Apex, a successful Bangladeshi footwear brand, has been operating in Bangladesh since the early ’90s. Founded by Syed Manzur Elahi, Apex started its operations as an export-oriented company. The retail wing of Apex was launched in 1997 when it decided to bring its expertise in footwear into developing a homegrown footwear brand that consumers will cherish. The brand has since grown exponentially with over 250 stores, and presence all over the country as well as online. Apex’s success has been showcased in the country’s 11th Best Brand Award, where it was crowned the best brand of 2019 under the retail shoe brand category.
In order to delve deeper into Apex’s phenomenal success, Retail BD had a conversation with Rajan Pillai, the Chief Executive Officer of Apex Footwear Ltd.
How would you describe Apex’s success story?
We are always trying to create and recreate the brand as we move forward with our core essence. Currently, we have around 250 stores, 222 franchisees, and 189 distributors. We are the only retailer in the country that covers all the 64 districts. A store needs to connect to its consumer visually and we diligently keep that in mind while launching any new store.
Apex lives by its core philosophy- a quest for attaining an undefined quality as it continually thrives for Excellence. We are always opening new stores, renovating old ones, keeping it alive and jazzy, and introducing new ones. We are excited about this year’s plan to introduce another 25 new stores.
Experiential shopping is in the heart of the new retail landscape and Apex has always believed in providing a good shopping experience. Today’s consumers are aware, agile and looking for a dynamic, mind-boggling shopping experience. They are pressed for time and our job is to make their shopping experience easy and memorable. Our prime focus is being close to the customer, and thus we try to bring a store closer to everyone. In today’s world, digital and e-commerce platforms are gaining prominence, but we still believe that footwear needs brick and mortar presence, as consumers would want to touch and get a feel of shoes.
What was the thought behind bringing foreign brands like Clarks, Nino Rossi, Police?
Apex currently has 10 brands in their stores. To bring about a diversified portfolio we have been bringing in international brands in recent years. This is a part of the experience Apex offers to its customers. We thought about how we could offer more to our customers. In this fast-paced world, people want to get everything in one store. We have Reebok, Clarks, Police and more brands that are on the way. When someone wants to find international brands, they can just come to our store instead of visiting different shops.
What is the inspiration behind the eye-catching yet comfortable designs?
We engage our consumers to find out what they want in shoes. We find out about their preferences from surveys and talk to the customers to get a better understanding of their wants. We put out two collections in a year, the spring-summer and the fall-winter collection. This is a broad-spectrum, we split that into different segments, for example, we separate the spring and summer segments. Before that we conduct a survey, talk to a small target group, and also have the staff in our stores talk to our customers. We take the feedback and the design team develops the lineup, discuss the products and later makes the final decision. The design goes through an extensive process before the final launch. As a homegrown brand, Apex has to put in more effort to make designs successful
How has the retail market and consumer mindset changed since Apex started its journey?
Apex doesn’t try to change the mindset of the customer but rather seeks to understand the mindset. Retail is a dynamic industry; it cannot stay stagnant. The charm of retail lies in the constant changes it goes through. Shopping complexes are being propped up; new stores are opening every day. Every time people want to buy something, there needs to be the moving dynamism.
Initially, shopping was segregated into two sectors: want and need. When people wanted or needed something, they made a purchase. But today, the situation is vastly different. The experience has changed completely. Now, people go to a shop as a means of escape to break from the mundanity of our everyday life. Through smartphones, people know about new arrivals and decides to visit a shop. Today, people shop because they need something new, are in search of an eclectic shopping experience all inspired and possible by their higher disposable income, more global exposure and availability of varied shopping choices in the market.
How does Apex position itself in the market through the campaigns?
When we started, we were solely exporting. We later put up stores and the customers started liking the products. We were largely known for our men’s footwear, specifically men’s leather footwear. Later, we wanted to become a family destination, catering to men, mothers, daughters and children. In our recent campaign, ‘Thama Mana’, we wanted to project women as bold ladies. All our campaigns revolve around reaching the desired target groups.
What Apex does is provide value for money. Nobody is interested only in the product; they also look for a shopping experience. you can buy the product anywhere, but the ambiance in the store is what the consumer wants, that is why they come to our stores.
How does Apex approach sustainability?
Sustainability and what we are doing for the society is of prime importance. This idea can be approached from different angles, however. For example, we can switch to energy-saving bulbs, and make the shift from plastic bags and call it sustainability. Sustainability is a vast topic, but we want to start with small changes. We recycle instead of dumping waste in landfills. Another thing we do is recycle the banners and promotional materials. We send the old banners to a charity that has a factory where the plastic is recycled into school bags for children. Apex doesn’t want to highlight these activities publicly, rather relies on word-of-mouth communication.
What is your Stance regarding e-commerce? In this blooming stage of e-commerce, how do you think as a footwear brand Apex will use its e-commerce platform for benefit?
The shift towards e-commerce is a change that is happening naturally. We just recently entered the e-commerce platform. We are focusing more on the click-and-pick approach through our platform, as our aim is quite different from others. You click on your desired product on the website, and the website tells you about the stores where you can find the desired product. Our target is to make the customer walk-in to the store. This can expose the customer to the other designs, and if they like some other designs, they will be compelled to make a purchase. This is part of our omnichannel approach.
We believe that the importance of a brick-and-mortar and physical experience is still very relevant and necessary for which it should work in tandem with e-commerce platforms.
How do you depict the future of footwear in the retail industry?
In Bangladesh, retail is currently in a nascent stage. From my experience in India, in the next 5 years, the retail industry will see a boom. When international brands do come in, they will practice their expertise and redefine the shopping experience. Retail will eventually become one of the biggest sectors here. Currently, the government is focusing on manufacturing instead of retail. If you look at countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Dubai, the people thrive on shopping. We will be heading towards a similar future.