Crocs, a premium footwear brand known for its unique and comfortable shoe designs, embarked on a remarkable journey in India by adopting a franchise strategy for retail expansion. This journey was not without its challenges, and the brand faced setbacks due to a less-than-ideal master franchise partnership. However, through strategic adjustments and a renewed focus on finding the right partner, Crocs India managed to turn the tide, achieving significant success with its franchise model.

Crocs's India Presence

Crocs, with its wide assortment and global product line, is a brand that places great importance on its retail presence. When entering the Indian market, Crocs had to decide whether to operate its own stores or adopt the franchise route. Deepak Chhabra, CEO & MD at Crocs India, explained, "In India, we had a choice, whether to run our own stores or opt for the franchise route. Since we are 100% FDI (Foreign Direct Investment), we are not allowed to open our own stores, and we don't have a manufacturing unit in India. We decided not to run stores because it would require a different set of expertise. Instead, we wanted to focus on marketing, product development, and supporting our franchisees."

The vast and diverse landscape of India posed another challenge. Operating stores across the country can be a daunting task, and having a local partner with market expertise was crucial. Chhabra emphasised the importance of a mix of professionalism and entrepreneurship, which led to the adoption of the franchise model.

Crocs Store Count

Crocs' journey in India began nearly a decade ago with a master franchisee, resulting in the opening of 32 stores. However, the initial partnership did not go as planned, and the store count quickly decreased to zero. Chhabra explained, "We were not aligned in terms of the pace of growth, expansion, and the way operations happened at the store, including the look and feel and investment in visual merchandising. Nothing was happening in sync, so we went from 32 stores to zero. We learned the hard way that having a master franchise doesn't guarantee success, and in our case, it did not go well."

Additionally, India lacked the basic infrastructure for a robust franchise model. Finding a partner with a pan-India presence proved challenging, often resulting in regional or unit franchise models. Chhabra elaborated, "We thought of having regional franchisees, but it had its own share of difficulties, including a lack of alignment between the different franchisees and a focus on unit economics rather than shared economics. We realised that while expansion was happening faster, we were losing control over retail operations. We questioned whether the master franchise model was the right choice and if we had chosen the right partner."

Metro Shoes: Helping the Brand Rise

Learning from their previous experiences, Crocs turned to the master franchise route once again, and this time, it proved to be a resounding success. Today, the brand boasts an extensive footprint of 50 stores in India, with 35 operated by their master franchisee, Metro Shoes. Chhabra expressed, "Our entire future expansion is with one single master franchisee, Metro Shoes, and it has been amazing for us. We intend to open 30 more stores by the end of this year through this collaboration, bringing our total to 80 stores."

The expertise of Metro Shoes, a retailer with nearly half a century of experience, played a crucial role in helping Crocs regain its lost foothold in the Indian market. Metro Shoes exclusively serves as an outlet for Crocs, while for multi-brand outlet (MBO) distribution, Crocs collaborates with various large format retail chains such as Reliance Footprint, Lifestyle, and Shoppers Stop.

Looking Ahead

Crocs' success in India is not only about expanding its store network but also about repositioning the brand. Chhabra stated, "We have a strong shift towards the casual category rather than being positioned solely as a travel and beachwear brand. All our associations, marketing campaigns, and digital efforts are focused on fashion, casual wear, boots, wedges, which were not typically associated with Crocs in the past. Our casual segment has grown over 30% since last year."

In conclusion, the journey of Crocs in India reflects the challenges and triumphs of adopting a franchise model for retail expansion. By learning from their past experiences and partnering with the right master franchisee, Crocs has not only revived its presence in the Indian market but also repositioned itself to cater to evolving consumer preferences. As Crocs continues to expand and adapt to the ever-changing retail landscape, its success story serves as a testament to the potential of franchise strategies when executed with precision and the right partners.