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Koovs: Putting a fashionable foot forward

By positioning itself as a fashion-centric portal, Koovs is creating a niche market for itself in the Indian apparel etailing space

I am Senior Assistant Editor with the Forbes India magazine in Mumbai. A journalist for over a decade, I am also the author of Ramakant Achrekar: Master Blaster’s Master, a biography of the great cricket coach, and Vinod Kambli: The Lost Hero, a biography of the former India cricketer. Apart from my love for news and writing, I am passionate about cricket, movies and music

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CEO Mary Turner launched a Rs 10 crore ad campaign called ‘Step Into Koovs’ to build the Koovs brand

When Koovs Plc approached designer Manish Arora in 2015 to create a menswear collection exclusively for the London-based online fashion portal, it was the first time he would be veering away from womenswear, the segment where he has made his mark. However, the collection he designed was an instant hit on koovs.com and was sold out within two weeks in April 2016, says Mary Turner, CEO, Koovs.

Led by Anant Nahata, Waheed Alli and Robert Bready (former founder-directors at UK-based online clothing platform Asos), Koovs offers apparel and accessories from 150 international brands, as well as its own private label. It has seen rapid growth in the current fiscal, with sales shooting up by 115 percent—from Rs 22 crore in April-July, 2015 to Rs 47.3 crore in the same period in 2016.

“What we want to be is the fashion-forward ecommerce place that the young, star-conscious person wants to come to,” says Alli (52), executive chairman of Koovs. “We want to help you dress and be fashionable.” Alli, a Labour life peer in the UK, is a multi-millionaire entrepreneur with interests in media companies. The company he had earlier founded, Asos, is a global fashion and beauty etailing giant, focusing on affordable and fashionable merchandise.

Koovs collaborates with different people who can give the brand a design edge over rivals. For instance, it recently teamed up with London-based illustrator Hattie Stewart, known for her unique and playful artwork, to design a women’s collection that adheres to everything that the Koovs brand stands for—cool, comfortable, laid-back and quirky. Similarly, Koovs tied up with Delhi-based designer-duo Gauri and Nainika Karan in early 2016 for a line of elegant party dresses for women that was launched on the website in November 2016.

“The talent is there and we know where to find it,” says Turner, 57, adding that designers from its studio in Kingsway, London, visit runways across the globe, from Milan to Paris and from New York to Los Angeles, to find inspiration for Koovs’s own label. Sourcing of fabrics, as well as manufacturing of products is done in India.

Alli and Turner are no strangers to building a successful business. Prior to joining Koovs, Alli was chairman of Asos between 2000 and 2012, during which period its market capitalisation zoomed from £12 million to £3 billion. He wanted to replicate this success in India and came to the country in 2012 looking for a business partner.

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Apparel designed by Manish Arora for Koovs. The designer made his first ever menswear collection in 2016 for the company

That is when Alli met Nahata (32), son of Mahendra Nahata, promoter of HFCL, which manufactures telecom equipment, optic fibre cables and power systems. (In 2011, the Nahata family had acquired a controlling stake in Koovs—which was set up in 2010 as a coupon deal site—and shifted its focus to the sale of mobile phones, electrical goods and apparel and accessories.)

In 2012, Nahata and Alli decided to revamp the existing online platform for affordable Western fashion. In November 2013, Alli joined Koovs as chairman and opened its design studio in London. The Indian wholesale retail firm Koovs India became a subsidiary of Koovs Plc.

“Part of the secret of our success in India is Anant Nahata. He is extraordinary in terms of technology and the way he operates. He added that little bit of magic that makes these things work,” says Alli. “During our journey, we have been lucky twice: One is finding Anant, and the second is getting Mary on board.”

