Blackberrys, which started in 1991 soon after India liberalised, was mostly black and white - a men's formal wear brand, perfect for meetings and social occasions. It remained this way until a few years ago when the company tweaked its positioning to a "premium menswear fashion brand". This means Blackberrys has started catering to a new audience, a younger lot that prefer to wear stuff that is not too rigid. Besides formals, it now has Urban, a denim inspired brand and Casuale, which is Khaki inspired.
Blackberrys today operates more than 260 exclusive brand outlets and 700-plus multi-brand outlets. It closed 2017/18 with a turnover of over Rs 900 crore.
Business Today caught up with Nikhil Mohan, Founder and Director of the company, to understand the changing landscape for clothing. Mohan says that now there is a confidence that one does not require formal wear to look successful. Along with changing demographic and preferences, Indian retail market is changing too. There is e-commerce, but physical retail is not giving up. Mohan points out that there is some resistance to buy online anything, which is above Rs 1500 in fashion. In any case, one would not buy a finely cut suit without trying it.
Malls, meanwhile, are experimenting with some bit of technology to target customers better and brands have upped the experience game when it comes to brick and mortar shopping. Mohan says that the future of retail is in better service. All this has put a focus on up-skilling the workforce. Blackberrys is focussing on raising the standards of its workforce through training. These include capsules of information pushed through their phone and reviews on phone.
"These kids (those who work in retail stores) are all aspirants. Their parents can be vegetable vendors but they want to break away," Mohan says.
He says Blackberrys has programmes to help the blue-collar workforce progress to being white-collar employees. The blue-collar workers, who often interact with customers, "bring in the sensitivity of the front-office to the headquarters". The company now is also stressing on multi-skilling its employees. The cluster manager - one who is in-charge of 10 stores, for instance - can help in buying functions at the headquarters.
Meanwhile, stitching operations is a people intensive business and remains a fulcrum of India's skilling mission. Fashion is a fast moving industry and difficult to standardise given the many designs and sizes. Also, fabric as a material is softer and difficult to control. That implies robotics will take time to invade the industry. Blackberrys runs four factories in Gurgaon and employs 1800 people today.