This new-age brand clocked Rs 1,245 Cr turnover in FY21 by providing affordable, quality, and fashionable footwear
As a child, when VKC Noushad was asked what he wanted to become when he grew up, he always replied: “Anything but a businessman.”
His father, VKC Mammad Koya, a well-known politician in South India and the Founder of the, would respond: “Whatever you do, do it efficiently.” “My father believed that if you do good, you will be able to contribute not just to the goals of the organisation but also to the entire nation,” Noushad says.
Today, Noushad has not just taken the family business to new heights but also launched a new-age brand Walkaroo.
He says that though he was not interested in pursuing business in his childhood, he was drawn to the idea of entrepreneurship as he grew up, especially while studying chemical engineering at Thrissur Engineering College. He went on to pursue his MTech and even underwent training at Rubber Research Institute.
In 1994, when Noushad joined the business, he says his focus was “to make the existing hawai chappals better”. However, when he researched the footwear market further, he realised he needed to focus more on virgin quality polyvinyl (PV) which was emerging in those days.
Soon, he decided to replace rubber with PV.
Today, Noushad is the Chairman of VKC Group Division 1. VKC Group has 20 manufacturing units spread across six states in India and provides employment to around 7,000 people directly and 4,000 people indirectly. This group has been manufacturing and selling footwear, bags, and much more for more than three decades now.
In 2013, Noushad also launched a brand called Walkaroo, which offers products that intersect fashion, quality, and affordability. It offers casual shoes, formal shoes, flip-flops, open footwear, slippers, sandals etc for men, women, kids etc.
The shoes are manufactured at the company’s own 12 manufacturing units across Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat, and a few more places. The units together have a capacity of producing four lakh pairs of shoes per day.
Walkaroo, which clocked a turnover of Rs 1,245 crore in the last financial year, functioned under the VKC Group for a few years. Noushad is now building the company as a separate entity. Aamir Khan is the brand ambassador of Walkaroo.
Fashion, affordability, and quality
One of things that has worked for Noushad over the years is understanding the pulse of the customers and evolving according to the times.
Noushad shares, “There are two things. First, always focus on the customer; there is always some or the other requirement from the customer’s end.” The second thing, he says, is providing quality products at an affordable price. This formula, according to Noushad, never fails in the Indian market.
Another dimension that has been added to quality and affordability in recent times is fashion. “Fashionable, quality products available at affordable prices - that is the customers’ requirement today.”
Footwear sold by Walkaroo have a "market-driven price strategy" says Noushad. The brand operates with 700 dealers and 1.5 lakh retailers across the country.
From South India to the world
Walkaroo started its journey from South India and has gradually expanded to other parts of the country and the world. Although South India continues to remain its biggest market, the tables are turning, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before COVID-19, 70 percent of the company’s clientele came from South India and 10 percent demand came from the rest of India. However, after the pandemic, Noushad says the company has witnessed a lot of demand from other regions.
“Annually, South India is growing by 10 percent whereas North India is growing by 30 percent approximately.”
Walkaroo has also expanded in the global market over the years, and has a presence in Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, and a few Gulf countries as well.
The company set up a manufacturing unit in Bangladesh in February to expand its presence in the global market, especially the South Asian market.
An aatmanirbhar footwear industry
Aatmanirbhar Bharat may have become the buzzword now, but there have been conversations around the idea for a while.
Noushad recalls an interesting incident. He says he was attending an event in 2010 where an American was showing some data related to the global footwear industry.
“China topped every data chart. When he asked who would be next to China in coming times, I passionately said India would become a leader in the footwear industry!”
The American said that this might not be the case. “He believed that we lacked operational efficiency, manufacturing capabilities and design development needed to compete with China,” Noushad reminisces.
Noushad may have been disappointed by the gentleman’s response, but feels he was not entirely wrong. “Indian entrepreneurs want to bring technology to enhance their businesses but are taking too long; China is using this opportunity,” he says.
He says the Indian footwear industry is largely dominated by unorganised players who are “hesitant to leverage technology” – this could also be helping China do better.
India’s footwear industry is highly unorganised with nearly 15,000 micro and small industries, according to the Council for Footwear, Leather & Accessories (CFLA).
Stating that companies need to become operationally strong before becoming digitally strong, Noushad says Walkaroo has tried to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to leveraging technology and increasing operational efficiencies. To this end, they have implemented SAP, ensured sales automation, and taken the omnichannel route.
Apart from launching its own website, Walkaroo listed itself on ecommerce platforms such as Amazon, Flipkart and a few others in 2019. However, Noushad maintains that it is not a digital-first brand.
A solution-oriented approach
COVID-19 has been difficult for the company and the entire team.
However, Noushad has a different take on dealing with adversities. “I see a lot of people blaming the government and other external aspects. However, we are entrepreneurs. We don’t have the right to complain. We have to find solutions ourselves.”
Noushad says three things are important to overcome any adversity in a business cycle: adaptability, improving efficiency, and constantly learning to keep up with market trends.
In the present time, people are buying simple and casual wear, and demand for luxury goods has gone down. This is why the company is focusing on the production of this category of footwear.
Noushad is optimistic about the future of this sector. According to numbers released by Invest India, India’s footwear industry contributes two percent to the country’s overall GDP, and India is one of the global leaders in this segment alongside China, Vietnam and Indonesia.
“We are is working on strengthening the brand’s presence in the Indian as well as the international market,” Noushad says.