The year was 1984, when a young Chemistry Post graduate decided to contribute sincerely towards the sports and fitness industry. Pankaj Pillai was always ready to use his scientific bent of mind and his education to play with the evolving times and take up the responsibilities of logical discovery and reasoning. Instead destiny lead him to take up the responsibility of a store. But this was certainly an altered experience and meant a lot of deviation for sure.
However, Mr. Pillai was up to play a different game, much beyond the chemistry labs and interestingly his new strike meant manufacturing and selling of goods related to sports to several other sports store. His brother left his high paying job at a renowned sports apparel and goods company and joined Pankaj ji to take up on this endeavour too.
Both the brothers were beginning to discover a new market through their sports good manufacturing business, when just at the corner they found a new idea. Idea to set shop and sell sports goods and apparel. That’s when in 1984 Pankaj Ji opened up his first store, measuring approximately about 200 sq ft. It was this store that immediately led him to open up another, as they started stocking up sports goods and sports wear to begin with.
“Sports goods require a lot of space. So 200 sq ft was definitely a small space to begin with. But during those days with a humble beginning we only retailed sports goods and sportswear. Swimwear was a newer addition. Which we added when we opened two more stores in the coming years,” explained Pankaj Pillai, owner Playtime.
Swimwear is on a growth curve
Swimwear in India is a fast growing phenomenon. The swimwear market in the country has started pacing with the considerable growth rate of 35%. Considerably in the last one year the swimwear market in the country has moved much beyond its predictable confinements.
The major contributors like infrastructure development owing to development and opening of many swimming pools around the country and consumer awareness have shown significant improvements for this category. Apart from that the rising awareness towards health and fitness has also contributed considerably to add more growth to this segment.
The Indian swimwear market is gradually engulfing a fashionable identity too. Consumers today possess a great sense of style with a sustainable ethos who demand great fit, comfort and value for money merchandise.
“Swimwear is no more a seasonal business in India. People specially women are ready to experiment and try the swimwear they buy and they are no more hiding away their swimwear or sportswear in the closet. I get around 50+ customers a day during the March -July months and around 20+ customers per day during the rest of the year. And all are certainly serious customers and does not come in for window shopping,” explains Pankaj Pillai.
Swimwear and sports gear has also been gaining exclusive momentum owing to the fact that people are growing health conscious with time and are fixing up budgets to set out on exercise regime or luxury vacations on and off which definitely requires wearing the right kind of garment a necessity. Also swimming becoming a rage and a healthy practice is opening up demand for swimwear, which gives the right fit and comfort while undergoing the act.
Today Playtime is a known name and has brought itself closer to the demands of sportswear and swimwear buyers. Operating through four stores around Chennai, Pankaj Ji has gained access to popularity and is these days busy attending to his old customers who are settled abroad. Outstation orders are also at galore with Playtime. Having a name that directly relates to what the store sells was a very new and innovative thing at the time when Playtime decided to open its store to their customers.
There is no fixed decor or colour scheme that Pankaj ji follows in his stores. Being an old player in this category, he feels what sells most is genuine attention to the customer and word of mouth.
Creating a strong standing for himself and Playtime, was the main objective that Pankaj ji has adhered by for decades now. Seeing is believing but ambience, decor, modern retail etc can work as a crowd puller, but to retain the serious crowd one has to sell what’s worth selling and since years Pankaj ji has done exactly that, by stocking quality brands and products for the conscious masses.
The Store has a very frontal and open structure. Being an old store, Mr. Pankaj has never tried to play much with the look and feel with the store. Rather he believes upgrading the collection from time to time is more a necessity and requirement to keep the connection alive with the customers. Standing right at the entry glass door, one can easily understand what they can expect as they step in. From brands to the stocked up interiors are clearly visible right at the entrance. A small space, but well utilized is the right thing to say about the Playtime store. Every piece of apparel and goods are either hanged neatly at several portions of the store or are shelved rightly for improved stocking purposes.
