The position of director, Ecco Shoes, fits Sumit K Lal the way the glass slipper fit Cinderella. Lal is at his most fluent when talking about shoes: how the international market operates, the changes in the Indian market in the past decade, the various footwear categorisations and how they sometimes overlap.
With a refreshing lack of selfconsciousness that you rarely find in people at his level, he enthusiastically holds forth on theories that come not out of official research but from his own personal observations. Like how hand-me-downs (accepting shoes a friend's child has outworn, for your own kids) are common in the US but not in India.
Of course, Lal needs to know all these things, given the company's plans for expansion in this country. The Danish major, a 42-year-old company, has launched its operations in the Indian market with what is branded India's "most premium range of golf footwear", as well as a formal and casual range for men and women.
The company's formal range costs between Rs 8,300 and Rs 12,000, the casual range between Rs 7,300 and Rs 12,000 and the golf range for men between Rs 10,400 and a whopping Rs 27,000.
Ecco's range of footwear will initially be available in "Shoetree" outlets located in Delhi, Mumbai and Chandigarh. These are retailer shops, which will stock around 6-7 high-end shoe brands, including Ecco.
"The minimum price for a brand to qualify for inclusion in these stores is around Rs 3,000," says Lal, who claims Ecco will be the most high-end among even this premium segment.
Lal is excited about the changes he has seen in the Indian footwear market over the past decade. "Ten years ago, the shoe market was completely disorganised, with a Bata monopoly in the organised sector," he says.
"Then Woodland's and other companies came in, distribution channels improved, showrooms opened - and the margins for retailers fell from 350 per cent to 35 per cent."
The increase in spending income has made a difference too, he says, as have changing trends. "Not so long ago, blacks and browns were the only option for officewear," he says. "Today we have people discovering various shades and styles - square toes are worn to offices and considered formal wear."
Ecco defines itself as a "casual lifestyle footwear" brand, and claims to have a 11.6 per cent share of the global market in that category. However, Lal concedes that lines between categories do get blurred. "We don't claim to be fashion shoes, but it's possible that some of our customers might look at us that way," he says.
It goes without saying that the company is targetting a very niche segment of the market. "We aren't realistically expecting sales of more than 15,000 pairs in the first year of operation," says Lal. "We hope to break even between the second and third years."Coming up soon are two exclusive "concept" stores which, in addition to shoes, will also stock apparels and accessories under the brand name. "These will add value, though of course footwear will remain our focus," says the director.