The core ORRA customer is the woman who has come into her own: Cecil De’ Santa Maria
The COO of the jewellery chain opens up on the brand’s legacy, pivot to focus on diamond jewellery, process to understand consumer needs, retail expansion plans, digital agenda and an upcoming campaign for the festive season.
By Riya Sethi
ORRA began its journey in 1888. Can you briefly trace the brand’s journey since inception?
1888 makes for a really lovely story. My current promoter’s great grand-uncle was Jaskaran Bhai Mehta. Back in the day, it was impossible for somebody who was Hindu or Jain to cross a water body because they used to say if you cross a water body on a ship, you would lose your religion (or something to that effect). Despite that, they used to pick up diamonds from different mines overseas, craft the diamonds and sell them to different people in India. He was the first in the family who saw an opportunity overseas and took a ship. Back then it used to take months to reach Europe by ship. He went to Basra, which is close to present-day Iraq, and other places in Europe including Paris. He would sell them on a one-on-one basis to the noblemen from rich families in the king’s court.
In the 1960s, they got the first contract, if you will, from De Beers to buy rough diamonds from the South African mines, polish them in India and re-export them.
ORRA as a brand came alive in October 2004. Prior to that, the promoter family ran a smaller operation under the name of InterGold Gems which was largely a gifting play with smaller products, daily wear etc. With ORRA, we ventured into the wedding jewellery segment which is really where the real play for any serious jeweller is.
We are a diamond-centric organisation, we do not really play in the 22K plain gold space. Therefore, we occupy a certain niche, a deliberate niche, given the heritage and legacy of our promoter family.
Can you tell us about the diversified product portfolio? Which of the jewellery categories is the most popular?
It is typically the daily wear, light wear, evening out wear products. These are earrings, rings and pendants and they are largely sub Rs.1 lakh rupees (by today’s gold and diamond prices). They largely gravitate into the Rs.50,000 to Rs.80,000 space. If you were to look at ORRA, we don’t just retail rings, earrings, pendants. Every collection that we launch has a story behind it like most retailers do. Having said that, we are clearly positioned on three mainstay brands.
For the more prolific diamond-lover, we have a very premium diamond called the ORRA Crown Star. We own the patent for Crown Star. The difference between a Crown Star diamond and any other diamond is that most diamonds are 57 or 58 facet diamonds. The cut of the diamond is what brings out the beauty of the diamond – the light performance. Most jewellers don’t talk about light performance. The fact is that a woman doesn’t buy a diamond because of its size or particular colour or clarity. A woman buys a diamond ‘Uski jagmagahat ke liye’ (because of its shine). Certainly, they want to buy larger stones and so on but the real proof of the pudding of the diamond is its brilliance, its fire, its sparkle. These are three light performance metrics and we have perfected it with our Crown Star. The Crown Star is a 73-faceted diamond. We give you a separate light performance certificate from the laboratory of GemX, New York (a pioneer in measuring light performance). ORRA Crown Star is cut for maximum brilliance which is the throw of white light, maximum fire which is the seven colours of the rainbow (prism effect) and finally the sparkle – you turn the diamond towards the light, you see it dancing or bouncing off different facets of the diamond.
We have a sub-brand called Astra which offers a brilliant value proposition. It is for a budget-sensitive customer. There is an entire range of products that we offer on EMI. We were the first diamond jewellery retailer in the country (in late 2019) to start EMIs. We advertised that you can come to ORRA and get zero-interest EMI.
In the third sub-brand called Desired, the design language is very edgy, very modern. It is for the young woman, something that is lightweight but very, very different and not traditional, in which she can work and she can also wear it for an evening out with friends. This falls typically in the lightweight segment with earrings, rings and pendants. We don’t really have necklaces because young girls and women will not wear necklaces to the office. These are more like chains and they call them lariats. This brand caters to the more modern-looking Indian girl.
Apart from that, we have a very very strong relationship with Platinum Guild International (PGI). We were the first partners they had in the early 2000s. We have a property which is a co-op between PGI and ORRA which is called the ORRA Platinum Couples (wedding bands). These are for the ones getting married or engaged. They are also used as celebratory milestones for couples who are already married for five years, 10 years etc. That’s the other play we are known for.
Apart from that, we have a complete wedding jewellery collection range which is largely necklace sets and bangles, bracelets to match and so on. In the wedding space, if not for the bride, it is also for the near and dear ones of the family.
Present across 36 cities with 78 stores now, are you planning to expand your geographic presence? Are there any specific markets where ORRA is focused?
