Lotto was first established in 1939 by the Caberlotto family who was also the owners of an Italian football team. In 1973, It entered the sports footwear market with Tennis shoes and later expanded into basketball, volleyball, athletics, and football. The company also started manufacturing sports clothing. The shoes won acclaim in almost all the sports where it had been introduced, and many internationally renowned players wore Lotto shoes due to their utility. In 1999, Lotto was taken over by VINAY BMS and was renamed Lotto Sport Italia.
Kazi Jamil Islam, Managing Director, Express Leather Products Ltd. had been overseeing the operations of Lotto Sport Italia in Bangladesh since 2012. His company has been the sole licensee of the Lotto brand in Bangladesh and over the years, it became one of the fastest-growing Lotto Licensees, with the greatest turnover per capita globally. Express Leather Products Ltd has taken the brand from introduction to its current position as one of the premier sportswear brands in Bangladesh.
In conversation with Bangladesh Brand Forum, the Managing Director of Lotto Bangladesh shared some highlights of his journey in retail, his philosophy of life, work and lotto-
Tell us about your extensive career in retail.
After graduation, I joined a tea garden as a factory assistant manager, but because of my earnest interest in sales I did not continue that for long. I left my first job and came back to Dhaka to join the Novartis Sales department. Later I joined Bata’s sales department and started looking after Bata’s retail sales. During this time, I went to Chennai, where I first came across the concept “Supermarket”. I went to this supermarket called “Food World” with a few of my colleagues. Back then the concept of the supermarket had not been introduced in Bangladesh yet. I used to spend hours every day in that supermarket and observe customer movement, cash counters, queue, and items in the display.
I was really inspired to see the rush and sales volume in supermarkets and decided to start my own business after coming back. This is why as a family initiative, the journey of Meena Bazar started. Later I opened up my own shoe factory and stepped into fashion retail by taking orders from established brands. I started my factory with 6 employees, which is now a family of 1200 people.
Give us some insights about the footwear market in Bangladesh.
The market we serve in the fashion footwear business is extremely big. We are only serving the local market which I believe still has a lot of opportunities to be exploited. The demand in the local market is also very high and rising and we have a good idea of how it works due to our experience here. Here we are informed about the weather, what kind of footwear people prefer for monsoon, winter or even to visit the mosque, how much the consumers are willing to pay for a pair and so on and so forth.
The Fashion industry depends a lot on the weather. The collections in stores should alter in every 3-4 months. We have segmented our market in summer, fall, winter, and spring so that our products are relevant all throughout the year to our customers.
How has the footwear industry evolved over the last decade?
The market has significantly changed as people’s buying capacity as well as the choice of alternatives has significantly increased in contrast to where it was in the past. If we look back two or three decades ago, most kids only owned a pair of school shoes. They neither had the necessity nor the luxury to have football boots. Those pairs of shoes were worn almost everywhere- in school, playground, outings. And now, there are specialized shoes in the market for all age groups, for different occasions.
What challenges do you face operating in the fashion business?
What we have learned from our experience in business, the market is not the biggest challenge we have. On one hand, the market has high demand all throughout the year, and on the other hand, not many independent & international market players are operating in the local market. For me, the most challenging part is getting a skilled workforce for our finance and operations departments. There is a lack of good talent and skilled managers which is why we are trying our best to develop skills in retail management among our staff. Another challenge is finding the right stores at a reasonable price. In Dhaka, shops tend to be very concentrated and placed in the locality where there’s a lot of competition and high pricing.
Tell us about Lotto’s journey in Bangladesh. How did Lotto leverage its Italian brand identity in Bangladesh?
In Lotto, we promote a sporty lifestyle. In the current scenario of Bangladesh, there are not many brands around who have been able to do that. And that I think is the reason behind our success. Fitness is our core business. To be able to fit in that zone we have also run a campaign recently called “Let’s Run”.
Due to the regional weather, the Bangladeshi footwear market is mostly inclined towards sandals and slippers. Hence, we were unique to the Lotto franchise in that we introduced and sold more slippers than shoes. The shoes we sold were mostly imported due to the relatively low demand initially. This raised costs, however over the years demand started to grow for Lotto sportswear and we decided to set up own factory to produce shoes locally. We brought a number of innovations to serve the market, like cotton-based summer canvas shoes ultra-dry tech which makes the apparels dry quickly after a workout and all of these are quite reasonably priced.
What are Lotto’s plans for the future?
Here in Lotto, we have been trying to cultivate a culture of innovation, values, and good management. We brought in many innovative features to enhance our offerings and we plan to continue this trajectory into the future. We also hope to improve benefits for our staff, as I feel that I have certain responsibilities towards the people who work long and hard to build Lotto in Bangladesh. We also want to expand operations and retails to other parts of Bangladesh and give employment to people in their localities. Currently, we operate 160 stores, and in the coming years, we plan to make it 500.