“When we opened our first two stores in Chennai, we did not have the idea that within 2-3 years we would be opening a store exclusively to sell swimwear. During the time we pulled up the shutters to our all exclusive Playtime swimwear store, there was a dearth of Indian swimwear brands. The demand for swimwear was just opening up and we began feeding this need gap with International swimwear brands. So by 1984 counting on the demands for sportswear and sports goods we were already retailing through three Playtime outlets in the city and by 1991 we opened our all exclusive swimwear outlet,” explained Pankaj Pillai .
From specializing in swimming costumes, Playtime is also known for their exclusive range of swimming accessories that includes Swimming Caps, Goggles, Ear Plugs, Nose Clips, Kick Boards, Pull Buoys, Fins, Mask/ Snorkel sets, Training Accessories, Life Jackets, Swimming Rings, Arm Floats, Hand Paddles, Floats, Life Buoys, Stop Watches etc. At Playtime apart from International brands like SPEEDO and TYR you get the latest and the bestselling collections of brands like CHAMP, VELOZ, LOBSTER, ENKAY, LYCOT, ATTIVA, FINIS, VIVA, INTEX, MITUSHI, UNIDIVE etc.
The collections at the store keeps changing on the basis of seasonal and promotional requirements. Two piece bikinis, full bodycover, frock style swimwear, half sleeves, frills, cycling shorts, 3/4th pants, britches, hipsters, capris in floral prints, polka dots in varied colours, cut-out swimsuit, beach pant, cotton short, one piece swimsuit, twist halter bikini set, skirted swimsuit, string caged swimsuit, hipster bottom, frill bikini padded bikini top, V Cut Costumes, Shorts type, Skirt type, High neck body suits, Plus size costumes etc, T Shirts/ Tights sets are primarily styles that dominate the range appropriate for women and girls. Swimming Costumes for Boys are available in V Cuts, Shorts type, Jammers, Beach shorts, Bodysuits, T Shirts/ Tights etc. while men can choose from Swim Trunks in V Cut, Shorts, Jammers, Beach Shorts, T Shirts / Tights, Bodysuits.
The experience at the Playtime store is truly fabulous. Even though it is a small store, but the brands you get to choose from will blow your mind away and the owner Pankaj ji, is always interested to do his homework and keeps up with the trend. He is always ready to floor you with the latest and the most trendy collections. Every store is well equipped with one trial room and any one who wants to try before putting in their money can do so quite comfortably and the staff is ever ready to assist you on your buying endeavour. Playtime as a whole appoints 6 sales staff and accommodates your purchases by allowing you to pay either by cash or card or at times if you are lucky and a regular customer, then you can request Pankaj Ji to accept a cheque payment towards your purchase.
Evolving times. Evolving mentalities
Expansion is surely not a concern, Pankaj ji admits as he is also quite affected by the online explosion at present and he believes that retail stores on ground are a risky business today owing to the click game. People are more comfortable buying through portals, which also gives them the chance to exchange products. Which are surely not a practice at Playtime. Until and unless it is super essential or a really genuine problem Pankaj Ji tries to evade the concept of returns as he insists on trials before purchase.
It is the visibility of the Playtime stores and the customer retaining qualities of the owner and the staff, that Pankaj ji believes Playtime ahead of the fancy newly opened flashy modern sportswear and swimwear outlets. He is happy running a one man show and is more than satisfied in attending to his stipulated quality customer base.
“Swimming is a liberating experience and is a healthy choice. People should adapt this practice quite religiously and rather than just embracing the same for fashion purposes, they should take to swimming to improve their quality of living. The consciousness towards swimming and swimwear has immensely altered over the years, women who were not so open to the idea of a swimming costume earlier have taken to stylish ensembles today just to hit the water. It is no more an athletic requirement, but more of a lifestyle requirement. Even Chennai, known for being conservative has opened up way too much over the years,” adds Pankaj Pillai.
He further explains that even though cosmopolitan population in cities like Bangalore etc, push the sales for lingerie and swimwear to a greater extent, at places like Chennai the same is still to hit the helm. But still the sensibilities are changing for the better in every way. Pankaj ji finally signs off saying that Playtime has the ‘right thing for the people walking into the store’ and any one coming to Playtime will surely depart with much satisfaction and nothing else.