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Home > Business > Interviews

The Rediff Interview/Francis Mcauley, international director, Debenhams

'India a more exciting market than China'

Archana Jahagirdar in New Delhi | November 15, 2007

Francis Mcauley, international director, Debenhams, a chain of department stores based in the UK, was recently in Delhi for the opening of the first Debenhams store in India.

He speaks to Business Standard about the company's plans for the Indian market.

How is Debenhams India going to be different from Debenhams in other parts of the world?

Our aim is not to make it too different. We want it to be the same but yes cultural preferences will be taken into consideration. A lot of our clients travel abroad so they will not like to see anything different. The core identity is going to be the same.

All the brands we are bringing in are exclusive to Debenhams be it in clothing or furnishing. At a later stage, we may bring in Indian brands which I would love to take all over the world.

Does that mean Debenhams is looking at signing on Indian talent? Would this be in the area of fashion?

Well, we would like to sign on Indian fashion designers and then take them to markets like West Asia. There is a market for trendy ethnic clothing. We have done a little bit of research but we don't want to rush into it.

Debenhams has an impressive list of international fashion designers like Matthew Williamson, John Rocha, Julien MacDonald, and Jasper Conran. Are they going to be designing specially for the Indian market?

Getting them to design for the Indian market is unlikely, as we have only one store here. Anyway fashion is international these days.

Critics in the UK have said that Debenhams stores are dark and old-fashioned. What is being done to change that impression?

The British press and Debenhams haven't had much of a love affair in the last year or so and the store has come in for some unfair press. We are investing in refurbishing our stores and we are also investing money in the business.

We are brightening up the stores as well. We refurbish the store once in six years. It also must be remembered that we cater to a broad age group and we have to please everyone so we try and manage different aspirations and feelings.

But hasn't the department store format in retailing had its day? Aren't people looking at more new and exciting retailing formats?

People have been talking about the demise of the department store but that hasn't happened. In fact, the demand for department stores is getting stronger and stronger.

There is a consumer demand for department stores. There is a renaissance as malls demand an anchor store that is a department store.

What are the expansion plans for Debenhams in India?

In India, time is a rather unmeasured commodity. Our store in Gurgaon was due to open 18 months ago. We would like to do 10 stores in the next three to four years.

In 10 years' time, this market may even be our biggest outside of the United Kingdom. India is a much more exciting market than China. But India faces three challenges for its growth.

They are: Getting developers to complete their schemes on time; then the infrastructure like roads, the train system need to improve; and the last the amount of duties that the Indian government puts is penal and hurts the consumer as well as the retailer.

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