Let us begin with the genesis of Maharaja Whiteline…
We had a very modest beginning in 1976. Back then, I was 19 and pursuing medicine. The reason I decided to leave that and start a business was to assist my father in dealing with a financial crisis. To begin with, I got a Rs 10,000 loan from a bank to invest in my business and utilized a 100 square yards shed that belonged to my father. I converted this space into a workshop with three workmen. Why I ventured into the appliances business? Let us just say, being a science student, I have always been interested in the physics and chemistry of things.
At that time, I noticed that the mixer-grinder available in the market consisted of a single jar. This jar was used for practically all kinds of mixing and grinding, albeit not designed to suit such tasks. I was thinking like a consumer, and realized that there is a good potential in coming up with a multi-jar mixer and grinder. The idea was to come out with a product that is different from what was available in the market. It is then that we rolled out our three jar mixer and grinder in the market. We also addressed many other concerns of an average consumer, such as ensuring that our products have unbreakable parts, are convenient to use, and easy to clean, etc. These small but useful innovations clicked with the market, and in about two to three years, Maharaja Appliances became a fairly visible brand. In the household appliances business, if one empathizes with the problems that the housewives face and addresses those them by creating or modifying products – the market will accept the products.
As of today, our company dominates a share of about 22 percent in home appliances with a product range of over 65 products in 18 categories.
What were the challenges you faced in the start-up phase?
There were many challenges in those days. For instance, it was very tedious and time-consuming process to acquire a corporation license, electricity connection, ESI number, and such. When I started up, there were no computers or automation, and I had to do everything from being a store keeper to getting legal formalities done. Every minute seemed like a new challenge, and I developed a mindset to deal with all of it.
You are in the manufacturing space too instead of being just in trading. Why?
There are certain benefits of being in the manufacturing space—innovation being one of the main benefits. Due to the ever-changing economy and lifestyles of the consumers, we need the flexibility to bring about the functional changes to suit the aspirations of the consumers. By having our manufacturing unit, we can execute these with considerable ease.
Besides this, we get an economy to scale, helps us in diversification, and a cost benefit between 15-20 percent as compared to our competitors. In our line of business, the seasonality factor holds a lot of importance. For instance, during the season of festivals and marriages, the sales see a surge of about three times more than regular. It is much easier to cope up with such surges when you have your own manufacturing plant. Long story short, the reason is simple—one cannot control technologies and benefits in the products that one does not make.
I believe if one has a clear strategy, determination, and zeal to execute – success is inevitable.
Can you tell us a bit about what goes into the R&D and design of products?
When we set out to find out the dissatisfaction that customers were facing with the products available in the market, we ended up with a long list of problems such as constantly breaking knobs, products not being as heavy as required, etc. We make use of the data we collect from service centers of consumer appliances.
Based upon this, we built a very elaborate designing center with as many as fifteen engineers working in it. What we do here is to bring out products and changes eradicate the problems faced by customers. Also, we bring out products keeping the Indian consumer in mind. For instance, we sell 1000 watts electrical iron in the market now, simply because the time when the consumers used to wear a lot of polyester clothing is gone; they mostly wear cotton now. Besides this, most Indian consumers store the iron in cupboards, and so we gave it a ceramic coating in the base to make sure it keeps scratches at bay.
Of course, there is a slight reduction in profit margin to bring about these little innovations that makes a customer happy. But the important thing is that one happy customer spreads the word and brings you many more customers.
Tell us about your JV with Electrolux.
The joint venture happened in 1994-95. The idea was to do business with one of the world’s largest companies. By going ahead with this JV, I wanted to learn and understand this business better and add a certain valuation to my company. However, over a period of time we realized that our interest, which was small, was getting marginalized even further as they were making a lot of other mergers and acquisitions. I also realized that the execution of the business was not keeping the Indian market conditions in mind. So, I took a call and parted ways with them amicably.
In this competitive market, how to retain and increase the market share of your company?
We have competition coming in from some well-established players like Bajaj, Philips, Usha, etc. Apart from that there are several small players who operate in their own local markets. That said we have set a target to be a Rs 1000 crore company by 2011-12.
We are very different from our competitors and that gives us an edge above them. We are way ahead of our competition in terms of product innovations. The way our company looks into designing of the products is another factor that helps us in achieving these objectives. We also have a strong arm in customer support and we are very caring towards our trade partners.
We have a fairly large sales force with as many as 150 people in the team, while our competitors have around 30-40 people. Besides this, we also pay a lot of focus on going deep down into the market, and being visible on every shelf possible, with proper distribution and micro-distribution strategies.
What would you say was your first big success?
My first big success was the acceptance of my first product by the market i.e. the three jar mixer grinder. I remember the way the market had accepted it and their was a sudden surge in the demand by the consumers. I soon realized that everyone involved was making good money— be it the dealers, the distributors, and so on. This success motivated me and my team to do more. I have always believed in implementing small hill winning strategy before going to win the mountain. With this in mind, we have come to be where we are today.
Next big things in consumer appliance space
There is a lot to happen in India. The hygiene condition of an average Indian kitchen, as compared to European and American kitchens is sub-standard. So, I see a lot of products coming in for cleaning and sanitation in the kitchens. It is time for dish washers to make it big in the market. Besides this, we are sure to see a surge in products in the categories of oral cleaning, dental cleaning, and beauty care products for manicure, pedicure, body massage, head massage, etc. There is a huge scope of business in manufacturing these products to suit the Indian conditions and meet the taste of the Indian consumers.
written by G.K.Mahendran, August 20, 2011
written by vikram vyas, April 10, 2011
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