This new-age brand achieved a turnover of Rs 1,245 Cr in FY21 providing affordable, quality and fashionable footwear.
As a child, when VKC Noushad was asked what he wanted to become as he grew up, he always replied: “Anything but a businessman”.
His father, KVC Mammad Koya, a well-known South Indian politician and founder of the VKC group, replied, “Whatever you do, do it effectively.” “My father believed that if you do good, you will be able to contribute not only to the goals of the organization, but to the nation as a whole,” says Noushad.
Today, Noushad has not only taken the family business to new heights, but also launched a new-age brand, Walkaroo.
He says that although he was not interested in business as a child, he was drawn to the idea of entrepreneurship growing up, especially while studying chemical engineering at Thrissur Engineering College. He continued his MTech and even completed training at the Rubber Research Institute.
In 1994, when Noushad joined the company, he said his goal was to “improve existing Hawaiian chappals”. However, when he researched the footwear market further, he realized that he needed to focus more on the virgin grade polyvinyl (PV) that was emerging at the time.
Soon he decided to replace the rubber with PV.
Today, Noushad is the President of Division 1 of the VKC Group. The VKC group has 20 manufacturing units in six states in India and directly employs 7,000 people and 4,000 indirectly. This group has been manufacturing and selling shoes, bags and more for over three decades now.
In 2013, Noushad also launched a brand called Walkaroo, which offers products that combine fashion, quality and affordability. It offers casual shoes, formal shoes, flip flops, open shoes, slippers, sandals, etc. for men, women, children, etc.
The shoes are made in the company’s 12 manufacturing units across Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat and a few other locations. The combined units have a production capacity of four pairs of lakh shoes per day.
Walkaroo, which achieved a turnover of Rs 1245 crore in the last financial year, worked under the VKC group for a few years. Noushad is now building the business as a separate entity. Aamir Khan is the Ambassador of the Walkaroo brand.
Fashion, affordable price and quality
One of the things that has worked for Noushad over the years is understanding the pulse of customers and changing with the times.
Noushad shares: “There are two things. First of all, always focus on the customer; there is always one or the other requirement on the customer’s side. The second thing, he says, is to provide quality products at an affordable price. This formula, according to Noushad, never fails in the Indian market.
Fashion is another dimension that has been added to quality and affordability in recent times. “Fashionable and quality products available at affordable prices – this is the requirement of customers today.”
The shoes sold by Walkaroo have a “market-driven pricing strategy,” says Noushad. The brand operates with 700 dealers and 1.5 lakh retailers across the country.
From South India to the world
Walkaroo began its journey from southern India and gradually spread to other parts of the country and the world. Although southern India remains its largest market, things are changing, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before COVID-19, 70% of the company’s customer base was from South India and 10% of demand was from the rest of India. However, after the pandemic, Noushad says the company has witnessed strong demand from other regions.
“Each year, southern India is growing by 10%, while northern India is growing by around 30%.”
Walkaroo has also grown in the global market over the years and is present in Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar and some 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 shoe industry
Aatmanirbhar Bharat may have become the buzzword now, but there have been conversations around the idea for some time.
Noushad remembers an interesting incident. He says he was attending an event in 2010 where an American was showing data relating to the global footwear industry.
“China tops all the data charts. When he asked who would be next to China in the times to come, I said with passion that India would become a leader in the footwear industry! “
The American said maybe it wasn’t. “He believed that we lacked the operational efficiency, manufacturing capabilities and design development necessary to compete with China,” recalls Noushad.
Noushad may have been disappointed with the gentleman’s response, but feels he wasn’t entirely wrong. “Indian entrepreneurs want to bring technology to improve their businesses but take too long; China is taking this opportunity, ”he said.
He says India’s footwear industry is largely dominated by unorganized players who are “reluctant to take advantage of technology” – it could also help China do better.
India’s footwear industry is poorly organized with nearly 15,000 micro and small industries, according to the Council for Footwear, Leather & Accessories (CFLA).
Stating that companies must get operational before they become digitally strong, Noushad says Walkaroo has tried to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to leveraging technology and increasing operational efficiency. To do this, they implemented SAP, ensured sales automation and took the omnichannel route.
Besides launching its own website, Walkaroo registered with e-commerce platforms such as Amazon, Flipkart and a few others in 2019. However, Noushad maintains that it is not a brand focused on digital.
A solution-oriented approach
COVID-19 has been difficult for the company and the entire team.
However, Noushad takes a different view of dealing with adversity. “I see a lot of people blaming the government and other external aspects. However, we are entrepreneurs. We do not have the right to complain. We have to find solutions ourselves. “
Noushad says three things are important in overcoming any adversity in a business cycle: adaptability, improving efficiency, and constantly learning to keep up with market trends.
Nowadays, people are shopping for simple and casual clothes, and the demand for luxury goods has declined. That is why the company focuses on the production of this category of footwear.
Noushad is optimistic about the future of this sector. According to figures released by Invest India, the Indian footwear industry contributes 2% to the country’s overall GDP, and India is one of the world leaders in this segment alongside China, Vietnam and Indonesia.
“We are working to strengthen the brand’s presence in the Indian and international market,” says Noushad.