Of the 4.5 million followers, The Smiley Company has on Facebook, half a million come from India. "Therefore, India is a market that our $167 million company couldn't afford to overlook for long," says Nicolas Loufrani, its CEO.
Smiley merchandise (mostly T-shirts) has been available at the LifeStyle stores in India for the last two years. But Loufrani is currently in India to scout for a franchise partner which would help his company set up business in India.
The plan is to not only to expand its product range through multibrand stores such as Lifestyle, but also to set up exclusive Smiley World stores which would have the complete merchandise of The Smiley Company - apparel, sportswear, shoes, bags, jewellery, school merchandise, accessories and even Smiley branded chocolates and confectionery.
In fact, the exclusive store concept is rather new to The Smiley Company. It set up its first exclusive store in London only last year, almost 40 years after the business was set up. "Exclusive stores came as an afterthought. We got immense success by selling our merchandise through large stores such as Zara, Benetton and H&M," says Loufrani.
The company is looking at the exclusive store route in most of the new markets it's entering. It recently signed a 150 store deal over the next three years in China, and now its India's turn.
"Currently, India is less than one per cent of our global business. But now that we are setting up stores, we expect India to contribute significantly to our revenues," he adds.
Loufrani, however, is clear that given the tough retail environment in India, he will enter the market only through a franchise partner. "Our know-how is marketing and communicating with our consumers. Setting up stores is something we don't understand. Our Indian partner will develop that for us."