Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Brand Update : Fastrack

Youth brand Fastrack is expanding itself into retail business by starting exclusive Fastrack showrooms across the country. Together with the retail foray, the brand is also extending itself into accessories like belts,bags,wallets and wristbands.

My first reaction was that " Is this brand crazy ? "

Why should a brand like Fastrack enter into retail business when the entire retail industry is facing a downturn ?

Personally I am a bit scary about the concept of Brand Extension. Fastrack which is predominantly a watch brand has earlier extended to sunglasses. That extension worked well because there was a significant gap existing which was tapped through that extension.

Let us take a look at the two major decisions taken by Fastrack.

The first decision is the extension towards accessories like belts, bags and wristband. The logic behind this extension is that the target market uses these products and all these categories are dominated by unbranded products.

It is true that there are no national brands in these categories except for the bags where there are players like VIP and Samsonite. But there is no brand targeting the youth even in the bag segment. Regarding the belts and wrist band, there are no known players. So the brand managers may have thought that Fastrack can tap these markets by leveraging its brand equity among the youth.

But do Fastrack have the competence and expertise to make and market these products ? Obviously the brand will outsource the production and act as the marketer. But selling bags and belts are different from selling watches. Both are different product categories which need differen expertise. By extending itself into categories which are not even related will defenitely dilute the Fastrack brand.

Another reason for this extensions is to develop Fastrack as an accessory brand rather than restricting itself to watches and sunglasses. Although it sounds good, my concern is whether Fastrack has sufficient equity that support such an extension. I feel that the brand is moving too fast without developing a proper foundation.

No doubt that the brand is popular among the youth but the brand has not reached the pinnacle from where it could confidently extend itself. It has not reached the level of Nike or Reebok from where they could leverage the equity to unrelated categories.

The second decision of the brand is to enter the retailing business. This is the most alarming part of the brand's latest moves. From a product brand to a retailing brand is not a wise decision at all. I was initially wondering why a brand should do a forward integration like entering retailing.

For Fastrack, I think there are two reasons.

The first reason is the brand's decision to diversify into accessories. Fastrack's accessories cannot be sold through opticians and watch showrooms. Hence the decision to retail venture is largely driven by the brand extension rather than marketing sense.

Another minor reason is that exclusive retail stores acts as brand building tools since the brand will be able to showcase all the products and marketing tools at its stores.

But I strongly think that Fastrack will lose its focus through these decisions. Retailing is a different business that requires different skill sets. It is an expensive venture that needs different management skillsets. and lot of financial commitments. Fastrack will have to spent lot of its management time in developing and maintaining these stores which should have been used by it for developing its core business

Fastrack have not learned from the Peter England brand's foray into retailing. Peter England had started a retail venture - Peter England People with the same objectives. Now reports say that the company is rethinking this venture because it has not taken off as expected.

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