Mustang Socks & Accessories is one of the home grown brands that have come of ages. While they have successfully positioned socks as more of a fashion accessory, they have been an active part of licensing industry from last 20 years. In a conversation with License India, Lubeina Shahpurwala, co-founder of Mustang Socks and Accessories talks about the kind of challenges the brand faced years ago and how their experience helps them co-ordinate better with the brand owners. How has been your experience with the licensing industry? We have been into licensing from last 20 years and this business has grown with increasing penetration of television and internet. During its initial stage, licensing business was difficult to push, because it started 20 years back, and people didn’t understand anything about licensing and market was very niche. From there we have come of ages, where we have Comic Con and Licensing expos. People are more aware and the demand for licensed merchandise has grown tremendously over the last couple of years. At present we have Motu-Patlu socks along with Avengers and Ben 10. Through licensing we cater to toddlers as well as adults. We have been in licensing business for so long that we understand the requirements of licensors much before they even ask us. We have designs, they ask for designing, we post the designs on the portals of licensors and then get approvals online, and everything has become simple. We even know the people and the teams, so yes now the things are pretty easy. How have the trends changed over past 26 years for socks industry? Socks as a product was earlier viewed as a commodity, which now has moved to fashion. It has how people have changed their mind and now are buying socks for fashion. Our positioning of socks is slightly as adult-centric and fashion accessory, of course we also have the traditional black, grey and white. The traditional socks were made of nylon, spandex. The colours have been tweaked and the socks are even more colourful, different finishes, hygiene is given importance, packaging, softening and feel has been improved and more comfort has been added to the designs. There are now socks designed for health, sports, anti-fungal, anti-sweat, etc. How do you work on your marketing strategy as market for socks is niche? The marketing strategy changes every day. The ecommerce business is the new thing, but traditional wholesale business is our base. We started selling shop-to-shop and we grew through distribution, then large format stores. Later we moved to branding and co-branding and now we are a part of eCommerce. There have been dramatic changes, but change doesn’t mean we let go the older one, we have re-enforced those practices. You have recently opened wholesale store in Mumbai. Do you have any such plans for Delhi and other metros? Delhi and other metros are a part of our agenda. We want to target the metros first because traditional retail is not doing well in terms of returns and our product is not that high valued, so we don’t want to something in a jiffy. We are a well conservative company who take small steps and grow sensibly. Wholesale venture is great to start with and Delhi is obviously on our agenda. How do you analyse the role of eCommerce in licensing business? Definitely licensing has been benefitted with advent of eCommerce. Today if youth wants licensed socks, there is a lot of apprehension in the path of retailers to keep such products for adults, but with introduction of online business, a customer can directly buy the desired licensed socks. Of late, retailers are realizing the potential of online business and everybody is pulling up their socks and targeting licensing business online which is good. Licensing business is about the aspiration value the character has, for instance – the character Sophie from Frozen brings out princess in every girl and that is the fun of it. If we can connect with Sophie and give that consumer a pair of princess socks, then it is success. What were the challenges that you faced in initial years of operation. 20 years ago, I think the biggest challenge was to sell a mouse. We had put a mouse on the socks, and that mouse was Mickey. In India, mouse is considered to be the vehicle of Lord Ganesha. Our founder Nazneen had to actually explain to the people that the mouse is Mickey – a cartoon character and not Ganesha’a vehicle. We have come a long way of acceptance over these years. Years ago people were not that well-travelled and exposed to easily accept Mickey mouse. What other properties are you planning to add to your kitty? We had a lot of properties including Dora the Explorer, Spongebob Squarepants, Hotwheels, Barbie, Winnie-the-Pooh, we have WWE right now. What we do is that we take a property for tenure of say two years, check the market growth with it, the affordability and property’s performance and then proceed. We had Oggy and the Cockroaches, Garfield, Popeye. We had Oggy and the Cockroaches merchandise lying with us for 1.5 years. Suddenly when Oggy and the Cockroaches series was telecasted on TV, the entire stock was sold out in less than two months. Again, television has fuelled the growth in sales of licensed merchandise. Moreover, online has changed the dynamics of market, and today we are in a generation when we are talking about bit coins – virtual currency. Do you conduct any promotional activities with the properties you have? We don’t earn that much to do promotional activities, but if the licensors organise anything, we make sure to take part in it. Comic Con was a trade fair, where we took initiative, but there is no hand holding from licensors. We try to take as many initiatives as our budget allows. Aren’t you planning to get Chhota Bheem on board? We love the character, but our product value is smaller. Licensors make simple calculations – X percent population of India will buy the product, mean Y number of socks will be sold, which makes this much minimum guarantee. They don’t realize that the market value of socks is smaller as compared to other products. But, we would want to have Chhota Bheem in our kitty.
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