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How FILA's Gene Yoon plans to build a strong brand presence in India

To make Fila a strong brand, Gene Yoon, global chairman, understands the efforts required and is working through a number of out-ofbox strategies.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Oct 03, 2012, 09.37 AM IST
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To make Fila a strong brand, Gene Yoon, global chairman, understands the efforts required and is working through a number of out-ofbox strategies.
To make Fila a strong brand, Gene Yoon, global chairman, understands the efforts required and is working through a number of out-ofbox strategies.
Until Nike and Adidas burst onto the Indian marketplace, only one brand occupied customer mindspace — Bata.

But when the new brands urged customers to ‘Just Do It’ and told them ‘Impossible Is Nothing’, it was no longer cool to wear the tried and tested Bata. Now sportswear brand Fila is hoping to create a similar affinity with its renewed vigour in the Indian market.

While they are yet to decide on the tagline, Gene S Yoon, global chairman, Fila has a thought, “We don’t have a tagline so far and that will be an issue we will discuss in the next global partner meeting. I think ‘Makes You Look Better’ is a good line, as it expresses what we have been trying to do as a lifestyle brand,” explains Yoon.

Fila was created in Biella, Piedmont, by the Fila brothers in 1911 and started off making clothes for the people of the Italian Alps. Today the brand has come a long way and has a portfolio that includes footwear, apparel and accessories.

Korea is the biggest market for Fila, followed by USA and Canada says Yoon. In Asia, China is a promising market and the brand is getting good traction in India, he adds.

Last year, Fila India’s revenues were Rs 150 crore — 65% from footwear, 25% apparel and 10% from accessories. Whether ‘Makes You Look Better’ will help Fila sell more products remains to be seen, but what is there for all to see is how an Italian brand came to have a Korean national at the helm. Chalk it down as another example of the astute business sense of the Koreans.

After dabbling with a few jobs, Yoon convinced Fila to shift their shoe manufacturing to Korea. He was soon tasked with the entire responsibility of sourcing Fila’s shoes for Korea.

Within a year, the Italian managers asked Yoon to become a licensee for Fila apparel in Korea, and rest as they say is history. From eliminating middlemen, to signing on Paris Hilton, Fila’s business in Korea soon outgrew other markets.

And in 2007, the global Fila brand and all its international subsidiaries were acquired by Fila Korea. Born in a poor household, Yoon was an intelligent student and now is a successful businessman.

To make Fila a strong brand, he understands the efforts required and is working through a number of out-ofbox strategies. In places like the US, Russia and Europe, Fila has tied up with the largest retail chains and is working closely to not just supply Fila products but also to devise marketing strategies and product development.

In India, Fila work with Cravatex Ltd, a company that manufactures sports and casual wear as well as distributes fitness equipment for home and commercial use. Apart from partnering with large retailers, Fila is perhaps the only brand that allows each retailer to devise regional marketing plans.
 


The company doesn’t have offices in different markets, but the retailer works as its eyes and ears in that geography. So if Virender Sehwag and football team Mohan Bagan will add marketing muscle in India, Paris Hilton has been lending her star value to the brand in Korea. Elaborating on this strategy, Yoon says the arrangement came about by necessity.

“When I started owning the brand Fila, I was not financially strong. Similarly if the brand has to grow in other markets, then giving autonomy to partners in each region is important,” explains Yoon.

Regional partners of Fila have a say in product development. So it could be colour and type of fabric in case of apparel or designs for footwear. However Yoon says the company is very strict about the use of the Fila logo. “Everyone has to keep the logo as we have told them. They cannot make changes.”

Currently Fila is present in 40 exclusive stores in India, which Yoon says will go up to 100 by 2014. There are also plans to open Fila shop-in-shops as well as push the brand in mom-and-pop outlets.

Yoon is bullish about the brand in the e-commerce space and says that will be an area he will closely monitor. But are these plans good enough to boost Fila numbers in India? There is a healthy scepticism surrounding the brand.

“Fila has been around for a long time, but has to do much in revamping its image. It is not seen as an aggressive brand and it will be tough to beat the likes of Nike, Adidas, etc who are well entrenched in the space,” says Harkirat Singh, MD, Woodland.

Singh adds that availability of Fila was never an issue; it is only its brand building efforts in an aggressive category like sportswear that leaves a lot to be desired.

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