In February this year, Ram Iyer took a shot in the dark. The 38-year-old left Marico, where he cut his teeth and worked for 14 years in FMCG functions like materials planning, plant set-up and commodity buying, to plunge head long into high-end retail, as Director-Operations, Madura Garments. It was a 180 degree direction change. Says Iyer: “FMCG is all about high volumes and low prices; high-end retail is all about low volumes but higher price points. This sets the context for organisation structures, systems and processes across the value chain.”However, his last job as Head, Operations, at Marico’s successful Kaya Skin Clinic, made the transition slightly easier. As he puts it: “Both were start-ups (Madura is eyeing super-premium brands), and I love being a player rather than a bystander.” The key, he adds, is to have an entrepreneurial mindset. “Taking decisions and moving forward is better than the analysisparalysis syndrome. While some like me have taken the risk, there are many who are comfortable in their existing domains.”
If Saloni Nangia, Vice President, Technopak, is to be believed, Iyer has, in all probability, hit the bull’s eye with this change in career path. “There are lots of opportunities in the arena of luxury brands at the moment and the people who make the most of it now will be the frontrunners in future. That’s exactly the same thing that happened in organised retail earlier,” she says.
India is chic
With US sales weakening, top luxury brands are counting on growth from emerging markets such as China and India. Ergo, talent is a big issue. Says Kris Lakshmikanth, Founder CEO & Managing Director,The Headhunters: “The watershed for the luxury segment was the government’s decision to allow single brands in retail.” He pegs the luxury segment at Rs 20,000 crore, and it is growing at 25-35 per cent annually.“It is the fastest-growing market after the Gulf,” he says of the Indian luxury market. Elaborating, Sanjay Kapoor, Managing Director, Genesis Luxury, says: “Initially, the retail presence of luxury brands will be limited to A class cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. However, as the culture of luxury trickles down, we will look at expansion in cities such as Ludhiana, Chennai, Chandigarh and Kolkata. We will primarily expand through mono-brand boutiques and then gradually stock our brands in premium multi-brand stores.” Genesis Luxury markets and distributes clothing brands such as Canali, Kenzo, Paul Smith, Aigner and Just Cavalli.
So, where are these luxury brands sourcing talent from? Bankerturned-luxury entrepreneur Kapoor points out: “Organised luxury retail is a relatively recent phenomenon in the country; hence, we have had to look at sourcing talent from premium and bridge brands and the hospitality sector.”
Luxury brands that are planning to set up shop and expand operations in India, will be looking at talent from the hospitality industry as the basic level of service remains the same.
Nangia says: “Luxury is synonymous with a wellgroomed personality and excellent communication skills that enable one to be well-versed with the brand. The maximum opportunities are at the level of store managers and in the field corporate communications and PR. The former, in particular, will need to be good merchandisers who understand the Indian psyche well and can sell the brand name to consumers.”Manishi Sanwal, GM, LVMH, however, says: “It is not really a question of the industry the prospective person is coming from. You need someone who understands luxury—someone who knows how to differentiate brands and sell them—someone who is aware about brands, and understands their USP. For example, (at TAG Heuer) it’s sports that is its USP.” On sourcing talent from other sectors, Sanwal says: “If they were to source (floor sales people) from another industry, it would be cars.
What's your luxury quotient?
There is shortage of trained manpower in the luxury retail space across the spectrum. Every luxury brand is looking for people at the shop floor level—managers, associates and sales people are in huge demand. There are also openings at middle-to-top levelscountry managers, CEOs, and marketing heads. That’s not all. Ashok Goel, Brand Consultant for Gucci and Corum, says: “It’s a wide-open field and the opportunities are immense. There’s a lot of emphasis on visual merchandising when we talk of luxury brands.”
High end, high expectations
Is there a specific skill-set needed for working in a luxury brand? Foremost is to have good comportment— from the sales girl at the shop floor to the CEO. Says Lakshmikanth: “The degree you have is not half as important as the passion the candidate has for fashion. You need to eat, breathe, drink fashion and have the ability to spot what is fashion.”
Persuasive skills come in handy, too. There’s no specific skill set as such but the person should be able to identify with the brand that he is selling and should be able to convince the consumer about the same, and that will require one to possess a well-rounded personality and good communications skills, say experts.
Another important skill set required is an understanding of the attributes of luxury brands, which are vastly different from those of FMCG goods. These attributes are experiential and, therefore, demand a different treatment. “The Indian market is yet to fully mature to the idea of paying premium prices for this differentiation.Hence, the people who represent the brand must be fully educated in these details. Above average communication skills and a very high presentability quotient are necessary prerequisites,” adds Genesis’s Kapoor. He is looking at talent from premium Indian brands and the hospitality industry that can then be trained inhouse to the requirements of the luxury brands he markets.
There’s a lot of emphasis on personality when it comes to working for a luxury brand, as the clientele is completely different from that of regular brands. The important thing is that they should be able to identify with the employee. “You should know what you’re selling and a certain degree of finesse is required which should complement the brand,” says Goel.
Compensation packages in the luxury segment are as varied as the products themselves. While a seasoned sales pro can get up to Rs 24 lakh per annum, top level salaries are in the range of Rs 1-1.5 crore per annum.
The road ahead is no less exciting. Says Lakshmikanth: “Within luxury, one can move within segments. You can sell anything from high-end cars like BMWs and Porsches to high-end villas costing $2 million (Rs 8.6 crore).”