The Indian outdoor business is beginning to take shape, as several brands and retailers are starting to achieve recognition among a fast-growing group of outdoor enthusiasts in the country. This emerging market is particularly stimulated by Wildcraft, the only full-fledged Indian outdoor brand, which already has hundreds of retail partners and just started to open specialist outdoor units in Indian department stores.

Established in Bangalore seven years ago by Dinesh Kaigonhalli and a few other early outdoor adopters in India, Wildcraft reached a turnover of about $5.5 million for the full year ended in March 2011. About 40 percent of Wildcraft's turnover was made in 31 stores bearing the brand's name, nine of them franchises and the others owned by the company. The remainder comes from about 250 independent stores and department stores, mostly selling daypacks.

Popular among students, these daypacks still make up about 65 percent of Wildcraft's turnover. However, the brand has a much wider range of outdoor gear, from tents to sleeping bags and some apparel, and it intends to launch its own footwear later this year.

All of these products and a few accessories are manufactured by Wildcraft in a large production plant in Bangalore and a smaller unit opened last year in Himachal Pradesh. The second unit went into production as Wildcraft struggled to meet increasing demand, lifting the tally of employees to about 500 people. The two plants jointly have a capacity of about 500,000 pieces. Wildcraft's turnover includes a small share of OEM production, chiefly for the Indian army, and a few sales to adventure travel agencies and other organizations.

As part of its deployment, Wildcraft plans to have 50 own and franchised stores by March 2012. About 95 percent of sales in existing outlets consist of Wildcraft products, but the stores still sell a few other brands, particularly for footwear, tents, ropes and accessories. Strikingly, the offering includes products by Quechua, the private label of Décathlon, the French retailer, which opened a store in Bangalore two years ago. Under the current Indian rules on foreign investment in retailing, Décathlon is allowed to operate only on a cash and carry basis, but Quechua products have found their way to many sports and outdoor stores in the country, partly due to the fact that the market remains very price-sensitive.

The opening of Wildcraft's outdoor units in department stores could have strong repercussions for the Indian outdoor market. Indian department stores such as Central, Shoppers' Stop and Lifestyle are interesting ways to reach the growing pack of Indian middle-class consumers. Wildcraft already has about 70 shop-in-shops in department stores, but they only sell daypacks. If the trial works out, they will all be converted to full-fledged outdoor units. These investments are significant in a country where the ranks of the outdoor community are growing fast, but there are still very few means to reach consumers.

From the Himalayas to the Western Ghats, India has long been a destination for international outdoor enthusiasts. But in the last years, outdoor activities have become increasingly popular among Indians, particularly young professionals in towns with a strong Western influence. Outdoor clubs and specialist travel agencies have seen their numbers multiply in the last few years. It is estimated that about 500,000 Indians regularly practice outdoor activities, and the numbers are rising by the day.

This enthusiasm for outdoor lifestyle has already led to the rise of the Woodland brand, which is sold in about 350 mono-brand stores around India, with both apparel and footwear. Woodland is sold as “Outdoor Performance Gear,” but the brand could be regarded as a much cheaper Indian version of Timberland, without any focus on functional products.

Quite a few international outdoor brands are sold in India by a handful of distributors that have been striving to build up the country's outdoor market. The leading player in this respect is Chogori India, which has distribution deals with brands from Mountain Hardwear to Black Diamond, Scarpa, Hi-Tec, Julbo, Béal and Thorlo (along with a license for Crocs). Then again, most of these outdoor brands are only available in about 50 specialist stores in the mountains.

Sales of outdoor products in the Indian retail market are estimated at less than €100 million at retail level. They have been hampered by weak average buying power, a participation rate that remains low, high import duties on functional outdoor products, and the proliferation of fakes in mountain resorts. The scarcity of retail opportunities is another issue, due to the dearth of quality outdoor retailers and the even bigger difficulties in finding the right staff for them.

This began to change in the last three years with the opening of a dozen independent outdoor stores in Indian towns, such as Bangalore and Mumbai. Planet Sports, the only integrated sports retailer with stores all around India, started opening its own outdoor departments earlier this year. They are managed by Adventure 18, a small independent retailer in Delhi. The Wildcraft units in Indian department stores are another move in the same direction.

Furthermore, several international brands have been investing directly in India and adding to the visibility of outdoor products and activities. Among them is Coleman, which has its own office in Delhi, to work the outdoor stores as well as larger accounts such as Best Price, the name used by Wal-Mart for its cash and carry stores in India.

Berghaus was introduced in India earlier this year through Pentland India, which has been established in Chennai for many years to deal with sourcing for all brands of the Pentland Group. It started on a selective basis, targeting six partners with 25 stores for the first year, including Wildcraft, Adventure 18 and Trekker's Point in Delhi.

The strategy of these brands, the structure of outdoor retailing and the potential of the huge country's outdoor market are analyzed in detail as part of a market research report compiled by EDM Publications, the publisher of The Compass, on behalf of the British Federation of Sports and Play Associations (FSPA). This unprecedented report covers the entire Indian sports market, and it includes a detailed section on the outdoor market.