Columbia Sportswear has announced an agreement with Chogori India Retail to be its exclusive distributor in India, effective immediately. The announcement comes at a time when other outdoor brands are becoming more active in a largely untapped market that seems to hold great promise for the future.
Founded in 2000 by Hernant Sachdev, who climbed to the summit of Mount Everest in May 2013, Chogori is one of the companies featured in an in-depth study of the Indian market that we released two years ago. It is already the distributor of Columbia's Mountain Hardwear brand and distributes other outdoor brands such as Béal, Black Diamond, Scarpa, Cascade Designs, Julbo and Thorlo. It is also the Indian retail partner for Crocs, with more than 45 single-brand stores in the country.
Meanwhile, the first free-standing Merrell store in India is opening this month in Dehradun, the capital of Uttarkhand in the northern part of the country. Located in a picturesque valley between the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, the city is a popular gateway to popular destinations in the Himalayas such as Mussoorie, Nainital, Auli and the holy cities of Haridwar and Rishikesh.
No other international outdoor label has a single-brand store in India yet with the exception of Timberland, which has more of a lifestyle connotation. The Merrell brand was introduced to India one year ago by Tata International Wolverine Brands Ltd., a joint venture between Wolverine Worldwide and the mighty Indian Tata Group.
The Merrell brand is managed in India by Siddharth Chury, who has worked with Adidas in India and other parts of Asia for many years, handling sourcing and marketing. It has been positioning Merrell as a performance-oriented brand to establish its credibility and reputation in the country, doing business with about 18 technical outdoor and sporting goods retailers stores, two of which have dedicated Merrell corners, and three e-commerce portals including myntra.com.
Merrell had been previously marketed in India by a chain of multi-brand shoe stores called M&B Footwear. Upon its launch in 2008, M&B had announced plans to open at least three exclusive Merrell stores in the major metropolitan areas. Apparently, the project did not work out and M&B is now focusing on more casual brands such as Lee Cooper.
These new developments come after the launch last May of a new quarterly consumer-oriented magazine in India, Outdoor Journal, that covers hiking, climbing and other classical outdoor activities as well as running and cycling. With a circulation of 40,000 copies, it is sold online and distributed at specialist stores, five-star hotels and airports, targeting a new population of young outdoor enthusiasts in a country that already has the largest middle class and the largest population aged under 35, although it is generally not very active.
The editors of the new English-language magazine held a conference during the recent Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City where they provided some interesting data about this emerging new market. For example, they said, between 55 and 60 Indian climbers made it to the summit of the Everest last year, overtaking for the first time the number of Americans who reached the top of the world's tallest mountain. While the Indian score has been rising steadily since 2009, the American score has remained at around 50 each year, followed at a distance by British climbers.
There are an estimated 500 outdoor clubs operating now in India. The Adventure Tour Operators Association of India, which also targets foreign people, counts 150 member companies. Adventure tourism is growing at an annual rate of 35 percent, involving now an estimated total of two million participants annually. The fascination of the Himalayas is attracting 450,000 visits on Google each month, but India has a lot more to offer all over the country, including jungle trails and other types of outdoor experiences.
However, there are only about 25 professional outdoor stores in the country, according to the editors of the Outdoor Journal, and they are mostly located in the major cities. There are about 100 other less specialized and less professional dealers selling outdoor products for camping and other activities. Likewise, they say, many Indian wholesale distributors lack the required management experience to properly market outdoor products, as many of them are generalist import-export companies or entrepreneurs specializing in government procurement.
With e-commerce representing an annual turnover of around $12 billion in India, some outdoor brands are selling their products through the internet. Décathlon, which has two stores in India, has apparently succeeded in establishing Quechua as the best known outdoor brand in the country.
The editors of the Outdoor Journal are Apoorva Prasad, an Indian journalist who has freelanced for many publications, and Gaël Couturier, a French ultra runner who ran the French edition of Runnersworld magazine for five years. He is now based in New Delhi.