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ITC to take garments to masses

Calcutta, Aug. 24: The Rs 20,000-crore branded garment industry is waiting for a monster to rear its head—tobacco major ITC Ltd.

Victoria House is giving final touches to a grand plan of pushing its Will Lifestyle brand of readymade garments into every corner of the country, leveraging its distributor network for cigarettes.

Though ITC’s lifestyle retailing business—better known as LRB in Victoria House—was positioned as a player in the upmarket segment, a mass brand is being launched soon, which will give all known “common man’s brands” a run for their money. Not only in quality — as every other new entrant would say — but also in price.

“ITC intends to break all known price barriers in the industry. Its entry into the mass market could set off a price war, perhaps the first in the branded garment industry,” said a source familiar with ITC’s plans.

The company will no longer remain confined to its exclusive outlets. There are around 50 such outlets in the country now; many more are under planning. “The mass brand will be sold through multi-brand outlets in every district with a population of over one lakh,” said the source.

ITC is keeping its plans under wraps. When asked about its plans for LRB, the company’s official response was: “The strategies for the launch are being drawn up. It is too early to share the details now.”

ITC will not take too long to play its hand. It is expected to enter the mass garment business within a few months. Also on the cards is the launch of a super-premium range of readymade outfits under a new brand, Wills Classic.

ITC’s grand market penetration plan is being accompanied by substantial investment on the Wills brand. Sources familiar with ITC’s plans say the company will be investing over Rs 100 crore this year to support the market expansion.

“ITC’s distributors will be asked to chip in. They will have to secure rack-space for ITC’s readymade garments in multi-brand outlets in their localities,” sources said.

For ITC, LRB is more than just another revenue stream. The management is dead serious about its success. “Investments made in LRB will benefit ITC’s cigarette business as well, as the core brand — Wills — is used by both,” a corporate analyst pointed out.

“The investment in LRB is comparable with the amount spent by ITC on advertising its cigarette brands previously. Though not surrogate advertising as we know it, the return on ITC’s investments in LRB are manifold.

“If ITC succeeds in establishing Wills as a leading brand in the ready-to-wear apparel market, it will be one of the best examples of brand extension.

“Even the Dunhills and Cartiers could not break out of the upmarket segment when the brands were extended to lifestyle products and accessories. The success of Wills as a mass brand of readymade garments will set new standards,” said a management consultancy firm.

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