Even as we speak, I have about seven stores in the works, three of which will be launched close to Independence Day. About two and a half to three weeks out, we will have three more stores and we are hoping by the end of this (financial) year, we will reach the 90-store number, if everything works in our favour.
The market has been slow, for retail in particular. We have had a decent Q1, we are keeping our fingers crossed for Q2 and we are doing whatever needs to be done at the retail level. Having said that, we haven’t stalled our expansion plans. In fact, I will take you just a couple of years back. During the first wave of Covid, we launched 19 new stores. During the second wave we launched 13 stores. In 2019, we were at a 32-store count and today under three-odd years, we have more than doubled that count.
Hopefully, we will get to a 90 to 95 store by the end of this financial year. If everything goes well, who knows we might just reach the century and that’s what we are internally hoping for.
Historically, we were focused on West and North India. The head office is in Mumbai. North and West were the first areas of expansion. In the last four years, we focused on the South and added a fair amount of stores there. Today, in fact, South India probably has just one less store than the entire North network. West is where we have the maximum number of stores.
Out of 78, broadly half the stores lie in the West and 25 pc in the North and 25 pc in the South of India, respectively. In the East, we have just one store which we opened in Jamshedpur close to Diwali last year. Having said that, you will see us increasing our footprint in the East. We will not be starting with Kolkata. Intuitively, one would think Kolkata but it will be another capital city of a state in the East. And we will most certainly reach Kolkata in FY ’26. We have got a very calibrated expansion plan and we have mapped ourselves for about close to 250 stores and the locations we want to be in.
How did Covid affect the offline sales?
We lost about eight and a half to nine months’ business. ORRA is a brick and mortar offline retailer. The kind of jewellery we retail, which is wedding jewellery, does not really lend itself to online sales. We are talking five to seven lakh rupees. Nobody is going to buy that online. Online for a retail chain like ORRA is more for discovery, more for consumers and prospects to get a sense of the kind of range that we carry. Our product repertoire does not allow for pure online sales.
Online is more of a showcase for us. Eventually, visitors are nudged online, or they call us or we call them and request them to visit the store. If they don’t want to visit the store, we use a video calling app where they are shown the products. Then we either go over with the selection that the customer made or the customer comes over and makes a final selection at the store. Because, I could like five necklace sets but I know I am only going to buy one – that requires me to physically try the product.
But Covid suddenly made us realise some things when offline retail went completely dead. That is when we took online far more seriously. What we attempted to do is without changing the DNA and the focus and without changing our product repertoire, use entry-level products, more affordable daily wear products like rings, earrings, pendants between Rs.30,000 and Rs.80,000, and start proliferating them through our performance marketing piece. We are focusing on that specific TG, thanks to the Desired sub-brand which is for the modern young Indian woman. That helps us to get some amount of traction, new fan following and we are also building the pipeline for our future bridal jewellery customers.
Who is the core ORRA customer?
As demonstrated by our brand track studies and research, our core TG is the 34-year-old Indian woman and for men, it is 45-year old. That is the average ORRA customer. On both sides of the spectrum, you have other customers who come and buy ORRA. The 34-year-old typical ORRA customer is married, she has kids, and by and large she is a homemaker – which means she has a far more stressful job than the husband because she is running the home. She is the one who comes and makes independent purchases from ORRA without being chaperoned by her mother-in-law. She is a woman who has come into her own, she is running her own household, she manages everything. She is not at an age where she needs to get validation from in-laws, even though she may come from tier 2 and other cities where we operate today. Having said that, we have young girls coming in with their fiancés to buy engagement bands. Desired appeals to young girls; between 22 to 28 years is the TG for that brand.
Astra is more for the women between 28 to 35 years and then you have Crown Star which sits at the top, which is for a very prolific buyer.
Typically, the lady who buys Crown Star is more mature and she is buying it in anticipation that I will use it now for the next five years or so or if my daughter or son gets married, I will gift them that. So, Crown Star is really an inheritance product. The Crown Star is a classic product which means these are single solitaire strings, single solitaire bangles (what we call eternity bangles), tennis bracelets, eternity rings. They are very, very diamond-heavy products and they are made with the best diamonds which is the Crown Star. Hence, these products are passed down from generation to generation. We have a programme called the ORRA generation programme within Crown Star where we have the entire trousseau box with a necklace, bangle, ring, earring, pendant. All made with Crown Star and the entry price is about Rs.10 lakh.
We have an EMI option also, through which we have achieved a certain level of democratisation of diamonds. More people can afford diamonds, thanks to EMI.
Diamonds are the mainstay now, with ORRA consciously moving away from 22K gold jewellery. How has that played out?
