Even as news reports elaborate on how the company is planning to expand its contribution from global markets (it sells in 40 countries), Bajaj is alive to the domestic opportunity and challenges therein. Addressing the issue of increasing the current one per cent contribution from exports will be accompanied by the lighting, consumer appliances and engineering projects major focusing on developing ‘next generation’ products through an integrated R&D centre. And in the domestic market too, the Rs 3,387 crore company (by sales, FY 2013) has come a long way since ‘Jab main chota ladka tha...’, but knows that the next epoch of its existence is fraught with a different set of challenges and opportunities.
A changing market...
Over half of the company’s revenue in the year ended March 2013 came from consumer durables (Rs 1833 crore). Between the brands Bajaj (and Bajaj Platini) and Morphy Richards (the UK brand of small appliances which Bajaj markets and sells in India, since 2002), it can afford to offer a portfolio that spans a wide price band. That Morphy Richards, all of 10 years old, is today a Rs 200 crore brand, speaks volumes on the scope at the upper end. For Morphy Richards, Bajaj made conscious changes in the distribution and price points, given that it would speak to a younger target group. Within Bajaj, Koshy outlines that the width of portfolio in most product categories would remain unmatched.
While consumers are upgrading (and also paying more for the same product thanks to macro economic forces), there are some other trends in the market worth taking note of, according to the spokesperson. This starts with the decision making in categories Bajaj has a play in.
“In categories like lighting and fans, the purchase decision is still predominantly male-skewed. In many cases, it is not even the end-user, but the electrician or intermediary who helps arrive at the brand choice. But even within lighting, in ranges like high-end LEDs, the entire family is involved in the decision,” explains Koshy.
And as one would expect, the woman’s involvement comes into play big time in the kitchen, but the more involved male (in the household) is also seen as a trend. In categories like water heaters, it is the power consumption rating that often decides the brand for the user, much like ACs.
So the value conscious consumer remains a constant. While that should augur well for brand Bajaj, it also poses a set of challenges - especially in the face of competition from international brands, in categories like kitchen appliances.
The ‘biggest plus and biggest minus’
The legacy of brand Bajaj is possibly the ‘biggest plus and biggest minus point’, reflects Koshy. She underlines that the role of after-sales service is a key reason for people to choose Bajaj. “We have a robust customer care department and service network which reaches places where competition cannot reach,” she says.
And on the subject of being perceived as a value-for-money offering, she points out that while that is a reality, the look and feel and positioning of Bajaj Electricals products has never been ‘value-for-money’.
The emphasis has been on the wide product range available (the 75 year-film spoke of the product range, and a total of 1,400 products). Even in retail outlets, Bajaj Electricals’ presence would be much larger she reasons. Last but not the least is the pan-India presence of the brand.
Having said that, Koshy cedes, “If there is a drawback, it would be that if we want to bring in a premium range, we may have to bring it in under a new brand name.” That explains the creation of the Bajaj Platini range of appliances and Bajaj’s bringing in Morphy Richards.
“Seventy five years is a long time. If you have to compete with international brand names, there will be challenges for the domestic majors, be it Bajaj, Godrej or Dabur. As I said, in certain categories and for certain high-end range of products, we may not be able to be present with the same brand name,” explains Koshy.
Alongside the retail expansion which already counts as a strength are some new additions to Bajaj’s universe: Bajaj World outlets. The showrooms, which also stock the entire Bajaj product range, some of which may not be available through other distribution channels. From the current count of 40, the number of Bajaj World showrooms will reach 100 in the coming financial year, informs the brand head.
This will play alongside the retail presence. Bajaj Lighting is distributed through over 4,00,000 outlets while fans are sold at over 75,000 outlets, informs Koshy. Supporting the sales are 19 branch offices besides the service network.
‘Kitchen no longer a cooking medium’
There are certain categories where consumers are agreeing to pay a premium today, notes Koshy. And while consumers are upgrading, she reminds us that categories like fans and mixers last five to six years, in the least. She cites the case of a consumer meet, where a gentleman in his 60’s came up to Shekhar Bajaj (CMD) and spoke of a fan he bought 20 years ago. “He said ‘Ab awaaz karne laga hai’ (Now it is making noise). People still value the fact that products last,” she surmises.
The consumer meets that Anant (ED) and Shekhar Bajaj conduct with consumers across the country have led to more such insights and trendspotting. The biggest trend she’s seen, says Koshy, is that the kitchen is no longer a ‘cooking medium’.
“A lot of people now take pride in the way their kitchens look. With the kind of white goods that we’re seeing, and modular kitchens and fittings, the kitchen has become a lifestyle medium. The trend is not just in the metros but also in smaller towns. We’re noticing that among the products in Bajaj World, for example, people are preferring to ‘mix and match’ for the look and feel,” she adds. That explains the introduction of vibrant colours in the Morphy Richards and Bajaj ranges.
It’s not just the kitchen appliances that are being determined by the look. While with the rest of the bathroom, heaters too went in for a makeover a while ago, the product is now as much an object of design that adds to the aesthetic value in a larger number of households.
While some categories are being purchased based on different priorities, there are newer categories emerging as well. Among newer categories that are picking up rapidly is the induction cooker (over the last couple of years). What would typically be expected to be an alternate mode of cooking has surprised everyone by getting picked up in the mini-metros, reveals Koshy. The increase in price of LPG, availability of electricity and portability would be reasons that have contributed to the rise of the category, she reasons.
“There are newer categories that will emerge. Unlike other players, we have a very strong team right from manufacturing to distribution and after sales service. We will be able to customise product offerings based on consumer findings and needs,” she surmises.
Bajaj Electricals’ advertising efforts for its 75th anniversary have been well thought-through. The company started talking about the campaign a year prior. A bit of in-house research followed. The fact was that Bajaj Electricals has never advertised at the corporate level. While the summers see advertising for fans and coolers, the festive season sees a burst of advertising for appliances. And the primary medium for communication has been print.
Koshy reveals, “It’s the first time that we’ve done an umbrella advertising campaign for all the categories. We’re looking at this to jump start a few key initiatives with.”
One of those things to jumpstart will be e-commerce. While it technically started a while ago, a tie up with a logistics partner is in the works. Koshy says it’s been ‘opened up a little’ and the response has been ‘absolutely positive’. In two to three months, she sees all the Bajaj Electricals categories being available online, and being promoted aggressively. The company has made a conscious effort to have a presence on online and social media, for both brand building and sales. This can only go up with online sales being viewed not just as a driver of sales but as a sales channel by itself.
Meanwhile, the Rs 50-crore plus spend on traditional media across brands will see a peak during the festive period of September- October. A lot of print and regional advertising have typically ruled the media plan. On Malayalam channels Asianet and Surya, Bajaj Electricals and Morphy Richards are currently wooing consumers on Onam-eve. Roadshows and point of sale promotions are part of the staple.
The communication will keep pace with newer frontiers the company crosses, promises Koshy. Albeit in different ways, the brand’s attempt will be to continue to ‘Inspire Trust’. And build on it.