A celebrated footwear manufacturer with decades of experience, Kuldeep Singh, Director San Frissco, has a passion for the footwear industry that may be traced back all the way to his school days.
Founded in 1993, now boasting of strong annual revenue, homegrown footwear brand San Frissco is one of the strongest leading names from India’s footwear leather footwear manufacturing hub, Agra. “When we commenced our business, for long, the market knew us as a manufacturer,” its Managing Director Kuldeep Singh explains. “Our footprint was very small. We had a very small line. In 2005, we launched our in-house brand.”
Since then, Kuldeep has moved up through markets, creating the brand’s presence at national level. He says the challenge in its early days was that San Frissco wasn’t a well recognized name unlike some of those in the competition. “Today, we’ve got two major manufacturing plants. We have 4 lines churning out thousands of pairs daily. A lot of trust has been earned in a short span of time.”
Overcoming this initial lack of brand recognition, San Frissco consistently kept expanding, establishing a new manufacturing plant in Agra. It soon became a major player in the segment by improvising designs and launching fashion footwear. This was followed by working closely with a strong distribution network to refine the designs. Kuldeep believes the Narendra Modi-led government’s ‘Make in India’ policy in a way has played crucial role. “I think the challenges in operations are becoming less and less,” he says. “When San Frissco had its first plant approved, manufacturing was not easy at all. You had to have 100’s of approvals. You could not come on your own. But now you can do 100% foreign direct investment.” Kuldeep also points to EPIP’s and special economic zones (SEZs) as a cornerstone of the country’s new business-friendly approach.
San Frissco has established its manufacturing facilities inside EPIPs. “The ease of doing business has dramatically changed,” Kuldeep says. “Putting up a plant has become very easy. Finding suitable land is always a challenge in India, but the new laws and the new ease of execution that comes with them are helping us at every step.”
San Frissco also broadened its product range beyond comfort by including fashion and trendy products. It has been producing fashionably comfort range for the past many years. In manufacturing, which normally takes significant specialized expertise, San Frissco has acquired a deep knowledge of the field since its inception. This being clubbed with design innovation and expansion in retail networking was able to deliver the recognition and thus turned it to a repuit ndustry leader. “That’s a major change that has happened in the past two decades,” Kuldeep says.
Apart from the brand recognition achieved through consistent strategy, San Frisscowill continue to ride on the back of exports which has been witnessing a robust growth in the segment. In 2016, a quarter of its revenue came from exports. This grew to 35% by 2017 and is expected to climb further. “San Frissco has started to cater to not only the growing needs of the domestic market, but to making a leading manufacturing destination for export products,” Kuldeep acknowledges. As the company has grown, San Frissco has struck a balance between consolidating its core competency and finding new avenues to expand its footprint. “San Frissco is basically a manufacturing company,” Kuldeep says. “We’re always concerned with how to promote manufacturing, and we’re working with different state bodies and chambers of commerce about manufacturing and how to push labor reforms for it. On the other hand, a lot of new things are happening, and we always remain on top of such things to make sure that we don’t miss out on being competitive in the global market. We have never been interested in simply selling commodities or products. For 20 years, we’ve believed in value; creating value, not just selling it. We want the end user to say, ‘It has to be San Frissco and there’s value in that.’ That is special, and in simple terms, that is what sets us apart.”
Meticulously chosen suppliers
Originally started as a family business, San Frissco is determined to retain the community atmosphere of a family concern, and this is despite its growth in terms of production capacity, product quality and retail footprint into new territories and having emerged as one of the major players. “A lot of the staff memebers here have grown up with the company. Working with the same people, the same customers, we have made good friends. The journey has become so involved that the company has become a kind of extension of our family values. We’ve learned how to make shoes, how to do business. We’ve seen the ups and downs, and now we know shoe-making and selling like the back of our hands.”
Unlike many major companies, Kuldeep says, San Frissco doesn’t operate with a key supplier policy. “We see every supplier as a key supplier. We want to keep that count low and make our suppliers grow. We’re not looking to grow our supplier base, unless we need capacity enhancement.” He adds that San Frissco has the view that constantly pursuing more suppliers may detract from the relationship building that it values. “We choose our suppliers with great care, but once we have picked them we will hold their hand. We will help them not just financially or with the technical know-how but emotionally as well. The key to our success is that we care for our suppliers. If our suppliers don’t feel that they are part of San Frissco, they won’t achieve that same level of quality. Suppliers too see a lot of values in being strategic partners with us because they can go to the next level technically.”
As a leading fashion footwear manufacturer, the Agra-based brand has come up with a broad range of styles. Closed Shoes are an integral part of the company. It’s a diverse range of styling, which, San Frissco believes, offers a number of different avenues for growth. San Frissco has also targeted the sandals and slippers market, an attempt that has broadened the range of locally produced products it could offer and therefore has helped extend its customer base. Kuldeep says San Frissco is continuously looking for opportunities to expand. It is currently exploring ways to increase its manufacturing capacity.
Key growth areas
He is certain that the business will continue to grow. “The big focus is the brand. It’s a continuous battle, and every day we want to increase our penetration, which means growing faster than the rate of market growth. If the market is growing at 5%, we want to grow at 10%.” He admits that the company is targeting further consolidation of manufacturing footprint in order to introduce new product lines and services. San Frissco’s ability, he adds, to provide complex designs and its expertise in classic fashion line means it being able to create opportunity to work with the top retailers.
Among all the technical and mechanical know-how that San Frissco has gathered, Kuldeep says, its human resources remain its most valuable asset. “We’re only as good as our people. We want a team that can take us into new areas, enable more penetration. We want fewer accidents, a safer environment, and more productivity. We want to grow year on year. But all the mathematical models have to come out of the company’s core values of quality and teamwork.” He is proud to admit that San Frissco has recently been invited by the governments to deliver a talk on doing business ethically. This may have been of the manner in which it has embraced a range of Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, which include programs to provide better livelihood to disadvantaged people, and to encourage environmental sustainability. Every year the company recruits two physically challenged people. “San Frissco is a responsible company. We really work for the long haul, and focus on adding value for the customer. We want to make it so the customer can forget their troubles and just concentrate on their work.”
Trends and Future
“We’ve done a very good job of putting that foundation in place and putting San Frissco at the forefront as a pioneer within the world of footwear,” he remarks. To stay ahead of the market, the company invests in new, innovative machinery, and he says its collections are much loved because they always make a statement. “When the brand was established, it started as a formal leather footwear brand, offering classics, at a time when the market was flooded with synthetic,” he says. “Since then, and in many ways, we have been making our own trends.” San Frissco wants to create an experience that will have consumers coming back again and again.
“A footwear is something you can experience in every aspect of your life,” he continues. “How it makes you feel and the story behind it is really where we focus. Customer expectations have also come to the forefront, with greater visibility through social media platforms.”
While caring for the customer will remain the primary focus for San Frissco, Kuldeep says that he will also continue looking for ways to ensure the business remains sustainable and profitable into the future. “I do see San Frissco enjoying continual growth. We have a great team and the capacity to lift sales and make a difference even during difficult economic times. We have a long history of performing well in a hard and competitive market.”
Kuldeep believes in maintaining strategic and long-term relationships with its suppliers to consistently deliver best-quality products to consumers. “We work with people and organizations that understand the experience we want to deliver and how we want to engage with consumers, rather than just filling a gap.”
Kuldeep’s vision for the future is to nurture the company before it is passed on to the next generation. “I want them to inherit a brand with a rich heritage and put them in a very good place to continue to build upon that legacy and continue to be pioneers of trendy comfort experience.”