Of revenues over the last three years, 90 pc are from diamond jewellery which helps me to enjoy the kind of margins I enjoy, offer the EMI services I offer. We took a call to pivot the organisation to play exclusively in diamonds.
We are a diamond-centric organisation. Our parent company and promoters are one of the largest, if not the largest, diamond players in the country. They have been one of India’s largest exporters. I remember from 2001 to 2013 or 2014, they were number one in the country in the export space. Even today, while they have moved out of low-end manufacturing, we are closely aligned to all the top brands in the world. When you buy your Hermes jewellery or your Louis Vuitton jewellery, the diamonds come from our parent company. We are aligned right now to the high-end or what they call high-jewellery market. So on the export side, we work only with those kinds of brands.
They need diamonds in their watches as well.
We work now at the top end of the market. We have let go of the bottom end, so to speak. That’s a call that the promoter family took. Unlike gold, which is more a mass market, diamonds are a niche market but a premium market.
With India getting more and more aspirational, we are seeing more and more customers buying diamond jewellery. Customers who typically would shy away from diamonds have started entering the market and we have seen this over the last 15 to 20 years. That’s one piece. Of course EMI and other things make it easier for them to come into the diamond category. So that helps customer acquisition. But more importantly we have taken a call to stay diamond-centric in a market which is largely gold-dominated. If you were to look at diamond jewellery as a percentage of the overall jewellery market of India, it’s barely 11 to 12 pc. The mainstay is 22K gold. Hence, we may be a smaller operation but we will always be a very, very profitable operation.
How are the sales so far this year?
This year started out slow. We measure performance and health of the organisation on the basis of same-store sales growth (not including new stores, which will add to the total). We are currently running at about 24 pc over last year which is not where we want to be. We want to be close to the 30 pc year-on-year mark on the same-store sales growth because that will help us achieve our plan including expansion for the next financial year.
What is your sales contribution from metros and big cities versus tier 2 and tier 3?
We are largely based in metros. Most of our stores are in metros. Let’s take Maharashtra as an example, even as we speak, I will have by Diwali close to about 11 to 12 stores in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane. But now we have opened a store in Nasik and there is a reason we did that.
We had a lot of customers from Pune and Nashik coming to Mumbai and buying from our stores. They would keep telling us that because they had to come to Mumbai, they end buying something smaller than what they wish to – that they would have bought something larger (or more) if we had a store in their city. So, we opened our first store in Pune. Today I have about seven stores in Pune as it was the next biggest market after Mumbai. From Pune, I have moved to Nashik where I have opened my first store. I moved to Kolhapur and opened my first store. The kind of traction we are getting in these markets is amazing. Now what we are looking at is feeding these tier 2 and 3 markets in the interiors of Maharashtra. Even as we speak, we have a store coming up in Mira Road and Vasai (part of Mumbai). We have already signed the property. We are looking at the opportunity in these hitherto smaller markets, markets which used to be gold-dominated. Today we are seeing that even over there, there is a segment of customers who want to buy diamonds.
Eighty percent of my customers in Nashik are new customers and 20 pc are customers who used to buy ORRA from Mumbai or Pune. In Bengaluru, I have 8 to 9 stores. We are looking at opportunities strategically within states where we have earlier only been in the capital city or metros.
What is the share of your online and offline sales?
As I said, online for us, even now, is a very small piece of sales. If you were to look at the larger retailers, 80 pc of their online sales come from existing customers and 80 pc of that is bullion which is 1g, 5g, 10g coins. Having said that, we realised that at least there’s an opportunity to do that. So, while we do not really push bullion and we are not a part of marketplaces, we might pivot, by the end of this year, to be visible on certain marketplaces. I am not sure if it will be an Amazon or Flipkart. If at all, it would be on an Ajio or Tata Cliq. Or if we will be present on Amazon or Flipkart, it will only be with bullion. That’s still work in progress. We have still not kind of agreed upon our play at the leadership level. Currently, my online sales are barely about 8 pc of my total sales. This is online and online-influenced offline sales. If you add people who come to the website, browse and then we do a call with them, I think that would maybe take it closer to 10 pc, at best.
With the ecosystem being flooded with many jewellery brands, how is ORRA differentiating itself and creating consumer trust?
We have the most premium diamond. We have a great product story and that is something a lay customer can experience for themselves. We have a machine called the ORRA Brilliance Scope in all stores. You can actually take a Crown Star diamond and your own diamond or any other diamond and put it under that microscope and at three levels it measures the light performance of the diamond – the brilliance, fire and sparkle. This is over and above the certificate you get from GemX which measures light performance.
