“The decision to close down this business was not an easy one, but unfortunately due to COVID-19 and the restrictions on international travel it was not sustainable for us,” the 70-year-old brand said in a statement
Witco (India) Pvt Limited, one of the oldest retail brands from Chennai, has wound up its business due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We regret to inform you that we have closed down our business. The decision to close down this business was not an easy one, but unfortunately due to COVID-19 and the restrictions on international travel it was not sustainable for us,” the 70-year-old brand, which sold luggage and bags, said in a note on its official website on Thursday. “We would like to thank all of our customers and our esteemed clientele for their patronage over the last 70 years,” it added.
The firm’s managing director V.P. Harris, told The Hindu, “We shut down our operations in January itself. What really happened was last March  when the first lockdown was announced we (the family) sat together and evaluated the business and we found that international travel will not happen for a long time.”
He added: “My father founded the business and ran it for almost 25 years, and now in its 70th year my brother and I who have been running the show since, wound up operations. The current unprecedented circumstances left us with no other option.” He recalled that there was a similar dip in business during the dotcom bubble burst, and he realised that when airline bookings fell, his sales would dwindle.
According to Mr. Harris the firm had 11 outlets. “We never opened our outlets at two popular malls in Chennai after the 2020 shutdown,” he noted. A few years ago, the firm also forayed into the online space but Mr Harris said that business there was quite minuscule. “We did run a trial on e-commerce sites and we had our presence on Amazon and Flipkart but when it came to luggage as a category, customers prefer to come see the product and then purchase. Customers were comfortable buying other bags online,” he said.
Witco began its journey in 1951 as West India Plastic Trading Co in a 500 sq ft store at George Town in Chennai. During the 1970s, the firm slowly started expanding its presence in Kochi, Kozhikode and Coimbatore and after a few years it even entered into the Karnataka market. Witco’s growth happened post liberalisation.
When asked about the final profit/loss for the company before business was wound up, Mr. Harris said, “We are still in the process of computing that. Fortunately we were debt free.”
He added: “Our suppliers have been settled despite this sudden forced closure, all our team members are covered fortunately by the LIC Gratuity Policy; all our store tenancies are also settled.” Some of the suppliers took back the unsold inventory because of their relationship with the brand for several years now.
Witco sold luggages at various price bands. It sold suitcases, travel bags, backpacks, hand bags and laptop bags among others. The retailer sold also high-end luggage brands including of the brands Samsonite, American Tourister, Puma, Nike and Case Logic.