Chennai: If you are a man, the chances are you’ve owned at least one Classic Polo t-shirt. The brand was born 20 years ago after T R Sivaram noticed foreign manufacturers were flocking to India where its young population was creating a huge consumption market. Sivaram’s Royal Classic Mills was launched in Tirupur as a fabric supplier to Bangladesh in 1991. Today, it has grown into the Royal Classic Group which exports garments to the US and Europe, has an annual turnover of Rs 700 crore, and employs 6,000 people. “From 1991 to 1995, we remained fabric suppliers. In 1996, when WTO talks were initiated to abolish the quota system, we turned to making and exporting garments,” says Sivaram, managing director of the Royal Classic Group.
Getting export orders from Europe and the US was not easy. “I would carry 150 kg of samples to meet customers and canvass for orders. The return flights to India used to be full of Indians. I saw the trend changing from around 2001 when I could spot more foreigners” says Sivaram.
Curious, he enquired and was surprised by the answer: India with more than half its population young, was all set to emerge as the next big consumption market. Hence, from makers of toothpaste to soaps to two-wheelers to cars, everyone was headed to India. “And here I was dragging double my weight in samples and going abroad to meet customers. That set me thinking and we decided to launch a domestic brand. Classic Polo was born in 2001.” says Sivaram. Twenty years on, Classic Polo sales touch 300crore, Initially, the company made only t-shirts and sold them through large chains such as Chennai Silks, Pothys, and RMKV. Since quality was the same as t-shirts supplied to the US/Europe, sales picked up. Soon, Every large textile showroom was selling Classic Polo t-shirts.
After 4-5 years, we faced an identity crisis, since most of such large stores also stocked 30 other t-shirt brands. With t-shirts alone, we could not start our own stores either. Hence, we decided to launch an entire men’s wear segment –trousers, shirts, shorts, belts, and wallets. Between 2007 and 2012, we established 80 company-owned,company-operated (COCO) outlets across south India, besides a couple of franchisee outlets”‘ says Sivaram.
The franchise outlets reported higher sales than the company-owned Franchisees went out of the way to cater to customer needs. For compa was just work for a salary; they were under no pressure to increase sales.
The group changed all stores to FOFO (franchisee-owned, franchisee Sales picked up and today there are 140 FOO stores, “Lucky to have sure Covid pandemic, we plan to open 60 more stores this fiscal to make Cla:200-store chain,” says Sivaram. The group did not retrench even a single over the past two years.
How did Classic Polo survive the test of time? “We invested whatever accrued from our exports, which contribute 70% of the group’s annual turnover, into building Classic Polo. Working with overseas customers gives us a headstart on new designs that are set to hit the market a year later,” he said.
In addition, the owner needs to invest time and energy to understand the consumer’s changing tastes and act swiftly. “Coimbatore and Palakkad are just 60 km apart. But tastes and preferences of consumers are completely different. If white is a royal premium in Coimbatore, for Palakkad it is black. After a visit to Imphal in Manipur, where a franchisee sitting 3,000 km away gave us repeat
orders, I asked my people not to send “XXL” anymore and instead create a new category ‘extra small’ for that region. Such things need greater attention if a brand has to succeed” says Sivaram.