BANGALORE, India — Stand-alone stores for innerwear have never been the norm in India. So Jockey’s strategy for growth, with now more than 165  freestanding stores across the country, is unique.

Seated around a large conference table in the office of Page Industries Ltd. in Bangalore, the sole licensee for Jockey in India, Tim Wheeler, president of the Jockey International division, said India is the largest market for the brand outside the U.S., and now, 20 years after it entered the market, there is no question the growth has been phenomenal, he said.

Other than the stand-alone stores, Jockey sells to more than 25,000 doors throughout the country, and is still growing fast.

“Page and the Indian market is our largest licensee,” said Wheeler. “We own the Canadian and European businesses with growth rates continuing to be at pretty strong levels. When I say they are our largest licensee I talk about sales that are bigger than any other individual licensee in the world,” he said.

The Indian innerwear market, which industry estimates set at about $4 billion, is expected to grow at a 13.2 percent compound annual growth rate until 2020, according to analysts. There is also a qualitative shift within the market — as Pinaki Ranjan Mishra, partner, retail and consumer products, Ernst & Young observed, “The market is increasingly becoming organized and players are trading up to better brands.”

A report by consulting firm Technopak indicates that one of the main reasons for the fast-changing market is the increase in spending power as more women join the workforce.  “Women are associating innerwear with special occasions and different usage options,” the report noted.

Ashok Genomal, managing director of Page Industries, noted that over the last two decades, the innerwear market itself has transformed many times over.

“When Jockey first entered the Indian market, there was virtually zero marketing in the category at the time, and premium innerwear was practically absent. Innerwear was a low-involvement category among both consumers and the trade. It wasn’t even being sold in multibrand outlets, only in traditional hosiery stores. Jockey opened up the several different retail channels for the category,” he said.

“Our challenge in the beginning was to give the category a lot more prominence and make people realize the importance of good-fitting quality innerwear. We insisted that all retailers nationwide carry our display modules which we supplied at no cost,” Genomal added.

Page industries also has the license for other countries, including Bangladesh and the United Arab Emirates. “These markets can only be a small part of the business as India is extremely large in comparison,” Genomal said. “They are not insignificant on their own, so we intend to pursue these markets more aggressively going forward. In the UAE, we are taking small steps as we want to focus on building the brand with a high image. To achieve this, we are starting with exclusive brand outlets and cater to only a chosen number of premium outlets to begin with.”

Asia has provided strong growth for Jockey, and the international business overall has grown at more than 20 percent for the last five years.

“There is hardly any market in our international business that is not witnessing growth — some countries are growing at more than 50 percent,” observed Wheeler. “Indonesia is one of the markets where we’re having a very strong growth rate; Vietnam, Pakistan and China have been very strong as well.”

He said the growth in China had been changing after the licensee partner for Jockey was purchased and combined with Li & Fung, widening the growth prospects further for Jockey. Growth also continues in Thailand and the Philippines, where Jockey has had a strong presence for several decades, he said.

The licensee concept has worked well for Jockey globally and Wheeler said despite the fact that the Indian government had allowed single-brand retail in India, Jockey was not looking to experiment with it.

“In terms of manufacturing,” said Ved Ticku, chief operating officer of Page Industries, “80 percent of Jockey products sold in the Indian market are manufactured in India itself.”

Ticku said while Jockey’s target market in India was largely between 18 and 35, the customers who started buying Jockey 20 years ago are still faithful to the brand, bringing in loyal older customers. “While earlier it was easy to say that Classic was the biggest seller, now Zone and Pop, which have neon colors and more styling, are doing well,” he said.

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