Buying Agents Association (BAA) is the apex body of the buying agents’ community in India, duly registered and recognised, working for the benefit of buying agents. Vishal Dhingra of Specialty Merchandising has been recently appointed as the new Chairman of BAA. Having four decades of experience in the industry, Vishal is an expert in the sourcing of apparel, home textiles, handicrafts and carpets.
In an exclusive interview with Apparel Resources, he shared his vision and strategy to execute that vision regarding BAA, new challenges in sourcing, and his observations about the overall business scenario.
You have taken charge of BAA when the industry is facing an unprecedented situation. So naturally, you have more challenges to overcome. In this scenario, what is your vision and strategy to execute that vision regarding BAA?
Vishal: The times are certainly challenging. We, at BAA, are trying to get a good grasp of the arising ground realities as they are very fluid. The slowdown in the overseas markets is being followed closely. We at BAA are working closely with the EPCH for their upcoming virtual show from 13th-18th July which would be one of the largest of its kind. It is expected to attract over 7000 visitors and have 1500 exhibitors. This should bring business to India given the anti-China sentiment.
Buying agents are not recognised strongly at the Government level in India. How do you see this and what will you do in this regard?
Vishal: You said it right. The buying agents are not recognised that well. We, at BAA, have been increasing our footprint and presence by associating with the likes of EPCH, PHD, FICCI, and also working closely with other Export Promotion Council (EPCs) to give us visibility and voice in the Government corridors so as to be heard on issues like GST and others.
Reshoring and nearshoring were already taking place in sourcing, and now the bricks-and-mortar sale is reducing, online is growing, and more styles are available as compared to earlier. What are the other changes you are anticipating in sourcing?
Vishal: The biggest change will be everything going virtual. As travel is restricted, our vendors will have to be creative and use technology to offer their products. It will be a constant process of sampling instead of offering only during the shows. The IIGF and IHGF or Magic events gave vendors breathing time to develop lines every 6 months. That will become an everyday affair. Vendors are already using various software to create the product in 3D and changing specs and colours without even the need of a sample.
The US has a lot of wholesalers & importers and those are very important for Indian suppliers. How do you see the business of these wholesalers & importers nowadays?
Vishal: Frankly, the initial response to the pandemic was lockdown the world over. That led to retail store closures and hurting the whole supply chain right from the retailer, wholesale importer to the factory here in India. The pandemic is still on. They are all trying to refigure their businesses. Retailers are shrinking their bricks-and-mortar stores. We see a lot of movement on the e-commerce front. That is where the new frontier is being opened up. Both retailers and wholesalers are investing there and we already see business coming back to vendors here.
It is being said that many wholesalers and importers now want to work with India (those earlier not working or sourcing very less), it paints a rosy picture… but on the ground level there, it is not strongly visible. How do you see the reality?
Vishal: Well, it’s the new reality that the world is looking up to India as a new hub for sourcing. In reality, our apparel and handicrafts industry is aware of this opportunity and they are gearing themselves up to grab the sentiment. We now need the support of the Government to put into action the ‘ease of doing’ business that they have been promoting to attract investment from within the country and overseas.
Your company will complete 30 years soon. How do you see this journey? How much growth are you expecting in the current fiscal in your overall business and what new are you planning?
Vishal: It has been a phenomenal personal journey of four decades in this trade, and of that, three decades on my own company Specialty Merchandising. In these years, I saw the Indian apparel and handicrafts grow by leaps and bounds. I am fortunate to have been witness to the India growth story starting from 1991. I have seen the hubs of Tirupur, Bengaluru, Gurugram and Noida grow exponentially along with the handicraft hubs of Jaipur, Jodhpur, Moradabad, Firozabad, Panipat and others. I cherish the moments I have spent at these places with various industry stalwarts.
On the business front, we personally will not see any growth in 2020-2021. We will be happy not to lose ground, but the slowdown in this recent last quarter will impact our bottom line. We are looking forward to 2021 for growth in Europe and the US to get us back to where we were last year.
As per your website, you invite guest lecturers for conducting Technical and Management classes. This is not common in Indian textile industry. How fruitful has it been proved?
Vishal: That has been one of our best decisions. The knowledge they impart and the experiences they share cannot be learnt by each individual in day-to-day lives. We also invite speakers from labs to update our teams on the latest testing standards and procedures as being followed by various retailers worldwide.