Leica is different. The European premium camera and sports optics company has expanded its operations into India with a store in Delhi’s heart, Connaught Place. But the company does not want to do anything that other camera companies in India do. It doesn’t even want to sell its cameras to those might be able to afford them, but just to flaunt their wealth and not because of any particular affinity to photography.
“I feel the art form of photography has a lot of work to be done here. So we want to really play that game more than we want to talk about numbers,” Sunil Kaul, Leica Asia-Pacific Managing Director, says sitting in the bright new showroom the company has set up in Delhi. The store also exhibits works of photographers who use Leica. It will also host meets were a select audience will get to interact with these photographers. “I think if we convince and engage people with the right benefits that our tools give them, we have already made a lot of success,” Kaul explains.
Also, for a company to come to India not thinking of numbers means it does not have to think of India’s booming wedding photography sector that sustains all the big brands. “If I separate camera industry market and photography market, I don’t think there is a photography market (in India),” says Kaul, adding that the quality of photography in India is still average in comparison to other countries. He makes his point: “By the virtue of having these smartphones at affordable prices, today, everybody’s a photographer. So the content that is generated on a daily basis is very, very average. There is no filtration process, no rules and regulations, a lot of stuff is created post-processed, because everybody wants to have more followers and more likes on their pages.”
Kaul elaborates on how Leica is different. “So we being the iconic brand in the world, being a company which was always associated a very high level of quality images, I see that there is a great potential for us in this area. Because we have a lot to share in terms of education and inform people about what photography really means.”
With a tray showcasing the new Leica C-Lux, which his company is launching in India soon, Kaul expresses his displeasure at how most of the camera companies are now “functioning like a commodity business”, pushing products and “moving boxes” to reach a certain revenue figure.
He is clear Leica will not be spending on advertisements or on other promotions to capture the market. “Let us, first of all, understand who’s our customer who is able to help us express our view to more people… we are going the engagement route,” he says giving an overview of the Leica Academy programme which has different streams for different types of users from beginners to professionals. “We get the appropriate talent either locally or internationally, who will basically allow these exercises and engagements… automatically, these people become my magazines and my advertisements, and they are doing the job for me.”
Kaul will also have to fight the perception that Leica cameras are too expensive even for those who love what it can achieve. “Actually the truth is that we use the best materials money can buy. And that’s the reason why it’s more expensive. Once I give them a good experience, in terms of customer care services, or anything else, I think that is my pillar towards my marketing angle.”
However, he does not think it will be that tough. “In India, there is I won’t say an equally or maybe even a larger market of people who have just crossed that purchasing power and volunteer differently. Yeah, and they suddenly have bigger houses, bigger cars, better schools… that bracket is becoming bigger, they are enjoying the finer things in life. Maybe they are all using a camera. And I’m certain that they all have one or two at home. But they had no idea why they purchased it.”
Leica is in the tedious process of identifying this larger circle, scanning those who purchase luxury cars, have joined golf or polo clubs and the like. “If it was easy everybody would be doing it,” he quips, adding how if he does exactly what others are doing, then they too will end up in the price war “which is definitely something that is against our philosophy”. But that does not mean Leica will sell to anyone who walks in the store, even those who can afford it. “We don’t hesitate to say no so when I know a certain customer is just talking about showing his wealth to people,” he says, highlighting how the team members are educated to subtly ask open-ended questions to determine if the camera is just going to end up as a trophy in someone’s house.
Leica cameras are different too, like with its rangefinder in comparison to the typical lens-based focus in other cameras. “Yes, it might be intimidating, because you are used to a piece of plastic with 27,000 buttons. First of all, you have never used 97 per cent of them (buttons) and you have no clue. It just makes your life more miserable. Because there’s more technology which is obviously nonsensical as a photographer. You will know that you don’t need more than three things on the camera – aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.” Leica’s approach is that the camera is a medium, a tool for you to create what your purpose was. “Our customers are those who have realised that for the kind of photography that I do, I actually need something which is as simple as that and does really that which is easy, durable, long-lasting and delivers outstanding picture every day.”
So will India have more stores? “If we do our job correctly, we don’t have to be like a 711 in every looking we can be happy with one good destination. I call it not a store, but a destination.”
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