As a study by Disney’s KidSense reveals, mothers are now spending enormous amounts on clothing for their children, as they believe that the way a kid is dressed is often a reflection of the parents’ sense of style.
Until a few years ago, parents purchased children's clothing from the unorganized market that consisted of informal shops and stand-alone department stores housing clothes made by several local manufacturers. Brands never really influenced a purchase decision, except for a few select upper-middle-class families who purchased steeply priced international brands imported by certain storeowners. It was mostly the relationship with the shop owner, price and sometimes variety that influenced a purchase.
With the growth of modern retail, a few manufacturers—some of which already sold brands for men and women—stood out because of their quality and decided to enter the promising branded kid apparel market.
One of the largest textile brands in India, Raymond Group, jumped into the fray in 2006 with Zapp!, to capitalize on this lucrative market. From charming blazers for boys to preppy skirts for girls, Zapp! premium clothing targets fashion conscious kids between 4 and 12 years old. In a span of two years, the brand has grown from a single store in Ahmedabad to a chain of 18 exclusive stores, four franchised stores, 56 national chain shops and 100 multi-brand outlets throughout India.
Given that retail stores are one of the most important consumer touch points, the company has done well in planning store environments that are lively and engaging. The interiors have a colorful and modern appeal, and the color-coordinated shelf displays allow customers to mix and match their children’s clothing and accessories.
“[The flagship stores are equipped] with a large plasma screen that welcomes a Zapp! club member by throwing up his picture and [a greeting],” says Vineeth Nair, Director, Raymond Apparel Ltd. This is a unique way that the brand bonds with children who immediately feel important when they step into the store.
Some stores also have a play area and a bookshelf where kids can keep busy while parents settle the bill. However, young mothers who visit the store agree that the most exciting part about the store experience is the "igloo shaped" trial room. As Manisha Shah, a resident of Mumbai, says, “each time I visit a Zapp! store, my 2-year old son happily keeps himself busy around the store while I pick his clothes.”
An important factor that motivates sales is on-shelf availability. As Sanjeev Narula, founder of Lilliput Kidswear, a competing brand, explains, “The biggest challenge is maintaining inventories in every size, color and style. [Shop floor displays have to change quickly], as kids outgrow clothes in one season, and you have to give new options to the returning parent or buyer.”
Industry analysts feel that another important factor when parents buy clothes for children is the quality of the fabric used. The fabric should be skin friendly and free of harsh dyes because children are more susceptible to harsh chemicals and textures
Besides the quality of the fabric, parents are lured towards international cuts and styles. As Reena Siroya, a young mother who has visited both Lilliput Kidswear and Zapp! stores, explains, “The quality of the fabric at Lilliput is softer and more comfortable for children. The designs are similar to international labels like Mothercare, which are imported by local department stores like Amarsons in Mumbai. Zapp! clothing is perhaps on the lines of the Ruff Kids brand, where the feel of the fabric isn’t as good."
Though Zapp! has a styling studio in Bergamo, Italy, the brand perhaps needs to understand the market better, in order to produce clothing designs that appeal to their target audience. Also, as Nair says, “since brand loyalty is particularly high among the tweens age group [any marketer who wins the confidence of these kids at an early stage will reap huge rewards later].”
While Zapp! is using other methods, like a loyalty program called Zapp! Club, to build a stronger bond with its target group, the brand needs to focus on the physical attributes of the product, such as quality and styling, which are the most important factors in building trust in a brand. Licensing is one tool that many companies use to add value to their clothing designs and woo the Indian buyer. “The Zapp! brand too has an agreement with Warner Brothers to feature Superman on its clothing range, which has worked well for the brand,” says an in-store sales staff person.
To compete with cost effective private labels of national chain stores like Shoppers Stop and Lifestyle, several homegrown players like Ruff Kids, Gini & Jony and Lilliput Kids, and international brands like Esprit and NEXT, it is imperative that Zapp! understands the quality needs of the market.
While a 360 degree marketing approach including events and promotions has helped the brand generate visibility and stand out in the clutter, a little more focus on the design elements—natural and comfortable fabrics that have a classy and clean design—will convince young mothers to switch from unbranded or imported clothing to the Zapp! brand.