Foreign invasion: Thai footwear takes the market by storm

Local manufacturers are finding it hard to match the quality or the price.


Farhan Zaheer August 29, 2011

KARACHI:


Aerosoft, a Thai footwear is gradually taking over the market from the decades old established footwear giants like Servis and Bata. After gaining strong control over the relatively small shoe stores in Karachi, the footwear is now targeting posh areas and opening up multi storied outlets.


The Thai footwear has made good inroads into the local market over the last couple last couple of years. Although, the brand was first introduced in Pakistan some 10 years ago, it gained more attention three years ago when it started marketing its products aggressively through a single domestic distributing agency.

Industry people say that the footwear brand has captured this market owing to its durable products and attractive designs.

But, the company hasn’t stopped here. They have never lost sight of the inevitable price and turf-war with Servis and Bata - the dominant local players - and continue marketing products with affordable prices to keep the price conscious customers local to its brand.

Managing Director of International Trading Company Arsalan Sheikh, the sole distributor for Aerosoft in Pakistan, said that the import of Aerosoft products have tripled in last three years.

“Our wholesalers who initially imported one container are now importing three to four containers which shows the extraordinary rise in demand,” he said, adding that initially the focus was only on Sindh but now the brand is marketed in all four provinces of country.

“In fact, the success rate has been such that our products have been copied in Pakistan that prompted the parent company to take legal action against the manufacturers,” said Sheikh, adding that in some cases factories were raided and sealed by police in different cities.

Summit footwear, the makers of Aerosoft market its products in various countries. The company keeps prices low in Pakistan in view of the relatively low purchasing power compared to Middle Eastern countries, he added.

“We share fashion footwear with our Thai company as per the requirements of our dealers, who inform us about market trends,” he said. “Today, our brand is getting popularity in rural areas also where even lower middle class segment is buying our products.”

One out of every three small and medium size shops on Zaibunnisa Street, Saddar, one of the biggest shoe markets of Karachi, have now got Aerosoft boards supplied by the company to expand its visibility.

But most importantly, some medium-scale shoe centres that sell all three brands, Servis, Bata and Aerosoft, while responding to The Express Tribune queries said that the Thai brand is more popular than any other established brand in market.

They said, today, aerosoft constitutes over 50-60 per cent of their total sales while the rest is divided between other renowned brands.

Service Sales Corporation (SSC) that claims to be the largest footwear company of Pakistan by revenue has over 400 stores in country.

SSC entered Africa with its brand Servis last year with the opening of its first outlet in Nairobi, Kenya. The 50 year-old SSC entered Africa with the initial investment of $2 million through a wholly owned subsidiary ‘Service Shoes Africa Ltd’. However, Servis has now faced a strong competitor at the local front.

When contacted a marketing executive of Servis who did not want to be named said Servis is well aware of its market position and it launched its brand ‘airborn’ in competition to aerosoft.

In response to a question, he said that Servis does daily analysis to keep abreast with the market demands. “We have got ISO certificates that support our claim of providing quality products that we also supply beyond Pakistan,” he said.

“Our market response is good,” he said, “And, our company is satisfied with its current position in market.”

Despite repeated attempts there was no response from Bata for comments.

Even though there is no difference in prices between Servis, Bata and Aerosoft, some dealers say that if foreign brands continue to penetrate like this, the established local manufacturers may further lose their market share.  A senior shoe sales manager from a major store at Tariq Road, one of the biggest clusters of shoe stores in Karachi, said that local manufacturers have been copying Aerosoft designs over the years. For instance, he said, Servis introduced ‘lisasoft’, a range that was similar to Aerosoft designs but anyone who has tried Aerosoft once hardly ever  asked for local products.

Dealers also say that Servis and Bata are facing difficulties in competing with the Thai brand owing to its growing number of loyal customers. Some dealers believe that the quality of established brands have gone down considerably over the years while imported brands have not only maintained their quality but also improved their marketing tactics.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th,  2011.

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