Turner joined as non-executive director of Koovs Plc in 2014 and was elevated as CEO in October 2015. Before joining Koovs, Turner was non-executive director at Asos, and was the CEO of AlertMe.com, a leading home energy management platform in the UK. That’s when the turnaround began, says Alli. With a 25-year experience of taking young internet companies through rapid growth, she was responsible for raising Koovs’s brand awareness from less than 1 percent to 18 percent between April 1 and July 31 in 2016. In the same period, Koovs says it attracted 1.4 million visitors to its website.

In November 2015, led by Turner, Koovs launched a Rs 10 crore advertising campaign, called ‘Step Into Koovs’, across platforms—television, cinema, outdoor advertising and digital media. The advertisement, targeted at an Indian audience, depicted the sartorial empowerment that the company promises its customers by showcasing the fashion journey of two youngsters, Nick and Sai, in a dream sequence around the world, from the streets of Mumbai to a rooftop in Manhattan.

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Turner, however, refuses to take credit and says the company strategy has remained what it was when Alli took over. “The key to becoming successful is to be clear and confident of the space you are in, know your target audience and then gear your entire strategy and delivery to that customer base. In fashion, it’s not just what you give them tangibly, it’s aspirational. It’s the image. We are a design company with technology as the enabler.”

Turner attributes the success to team work, but Alli is more forthcoming about her contribution in building brand Koovs. “Before Mary joined, we had put the foundations in place. However, you need someone to come and drive [the business]. She called Koovs the best kept secret in Indian fashion. So, she not only decided to build brand awareness, but also make every area better,” says Alli. Her first move was to prioritise target audience in the 18 to 34 age group. “We didn’t treat our customers as well as we could have. Mary identified customer experience to be of utmost importance and started putting customer care at the top. She’s already changed the website and it’s going to continue to change, she’s even changed the team,” Alli says.

Gagan Chauhan, senior business analyst at consultancy RedSeer, says the growth rate Koovs has achieved can be attributed to the fact that the company has pivoted itself as a fashion-centric portal and seems to have created a loyal set of customers. Koovs is also distinct from other clothing platforms, such as Jabong, Myntra and Amazon, because it concentrates on disruptive designs, has its own private label, and has an inventory-led delivery model.

The resultant spurt in sales has also attracted a spate of investments. Since September 2015, Koovs has raised Rs 262 crore, the most recent being Rs 33 crore from the investment arm of Bennett, Coleman and Company Ltd (BCCL). In May 2016, HT Media bought an 8.31 percent stake for Rs 29.1 crore; their stake now stands at 6.8 percent.

“We’ll take money when we need it. Not a penny before that because if we do that, that money is expensive,” explains Alli, who says the company decided to go public on the London AIM in 2014 because it ensures two things that are important to him—transparency of business and governance.

The company is also aware of the challenges that other big online players in the fashion space like Myntra, Jabong and Amazon offer. But Alli isn’t losing sleep over it; he says there is space for everyone.

“This is a huge market. The competition isn’t with each other. We are all growing. Having said that, we are obsessed with being fashion forward. We have anchored ourselves over here. And it’s working for us,” he says.

The company says it is on track to deliver 14 lakh orders in FY17, up from 6.5 lakh in FY16. Koovs claims to get 4,000 orders every day which, on a good day, can go up to 10,000. “The objective is to become the No 1 fashion destination by 2020,” says Turner, adding that the company hopes to break even by 2019.

Private labels are more profitable and contribute about 40 percent to Koovs’s revenue. And this is one of the reasons the company avoids offering huge discounts, focusing instead on its inventory model.

“Seventy percent of our products are exclusive. You won’t find our label anywhere else. We are trying to sell these at the most affordable price,” says Turner.

Alli believes the company’s three distinguishing factors—authentic designs from London, selection of stock from reputable domestic and international brands, and collaborations with young designers—will yield rich dividends.

“We are going to empower the fashion choices of the young. People who win their races are focussed on their single objective,” he says.

(The writer travelled to London  at the invitation of Koovs.)

(This story appears in the 03 February, 2017 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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