists?"

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