This is something ‘Aankhon dekhi’ (you see it with your own eyes) and what you see is what you get. We call it the ‘Diamond Test Drive’. Before you buy a car or a house, you visit the house and you try the car, so this is our equivalence to that. You can come and see for yourself and if you like what you see, please buy. There has been no instance where a customer has not been wowed by that ‘Diamond Test Drive’. That’s a property we are gonna be building upon this festive season. From October 2023, you are going to see a lot more of that brand piece and in that, the Crown Star story. Because this is something that nobody else has in the country. That’s going to be our mainstay. Like I said, we have a great value proposition sub-brand called Astra which is for anybody and everybody, you get zero down payment EMI, zero interest and diamond necklace set under a lakh. That’s another unheard of proposition.
Reportedly, the company is also experimenting with lab-grown diamonds. Can you elaborate on that?
Yes and no.
ORRA remains in the mine space, clearly. However, because there has been so much noise about lab-grown since 2017-’18, plus to ensure that we do not miss the bus, what we have done is, we have launched just three stores and a website. All the three stores are in malls and they are on the fashion side of diamond jewellery, which means they are not in the serious bridal or wedding space. The brand is called Divaa by ORRA. It’s a very different format. We don’t have doors, you can just walk into the place. It has limited products – ring, earring, pendant largely. Most of them are anywhere between Rs. 7,000 to 8,000 going up to about a lakh or so. And very, very clearly it is for the more fashionable woman. So, that is just a presence. We are not really going hammer and tongs on that. If the market reacts and if what is happening in the US happens in India, we want to be ready.
Tell us about the marketing approach at ORRA and the media mix.
We are largely print heavy. We’ve not really been on TV. We are looking at TV this year, maybe in the festive season when we want to go out with our Crown Star story.
Print is largely for tactical. I am talking about newspapers, dailies. We use magazines in a very selective way and that is largely to queue new collections under any sub-brand.
We like to approach the consumer first with something that would delight her. Therefore, if it’s Desired, we know exactly who we are going after. If it’s Astra, we know the demographic and psychographic. If it’s a Crown Star, it’s an extremely evolved diamond customer. Our marketing approach stems from that. So, if we are doing Crown Star, it would be largely a personal, one-on-one kind of sales. While we do the normal Schbang in marketing, those sales would finally translate only if we were to engage with the customer in a personal, consultative selling manner. Whereas things like Desired and Astra would sell on the strength of their own because the price points are lower.
How is the Indian consumer different? How does ORRA gather feedback for upcoming launches?
When consumers buy jewellery, in India especially and we have seen that across ages, it’s very, very sentiment driven. They are very, very involved even if they’re buying something priced as low as Rs.25,000.
It’s not what we would call impulse purchase. Nothing is ever impulse in jewellery because it is an asset. At the end of the day, if you will come back with it, you will get more than Rs.20,000 (less of labour) because gold has appreciated and diamond has appreciated after five or seven years. Consumers are buying an asset for adornment now but it is still an asset. It is something that their children are going to inherit.
The way Indians approach jewellery, the way we interact with the category is very different from what we see in the US or Europe with our partners we supply to. It’s very sentiment-driven, very involved, it’s not transactional. Hence, our focus is to first understand what our consumer needs.
We are very fortunate that we have a select set of customers for each of the brands ORRA Crown Star, Astra, Desired and our Platinum customers. Before we launch any new collection, we typically do a pilot with those select customers and then we put it out in a few stores. So, we typically work with a six-month lead time. If we see traction, then we have a metric to say we will go with a 20 pc penetration strategy, which means of the 78 stores, only 20 pc are going to get this product. We will handpick them between the merchandising, marketing and retail teams, monitor how those products are doing and whether they are loved or not loved by consumers. That’s our second play. And in three months, if the product is good, it will go into commercial – we will go into 50 pc of the network or 75 pc of the network and then 100 pc of the network, depending upon the price point.
Are you working on building up your digital presence?
Most certainly. In fact, we have just aligned with new partners on the digital side. Our website has just gotten an overhaul. We have not launched it officially but on the 18th of July, we made it live. It’s going to take us a month or two to stabilise because it’s a new website. We are confident that by the 15th of September, we will have got our act in play on the website front.
We have aligned with other partners who help us on Whatsapp, our performance marketing, social handles. We have different agencies and internal teams who work for different aspects of our digital journey. We are taking it very seriously.
We are putting our money where our mouth is. We have done some serious investments on the digital side. This season will tell us how our bets play out.
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