Senior Vice President of Lifestyle International Private Limited, Akash Sehgal has had a colourful career history spanning over 21 years. During the professional tenure, he has spent 20 years at the Landmark Group, and is still counting. His extensive experience ranges from strategic planning, business development, commercial operations, sourcing, buying to merchandising, category management and brand management, to mention some. He is particularly passionate about developing business strategies and market analysis. But from sourcing and buying right through to brand management, there’s no doubt Sehgal brings a wide and varied skill set to his role at Lifetsyle. Sehgal says he was drawn to the company because it offered a genuine point of difference in what was a crowded unorganized market. Under the leadership of Sehgal, the fashion retailer company has made a successful pivot to the retail market.  Lifestyle is India’s most preferred fashion destination for latest trends and best of brands. Part of a Dubai-based retail and hospitality conglomerate – The Landmark Group, Lifestyle brings multiple categories including men’s, women’s and kids’ apparel, footwear, handbags, fashion accessories and beauty under the convenience of a single roof. Lifestyle provides seamless and hassle-free shopping and offers leading national and international brands the convenience of a true omni-channel experience with its online store lifestylestores.com. He talks about the footwear and retail industry’s growth and its appeal with S&A’s Amit Chopra.

How’s the journey been for the Lifestyle footwear division?
Over a period of time, we have moved from 11.5% contribution to 13% of overall sales for the footwear and accessories category.

Can you give me a profile of the typical Lifestyle consumer?
Over the years Lifestyle has carved a niche for itself amongst consumers who are looking for international products along with a unique and memorable shopping experience. The ‘typical Lifestyle’ consumer is the urban male and female, between 18 to 34 years old. We take pride to be the preferred brand of choice of our customers, a 30-million members strong loyalty program is a testimonial to this fact. As a brand which has stood the test of time and has a strong loyal customer base across the nation, we are confident of growing further – leveraging our strengths, nation-wide presence and customer loyalty to maintain the leadership position.

What does Lifestyle footwear have that is different from other MBO’s?
A strong private label offering distinguishes us from the rest in the market – offering consumers a wide variety of styles and trends in footwear that covers fashion and style across genres.

Who’s your biggest competitor in the same format and generic category?
While brands like Central and Shoppers Stop offer a similar experience, Lifestyle’s strong private label offering distinguishes us from the rest in the market.

Elaborate on the most significant slice of the group (Private labels or shop-in-shop brands)
Private labels along with national and international brands enjoy an equal share in footwear and accessories.
Which segment and categories of footwear have been consistently performing well?
Women’s footwear and accessories along with sportswear, as an overall category, have been consistently performing well.

What are the reasons attributed to their success?
Womenswear and sportswear are two of the fastest growing categories in the retail industry. With an abundance of knowledge made available to consumers through social media, their affinity towards global trends has become a key growth driver for the segment. Another key growth driver is the rising affluence and increase in disposable income. Added to the mix are aspiration, accessibility and a strong offering of national and international brands – the ease with which today’s consumers can shop across channels, including online stores. Moreover, attractive pricing, especially for the sportswear category, and the consumers’ inclination in products that are more lifestyle oriented rather than pureplay performance, have attributed to their success.

What is the rationale behind the business expansion majorly in the South?
Our expansion is driven by availability of good retail infrastructure and good business opportunity. It is not region specific. Our retail footprint is uniform across regions with 25 stores in the south, 23 in the north, 20 in the west and we are slowly expanding our presence in the east.

What would be the major challenges for you in the coming years?
Depreciation of the Indian rupee and increase in import duties by the government leading to the increase in average selling price of raw materials and footwear are two major challenges in the coming year.

According to you, how big is the market size for mid-priced ranged brands and how confident are you of their success?
There is a huge potential for mid-sized and mid-priced brands because India is a growing market. With rising affluence and increase in disposable income, opportunities are immense.

Do Lifestyle in-house brands and Lifestyle retail complement each other or do they compete in the market arena?
Our private labels and national and international brands complement each other well.

Your take on the current footwear retail environment in India.
The footwear category is a growing segment and has a huge opportunity both online and offline. One of the biggest advantages of this category is that due to its fixed sizes, fit issues that commonly occur with apparel are avoided.

What would be really high-sales density factors?
Latest trends, memorable retail experience, availability of sizes and styles and attractive pricing among others

What would be the retail marketing strategy in the coming years?
Lifestyle has a country-wide presence across 73 stores, 44 cities and its online store lifestylstores.com where customers can shop from the convenience of their home. We deliver to over 18000 pincodes across the country. We only plan on growing our retail footprint from here.

Excellent companies suggest that a company’s attitudes about people, products, and its way of doing business are defined by its founder. What’s the culture at Lifestyle?
Micky Jagtiani, Founder Chairman of Landmark Group established the organisation on the principle of integrity in everything we do. His humbleness and transparency in business has ensured that Landmark Group is today one of the leading retail organisations in Middle East, Asia and Africa. It’s with this philosophy that at Lifestyle, we have promoted a culture of respect, pride, openness, transparency, meritocracy and camaraderie, which has gone a long way to make it one of the most vibrant and happiest places to work. Our HR interventions and people processes ensure that we carefully and consciously listen to our people’s voices and empower them to take decisions that matter. These become pertinent to adapt to changing business scenarios that help us deliver the best for our internal and external customers. People working at Lifestyle are therefore assured of a safe and secured workplace environment that fosters a healthy work-life balance.

Listen to your customers, build high-quality products, take care of your employees — many of the book’s key phrases sound like platitudes. Aren’t these things common sense? What’s special at Lifestyle?
Consumers today are constantly on the lookout for a retail experience that is unique. Incorporating technology that is both interactive and engaging offline is one of the surest ways of ensuring that. It not only enhances business functions, it also enhances the overall shopping experience for the consumer as well. From consolidating significant consumer insights to identifying trends, the impact of technological inputs in offline retail is already noteworthy when it comes to curating meaningful experiences for the customer. At Lifestyle we have implemented several such initiatives to ensure that the retail experience of our customers in-store is nothing short of memorable. The introduction of “Click & Collect” – a customer-focused initiative, represents a step in our journey towards providing a complete, simple and convenient Omni-Channel experience – where the customers can order online and collect merchandise in store. Lifestyle, today, is one of India’s most preferred fashion destinations. Be it in-store or online, our consumers are provided with a seamless shopping environment, elegantly framing the trendy and fashionable offering that Lifestyle is renowned for.

What would be your online strategy to promote retail?
Lifestyle is a true omni-channel player. Additionally, with key partnerships with some of the larger e-commerce platforms, our online retail footprint will only grow from here on.

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